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Tucson Weekly Rhythm & Views

SEPTEMBER 22, 1997: 


Tragic Animal Stories

ANY COLLEGE ROCKER worth his bachelor's degree will sooner or later head wide-eyed in search of post-grad sound adventures. Few, though, will be as well-equipped to handle a musical career beyond the gates as Eric Bachmann, maestro behind the one-person pop ensemble called Barry Black. It shouldn't surprise us: Bachmann's main gig, Chapel Hill's Archers of Loaf, has always exhibited an aptitude for making music that transcends its indie-rock pedigree even while helping define the genre. Barry Black's 1995 self-titled debut was a patchwork of spare-time recordings with local North Carolina musicians (Ben Folds), producer (Caleb Southern), and random scenesters. Though too informal and unassuming to assert itself as anything but a lark, the record was an unexpected gem of eccentric pop that revealed compositional talents Bachmann had only hinted at in his other band. Fortunately, Bachmann deemed his side show worthy of further exploration. So we have Barry Black's follow-up, Tragic Animal Stories, a far more formal and self-conscious affair. With a blend of instruments both classical (strings, horns, woodwinds, piano) and modern (guitars, percussion, loops), he paints each of the 10 tracks in a rich, distinct and playfully appropriate hue: Plodding tubas motivate "Dueling Elephants"; an ominous violin sounds "When Sharks Smell Blood"; synth washes and distant whale-call vocals start the "Tropical Fish Revival"; and so on. The results are like Peter and the Wolf done by the Brian Wilson Chamber Group: Even lumping in fond references to Satie's piano figures, Cage's exotic percussion and Eno's static ambiance, the pieces are consistently generous to modern pop tastes. Fucking delightful, actually.

--Roni Sarig


The Complete Victor Recordings: "When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland," 1929-1930; "Worried Man Blues," 1930; "Sunshine in the Shadows," 1931-32, 3 CD set.
Rounder Records

WHEN A.P., WIFE Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle drove into Atlanta to sing their fourth session of songs for the Victor records man, it was nearly a month after Black Friday, the nightmare day of the Depression. The Carters were riding high, so high Maybelle bought a black Gibson F-hole acoustic for $275. So high that many of their records were held by 50 to 100,000 fans of "Old Familiar" music. Their musical tales of woe and spiritual import were needed more than ever. Indeed, with their voices and their guitars the Carters wrote the Rosetta Stone of acoustic folk and country music. Decades later, its winning vocal harmonies and spirited musical style still has a palpable impact. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s this trio defined for many regions popular music, and everything after it would be forever changed. The family's affect is still felt. Maybelle's daughter June Carter Cash carries a big black guitar like her mama. June's daughter Carlene Carter plays handily as well. The first family, however are the ones honored by Rounder Record's faithful reissue of the trio's massive body of musical work. Deeply felt, these 60-odd-year-old recordings of Virginians are covered regularly by wildly diverse musicians, including John Prine, Iris De Ment, Alex Chilton, Nanci Griffith, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Cash and a myriad others. On disc, the stellar versions and muted recordings convey all of the charm, the folksy porch swing of music that is so infectious it requires genuine effort not to take a stop. Singing initially at churches and social gatherings in Virginia, A.P. worked as a farmer selling fruit trees and working in sawmills. Carter began to record in early 1927. The rest, all of it, nine CDs-worth, is worth getting. Two songs and you're hooked. Forever.

--Brendan Doherty

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