Thursday, October 22, 2009

Album reviews - Shakira and Seasick Steve

‘She Wolf’
(Sony Epic)
BEGINNING and ending an album with the same song, albeit in two different languages, is never a sign of a quality offering, and despite the opportunities I afforded this album to disprove my initial scepticism about it, well, suffice to say there was no ‘eureka’ moments on offer here.
Why someone would choose to name their album ‘She Wolf’ is beyond me, but maybe it was to allow the undoubtedly talented Shakira to demonstrate her embarrassing howl, which she does - several times, and in both languages.
This aside, the title track ain’t necessarily a bad offering, the jaunty guitar and heavy synth beat like a cross between the Gossip and CSS, the latter whom Shakira has mercilessly plundered, but it is the slick production and heavy orchestration that saves it from total ignominy. Unfortunately, proceedings peak at this point and rarely make much of an impression beyond that. Ok, the rat-tat beat of Did It Again, the Caribbean flavourings of Good Stuff, the faintly euphoric dance beats of Men In This Town and the tabla percussion and sitar-heavy Gypsy are clearly not the worst songs ever written - but that is probably all that could be said about them. Hilarity prevails when the ubiquitous Wyclef Jean turns up on the awful Spy, featuring the most blatant rip-off of the guitar hook from Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop we have ever heard - the poor man must be rolling in his grave.
The anodyne rock beat of Mon Amour is laughable and the aforementioned final track, in which Shakira sings She-Wolf in Spanish as ‘Loba’, complete with howls, is side-splittingly funny, as are much of the lyrics on this bizarre album. I’m being kind with two stars, clearly because Shakira sounds like she is on the verge of laughing her way through most of this album and is not taking herself too seriously. Worth a listen.
Seasick Steve
‘Man From Another Time’
YOU might have thought that the hobo-chic effortlessly practiced by Mr ‘Seasick’ Steve Wold would be wearing thin by this, his fourth album.
A self-declared “song and dance man”, Wold has carved out a decent career for himself on the strength of his hobo-blues, which draw heavily on his life experiences and utilise the most rag tag collection of instruments this side of the Mississippi.
Thankfully, the follow up to ‘I Started Out With Nothin And I Still Got Most Of It Left’ is excellent; Wold refusing to let the momentum drop from a meteoric rise in popularity that began with a by-now famed appearance on Jools Holland several years ago.
Festival appearances, tons of kudos and mucho album sales later and Wold is still singing about the everyday; his ‘Diddley Bo’, essentially a plank of wood with a coke can and a steel string, modelled in a lap-steel guitar-style, to which the opening track is devoted, sounding like Led Zeppelin covered in a broody Deep South batter and some superb drumming; ‘Big Green and Yeller’ in which Wold sings about a John Deere tractor; and the raw ‘Happy (To Have a Job)’ which is perhaps the most autobiographical song ever written - “I can’t stop what I’m doing, it’d be the death of me”.
The interesting thing about this album is that Wold takes the bulk of the songs down a notch or two and allows his impressive musicianship to come to the fore; the effortless strum of the ‘Banjo Song’ hears Wold croak and allow his voice to creak, uncaring how it sounds.
It is the truly superb ‘That’s All’ that is the centrepiece of this rich new vein of form Wold is demonstrating, the tongue-in-cheek sassiness of his earlier offerings replaced by an earnestness that is admirable.
He allows himself to cut loose, the chorus showing he can reach the high notes, while the song grooves along in a skiffle beat, Wold almost Cobain-esque in his drawl, “I wanna fly like a bird over these walls / never to be heard from again”.
Superb. RATING 4/5

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