taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of local & state music CDs

THE BAND OF HEATHENS One Foot in the Ether

They were designated as having the best set at this year’s SXSW Music Festival by The Wall Street Journal and for good reason. A single listen to the Band of Heathens (www. release One Foot in the Ether is like a celebration of decades of blues, country, Americana, Southern gospel and rock. From Hank Williams to the Rolling Stones to the Black Crowes, every influence is touched upon, fused, wrangled and explored with total ingenuity and sincerity. There’s another hallowed influence to be found here, however, as the band’s utilization of three vocalists would attest. It’s impossible to listen to “Shine a Light” or “Talk Out Loud” and not once think of Levon Helm on the Band’s Music From the Big Pink. There are plenty of other subtle nods to be found, as the album borrows its title from opener “LA County Blues” and pays its respects to famed writer Hunter S. Thompson along with it. There’s even a little bit of Tom Waits-style bang-and-growl blues to be found in “Golden Calf.” Their cover of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ “Look at Miss Ohio” is by no means in the league of the original, but there’s also hardly room for improvement on the fragile perfection of Welch’s delivery. It was still a bold and faithful effort and simply put, One Foot in the Ether is the new benchmark for contemporary Americana, both in theory and execution.


Whatever happened to storytelling in hip-hop music? The focus of the rap game these days is more on big money bravado and inane club mantras than the narrative expertise of names like Guru and Ghostface Killah. The problem is that most don’t really want to think about hip hop, as a summer lacking a definitive rap album would indicate. But that’s where the underground comes into play. Brother Ali has long been one to skate by rapping about how he’s the baddest mofo around — that kind of confidence is necessary when you’re not only a white rapper, but a legally-blind albino as well — but he displays the rare quality of being both a gifted speaker and expressive lyricist of his latest release, Us. With Ant, one-half of Atmosphere, on board as producer, Ali crafts some of the most genuine rap tracks to come along in years, all laid over a heavy dose of funk and silky jazz hooks. Chuck D provides his stamp of approval on the introductory “Brothers & Sisters,” before Ali sets the albums hard, sermonic tone on “Preacher Man.” This is no quick-hitter either. Spread over 16 tracks, Us clocks in at just over 61 minutes with absolutely no filler. Every tracks exudes its own kind of gravity, whether it’s the stark isolationism of “Tight Rope” or straight-up smack talk on “Best@It.” There’s little chance you’ll hear Us on the radio, so do yourself a favor and hear it straight from the man himself. Brother Ali will perform at the Cat’s Cradle on Wednesday, Nov. 4.

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