This has been a year dominated by work and taking care of the kids. Still, a few memorable musical items managed to get onto the radar.
Long-time readers know of my fanatical devotion to the music of Lisa Marr, (e.g.,here) formerly of Cub and Buck (and here), and currently of The Lisa Marr Experiment(a/k/a The LMX) and from time to time of the Beards. I discovered her because Kim Shattuck of the Muffs, whom my wife and I love more than almost anything, said in an interview (which I can’t find anymore …) that the only bands she liked were Cub and Buck. This set me on an internet search for what promised to be a new musical holy grail. I was not to be disappointed. I bought the Cub and Buck records for my wife for Christmas 2001. I ended up listening to them and getting into Lisa Marr’s music in the Spring of 2002. I was pretty blown away, especially by the Cub Record “Come Out, Come Out”. This led me in turn to the Beard’s unbelievably brilliant record,Funtown (and here), which was the best record of 2002, IMHO. I then bought and fell in love with the LMX’s 4 AM (and here). It was the most excited I have been about any currently active musician in years and years.
Well, Ms. Marr blessed us with a new record in 2003, called American Jitters (or here.) “Jitters” is a very good record, with several excellent songs (especially “Niagara, Niagara”, “Monday Morning, Echo Park”, “Slaughterhouse Ceiling”), and one brilliant one (“The Boy With the Lou Reed Eyes”). (Full disclosure: several of the songs are by the guitar player, and I do not think they are in the same league as Ms. Marr’s songs.) Nonetheless, this is a very good record, certainly worth buying. (If you are not familiar with her music, I’d say start with Funtown (which has seven out of eleven songs by her, four by Kim Shattuck), and then 4 A.M. which has several positively brilliant songs.)
This all segues into the best musical event of 2003 for Lex, and one of the best ever. As it happens, Lisa Marr’s planned tour to support the new record did not come off due to a cascade effect of bad luck. But, being a trouper, she drove out of LA with a guitar and a box of records, and did a one-woman “tour”, playing at locations of opportunity for a couple of weeks. By a combination of circumstances too convoluted to detail here, Lex and Mrs. Lex managed to be in the room when she played a “private concert” to a very small gathering in the living room of one of her Chicago-area fans. This was a phenomenal evening. She played a bunch of requests for older songs she would probably never have played on stage. She’s a great vocalist, and she sounded great that night. Her songs are so strong that they stand up very well to this type of minimalist treatment. I’ll level with you: I was so happy to hear some of these songs it was actually painful. From some musicians we don’t merely expect good, or even great, but we expect the sun the moon and the stars. And just sitting on the couch with an acoustic guitar, she rose to that stellar standard. She mentioned that she was working on a “solo album” of “pop stuff”, as well as other projects. I anticipate many more great things from Lisa Marr in the months and years ahead. She is truly one of the musical wonders of the age. Our Chicago Boyz readers will be kept notified.
Ms. Marr compounded all this by turning me on to a terrific band called the Cutters. (Picture at the top of this post.) These guys get the coveted title of Lex’s Favorite Musical Discovery of the Year. There are several songs on their website. Check out “20th Century” and “Postcards”. I bought both of their albums, “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday” and “In the Valley of Enchantment” and I very strongly suggest you do the same. I suppose they could be characterized as pop-punk. Some up-tempo, rockin’ ones (“Cigarette City”), some almost New-Wavish (“Type A Girl”), some more straight guitar punk/pop, like “Postcards”. The band is tight and hard-hitting. Their singer Angela Brown has a distinct vocal style which I like very much, smart and mature sounding. She reminds me a little bit of Pauline Murray of Penetration, but really doesn’t sound like anybody but herself, which is fine by Lex. Oddly, for an outfit of this quality, they seem to have a rather limited area of operations in and around Arcata, California. Typical. Musical greatness too often exists in out-of-the-way niches, and it is pure luck if you ever hear about it. (The late, great 6X from Atlanta were the same way – check out the songs on their site.) So, give yourself a present and go buy those Cutters albums.
Finally, I must mention the two Los Straitjackets shows I saw this year, with the fabulous World Famous Pontani Sisters. I raved about the 4th of July at Fitzgerald’s already. The Christmas Pageant show was phenomenal. Sold out, for one thing. The Straitjackets could be mistaken at first blush for a tribute act, or a send-up of the ‘60s era instrumental surf sound. But they are really much more than that. They are perfectionists, wonderful musicians and showmen. And some of their original songs like “University Boulevard” or “Pacifica” or “Isn’t Love Grand” are simply so sheerly beautiful that they have to be taken straight. And the Pontani Sisters have to be seen to be believed. If you get a chance to see either, or especially both together, go do it.
(Lex’s Best Books (and maybe other stuff) of 2003, and Lex’s predictions for 2004, time permitting, soon.)