15 May 2008

Tod A: the grumpy global griot

CD REVIEW
Firewater: The Golden Hour
(Bloodshot Records)

I love life -- even with the earthquakes, floods, and political turmoil. But that's not to say I can't appreciate a good escapist message, especially one delivered with the deep growly angst that Tod A pours into The Golden Hour's opening track, "Borneo." He sings: "Gonna set my sails for the virgin soil / You know I don't wanna die for the price of oil / ... So I'm getting out of here." Whether Borneo is really an oasis from conflict and stupidity, he sure makes a compelling musical case with the song's jungle beat, jangly guitar solo, and great backing vocals by the Levantine Boys Choir.
[mp3] Firewater: Borneo
The whole album is something of a travelogue of the adventures of Tod A (formerly of Cop Shoot Cop), the soundtrack to his brilliant (but not recently updated) blog postcards.blogs.com: "Everything started off smoothly enough, as everything usually does before going horribly wrong. Disasters of any magnitude rarely seem to come with any huge preamble."
On the album he sings of disasters and adventures -- rooted in his travels, during which he was "drugged, robbed, detained, and later struck down with severe intestinal problems," finally calling a halt to the whole misadventure when "I was forced to end my trip at the Khyber Pass on the Afghan border, due to general ill health and the unnerving likelihood of kidnapping." As he sings on "3-Legged Dog": "I've been down so long that comin' up is giving me the bends."
[mp3] Firewater: 3-Legged Dog

Like any good storyteller, he turns his misadventures into great tales, incorporating a wide variety of musical styles he's encountered: Bhangra on "This Is My Life" and "Bhangra Bros," Jewish niggun on "Some Kind of Kindness," and various shades of swing noir. Tying it all together are his gritty, bluesy vocals, and a deep world-punk sensibility that will appeal to fans of bands like Gogol Bordello and Kultur Shock.

Imagine, perhaps, a twisted South Asian version of Paul Simon's Graceland as reimagined by the secret musical lovechild of David Bowie and Tom Waites. Yeah, that about sums up this amazing release, which may have only one foot under the umbrella of "world music" but has already become one of my favorite albums of 2008.
Also, check out The Story Behind The Golden Hour (YouTube)
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