PICKS/Rob Patterson

DVD: Control — The story of singer Ian Curtis of the seminal late 1970s British new wave band Joy Division rates as one of the finest musical biopics ever made, and for any number of reasons. Shot in actual locations where the story happened in Manchester, England, it is suffused with a realism that few such movies ever achieve. It is brilliantly acted, and even the music, performed by the actors playing the band, hits the note perfectly. The directorial debut of noted music photographer Anton Corbijn, Control has a visual artfulness created by being shot on color stock that was converted to a stark yet stunning black and white. It’s not just for fans of Joy Division and new wave music, standing alongside such seminal British youth movies of the past as Look Back In Anger, Billy Liar and Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in dramatic impact, spirit and look.

CD: Haymaker! by The Gourds — I must preface my comments on this utterly delightful disc with full disclosure: When The Gourds emerged on the music scene in Austin, Tex., where I live, a little over a decade ago, I was utterly captivated by their take on roots music. I played an early and pivotal role in kick-starting their career and have a co-production credit on two songs of the band’s charming debut (largely for little more than being there when they were recorded). That said, I’d been disappointed with their most recent releases, and wondered if the group was loosing creative steam. Boy was I wrong. Haymaker! is everything I felt the band could achieve and more, and all 14 tracks are catchy earworms that you can’t and wouldn’t want to shake. In a parallel way to how The Band created a musical Americana some 40 years ago, The Gourds draw from the rich loam of the Southern musical soil to create a sound all their own. This January release is guaranteed to be atop my best albums of 2009 as well as persist in the future as an all-time favorite.

CD: Rich Man’s War: New Blues & Roots Songs of Peace and Protest by Various Artists — This 2008 collection slipped through the cracks in my attention last year, and sadly so, because it’s a worthy contender for one of the best political albums of the year. Not only is it a musically muscular and credible set, but also largely avoids the pitfalls of contemporary topical songwriting. There are a number of fine songs here: Guitar Shorty’s “We The People,” Candye Kane’s “Jesus and Mohammed,” Pat Boyack Band’s “Mr. Wesola’s Lucky Number Dreambook Part II” (which recalls the best of Gil Scott Heron), Roy Zimmerman’s cheeky “Chickenhawk,” Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater’s gospel prayer “A Time For Peace” and Doug MacLeod’s “Dubb’s Talkin’ Politician Blues.” And even the songs that don’t quite hit the mark and fall prey to clichés still shine thanks to their spirit, sentiments and musicality. With a new year and new administration, time and events may well make this compilation a bit less relevant, but it still plays with a timeless charm.

From The Progressive Populist, Feb. 15, 2009

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