Friday, August 26, 2011

Keene Brothers - Blues and Boogie Shoes

Blues and Boogie Shoes (2006) ***

Essentially what you get is a Tommy Keene record sung by Robert Pollard.  I don't know whether they were there together in the studio or whether Keene mailed in the music and Pollard recorded the vocals over the tapes (it may very well have been the former, but too often sounds like more of the latter).  Keene's guitar playing is keen as keenful and his melodic arrangements are as intact as ever, and Pollard is Bob, haphazardly tossing off his trademark ready-made vocal melodies to infectious effect.  The problems are twofold:  the post-Isolation Drills uniformity of sound (all steely guitars cruise controlled at midtempo except for a few acoustic balladic breathers), and as I implied in my second sentence, the fact that Keene and Pollard don't quite mesh.  Keene's music sounds as meticulously crafted as usual, but Bob's vocal melodies sound as slapdash and written in five seconds as usual - which can work if Bob's going for spontaneous and lo-fi, but Keene's work is hi-fi and carefully non-spontaneous (look at how long the man takes between albums.  Now, compare and contrast with Pollard's recording release schedule.)  Long point made short, I can't hear these songs and not wonder how much better they'd be if they'd had Tommy singing them.  And for all his obvious rhymes and romantic cliches, at least that's preferable to lyrics that make literally no sense at all, as is Pollard's stock in trade.  So, no emotional heft, that's one point off.  It's not as if this 40 minute, 12 track longplayer doesn't have some fine tunes up its sleeve, and in GBV (but definitely not Keene) tradition the highlights are scattered all over the place in non-chronological order.  Thus, it blasts off on a classic 50-second GBV rocker note, "Evil vs. Evil," which is catchy and strong in large part because of its breathless brevity - a sheer jolt of caffeine.  "Death of a Party," happens to be one of the stronger tunes Pollard has put his name to since GBV broke up, and buried near the tail end of the CD is "This Time Do You Feel It?" which contains a brilliant vocal hook (so I see that Pollard's good for something).  Bob's not needed at all on "The Camouflaged Friend," which is a guitar instrumental.  "Island of Lost Lucys," is a pretty ballad, and tracks like "A Blue Shadow," rock anthemically, but you'd expect all of those things from a GBV album (Tommy Keene, too - "The Naked Wall," being the most Keene-ish of these tracks).  As most of Pollard's post-'90s albums have been, the music is non-lo-fi, unadventurous jangly hardish-rock -  but we can hardly blame Bob for that in this instance, now can we?

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