The Tim Terry Experience
(Soul Street Records)
A Memphis native with gospel roots, Tim Terry cut his musical teeth as a sideman and a session keyboard player in California and Nashville, touring alongside such established soul artists as Cameo and Shirley Brown. But when he decided to form his own band and step to the front of the stage, he returned to Memphis, where he was greeted by a soul and jazz scene that put a greater emphasis on live, original music than he'd seen previously in the city.
Having rapidly become one of the leading players in this new homegrown soul movement, Terry takes the next step with a remarkably assured debut album. He cites soul stars such as Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Isaac Hayes as inspiration, but The Tim Terry Experience is able to honestly evoke these influences without sounding retro. The organic sound of the music -- live instruments and church-bred vocals -- is a worthy inheritor of those classic sounds, but Terry always sounds contemporary. Indeed, what his music reminds me of most isn't the soul of the Seventies or even the retro feel of most neo-soul acts but the modern groove music of former Tony Tone Toni frontman Raphael Saadiq.
The Tim Terry Experience was mixed at Prince's Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis, and Terry reveals that influence with the strong guitar lines and falsetto screams and sighs that occasionally break up the soft soul bed and calm, warm tenor that otherwise marks the record. Riding a strong two-steps-from-gospel groove for nearly an hour, Terry may not equal the masters of Stax and Hi, but this Experience is still the best local soul album in a long time. --Chris Herrington
North Mississippi Allstars
Recorded live at the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tennessee, this June, Hill Country Revue is truth in advertising: It presents what is perhaps Memphis' most beloved rock band giving an 80-minute survey on the living scene that birthed them.
The guest stars the local quartet -- brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, gospel-schooled bassist Chris Chew, and part-time member Duwayne Burnside -- summoned for the event are plentiful. For starters, it's a family affair: Band patriarch Jim Dickinson takes the stage to growl his way through "Down in Mississippi." Burnside's dad and living blues legend R.L. Burnside emerges to perform his "Jumper on the Line." And another generation of Burnsides in the form of R.L.'s grandson Garry makes an appearance with a rapped verse on "Been So Glad." Other guests include Widespread Panic keyboardist JoJo Hermann, Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson, and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band.
The Allstars themselves are still the standouts. In recent years, the band has branched out from its hill-country blues base, embracing more contemporary rock and pop sounds and much more original songwriting. Hill Country Revue brings the band's sound all the way back home, showcasing such band and genre staples as "Goin' Down South," "Po' Black Maddie," and "Shake 'Em On Down." This live album showcases chops honed through years of hard touring more completely than any of the band's studio albums.
Ultimately, Hill Country Revue is a testament to the persistence of regional culture. Perhaps America is getting more homogeneous with every passing year, but if this assortment of guitar-wielding jam-rockers, ancient-sounding fife-and-drum players, barrelhouse boogie masters, and trance-inducing blues gods has anything to say about it, Mississippi will continue to sound like Mississippi for a long time to come. --CH
Kimya Dawson stands at the intersection of several fine lines: the sometime Moldy Peach and anti-folkster writes wordy songs that are silly but serious, jaded but sincere, hopeful yet ironic, cute but rough-edged.
On her second solo album, Hidden Vagenda -- possibly the year's best album title -- she usually finds a workable balance between all these complex traits, throwing in some clever wordplay or crude bathroom humor to spice things up. Whenever she slides into one trait over another, however, she quickly becomes unbearable.
The antiwar song "Viva La Persistence" expresses sincere appreciation for an Anthrax album before ranting about WMD and "deep-fried apathy." But the next song, "Lullaby for the Taken," sounds knowingly precious as Dawson sings a chirping chorus about a kidnapped child. This smirking attitude works well in the hoedown "Parade" but saps the drama from the sing-along "I Will Never Forget." Despite its tongue-in-cheek title, the deadly serious "Anthrax (Power Ballad Version)" recalls the Moldy Peaches cut "New York City Is a Graveyard" and is shot through with an authentic dread about 9/11 and the world it created.
Ultimately, it's her tumultuous relationship with earnestness and irony that makes Dawson such a complex persona, much more compelling than West Coast nü-folk upstarts like Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, whose concentrated sincerity seems bland compared to Dawson's mercurial emotions. n -- Stephen Deusner