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Local Record Reviews

Catching up with a couple of late-'09 local releases.

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Gonerfest 4 always will be remembered as the year of the acoustic guitar. Okay, not really. This growing local institution — an outgrowth of garage-rock-identified Cooper-Young record store/label Goner Records — is a multi-day, multi-venue festival devoted to a somewhat specific strand of usually loud, usually simple, usually colorful, and almost always electrified noise that draws bands and fans from around the world.

It's a huge success and a lot of fun, and the fourth fest, from September 2007, has been documented in this dual DVD/CD package produced by Goner in association with Live From Memphis and Rocket Science Audio. And the acoustic guitar does figure in two of the 37-performance DVD's finest moments: the Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright performing solo acoustic on "Broken Things" — which would later be a highlight on the band's 2009 album Love & Curses — testifying to the pure quality of a songwriting and vocal talent that would outshine colleagues in pretty much any subgenre. And then there's the late Jay Reatard, who shows acoustic guitar and high energy are not mutually exclusive by furiously strumming one on "I Know a Place."

Reatard is all over this collection, playing drums with the Final Solutions and Barbaras in addition to leading his own band. His solo material here is a now-harsh but still welcome reminder of the intensity of his talent. There's more at stake in his performances of "Oh It's Such a Shame" ("That's the way things go/People change as they grow") and "I Know a Place" ("...where we can go to be alone") than on perhaps anything else here, although Australian visitors Eddy Current Suppression Ring's bracing, no-frills "You Let Me Be Honest With You" is similarly gripping.

The entire DVD is dynamically shot and edited by the Live From Memphis crew, performance segments broken up by quick vignettes that enliven the package's you-are-there sense of personality and place, jumping from the Hi-Tone Café to Murphy's to the Goner store, where King Louie provides another highlight with his "Jesus Loves My One Man Band."

The concert DVD is so good that the audio disc suffers a little by comparison. I keep finding myself looking up for visual accompaniment that isn't there, even though on strictly musical terms (aside from great stuff by Mr. Airplane Man and Donny Denim, among others), it might be even better. — Grade: A-

The debut album from local blues-rock power trio Dirty Streets is impressive. After building up their live credentials over the past year, the young trio (Thomas Storz, Justin Toland, Andrew Denham) does a good job capturing that precocious on-stage power on Portrait of a Man.

Some comparison to early North Mississippi Allstars might be warranted here, but the Dirty Streets are more vocally and musically aggressive. More Zeppelin/Cream/Humble Pie, less Allman Brothers. Where the Allstars' debut was essentially rooted in local styles — bohemian '70s rock and hill-country blues — Portrait of a Man is a straight classic-rock facsimile, but played with such energy, enthusiasm, and skill that the band makes this more-generalized sound their own.

More than half the songs on this debut clock in at over five minutes, but it rarely feels indulgent. The guitars swagger and strangle and live up to the band's name: When the Streets take off on a solo, there's no jam-band exploration, just full-on grimy attack. And the rough, menacing guitar tone is matched by vocals that growl and bark beyond their age.

But this music is not all noise. Witness the dynamics and nuance of "Give It Up," to choose one example. The song opens with a splash of drums and some nifty soul bass before erupting into possibly the album's fastest, fiercest, and catchiest guitar riff, which it rides for a couple minutes. The band hits the brakes mid-song, revs back up, cools down for a low-boil groove without petering out, then rallies again for a finish.

This album is callow to be sure — as song titles such as "Ramblin' Rider" and "Troubled Times, Troubled Mind" might indicate — and it isn't quite as commanding when they really slow it down ("Red Dress"), but all that only means that this already accomplished young band still has somewhere to go. — Grade: B+

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