Talk about holding a grudge and wallowing in misery. Of Montreal leader Kevin Barnes saddled his band with such a cumbersome name to remind him of the hometown of the woman who broke his heart. Though the band has kept the moniker, Barnes and company's music is a far cry from depressing. It is part of the Athens-Georgia-Elephant-6 collective, a loose-knit unit of like-minded psychedelic pop bands that includes the Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. Of Montreal's latest, Gay Parade (Bar/None), is as happy and sunshine-filled a record as you'll find. It's so gosh-darn, Ned-Flanders cheerful that on first listen it seems sarcastic; but no, the band is 100 percent irony-free, a refreshing rarity in underground rock. Sketching characters for song topics, Barnes tells surreal stories of lonely people, blissful domestic life, miniature philosophers and, in one case, a fawning boxing fan who gets a stick thrown at him by the object of his desire. The vignettes are entertaining, but it's the twists on '60s harmonies and instrumental touches that make Of Montreal engaging; the band makes delicious bubblegum pop much the way the Turtles or the Hollies would, spaced out on LSD. With 20 performers on Gay Parade and a touring band of six, Of Montreal is a happy-happy-joy-joy parade unto itself.
-- David Simutis
Of Montreal performs Friday, April 23, at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh Drive, (713)521-0521 with Lady Bug Transistors, Silver Scooter and Port Vale.
American Birthdays -- Chamber musicians generally get paid to dog-ear the sheet music of longtime dead Europeans. And contrary to the bias of Houston presenters, Gershwin and Copeland aren't the only classical artists who scribbled music in America. In "American Birthdays," Da Camera celebrates piano and string melodies of four composers who get very little play in the Bayou City. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Charles Wuorinen, George Rochberg and Elliott Carter prove there's more to New World posterity than the likes of Scott Joplin.
New Orleans native Gottschalk, known as "Moreau," was a virtuoso pianist at 13, educated in 1840s Paris, and the first American composer known abroad. Chopin and Berlioz loved his Latin, jazzy Bamboula. Prefiguring ragtime, its restless bars get to cooking with colonial Louisiana dance rhythms, which are still hot in the West Indies. There's no connection between Gottschalk's tropical melody and Wuorinen's Blue Bamboula, except both have C sharp as the tonal center. Pianist Pedja Muzijevic features both artists in a lively bamboula banter.
Rochberg's eclectic String Quartet No. 5 contains clever takeoffs on Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak and Mahler. Some say this mimicry is ingenious; others call the artist a "master forger." Elliott Carter's vocal work Of Challenge and Of Love creates a tuneful setting for the poetry of John Hollander. California-born soprano Lucy Shelton sings the cryptic, postmodern verse. Carter's nostalgic strains capture the irony and anxiety of the lyrics. "American Birthdays: Wuorinen, Rochberg, Carter" happens Tuesday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Menil Collection. Tickets are $22 at Da Camera Music Center, (713)524-5050. (Cynthia Greenwood)
Duke Robillard -- With his excellent new release, New Blues for Modern Man, Robillard makes his contribution to the small pile of honest contemporary blues albums.
In his 30 years in music, Robillard has developed into one of the most versatile artists in blues. His history includes 12 years as founder and leader of Roomful of Blues, two and a half years as part of the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the early '90s and more than a dozen years as a solo performer with 13 albums to his name.
In that time Robillard's music has touched on virtually every facet of postwar blues. Many of these forms are represented on New Blues, which may be the most diverse CD of Robillard's career.
For example, the boisterous "Jumpin' Rockin' Rhythm" mixes elements of Chuck Berry and Texas blues.
What's notable about New Blues is that, despite its diverse sonority, its accomplished musicianship and its clean sound, the songs were recorded without much planning. His live show promises an even greater spontaneity. Duke Robillard plays Thursday, April 22, at Billy Blues, 6025 Richmond, (713)266-9294. (Alan Sculley
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