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The Tip (my music e-zine)
Snowed in, 2003
Issue 16

The other day, Paris and I were sitting around at the condo in Vail and I said to her, "Honeypetal, do you think maybe if people had better art to consume, like something deeper to connect to, they might not spend half their lives scouring the web for our Super Juicy Hardcore Sex Video?" Paris grunted. She was working on a tricky cuticle situation. "You know," I said, "Like if we could put together some kind of special holiday list, of cool albums or whatever." The TV was on and something come on about Tara Reid's new piercing. My sweetie didn't look too happy about it. "See, they could buy these discs and the music would sort of keep them company. And if they liked one, they could buy extra copies as Xmas gifts, like, you know, for the Special Hardcore Video Sex partners in their lives. Or even just, like, their super glamorous celebrity friends. Wouldn't that be sort of cool?"Paris put down her tiny scissors and looked at me in that hot, emaciated way she has. "Shut up and cut me another me line," she said. And I said, "Yes, master."

1. Hem Rabbit Songs
(Dreamworks, 2002)
Every once in a great while, you hear a singer and think: Yes! Yes! At long last: the truth! The deep, shivering yesness of it all! Ladies and gennemen, Sally Ellyson and her amber waves of piano, her haunted fiddle. God touched this woman, very softly, right on the throat.

2. Stereophonics
You Gotta Go There to Come Back (V2, 2003)
Yeah you do. Kelly Jones is a stone-cold whomp machine. The dude writes sultry R&B, sings like Rod Stewart on a Nyquil bender, and provides the odd clavinet solo. Don't get spooked by the hard stuff; the ballads on this disc will make you gooey.

3. Marisa Monte
Memorias, Cronicas e Declaracones de Amor (EMI 2000)
Samba samba to a whole new level. The songs here are langorous, beguiling, highly suitable for the soft crash of human love. Her funked up cover of Jorge Ben's "15 Minutes" sounds like Lady Marmelade in space. Yum. (Big ups to Kirkus McGirkus, South American corresponsal del Tip, for the pimp.)

Guest Tip from Downtown Julie Hill Barton:
POETRY AND AEROPLANES (Universal Records, 2003)
Teitur is a guy, age 25, from Denmark's Faroe Islands. His first album is acoustic guitar with this textured fusion of violin and piano, not to mention Teitur's incredible, part soul/part Nick Drake/part out-of-nowhere voice. And the intimate lyrics earn the album's title. Listen to someone other than Steve for once and get this album.

4. Boris McCutcheon
Mother Ditch (Cactusman, 2001)
You know something's up when The Tip goes two in a row. Yuh-huh. The ten tracks on this debut are utterly sure of their mood and vision. It's a bit like picking up one of Dylan's early albums, back before the deviated septum. Boris turns "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" into a folklorico epiphany. Go to for the love.

5. Phil Cody
Big Slow Mover (Tiny Head Records, 2000)
Cody's put more groove in his lube on this one and the results are drop dead: roots music with a languid, waltzy low-end. "Opposition Radio" is straight from the Warren Zevon playbook, and "Standing Invitation" is a registered melody bomb.

Guest Tip from the incomparably guilt-ridden Stephen Duesner:
The Drive-By Truckers
Decoration Day (New West, 2002)
Critics love 'em, but don't let that fool you: their fifth album is full of songs so intuitively lyrical and unfailingly candid that the last decade's worth of alt-country (that never-ending search for indie authenticity) sounds like a not-very-funny joke. The highlight here is Jason Isbell's ballad "Outfit," in which his daddy advises: "Don't call what you're wearing an outfit/Don't ever say your car is broke/Don't sing with a fake British accent/Don't act like your family's a joke."

6. Medusa
Annie Lennox (1995)
So I'm going soft in my dotage. Big shocker. This disc is nothing but lush arrangements of soul and pop standards, with a few delicious ringers. Lennox turns "Train in Vain" into a gospel lament, and manages to make "Don't Let It Bring You Down" appropriate for necking. Bless her.

7. Smoking Popes
A Tribute Various Artists (Double Zero, 2003)
None of you punks listened when I told you about these guys way back when (#2) so I'm gonna try again: the Popes were the first, best, and maybe only true emo-punk outfit on earth. These covers come from obscure Chicago area punk bands, who manage to capture the crystalline beauty of the originals. They ain't dead till we say so.

8. Bob Schneider
The Galaxy Kings (Shockorama, 2002)
Nobody's making as much sonic joy per annum as Schneider. This one is full of big, luscious keyboard fills and gratuitous references to candy. Soul music for the sugar obsessed.

Double-dip guest tip from Keith Morris, author of the "The Greyhound God", a new novel you should buy, at once:

My Morning Jacket
At Dawn
Thanks to their recent major label release, the My Morning Jacket bandwagon is filling up fast. But their best is At Dawn, on independent label Darla. This is forlorn stuff--think clinking whiskey bottle, a whiff of cannabis, and Kentucky boys howling at the moon. What Jay Farrar would be up to if he still resembled Jay Farrar.

Frontman Daniel Bejar is best known for his ensemble work with New Pornographers, but Destroyer is the better band. Listen to the first five tracks on Thief and you'll think you've discovered the missing link between David Bowie's Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust albums. This guy just hears the world better than the rest of us do. Streethawks is also well worth your time.

9. Jimmy LaFave
Texoma (Bohemia Beat, 2001)
Jimmy's new one has all the necessary mojo: odes to red dirt and Woody, scorching solos, Texas swang, the necessary Godfunk, and that dark edge that makes Toby Keith sound so much like a wind-up toy. "Love Will Find Its Own Way" is a masterpiece in three minutes flat.

10. Madison Smart Bell & Wyn Cooper
Forty Words For Fear (Gaff, 2003)
Bell's got a mordant, quavering voice. Cooper provides the darker lyrical shadings. Mitch Easter plays guitar. Don Dixon rides the boards. Plus: accordion, ukulele, a tuba solo. Blue Nun" sounds like the Everly Brothers with a giant, thoughtful hangover.

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2003, Steven Almond