Slaveships and Radiowaves

Oct 3, 2001 at 12:00 am

In the age of shiny-slick consumable products, anything that isn’t shiny-slick seems to always be given the last seat in the house with a crappy view and gum stuck to the cushion. Blair’s latest release, Slaveships and Radiowaves, is this sort of underdog. Solidly noteworthy, it was probably made for next to nothing, judging by the homegrown style of the disc’s inset and its sometimes barely sufferable recording quality. Regardless of its invention, praise be for its results.

A driving rhythmic insistence pulsates through everything Blair does, which is certainly his most defining character trait. Not unlike the rhythmic sustenance fueling the early work of Ben Harper, Blair’s material never wavers from this beating core. It’s steadfast in a track such as “Round the Corner,” which is threaded with subtle techno loops, sound effects, guitar workings and vocal layering, as well as in such pared-down acoustic numbers as “Leave ‘Em Hangin’.”

The marriage of this trait with the man’s own brand of lyricism — itself an invitation into glass globes of song with landscapes haunted, fragmented and embittered — makes for meaty, intelligent listening.

Deliberately testing the stylistic waters, tracks take root in a multifold of genres. Grooves range from Latin-infused (with flamencoish guitar and percussion) to a Southern-sounding garage band weaving a drunken and jaded tale about a “sweet but bitter man” to the parody of the instantaneously likable and melodically oscillating pop song, “Pop.”

Selections lose inertia when the listener is cast into lyrical obscurity without any sort of footing in the song’s scaffolding, although clever word association and sentence structures (like the heartstoppingly tender yet loaded “tidal wave of tenderness”) prevail over this downfall.

Despite forgivable setbacks, Detroit’s own innovation stands out (as a Buddhist would say), like a muddied yet shining jewel in the center of a lotus flower.

Blair hosts three open-mic nights a week: Wednesdays at 313.JAC (upstairs at Jacoby’s in Detroit) Thursdays at Urban Break (Hamtramck) and Sundays at Xhedos (Ferndale).

E-mail Kyle Norris at [email protected].