Friday, September 26, 2008

Hanne Orvad
Choral Works (Corona)

Dacapo Open Space
7 song CD

The cover art of Hanne Orvad's Corona is a fantastic introduction to the works held within. It depicts an abstract space-scape, splashed with hazy gradient colors that reach out into the void. Orvad's music does much the same thing, only with a cappella vocal choirs that paint pictures in the ethereal darkness of aural space.

Corona is a collection of Orvad's works from 1991 to 2003, as performed by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish National Chamber Choir, and Danish National Girls' Choir. Orvad uses their choral voices in place of instruments (with the exception of Threna, which includes instrumentation), building her interpretive orchestrations around Danish poetic verse, giving them life beyond mere words on the page. She also stretches the words away from their contextual meaning, mainly concentrating on the sounds of the words as they're being sung. This is even more apparent for someone who does not understand Danish (or Latin, in the case of Vega), as the words come across as something approaching pure tones, as the listener is not distracted by the meaning of the words.

The overall effect is atmospheric and expansive like the openess of space, voices rising and drifting into the openess with a light and airy dissipation. There's also an almost spiritualness involved, as you can picture a choir performing inside a great cathedral, with voices filling up and echoing across an enormous physical space.

MISH MASH Mandate: Voices Carry
Dacapo Records
Hanne Orvad Page @ Naxos

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Vital Might
Red Planet

Magma Music
10 song CD

The Vital Might is a modern rock amalgam, showcasing all that is good and worthy in the current state of progressive modern rock. Their approach is dynamic, moments of easiness surrounded by sheer loudness, a towering haze of condensed sound layers that shift throughout. Think The Mars Volta meets the Doves, with a dash of early Radiohead thrown in for good measure.

The album begins with Phantom Spaceman, a track that stops and stutters around a staccato guitar riff. From there we find a more classic indie/alternative pop sound in The Truth, which gives way to the unusually-observant-yet-gripping City, a song that repeatedly asks "Why is this city here?" Trouble rips along like a Rush tune played at double time, borrowing a bit of early 90s grunginess to make its final point understood.

The band is adventurous and quick to avoid the pigeonhole, eagerly supplying the listener eclectic musical visions with each new track. While the blueprint is somewhat scattered in theory, it never fails to deliver results.

MISH MASH Mandate: Red Rover
The Vital Might Website

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Various Artists
In The Pines
Tar Heel Folk Songs & Fiddle Tunes
Old Time Music Of North Carolina 1926-1936

Old Hat Records
24 song CD with booklet

North Carolina has always had a rich tradition of "hillbilly" music, and this latest release from Old Hat Records documents the era of major label activity in the Tar Heel State from 1926-1936. It seems that the influx of industry and disposable income into the state early in the 20th Century convinced the labels that there was an audience for recordings of native musicians, so a wealth of tradtional North Carolina music was recorded at that time, ending with the failing economy of the Great Depression. In effect, we're given a unique snapshot of that decade of recording activity, along with literal, rare photographic snapshots in the 22 page booklet. As an added bonus, most of the tracks have never been released on CD before now.

The disc begins with the track that started it all, "Dock" Walsh's In The Pines, recorded in 1926 by Columbia in Atlanta. It's a simple and stark folk song featuring only Walsh's solo vocals and banjo, reminiscent of a blues song with its repetitive lines and percussive picking. Old time gospel surfaces in Dixon Brothers' & Mutt Evans' Are You Sure?, where they pointedly ask, "shall I meet you in the land beyond the sky?"

Perhaps the most interesting track is the original version of Tom Dooley, as performed by writer/fiddler G.B. Grayson & guitarist Henry Whitter, which of course was made famous decades later by The Kingston Trio. The original has a decidedly upbeat bluegrass feel, told in a winding storytelling fashion, differing from the later version. In the booklet, we get the background story of Tom Dula (aka Dooley), who was hanged for murder in 1868 at Statesville.

As with all Old Hat releases, In The Pines is flawless in both execution and presentation, as attention to detail and quality is impeccable. This disc has a wonderful selection of hard-to-find music, along with even harder-to-find information and documentation rounding it out. Simply put, this is more than a history lesson --- it's a chance to meet the musical past face-to-face.

MISH MASH Mandate: Doodlebuggin'
Old Hat Records Website

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Didactic Dichotomy

8 song CD

Crawling from the same Southern Gothic mid-section of Georgia that spawned R.E.M., WILX stirs up an edgy, country-fried rock album that is sure to shake things up down in Athens. While they also worked with R.E.M. producer John Keane, the band's original roots are in Mississippi, which explains why the comparisons to Stipe & Co. are short and sweet. There's an underlying grittiness that escapes the high-falutin' musical panache of the traditional Athens music scene.

WILX keeps it simple, relying on big guitar riffs and anthemic choruses, not trying to get flashy or heady. Their forumla works without being formulaic, freshly riding the wave of classic rock without sounding derivative or simply retro. For me, this all comes together in the absolute driving rock of To You And Yours, where a fuzzy bass rides gleefully beneath one of the catchiest rock hooks I've heard in a long, long time.

This is the kind of album where you can imagine that the band really does best in a live setting, as every song sounds like its been finely honed in front of an eager audience. My advice would be to catch the album, and while you're at it, catch them live if you get the chance.

MISH MASH Mandate: Southern Soul Stew
Wilx Website