On Charlie Pickett, ‘Madam Owl’ — and a geekometer prediction

MONDAY MORNING PLAYBACK

Charlie Pickett, “Bar Band Americanus” (Bloodshot Records, available Oct. 7). Who says the Republicans get to toss around the word “country” as though they invented it, not to mention co-opting cowboy fashion and the cowboy hat, which was all over the Xcel Center floor last week? It’s high time we reclaim “country” as our own, put the western back into country and western, and stand up to CMA antiseptia  with gritty, ballsy, bluesy collections like this, which never forgot that country music was and always has been dirty, Telecaster-fueled, and subversive.

The Faint, “The Geeks Were Right.” A “Smells Like Teen Spirit”-caliber anthem for these anthem-weary times. (Heard exclusively on The Current at the moment, but if my geekometer is right, it’ll be in every Hot Topic in every mall by Christmas.)

Dan Wilson, “Against History” and “Free Life” (Parkway Theater, Sept. 4). A group of 500 or so theater-goers were stunned into a funereal silence by Sen. John McCain’s acceptance speech on the big screen and the notion of this great land being dumbed down even further. Some were too chagrined to do anything but escape to the quiet of their homes and thoughts, but the ones who hung around were instantly healed by these two tunes, played with a ferocity and passion that the moment demanded.

Billy Bragg (everywhere, Sept. 1-3). While the Republicans cast the most important presidential election of our lifetime as “American Idol” versus America, the sense of urgency was not lost on Bragg, who rallied 15,000 troops at the Take Back Labor Day concert on Harriet Island; played various full sets and hootenannies and in-stores; posed for photos; signed autographs; and, in the end, provided something of a one-man oasis away from the madness that infiltrated St. Paul. Coin a cliché and it’s true: the real deal, walks the talk, a hero and inspiration and gentleman. And beyond his well-documented heart-centered politics and singing/songwriting abilities, his host family would like to report that Mr. Bragg is an even more stellar human being and house guest.

Jeff Hanson, “Madam Owl” (Kill Rock Stars). Orchestral, lithe, stunning. A rumination worth taking time for. A long walk with a friend. An elegy, a eulogy, a gift.

Ike Reilly and the Parkway Hoot chorus, “Put a Little Love In It” (Parkway Theater, Sept. 2), a hootenany I was involved in. Sung to the rafters with so much gusto, it’s still going strong this morning, from Libertyville to Minneapolis to St. Paul to Baghdad.

The Elegant Trio, “Awkward Rap” Hilarious, juvenile, smart. (Helps if you’re looking over the shoulder of a hilarious, juvenile, smart 13-year-old.)

Lizz Winstead and crew, “Wake Up World!” (Parkway Theater, Sept. 1-3). Speaking of oasis, this New York troupe delivered the goods to a sold-out politics-weary bunch of freedom fighters who found community in each other, music, and comedy for three important nights. If there’s any justice, a souped-up version of this ready-for-primetime hit will be a daily diet on a cable network near you, and soon.

Jeremy Messersmith, “Franklin Avenue.” Haven’t heard the full album yet, but whenever this gem eases out of the radio, I get a rush of ELO channeling Big Star and the most bittersweet caught-between-summer-and-fall ache.

Allison Moorer, “A Change Is Gonna Come”
(Harriet Island, Sept. 1). Hard to believe that as this peace-bringing thrush was recasting the Sam Cooke classic as a country hymn, Amy Goodman was being arrested and the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul were sitting on the sidelines and not standing up for the citizenry, the way Amnesty International has. Thankfully, the way Moorer sang it, “change” wasn’t a politician’s stutter, but a true thing happening before our very ears.

Razor Face
(Parkway Theater, Sept. 3).This Elton John tribute band was the capper to a very heady three-night stand. John Eller and mates played all the hits and deep cuts, including a very saucy “Sweet Painted Lady” by Laurie Lindeen, a ripping “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” by Randy Casey, and Eller tearing it up on vocals and keyboards for all of it, starting with “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” Toss in the closing one-two punch of “Young Americans” and “All the Young Dudes” and we’re talking gig of the week, in front of a total of 28 people (I counted). More, please. Much more.

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