Ask me to pick a label to keep an eye on and it’s hard not to place Anti Records at or near the top of the list. With a roster that includes the likes of Tom Waits, the late Elliot Smith, Nick Cave, Neko Case, Joe Henry, Jolie Holland, and the Black Keys, the label certainly boasts some of the cooler and more adventurous music makers on the contemporary scene. The label has begun 2005 like it finished 2004, in fine fashion. Let’s take a look.
Before The Poison
Along the lines of that old E.F. Hutton adage, when Marianne Faithful makes a record, people tend to pay attention. An artist who has covered everything from folk to pop to rock to punk, be if for her rock star travails with Jagger and the Stones during her loose and crazy early days or simply for such memorable works as such 1960s hits as “As Tears Go By” and “Come and Stay With Me” or the 1979 masterpiece of an album, Broken English, Faithful has always grabbed attention whether she was trying to or not. Before The Poison is Faithful’s debut for the Anti record label and is as worthy of ears as anything she has done during her lengthy career that has spanned some 40 years. Simply put, the album presents an artist who by all accounts as she approaches 60, is aging quite well. While the vocal range may not be where it once was, Faithful wisely does not push the envelope displaying nothing but poise keeping that singing within her limits on Before The Poison. Collaborating with the likes of PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Damon Albarn of Blur, and Magnolia composer Jon Brion helps spread the wealth and ease the spotlight being entirely on Faithful. Such collaborations are nothing but complimentary over the course of the 10 tracks comprising Before The Poison. Her first album since 2002’s Kissin’ Time, half of the 10 songs are collaborations with Harvey featuring the rocker in supporting roles on both guitar and vocals. The Harvey stuff with their barbed, guitar-driven melodies, each at the cusp of rocking out but never quite pulling the trigger, are easy to pick out. They make a nice contrast to the three meditatively melodic numbers contributed by Cave who, like Harvey, is also featured in a supporting role. No doubt the addition of these two artists help fuel Faithful’s fire resulting in a record which she herself describes as beautiful and which to these ears is a claim I wholeheartedly second. (Anti Records, 2798 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026, or www.anti.com)
Marianne Faithful appears at The Paradise Rock Club in Boston on Friday, March 11. The Paradise is located at 967 Commonwealth Avenue. Call (617) 562-8800.
Burn The Maps
Much like it did with Neko Case’s debut live recording for the label called The Tigers Have Spoken released this past Fall, Anti Records also choose to introduce Irish band The Frames in the same manner last Winter with the live album Set List. What listener’s may have learned from hearing that record was that The Frames had themselves one heckuva following in their home land as evidenced by the wall of crowd noise heard all across the tracks comprising Set List. It’s first studio recording in nearly four years, Burn The Maps represents step two in The Frames’ introduction on these shores, that being a studio recording of new material much along the lines of past import-only records that brought them to the forefront in their native Ireland. Burn The Maps is the Dublin-based foursome’s fifth studio recording in all, and first for an American-based label in Anti. Containing 12 tracks, the band scales the heights of rock and folk pop offering a dozen rather majestic sounding numbers moving from folky melancholy to resounding, majestic numbers bolstered by string arrangements and all that typically peak with a big finish.
A Healthy Distrust
Label this recording one of those hometown boy makes good stories. The home boy in this case is Providence native Sage Francis who still calls the Ocean State his home. The URI grad and one-time WRIU-FM hip-hop and funk disc jockey has steadily made a name for himself over the last several years as a crafty rapper to keep a watchful eye on. He hits the big time with A Healthy Distrust, his debut album for major player Epitaph Records. The home to a number of established entities in the punk and metal worlds, Francis is the label’s first foray into rap and hip hop. Frankly, Francis’ in your face and sometimes abrasive approach makes his oft-times raging brand of hip hop mixing in both humor and social commentary a good fit with the punk direction of much of the Epitaph artist roster. Where Francis strays from many of his hip hop contemporaries is the thought-provoking intelligence the masterful MC brings to his raps. A Healthy Distrust is filled with such moments of unbridled critique with Francis taking swipes at everything from the power wielded by mega-outfits like Clear Channel on radio playlists (“The Buzz Kill”) to the all-out assault on the current political climate and the mess in Iraq (“Slow Down Gandhi”). Beats from the likes of Alias, Dangermouse, Sixtoo, and long-time co-hort Joey Beats do nothing but fuel the Francis fire on A Healthy Distrust. The real beauty of the record is Francis isn’t afraid to break from the confines of the rap world when it comes to his subject matter and music. Evidence such uncharacteristic rapper fare as “Sea Lion” co-written with Will Oldham of Palace fame who also sings and plays guitar on the cut to the album closer “Jah Didn’t Kill Johnny” which is an acoustic guitar and harmonica fueled tribute to the late Johnny Cash. It’s moments like those that separate Francis from the rest of the pack and give A Healthy Distrust extra juice.