BY JAMES MOORE
Gabby La La’s little-girl pixie-dust vocals deliver shimmering wuthering-heightspop.
Wacky, wacky, wacky . . . all around the block. Knock-knock!Who’s there? It’s pint-sized powerhaus eclectic eccentric enchantressGabby La La, who describes herself as a cross between “cotton candy,stuffed animal, and tap dancing over the rainbow.”
Gabby La La
Picture a dash of Bjork mixed with Yoko Ono on helium singing Wizardof Oz munchkin-sounding anthems like “Golden Flea, “LittleFortune Cookie,” and “Elf”. We are talking blown-cityfree-spirit spider-web tip-toeing multi-instrumental nirvana (the old-fashionedkind). Gabby’s shimmering wuthering-heights pop is so far left ofleft field that it actually makes it back to center stage—if youcan ingest the swooping ethereal warbling little-girl pixie-dust vocaldelivery.
Her debut recording is called Be Careful What YouWish for Cause It Might Come True, which, not unlike a House Majority leader’s indictmenton charges of conspiracy to commit campaign fraud, turns the concept ofpositive thinking inside out.
The CD is produced and engineered by Primus slap-pappy Colonel Les Claypool,who also plays bass and percussion. Miss La La is the first artist inten years to be signed to Claypool’s Prawn Song label. What ateam! The two of them are weird as a 13-dollar bill and twice as muchfun. La La plays ukulele, sitar, accordion, electric guitar, toy piano,and theremin (that strange siren-whiny sound beam instrument made famouson the Beach Boy hit “Good Vibrations”).
With sing-song melodies, killer beats and feels, childlike (not necessarilyfrom a happy childhood) absurdist yet captivating lyrics, the overalleffect is like entering a kaleidoscopic romper room of underwater etchingsthat touches on David Lynchian Freudian Edgar Allan Napolean in a blackdress subconscious dreamscapes. This is micro-nouveaux riche music thateschews haute couture and is capable of charming the socks off WilliamBlake, Dr. Seuss, Boris Karloff, and the entire cast of ArrestedDevelopment in one swell foop. Cautionary note: It also borders on annoying.
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
I didn’t catch SJ & the D-Ks in concert at the Englert Theatrein Iowa City end of last month due to extenuating circumstances. WithSharon and band coming from the Monterey Jazz Festival, it was somethingI’d been looking forward to for a long time. My bad. But I can tellyou this: the intercontinental Sharon Jones rocks steady with her Dap-Kingson their newest recording entitled Naturally.
Jones sings with authority, passion, and soul gravitas. The whole listeningexperience is a throwback to the days when rhythm and blues, soul andfunk all nestled together in the same heated waterbed. The plaintivewhine in her voice rings tried and true, elevates the spirit. Suddenlyyour living room is a dance floor and you’re boogying with yourgal-pal as Jones waxes poetic about a natural born lover, is torn abouthow to let a good man down, or lets you know you’re gonna getit—and that’s not bad.
The band is big, eight members, complete with horn section. (The CD’s “MyFavorite Name” award goes to… Binky Griptite on guitar, emcee,and back-up vocals.) Mostly kicking, sassy funk, and r&b retro-petrolgems penned by bassist Bosco Mann, Jones’ take on Woody Guthrie’s “ThisLand is Your Land” as a minor dirge breathes a whole other perspectiveinto the song, somehow a perfect anthemic shot of reality for a nationsuddenly exposed to the ravages of race, poverty, and class issues inthe wake of hurricane Katrina.
The back and forth banter on “Stranded In Your Love” withguest singer Lee Fields is vintage soul tongue-in-“chic,” thejunkyard rap of a pleading lover trying to get in his ex’s doora precious hoot. “Your Thing is a Drag” has a James Brownzeitgeist. The CD traffics in the “Mustang Sally” or “991/2Won’t Do” by Wilson Pickett zone. Definitely a fish in mydish. On Daptone Records.
Speaking of missed concerts, Mali-born guitarist and singer BoubacarTraoré recently performed at CSPS in Cedar Rapids. As a 21-year-old,Traoré had a massive hit in his home country just after independencein 1963 called the “Malian Twist.” But life ebbed and flowedaround the necessity to support his wife and large brood of 11 children,though only six survived. He worked as a tailor and farmed sorghum andpeanuts, tended sheep. In the late 80s, journalists convinced him to performagain and he regained his status as national star.
His style is intimate, mellow, bluesy almost (perhaps indigo), fluidas a river, seductive as a bird’s call, fragile and melancholic,light as a sun’s ray. Vocals evoke Africa and the Delta crossroads.A small tight combo accompanies him on accordion, harmonica, thumb harp,a xylophonic balafon, and traditional drums and shakers. KongoMagni is world music recorded in Bamako and Paris on harmonia mundi records,distributed by World Village Music.
Yet another missed concert op, this time in Madison, Wisconsin, my hometown.The actively touring Philadelphia-based four-piece has been hailed bythe New York Press as “the square-jawed, bastard child of Pink Floydwith a gigantic stage show.” Piqued my curiosity, that comment.Apparently, they do a kickass live lightshow.
To my ear, BP’s new CD, This Feeling’sCalled Goodbye, ismore Pet Shop Boys than Pink Floyd. The electronic trappings and earnestvocalizing, the keys, synths, the pop sensibilities, the politically-awarelyrics, all create an inviting din, a neat pile of music. Sure, there’sa bit of Radiohead in there, lots of nice harmonies, well-constructedtunes, a definite briney Brit flavor, sweeping and dynamic-friendly. Ilove the instrumental interlude “Inhale.” These guys got somethingcool going on, kinda suave-o moody. Bet live it takes off like a dragonfly.
This independent Des Moines-based band’s newest release, ListenThrough the Static, is too precious for me. My computer actually refusedto play it. It’s recorded and performed very impressively, strongvocals, but feels too anxiously directed at the mainstream for my tastes.A popping live act. My hat’s off to their continuing efforts.
Loved the music on What’s Going Down from this Iowa City reggaeband, recorded by John Szec at P2M Studios. Loved the vintage black albumCD design. Loved the political slant. Loved the drumming. Didn’tlove the lead vocals. Thought “Choo Choo” was a little chee-cheesy,but nice package overall, mon.
Another local Iowa City band, JC is a piano-fueled sextet that boltslike a mule on ephedrine. Their CD Distracted is somewhere between a woo-hootenannyand a jazzy Blues Traveler esprit de corps with a Taj Mahal circa DaveMatthews wiggly, rough devil-may-care scratchy vocal anthem-building sensibility.The ballad “Sweet Movement” is especially noteworthy. It’shappy, bustling, good-time music for the most part, bursting at the seamsand prolly ripping in person. Also recorded by John Svec at P2M Studios.Impressive.