Willie Nelson; Cat Power; Bonnie Prince Billy…
|> > Get 'em while they're not really all that hot... yet.
As much as I'm reluctant to do so, I'm obligated to issue the annual reminder with this, the annual Washington State "homer" column, so here goes: no grapes are grown in Seattle. None. Ever. Since the grunge harvest has fallen off, we now grow only mushrooms and mold. Occasional software harvests notwithstanding, much of the growing takes place in Eastern WA. Ever been? It's a fun drive. Head due east from Seattle, get over the Cascade mountains, cross the river formerly known as the Columbia, and drive across the desert until you feel as though you've reached remote Kurdistan. Proceed 35 miles down a dirt game trail, and take a left at that big pile of sun-bleached bones. Whoops! Watch out for snakes! Now set your watch back a couple decades and look for the vineyards. You're there!
Road trips of this duration demand, aside from a high-caliber radar detector and a pile of salami and cheese sandwiches, a fat stack of quality musical entertainment. At the top of this heap should unquestionably be Willie Nelson's new one, Crazy, The Demo Sessions. In reality, there are no new tunes on this disc. It comprises Willy's earliest, bare-bones tracks recorded shortly after he climbed out of his pickup, shook off his Texas dust and found himself in Nashville. The first eight tracks on this collection of tear-jerkers, ballads and honky-tonkers feature Willy strumming sad and lonely on his acoustic. Heartbreaking? Heartbreaking ain't even close! Try despondent. Try forsaken. Try lower than dirt. "Opportunity to Cry," "What Do You Think of Her Now" and "Are You Sure" are bona-fide cowboy classics. Of course, nobody realized at the time Willie was laying these tracks down just how dang earth-moving they were. Soon after landing in Nashville, Nelson did find success as a songwriter. Faron Young, Ray Price and Patsy Cline all scored hits with his tunes. Willie's delivery, however, was too offbeat for Nashville's hit makers, who buried him under horns, strings and fluff. Nelson, however, always believed the demos were his authentic sound. They were. This disc is a cornerstone of any substantial collection of American roots music. God Bless America and God bless Willie Nelson.
Despite the sad and lonesome location of the vineyards, Washington wines can hold their own. You know it. I know it. But it seems only a few usual suspects are able to soak up the heat of the wine press tanning bed. Maybe it's because California and Oregon hog all the attention (true). Maybe it's because the Washington appellations are far, far, far away from what we call civilization (true). More than likely, however, it's because many Washington wineries are the young, unknown basement bands of the current "scene," and it's difficult to move the dinosaurs off the block. Whatever to all of that. In true DIY spirit, a number of Washington wineries have banded together to present their juice under the "WAVE" banner -- Washington's Arriving Vintners Event (clever, yes?). These 13 wineries, mostly representing the Columbia Valley, Red Mountain and Walla Walla appellations, are young and hungry and -- no surprise here -- are pressing up mighty fine jam. Since these are small wineries, best to check their individual Web sites for availability, but hurry before some rich jerk in Walla Walla or Spokane buys it all.
Perhaps my favorite of this gang is the Buty Champoux Vineyard Columbia Valley Red Table Wine ($35). I took a trip to http://www.butywinery.com to discover that this winemaker was pronounced "Beauty." Too bad. It seems a bit like a wasted marketing opportunity for it certainly is booty-licious, booty-lovely and booty-lightful wine. Mostly cab with a good splash of cab franc, this is flat out delicious. The nose is gorgeously floral while the juice is sweet fruits, a bit of berry bite and a silky, smooth mouth feel. Tannin? Not so much. Maybe a puff of a Cuban or the first exquisite hit of a Winston. I heart this wine and my knees get a bit weak thinking of its union with something like a thin-sliced marinated flank steak, rosemary potatoes, and something green and crunchy.
Buty also sent along a pair of chardonnays produced using the same intensive hands-on approach. Winemaker Caleb Foster honed his craft at Glen Fiona, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Woodward Canyon, as well as during a stint in New Zealand with Rapaura. He was obviously paying attention. The 2001 Roza Berge Vineyard Yakima Valley Chardonnay is plush and round, with very subtle notes of crisp pear and peach, and perhaps a bit of tangerine. This is a wine so drinkable it borders on being illegal. You've been warned. Meanwhile, the 2001 Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay was a bit more aggro, with a fuller mouth feel, heartier spice and more pronounced vanilla. Don't ask me to choose. Available: WA, Chicago.
Cat Power |
You Are Free
Cat Power, a.k.a. Ms. Chan Marshall, has always been a rather "difficult" artist. Her LP Moon Pix, a collaboration with Australia's Dirty Three, is pure genius. Her Covers LP is, frankly, unlistenable. It's been five years since Moon, and Cat Power is finally back with an album of the moody, cathartic rock that built her rep as an "artiste." You Are Free is both lovely and unsettling. Its beautiful moments (and there are many) are underscored by a trembling anxiety and sadness that only compels you to listen one more time. Aided by the likes of Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder and Warren Ellis (Dirty Three), this may be the late-night album of the year.
Bonnie Prince Billy
Master and Everyone
Though he's been compared to everyone from Bob Dylan to Neil Young, there's really no one quite like Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Billy. He is at once wholly contemporary, yet with his archaic language and odd, disturbing themes, he could be writing songs from the cozy confines of 1897. His last album, Ease Down the Road, was a rather debaucheous ode to sex, love and more sex. Master and Everyone finds Bonnie Billy a bit more contemplative -- ruminating on the nature of love and how it changes everyone, everything. Lovely and spare (most songs only feature the Bonnie Prince plucking a guitar while his foot taps in the background), Master is quiet and reserved, its power emanating from Oldham's stunning writing ability (there's really no one even close in the songwriting game at this moment) as well as a delivery that, while understated here, never fails to deliver crater-like impacts.
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Paul Hillier
Paul Hillier leads this world-class choir through a rather contempo (last 100 years or so) survey of the secular and sacred choral music that all the hip kids are into these days. Of course, this collection features Arvo Part, but there's also representatives from Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Estonia. So, what's it sound like? There are few audio waves as enchanting, mystical and mesmerizing as these unadorned voices. If you're a fan of the Anonymous 4 or were briefly captivated by the Gregorian chant craze of a few years ago, this should be heard.
Turntablist Spooky's Optometry LP was a freewheeling dust-up without jazz cats Matt Ship and William Parker. This platter is that very same LP remixed, cut up, messed up and funked up. It's track after track of deep, funky grooves and brain-soaking trippy effects. Occasionally jazz grooves slip and slide around all sexy/sophisto-like, while Lee "Scratch" Perry rants and babbles in the background. Fluid raps, dub, funk and featuring the remix talents of Perry, Mad Professor, J-Live, Negativeland and others. Whoa.
While this band was actually recording and touring they couldn't get arrested. They were neglected, ignored and this made them sad. For a band with loud guitars and a singer with a set of stainless steel pipes, being sad is an interesting mindset. The songs on this LP -- an odds-and-ends collection of singles and compilation tracks -- are driving and straight-ahead but infused with a sense of melancholy that sets them apart from the usual pack of loud fast. Jawbreaker also drops some great covers here, including versions of the Psychedelic Furs' "Into You Like a Train," REM's "Pretty Persuasion" and a medley that includes U2, the Misfits and the Vapors. While a couple of these guys went on to form Jets to Brazil, this is the genuine emo-boys-with-broken-hearts deal.
OTHER UP-AND-COMERS FROM THE WAVE POSSE
RYAN PATRICK COLUMBIA VALLEY RED $35
Ryan Patrick's vineyards are, literally, within walking distance of the Columbia River. This, however, is not fertile and green. This is hot and toasty. A thin sliver of oasis hugging the riparian zone in the middle of the Washington desert. Thank God for long hot days under the Washington inferno and thank God for irrigation. This is a gritty, no-nonsense red with plenty of backbone, strong tannin and flavors of oak, cedar, black berries and black coffee. A slab of red meat seems a worthy escort. Available: WA.
SYNCLINE WINE CELLARS 2001 COLUMBIA VALLEY MILBRAND VINEYARDS SYRAH $20
This impressed with its supple resonant deep cherry. I enjoy wines that hit a single note, and this syrah nails it. Terrific finish on this wine that gracefully crept into bramble berries and hints of vanilla that just kept rolling. This is a clean, simple wine with well-defined, transparent flavors. Terrific now! Available: Seattle, Portland, Chicago.
VIERRA VINEYARDS 2001 CLARET $18
This claret (along with a syrah) represents the inaugural vintage for Vierra. It's a promising start! Claret -- 50% cab franc, 30% cab sauvignon and 20% merlot -- is sturdy and drinkable. A cellar candidate, but certainly ready now.
Available: WA, OR, MT, AZ, PA, NY, OH, CO, FL.
SAMSON 2001 MERLOT $13
Grown and located in the Nisqualy River Valley on Washington's wet side, the Samson isn't the silkiest merlot. But that's not a bad thing, especially considering it's unoaked and, I think, built for the long run. There's a hearty cherry concentration here, with lots of spice and good tasting wood. You could be accused of genius pulling this one outta the cellar in a few years. Samson also brews up a cassis and hazelnut wine, if you're so inclined. Available: Seattle.
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