Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Review: Third Man Records Singles Collection 2009

In many years from now when someone asks me about my record collection and what records I truly love I’ll choose Jack White. But I’ll skip past White Blood Cells and Elephant, give Broken Boy Soldiers a miss and leave Horehound behind, instead I’ll pick out Third Man Records Single Releases 2009 because it is a divine celebration of music. The concept is beautiful, truly moving, different artists of a more then just a diverse nature come together, centralised around this one nurturing institution in Nashville. It’s not about personal tastes, would I buy a Transit record? Hell no but how can you ignore people singing with such conviction about the NTA. It’s not about virtuosity because Mildred can’t sing or play to save her life. It’s not even about originality seeing as Fly Farm Blues could’ve been written 100 years ago. What this LP represents is community, a fertile collection of musical pursuits and celebrations. It wasn’t just the dawn that was glorious after all.

The Dead Weather, who dominate the collection, perfectly encapsulate this ethos. They are band that really shouldn’t exist from a commercial or careerist perspective, yet they do because they feel they have to, the music drives them above anything else. Listen to the unprecedented inventiveness of I Cut Like A Buffalo, the unrestrained passion of You Just Can’t Win or the amazing interactions of talented musicians on A Child Of A Few Hours. You can’t ignore them but their trademark dirty blues is exclusive to them on the album and a wide range of genres are explored.

The talent is in no short supply as seen in the infectious Rachelle Garniez single. She didn’t need a b-side because her vocal range on one song is enough to fill an LP, a vocal range that elevates a lovely pop song into something more special. Similarly Dan Sartain’s irrepressible groove at first seems standard but there’s something ‘off’ about it that you can’t quite put your finger on and it makes the song all the more endearing.

The weirdness isn’t always subtle though. I doubt A Glorious Dawn’s quirkiness will ever be surpassed by another Third Man Release yet the sentiment seems sincere and it’s a perfect snapshot of the esoteric approach Carl Sagan took to our existence, making us observe with child-like wonder. Of course Mildred & The Mice are just silly. There is absolutely no great musicianship on display nor is there any song writing chops, instead Mildred just shouts her way through the record putting forth so much bravado that you can’t really do anything but like her. But Transit take the cake for the biggest, for lack of a better term, ‘what the fuck?’ moment. They appeal to mainstream tastes more then any other band on the album but the repeated shouts of ‘NTA’ really catch you off guard.

Of course Jack gets to produce his idols creating a flawless 45 with proto-Jack himself Dex Romweber. It’s the best single of the lot and you can’t help but squirm at the synergy as Jack and Dex trade howls on Last Kind Word Blues, like the most demented father and son duo imaginable. But most importantly it proves Jack’s tireless thesis that the blues will never get old. An even greater blast from the past is the triumphant return of Wanda Jackson who really get’s the entire Third Man treatment, complete with squealing solos and Memphis horns. Her vitriolic howl on You Know I’m No Good makes Amy Winehouse seem tame.

And most importantly it does the work of any self-respecting indie label, launching some younger bands. They are the shakiest for sure but they still show some great potential. The ethereal harmony of the Smoke Fairies is not everyone’s cup of tea yet they manage to convey an amazing amount of mystique for such a new act. The Black Belles certainly don’t break any new boundaries yet you cannot deny the hooks they possess. Indeed if What Can I Do? had been 40 years ago it would be the next Dead Weather B-side.

In the end it’s BP Fallon who says it best. His simple blues I Believe In Elvis Presley serves as both a celebration and a warning about placing our musical heroes in a divine canon. I’ll choose to ignore his warning: I Believe In Jack White and I Believe In Third Man Records.