Mike Dillon when he opened for Rickie Lee Jones at Crossroads KC last summer. ((My review.) Even though he embodies the beatnik spirit of many of Jones’ most beloved songs, the manic percussionist’s punk-informed jazz mystified nostalgic baby boomers. He finally won them over with a riveting arrangement of Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”
While still captivating, Dillon’s hushed interpretation of “Hurt” is one of the lesser of the 13 tracks on his uniformly excellent new album Rosewood. An uncommonly intimate press release explains why Dillon returned to Kansas City. Assisted only by recording engineer Chad Meise and drummer Earl Harvin, Dillon crafted the relatively serene Rosewood in the months following his homecoming. The emphasis on nuance rather than propulsive beats makes it one of Dillon’s most rewarding albums.
The intentionally wobbly “Mulatu Goes to India” exemplifies Dillon’s characteristic wanderlust. His hypothetical relocation of the Ethiopian jazz master Mulatu Astatke to another continent carries over to other tracks. With its blend of exotica and second-line funk, the opening selection “Tiki Bird Whistle” could be subtitled “Martin Denny Goes to Tipitina’s.” A cover of Elliott Smith’s “Can’t Make a Sound” transplants the late singer-songwriter to Tahiti.
The resigned “Vibes at the End of the World” is a Terry Riley-style meditation while the alarming “St. Cloud’s Drone” resembles a psychedelic distress signal. Yet the album isn’t a downer. The consistently somber but resolutely hopeful Rosewood may not be the unhinged party many Dillon fans expect, but it’s the profoundly inspirational pandemic soundtrack they need.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)