Arto Lindsay; The Spinanes; Morcheeba…
Peace and quiet are over-rated. Tranquillity, harmony -- feh. Boring stuff. Gimmie a world that includes hockey fights, bawdy rock stars, carousing politicians (Bill and Boris, come on down!), full-contact punditry, lawyers who bellow, "I object!" and, every once and a while, a bench-clearing brawl over wine.
"You don't give chardonnay any credit," I said to my good pal Hank (not her real name, by the way).
"Whaddaya mean I don't give chardonnay any credit. What kinda crack is that?" she snapped back, spearing a poached salmon thing with her fork.
"I mean, clearly you've leapt off the chard bandwagon like it was on fire and headed over a cliff -- and for no good reason other than it seems like the popular thing to say."
"Tell me the truth," Hank said, arching one eyebrow. "Are you feeling okay? Is this a medication thing?" Obviously Hank was not having any of the designed-to-rile rhetoric. She fired back. "You're too easy on chard. 'Ohh, it's so buttery, so vanilla, so chewy-gooey caramel.' Admit it Mr. Wine Boy, you're an all-day sucker with the word chard spray-painted on your big fat skull."
It was getting good. Time to voice a substantive charge and make it stick.
"Oh Yeah?" I said.
"Look," I countered, "chardonnay is a victim. A few moms and dads get to mooing about how chard is fat and passé and all of the sudden it's squaresville. We oughta get down on our knees every day and thank the wine gods that we're living in the 'Time of the Golden Chardonnay.' Open your eyes, woman!"
"Look," said Hank, getting that almost perturbed, almost amused look, "I'm not saying there's anything wrong with chard, I'm just saying that bottle for bottle, a sauvignon blanc is much more stylish, smart and sleek. It's just more...modern! There, I said it -- it's more modern. Deal with it!"
The gauntlet had been thrown down. The line in the sand had been drawn. The challenge was clear. Sauvignon blanc vs. chard. A no-holds-barred, winner-take-all cage match was in order.
First an apology. I endeavor to write about wines with two characteristics: 1. the wine must be good. 2. The wine must be available (i.e., easily found, easily paid for). This however, was a war. Ya gotta bring out the big guns.
Hank showed up 10 minutes late wearing a little black something or other (diversionary tactic) and stashed her bottles in the fridge. I went over to the stereo (home-field advantage).
Noon Chill (Bar/None)
I'd start any evening with Arto Lindsay's new LP, Noon Chill (Bar/None). Lindsay, who splits his time between New York and Brazil, is a musician with an intoxicatingly deft touch. If you've ever wondered what the Talking Heads may have sounded like with Astor Piazolla in the band, here's your answer. Lindsay, formerly of the bands DNA and Ambitious Lovers, writes songs that are both sweet and stylish, lush and edgy, and float somewhere between the soft haze of Astrud Gilberto's "Girl from Ipanema" and New York City's up-to-the-moment downtown scene. One moment he'll be softly skipping his tenor over the acoustic guitar and light percussion of a traditional samba; the next he'll be ducking in and out of drum and bass textures or trying to find a hidden melody buried within a stop-start trip-hop collage. Although Lindsay never stays in the same place for long, he always knows where he's headed and always seems at home when he gets there. While playing this LP, a friend commented that it was almost "too tasteful." That being said, readers of this mag oughta feel right at home snuggling up to Noon Chill.
I started the chard barrage with two Northwest bottles: Witness Tree 1995 Willamette Valley Estate, Oregon ($15), and Chateau Ste. Michelle 1996 Columbia Valley, Washington ($12). Witness Tree speaks strongly to what chard is becoming in the Northwest. Using newer clones of the grape more suited to Oregon's climate, Witness Tree shows a rich, honeyed mouthfeel that almost verges on butterscotch. The flavors -- rich pear and honeydew melon -- are sweet and rich, blending wonderfully with a nose that reminds me of a toasted (just a little brown) strawberry PopTart. That's a lot to love.
Give the Chateau Ste. Michelle a few minutes to breathe and you'll discover a white that, minus a few earthy notes on the nose, shows a nice squeeze of citrus softened by the slight hints of straw and green tea. This is not the honey-dripper style of the Witness Tree, but a solid table bottle nonetheless.
Arches and Aisles (Sub Pop)
The Spinanes used to be considered among the finest entertainment options in Portland. Then guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Rebecca Gates packed up and moved to Chicago, where she enlisted the help of critically acclaimed bands (Tortoise, The Sea and Cake). How she could move from within spitting distance of great pinot and chard is beyond me, but anyway... The Spinanes new LP, Arches and Aisles (Sub Pop), may be their finest moment yet. Perhaps it's the change in environment, but Gates' wandering songs of waiting, yearning and staunch determination in the face of life as we know it have never been this full, this whole.
Gates is not a shrieker. She's not especially bitter, nor does she seem needy, dependent or depressed. Instead, she delivers pronouncements that can be clever or gracefully understated with a tell-it-like-it-is reportage from life's battleground. Gates, sporting a husky but expressive whisper leaned against mid-tempo, tactfully spare pop, is capable of great hooks and skillful turns of phrase. That means she writes hummable choruses with lyrics you're not embarrassed to sing in the shower.
The thing that has always been impressive about the Spinanes' music is that it wastes very little effort. The Spinanes don't need to dally on the periphery of a song. They get right to it, dissecting the salient points and leaving little doubt as to how they feel. Like the Spinanes' music, the message put forth from a glass of Rochioli 1997 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley Estate is clear. Here's an SB as the Gods intended it.
There's really not a lot to say about the glass. It's about perfect. Imagine the most sublime and glorious morning you've ever experienced. Now imagine the perfect pink grapefruit you had for breakfast on that morning. That's Rochioli 1997, friends. Despite it's graceful, haughty airs (the elegantly bare-bones label, gold-stamped piping, a font selection that can only be classified as high and mighty), the Rochioli '97 is a deceptively simple wine. I'm quite sure the Rochioli artistes might disagree and make a case pointing to this wine's integration of many flavors into one, and I'm sure they're right. Maybe that's the point: This wine is so good, and all the flavors are in such harmony, that it seems as if one voice is singing -- pure, strong and bright. This wine is lean, smart and all about bein' all about it. You can't get much better. If you see it, buy it. Nuff said.
Australian Richard Davies is best known as an exponent of a baroque, sophisto pop that's been slowly gaining attention for a number of years. (His former partner in the band Cardinal, Eric Matthews, was discussed in this space recently.) In Davis we have a performer who seems obsessed with pace and feel. Songs must be smooth and sleek. His words must knit seamlessly between the notes. Melodies must wrap around each other and play themselves out unrushed. Songs must have a sense of grandeur; they must have a beginning, middle and an end. The musicianship must be impeccable.
On Telegraph, Davis, as you might've guessed, doesn't really rock the house, but his music, informed by equal parts Pink Floyd, Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Drake, is still compelling and smart. Singing in a soft, rather plain tenor, Davis pens quirky, literary lines and places them against softly brushed strings and intricately orchestrated arrangements. It just goes to show that good things can happen when someone with brains and style plugs in a guitar.
I'm not sure if chardonnay exudes the literary vibe of something like, say, cabernet. I mean, when the time comes to curl up with hot dish of literary fiction, chard ain't the first thing to pop into the old brain pan. Some chards are, however, simply better endowed than others. Take Patz and Hall's 1996 Napa Valley Chard for instance. Here's a big fat glass with swirls of butter, butterscotch, vanilla and honey -- all the big fat things we still love about chard. The special thing about Patz and Hall is the way all its notes come together to form one tone, much like the Rochioli. But while the Rochioli SB is zingy and zippy and begging for attention, the Patz and Hall is smooth, composed and stately. Class.
Big Calm (Sire)
Morcheeba, a trip-hop band from England and named after a New York expression for weed, exudes hipster cool. Singer Skye Edwards floats a soulful, arching voice over low-key beats and breaks that always lock into their groove with graceful precision. While many trip-hop acts have a tendency to sound thin or to run out of ideas after a few songs, Morcheeba goes from cut-and-paste sound collage to soul to laid-back dub reggae in the matter of a few graceful beats. While the band's Big Calm (Sire) may aim for a chilly, modernist distance, it's not at the expense of smoky, tongue-licking sensuality. Yum.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and not wanted a bottle of wine? I know it's rare, but sometimes you just don't want wine. You don't want beer. You don't want any sort of booze at all. You want something, of course, but nothing with a buzz attached. Try a supa-chill bottle of the next best thing -- San Pelligrino Italian sparkling water.
I don't know what they're putting in this stuff, but lately I'm absolutely addicted. It's cold and crisp with plenty of zappy bubbles, but not so over-carbonated that you can't swig it down with great refreshing gulps. Wave a lime slice over the top of this and you might as well be drinking from God's own faucet. Sure, not drinking wine with dinner is a strange concept that might take a little getting used to, but you can deal with it. San Pelligrino will help.
| More than 15 years after his death, the official recordings of Bob Marley and the Wailers have been thoroughly chewed and digested. But Marley (as well as Peter Tosh, his creative foil in the Wailers) was one prolific Rasta. He usually rehearsed his band six to eight hours a day and produced thousands of recordings -- many of which were released only on small labels in Jamaica or cheaply bootlegged or overdubbed after the band became popular. What's gone missing in the Wailers' discography was the definitive document of their earliest days, work that foreshadowed the reggae revolution lead by the Wailers throughout the 1970s.|
On Best of the Wailers 1967-1972, the Wailers' archive is opened, and newly discovered original takes and studio tracks are dragged into the light. What we unearth are decently recorded and produced material that documents what Tosh and Marley were working toward before they slowed down the rhythms and upped the spiritual and political quotient of their material to create reggae.
The Complete Wailers, while hobbled by clumsy packaging (the cover claims the tracks are from 1967-72 while the three booklets list songs dating back to as early as the band's first year, 1963) showcases Marley and Tosh attempting to walk a tightrope between R&B and soul pop. Not so surprisingly Tosh, with his jaunty and confident phrasing, comes completely correct with a brash attitude and well-placed urgency that add an undeniable spark to this set. Marley explores many different sounds and styles -- love songs, doo-wop, soul, covers (The Archies' Sugar, Sugar and Jr. Walker and the Allstars' Hold on to this Feeling) as well as proto versions of what were to become classic Wailers' tunes (Stop The Train, Soul Rebel, Bend Down Low, Satisfy My Soul). And while this set only hints at what was to come, it's a remarkable glimpse into the very ingredients that composed the world's finest reggae band.
There are many wine types that would be glad to tell you that New Zealand's Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world's finest bottles (unless they've cracked a Rochioli). They may very well be right. But for Hank to pull a bottle out now, especially since I've groused in this space about not being able to get some, seemed almost overkill. But, since all's fair etc., I sucked it up and poured myself a glass.
Cloudy Bay's 1997 juice, much akin to the Rochioli, is all about the pop and tang of citrus. But instead of the singular sweet grapefruit tone of the Californian, this New Zealander adds a squirt or two of lemon and maybe just a twist of lime.
It's tempting to stack these two big names up side by side, so I will. Of the two, I'm most fond Rochioli's strong, steely presence and spot on harmony. The Cloudy Bay, while perhaps showing a more complex blend of mineral and terroir is hard-pressed to go toe to toe with the Ro'.
I barely need to mention that all thoughts of war had passed between Hank and me. Heck, we never even came to blows. But for the record, the boxscore: Hank racked up big points early on with the Rochioli and finished strong thanks to the Cloudy Bay sneak attack. I played the tactical angle with a stealth introduction of Northwest chard followed by Patz and Hall's thermonuclear device. War is never pretty, but you do what you can.
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