Inventory: 10 Surprisingly Good Tribute Albums

3. Weird Nightmare: Meditations On Mingus
The 1992 album Weird Nightmare is something of a stealth twofer: The compositions and poetry of jazz bassist Mingus form the backbone of the disc, but Hal Willner also incorporates the unique instruments of avant-garde composer Harry Partch, adding a subtly unearthly quality to the music. Though Nightmare’s core band includes jazz heavy hitters Greg Cohen and Bill Frisell, the album’s refreshingly wide-ranging scope of personality comes from a crew of vocalists including Henry Rollins, Elvis Costello, Robbie Robertson, and Requiem For A Dream book author Hubert Selby Jr., with Public Enemy’s Chuck D putting his definitive stamp on a reading of Mingus’ autobiographical recollection “The Fire At The Coconut Grove.” None of it necessarily sounds like what Mingus would have done himself, but that, of course, isn’t the point.

7. Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: Roky Erickson
Psychedelic pioneer, cult icon, and infamous LSD and Thorazine casualty Roky Erickson has experienced an amazing personal resurgence in the last couple of years, documented in the film You’re Gonna Miss Me. But in 1990, he was living in poverty, in legal trouble for hoarding his neighbors’ mail, and less interested in music than in dampening the voices in his head by switching on seven or eight radios and TVs simultaneously. Friends and supporters organized Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye to bolster Erickson and his musical legacy, and the results were splendid. The album is still uneven, and several of its covers are workmanlike at best. But Pyramid‘s numerous brilliant moments, including John Wesley Harding’s scorching “If You Have Ghosts” and T-Bone Burnett’s beautiful take on the lonely ballad “Nothing In Return,” drove home the point that even during his unbalanced “Martian” phase, Roky was still a powerful songwriter, well worth exploring.

Originally published on July 15, 2007 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Charles Mingus and Roky Erickson. Read the complete article.

Review: Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta!

Eugene Hutz picked up a sideline career as a film actor with 2005′s Everything Is Illuminated, but anyone worried about that derailing the momentum of his riotously inventive band Gogol Bordello can breathe easy. On Super Taranta!, the NYC-based gypsy-punk crew is as energized as ever, knocking out a rocked-up take on Eastern European and Roma traditional music that sounds a little like The Pogues and Gipsy Kings partying in the back seat of the speeding car from Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. This time around, styles like flamenco and reggae work into the mix. But whatever the sound, everything revolves around charismatically anarchic frontman Hutz, who tosses his Ukrainian-accented lyrics like grenades laden with radical politics and a sly sense of humor: “Have you ever been to American wedding? / Where’s the vodka, where’s marinated herring?”

Originally published on July 10, 2007. Read the complete article.

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