WILLIE NELSON, Last Man Standing (CD)
How do you stare down the fact that your days are numbered? That’s the question hovering over the latest album from country legend Willie Nelson. The soon-to-be 85-year-old has watched all the artists that inspired him and nearly all those who were part of his outlaw posse make their final transitions. Sad, yes, but a dull inevitability. Rather than lament his fate, Nelson is facing it with the same humor, humility and gravitas that has marked his entire career. All of that is present in the title of the album: Last Man Standing. And he addresses it head on in the title track. “It’s getting hard to watch my pals check out/it cuts like a wore out knife/one thing I’ve learned about running the road/is forever don’t apply to life,” he sings, his ragged voice and vibrato fluttering around every word. On paper, it sounds like a slow lament but with the help of producer Buddy Cannon (he also co-wrote all the songs here), it’s a swinging joy, a tongue-in-cheek reminder to hold on tightly to life before it’s too late.  Last Man Standing is as much about looking backwards and it is toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Cannon’s music touches on the peaks of Nelson’s long career: the zooted waltz of his late ‘70s/early ‘80s output, the Tejano shuffle that infused his work in the ‘90s and the lightly wasted grooves of his more recent albums. The whiskey and women of his lyrics have been replaced by gentle laments about his bad breath and still kicking up dust on a Friday night, but the spirit is essentially the same. Through it all, Nelson sounds as strong as ever. His recent concert appearances have found him often in shaky spirit, gamely working through the hits but sounding like his age is catching up with him. You can still hear a bit of wear on his pipes and his strumming of Trigger but otherwise his as lucid as he ever was, an impishness within that reads like someone who can’t quite believe that he’s still above ground and making music in his eighth decade. We should all be so lucky.

Either Van Morrison’s muse just won’t stop working overtime or he’s trying to beat Willie Nelson for total recorded output while both are still active musicians. In any event, You’re Driving Me Crazy is not just Van’s 39th studio album (Willie’s got him substantially beat at 73) but his third batch of freshly recorded material in about six months. That’s not including a DVD documenting a recent tour. Even Nelson can’t match that.  Morrison’s previous release Versatile found him reconnecting with his jazz roots, which he never really left. He doubles down on that by fronting veteran organist Joey DeFrancesco’s group for this 15-track, 72-minute swinging set. Unlike Versatile, Van chose all covers this time, either written by him (eight selections) or classics from pop, jazz and blues writers or interpreters like Cole Porter, Walter Donaldson, and Ray Charles. In some cases, he thoroughly reconfigures and rearranges tunes as on his own “Have I Told You Lately,” which shifts from sweet ballad to a finger-popping, jazzy romp, and Guitar Slim’s “Things I Used to Do” that takes the slow blues and energizes it into a playful, bluesy hip-swaying frolic complete with a sizzling walking bass line and a rare Morrison harp solo. He doesn’t need to do much rejiggering of “The Way Young Lovers Do,” but kudos for going back and plucking that one from 1968’s classic Astral Weeks. He also digs deep into his back pages, dusting off obscurities such as 1991’s “All Saints Day” (which on Hymns to the Silence was already in full jazz mode), “Goldfish Bowl” (from 2003’s minor What’s Wrong with This Picture?), and the appropriately named “Close Enough for Jazz” (would have been a good choice for this disc’s title), a relatively recent 2012 track. All this activity seems to agree with the 73-year-old icon who remains in spirited voice, sounding as peppy and vibrant as any time in his extensive history. DeFrancesco and his talented three piece provide an effortless and elegant fit with Van who allows them plenty of room to roam and improvise. Morrison has been singing jazz from as far back as Astral Weeks and this recent dive into the deep end of that genre’s pool has clearly pushed a creative button. He’s scatting, playing with emphasis on words and acting as if he wouldn’t mind riding out the rest of his years in this zone. Fans who have stuck with Morrison for any length of time will eagerly welcome his recent spurt of creativity with You’re Driving Me Crazy (the title song has been covered by everyone from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra, Big Joe Turner and Louis Armstrong) as another worthy notch in Van Morrison’s remarkable and ever-expanding career belt.

BALSAM RANGE, Mountain Overture (with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra) (CD)
Much of what is thought of as classical music has its roots in the folk melodies of European countries. With that in mind, the pairing of bluegrass heroes Balsam Range (based in Canton) and the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble isn’t such a radical concept. Steep Canyon Rangers have similarly augmented their music live, onstage with classical instrumentation. Mountain Overture selects best-loved tunes from Balsam Range’s body of work and recasts them in a bluegrass/classical hybrid. A greatest-hits collection of sorts, Mountain Overture builds upon the foundation of songs from the quintet, adding instrumentation from seven classical players and (on some tracks) a percussionist. The album opens with “Trains I Missed,” originally the title track from the band’s third album. The differences between that 2010 recording and the new version are subtle: The strings don’t do much beyond filling in behind the bluegrass players. But the new reading adds wonderful layers of vocal harmonies, and drummer Kevin Leahy adds a welcome solid bottom-end to the tune, one that contrast nicely with the soaring vocals.“Blue Mountain” finds the group reaching back to Marching Home, its 2007 debut release. Here, the classical instruments take a more prominent role, suffusing the song with a richness only hinted at in the original recording. The new arrangement for “Eldorado Blue” also makes effective use of the added string players. “From a Georgia Battlefield” (originally recorded for Balsam Range’s 2014 album Five) further explores the possibilities presented by the Ensemble. In places, “Battlefield” takes the approach of using the string section as the basis of the arrangement, with members of Balsam Range adding their instruments atop that backing. It’s an effective choice, and shows that the overall mission of Mountain Overture isn’t to apply a one-size-fits-all arrangement style to all of its 10 tunes.

SPEEDY ORTIZ, Twerp Verse (CD)


KEITH URBAN, Graffiti U (CD)

DR DOG, Y R U Still Here (CD)

GODSMACK, When Legends Arise (CD)

JANELLE MONAE, Dirty Computer (CD)



BELLY, Dove (5/4)

LAKE STREET DIVE, Free Yourself Up (5/4)

SAM LEWIS, Loversity (5/4)


And don’t forget these STILL-NEW platters that matter!

From the opening licks of “Bad Habit” to the closing notes of “Family Tree,” you can feel the energy pulsing through the new Black Stone Cherry album. “Bad Habit” may be one of the best tracks exemplifying their fully fleshed out swagger. Robertson’s lament about a female temptress lets his juke joint-ready voice soar, while the guitar breakdown adds a great touch to the single. “Burnin’” was the first taste of music most fans heard from the record, with a little swampy ZZ Top vibe to the driving rocker. There are other standouts as well, like the extra pep in the step of “New Kinda Feelin,” which is bolstered noticeably by a piano backing. The talk box-infused glory of “Southern Fried Friday Night” is a weekend anthem waiting to happen. And there’s something wrong if you’re head is not bobbing along with some attitude upon hearing the muscular guitar play on “You Got the Blues.” We’d also be remiss for not mentioning two other key tracks. “Dancin’ in the Rain” is arguably one of the funkiest tracks on the album, getting an assist from Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes. And perhaps the most personal and moving song on the album is “My Last Breath,” Robertson’s soul baring confession to his wife and child. Starting off as a keyboard-based ballad, the song picks up steam and becomes a chugging rocker complete with a backing choir as the vocalist ponders what his final words should be. The Family Tree title for the album feels fitting as Black Stone Cherry appear to have finally grasped the roots of what they always wanted to be. And at six albums in, it’s encouraging to see the band deliver what should stand as one of the top releases of their career.

MARCIA BALL, Shine Bright (CD)
One of America’s best known, most beloved roots artists, releases a career-defining album produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos. Marcia is simply on fire throughout ‘Shine Bright’, with a rollicking array of piano-fueled roadhouse romps seasoned by her incomparably soulful balladry. Tracks include nine new Marcia originals, plus brilliant takes on the music of Ray Charles, Ernie K-Doe and Jesse Winchester. Producer/saxophonist Berlin guests on five tracks.

Tuesday afternoon, I was making my way home down South Limestone through University of Kentucky traffic with my windows down, when I self-consciously realized I had “Shoot Me Straight” from The Brothers Osborne’s new album playing a bit loud. It probably won’t be the last time the music of “Port Saint Joe” pours out onto the streets and sidewalks as the weather warms up. The Maryland brothers’ new album, named for the Florida panhandle town it was recorded in, is perfectly timed for the coming of summer and to capitalize on the honor they just took home: vocal duo of the year at Sunday’s Academy of Country Music Awards, besting superstars Florida Georgia Line and these kids Tim and Faith. Funny thing is the new record, which drops Friday (April 20), highlights something of a misnomer in that honor. While they create some great harmonies, the real duo of the Brothers’ collaboration is T.J.’s baritone and John’s guitar, which was the reason I inadvertently decided to share “Shoot Me Straight” with the afternoon commuter crowd. The bluesy growl of the liquor-soaked song — there are a lot of them here, and to be fair, more than a handful of references to subsequent headaches — is one of several six-string flavors brother John offers up in the album’s 10 tracks. “Pushing Up Daisies (Love Alive)” is a wide-open sound as easy as St. Joseph’s Bay (I assume) and “Slow Your Roll” is a jaunty acoustic-electric walk in the sun. It should be noted that this album is summery without being intentionally beachy, something that seems to come naturally to the mid-Atlantic duo. “Slow” opens the album with the brothers united, T.J. offering a clever growl sometimes reminiscent of Lyle Lovett in tone. His standout moments include the current single, “Weed, Whiskey and Wille,” and another country tribute, “Drank Like Hank.” The former, penned by the brothers and Laura Veltz, exemplifies some of the exquisite songcraft here: “My vices and heroes will hold me together when I’m lettin’ you go.” It’s also one of T.J.’s quieter highlights, along with “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” — a more positive perspective of Chris Stapleton’s “Up to No Good Livin’” — and the album-closing “While You Still Can.” Brothers Osborne are clearly still trying on styles, seeing what works here, and there are a few missteps like the goofy “A Couple Wrongs Makin’ It Alright.” But all-in-all, “Port Saint Joe” is a sophomore success we’ll be cranking up well after we can’t quite remember what snow looks like.

For all the appeal of Lord Huron’s elegiac, ethereal Americana, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver were ahead of them in a very crowded field. So after two albums of hymnal beauty with acoustic guitars – and a track, The Night We Met, popularised by Netflix – the Michigan band led by Ben Schneider have changed course. Now on a major label, the songs no longer conjure up vast rural or mountainous landscapes but the even more widescreen spaces of the cosmos. The title means “black void”, and vast swaths of reverb and echo (sculpted by Flaming Lips’ producer Dave Fridmann) create a celestial wall of sound; many of the songs have astral themes or metaphors. Writing on bass guitar has given the music a more powerful chassis, from Killers-like throb to subtle funk. Any remaining acoustic guitars have been blasted beyond recognition. The Balancer’s Eye (“I will see you again on the astral plane”) is cosmic pop, while Wait By the River – all doo-wop croon and twangs – and Secret of Life are reminiscent of Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak respectively. Schneider’s best songs tap into the desolate beauty of the loner, who now has a much bigger universe to get lost in. Although Ancient Names (Part I) is a convincing surging rocker, Schneider is best at penning sparse, delicate songs, which gaze at the stars and ponder life, death, the universe and everything, and the likes of Lost in Time and Space are truly lovely.

MELVINS, Pinkus Abortion Technician (CD)
To say that the Melvins music has gotten weirder is impossible; Melvins were birthed weird. It’s just that now, they just seem more inclined to experiment with the songwriting and decision-making, and Pinkus doesn’t veer from that sling. The opening cut “Stop Moving to Florida” thickly begins with a cover of James Gang’s “Stop,” an oddball collision that made me think Buzzo had finally embraced his inner KISS desires of pop riffs and summer fun vocals, before the song swivels and bizarrely melds with the twisted dyed blues of Butthole Surfers’ “Moving to Florida.” The album tends to nettle in these outposts of planted stomp blues and an almost lighter exploration of sounds, as banjos, acoustic guitars and steel drums act as placebos amongst the double-basses and strange falsettos. Tunes like “Break Bread” and “Embrace the Rub” almost seem gleeful. I could see “Flamboyant Duck” and “Prenup Butter” being spun around a sunspot campfire under Medusa’s watch, each song eventually dwelling in its own whisked dawdle. The best moment comes in the form of the album’s exit with “Graveyard,” a noisy hound that drags itself with clomp and feedback through the door. And yes, this album includes a cover of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Again, the Melvins surfaced from the depths years ago and started giving less f*cks about ventures into certain areas, and this cements that viewpoint. This is a song that the world most likely never ever needs to hear again, yet somehow they stomp the most overplayed pop rock hit in history into a happy plod with a vocal delivery that almost sounds excited. Technician functions on a level as another notch in the Melvins’ career that doesn’t act as a gamechanger but more a reminder that the bringers of sludge can do whatever they want and if it isn’t submersing into a pit of heavy riffs, it’s still interesting. The band has once again created the only other thing a long-time listener can presuppose successfully with this band: something unexpected and strange.

  • Brad Mehldau Double Hitter Out Now Via Nonesuch!
                  Grammy Award winning jazz pianist, composer, and arranger, Brad Mehldau, has two new albums, After Bach II and Après Fauré, out on Nonesuch Records! […]
  • Kamasi Washington Turns to Dance on Fearless Movement, Out Now!
    Following 2015’s (aptly titled) The Epic and 2018’s Heaven and Earth, the Los Angeles saxophonist, composer, and band leader juggernaut’s Fearless Movement is “a celebration of music, dance, and the ever changing maze of the mind that makes us who we are”. […]
  • TECHNICS SL-D202 turntable
    The semi-auto SL-D202 was introduced in 1981 as the replacement of the D2 model. They continued the tradition of employing a high quality direct drive motor and great sounding tone arm. The cue control was moved to the outside of the table for easier access. This turntable has been professionally […]
  • TECHNICS SLD2 TURNTABLE w/ custom paint job
    The semi-auto SL-D2 is the workhorse of the Technics family. Time has proven this model extremely reliable due to its high-quality direct drive motor and tone arm. This unit features a unique (and very handsome) custom paint job and has been professionally inspected, refurbished, lubricated and has […]
  • Yamaha 5-disc Carousel CD Player
    Tons of programming options and 18bit digital conversion (w/ 8 X oversampling)! Heavy duty unit and professionally inspected and refurbished!     […]
  • Thorens MM 008 Pre-amplifier
    Audiophile grade phono pre-amplifier, extremely clean sound and as reliable and well-constructed as they get! High versatility and ease of use: the MM 008 phono preamplifier can be adjusted to match the tonal characteristics of your pick-up cartridge, ranging from an MM setting to three different […]
  • Technics SLDD2 Turntable
    Technics direct drive quality at an affordable price! The great thing about Technics is they made quality affordable tables that were never “cheap”. This semi-auto SL-DD2 is one of the easiest turntables to operate. Simply move the tone arm over to start the record! This turntable has been […]
  • Technics SLD20 Turntable
    The semi-auto SL-D20 was the most popular of the p-mount turntables. They are ultra-reliable and feature a high-quality direct drive motor. This table has been thoroughly tested and is operating at 100%! Has been fitted with a like new audio technical stylus, Plug and play!       […]
  • Onkyo TX SR 876 Receiver
    Modern AV receiver with plenty of inputs and outputs and turntable READY with on-board phono pre-amplifier! Robust power for surround or otherwise at 140 watts PER CHANNEL! 140 watts x 7 into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz) at 0.05% THD. THX® Ultra2 Plus certification new THX listening modes for optimized […]
  • Haffler XL 280 Power Amplifier
    Legendary dedicated power amplifier, pure audiophile grade sound (No gain or tone control needed!), and near non-existent self noise! This is one of the very best amplifiers that Hafler made. It offers 145 watts per channel into 8 ohms, and is stable down to 1 ohm, offering 325 watts for short […]
  • Audio Research LS1 Line Stage Amplifier
    No tone adjustment needed, pure sound for the sound purist! The Audio Research LS1 Line Stage Amplifier is designed to accommodate music lovers who exclusively use line-level input sources — digital or analog — for the reproduction and enjoyment of music in their home audio systems. In technology, […]
    The BDP-S580 has built-in Wi-Fi and the best current lineup of streaming-media services, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Slacker, and CinemaNow! […]
    The Technics SL-D30 is a fantastic direct drive turntable featuring the same sound specifications as the SL-D3 model (Which is usually considerably higher in price) […]
    This unit has been completely refurbished including lubrication and calibration! Includes vintage Audio Technica cartridge with OEM stylus! […]
    The Technics SL-D3 is the FULLY AUTOMATIC version of the SL-D2 which is regarded as the workhorse of the Technics family. […]
    The Technics SL-D2 has been considered the workhorse of the Technics line of turntables for decades. […]
    The Technics SL-D1 turntable is a FULL MANUAL version of the legendary SL-D2, this model has been regarded as a “tank” and “indestructible” among hi-fi enthusiasts for decades. […]
    The Sansui S2000 speakers have been highly regarded in the hi-fi community for decades and for good reason! […]
    Very nice Blu-Ray player, with remote! Enjoy 3D Blu-ray Disc movies in Full HD 1080p--also supports standard Blu-ray Disc movies in HD and upscales DVDs to near HD quality. […]
  • RCA 45-EY-2 45rpm TURNTABLE
    The RCA 45-EY-2 is an AC operated 3 tube automatic phonograph with mono amplifier and speaker.  The turntable is a 45 RPM, model RP-190-1, which holds up to twelve 7 inch fine groove records. Uses crystal pickup with medium output voltage. Also uses Qty(1) PM Elliptical 4″ x 6″ speaker. […]
    The BX-300 incorporates a wealth of original Nakamichi technology such as the Discrete Three Head system, a Direct Drive Asymmetrical, Diffused Resonance Dual Capstan Transport etc. […]
    This NAD 7020E is an absolutely rock solid receiver, 2x20watts and AM/FM receiver is perfect for bookshelf and medium sized speakers. To those familiar with the NAD 3020E Stereo Amp, this unit employs much of the same technology!       […]