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Just Folks: Shellito and Christine Kane
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
2002-07-09
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People say that there's nothing new, that everything has been done. That's why, supposedly, many musicians have gone to using samples and aping, in hipster fashion, the fashion and sounds of yesteryear. It's inevitable, what with the recreation/style biting of the first the sixty's pop(in the 80's), then the seventy's rock (in the 90's), that Brand New Wave would be thrust upon us. You know, it's the oughts, so let's take New Wave and bring it back along with those fabulous 80's. But wasn't new wave 60's pop, on the one hand, and 70's art rock, ala Kraftwerk, Eno, and Pink Floyd, taken in a new direction? The mind boggles. Luckily, it's also inevitable that musicians would take a jazz-like approach and take an old style and make it their own, so listeners would say "that's sorta like this and that" instead of "wow, dude, they sound and look like the Cure!"

Going down the same yellow brick road as Astroblast, the Pasties, Guided By Voices, and the White Stripes (with fewer pit stops than the latter two)is Shellito, whose CD is a virtual one man gang consisting of Mike Shellito on everything, assisted by Jeff Tanner on guitar. Along with his simple music of great hooks, nice choruses and bridges, and dreamy, lilting popedelic vocals, is that elusive pop sensibility, that, along with the overall high definition low-fi sound, makes Shellito's Ingredients CD a record that could play in any era, past, present, and probably future

"Jim" is one of the best little pop songs this side of Bob Pollard (Guided by Voices). It has that stripped down pop/post pop sound, similar to the Violent Femmes, but not as college-nerdy-quirky, more understated and less self conscious. Not pretending to high-mindedness, this song captures the delightful, mundane moments and observations that fill our days. "Lima" blends sparse acoustic and electric guitar chords and riffs, organ, drums and a bass part that is barely there, like the soft rumbling of a distant subway. The hit song in an alternate reality, where sixty's radio aesthetic never died, is the great "You Really, Really Like Me." This is a sweet, pop confection that has catchy staying power, and the always relevant subject matter, lyrically, of not being sure of what's goin' on with the lovesexy thang.

Not content to be merely a proficient, pop song smith, Shellito dips and nods to the odd ball pop of such twisted geniuses as Scott Walker and Syd Barrett. "Virgin Torpedo" is like Walker playing music by hippies and taking psychedelic mushrooms instead of drinking beer in cloudy Scandinavia: "but it's after getting over all the absence can recover any inclination to be happy . . . that's the reason for a virgo torpedo." The song "Norma" could have been penned by Syd Barrett if he was able to harness his powerful genius and resist the dark side. The music lilts along oddly, yet with it's own logic; Shellito's voice bouncing along with the music, capturing that hint of madness. It's refreshing that there is, in the world of pop - indie, outie, major label, whatever - someone besides Bob Pollard, of Guided By Voices, and the too-self-consciously reverential/referential White Stripes, who has an ear for the elements of pop history, not just the pose and the clothes.

If you're gonna go retro, at least mine fertile and unstripped veins of music. After all we tread on dead kings. Or in the case of Christine Kane, we tread on queens. Her sassy, sweet and plaintive voice has strains and echoes of many that have gone before. Elements of Joni Mitchell circa 1976 and Emmy Lou Harris, merge with the sweetness of Natalie Merchant, sans her pretensions, and the raw honesty of Ani DiFranco and others in the neo-folk scene of today. On her new CD "Rain & Mud & Wild & Green," an organic and often raw mix of a mellow, acoustic guitar, layered over sparse, understated rock rhythms created by her musicians and co-producer Ben Wisch, her strong yet elegant voice gives her songs an earthy, no-bullshit, yet vulnerable quality. Though an article makes note of her humorous songs, like the MTV babe diss, "(No Such Thing As) Girls Like These," which is cute and funny, she is at her best with the more melancholy and plaintive slice-of -life songs like "The Way Clouds Do," and "The Way You Say Goodbye." Though these songs of the well-trod territory of life's vagaries in Relationshipville, the lady has a nice way of stating things: "A woman read a romance/And I could smell her fragrance . . . Every guy with a cell phone/Kept on trying to call home/Except nobody's home any more" and "Your birthday card arrived on Monday/And I think its kind of strange/Of all the things you might have told me/You just signed your name . . ." Musically, the instruments, acoustic guitars, tiple, dobro, percussion, bass, pedal steel, serve as underpinning and color, in service to the emotions of the songs and her stellar voice. These songs and others show someone with insight, expressiveness, and good pipes. This makes it hard to pick a favorite song, since the songs flow together nicely, like moments on a sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy Saturday afternoon. My least favorite is "Girls Like These." I know that video hoes don't exist - at least where the average viewer can meet them - and that they probably look pretty normal, though skinny, and are a creation of make-up, fetish wear, cinematic lighting, and photography. I don't need to hear this. But then again, I'm a grown up guy. Hmmm, maybe there are teenagers out there who need to hear this.

When it comes to pop, folk, and other genres, it is so easy to do things wrong, to destroy the delicate balance of a good song, or attempt to cover up a lack of skill, taste or something to fuckin' say, with musical smoke and mirrors. It's nice to hear artists that, while not reinventing the wheel, are making a wheel that rolls smooth and has nice rims, that believe in quality.

Shellito can be contacted at www.shellito.com. Christine Kane can be reached at www.christinekane.com; Big Fat Music, P.O. Box 842 Asheville, NC 28802; or www.arielpublicity.com Order these CDs today, and get on the bandwagon. The way the music business is going these days, there may be no other way to get this, and other high quality music.


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