Holy smokes, do we have the goods in this week’s New Release roundup. We got the new Hiss Golden Messenger on tap, along with Van Morrison, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a passel of stuff from the Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ vaults, The Mekons’ Jon Langford’s new one, a farewell from Leon Russell, and more! Read on….
HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER, Hallelujah Anyhow (CD/LP)
M.C. Taylor has always been a songwriter unafraid to mark the starkest contrasts of human emotion. In an interview with The Washington Post last November, Taylor described his last record Heart Like a Levee as a “reflecting pool” for people to view their own emotions in his words and music. This symbolic depiction of audience participation provides a deeper understanding of Taylor’s process and his grasp on his craft. His work as Hiss Golden Messenger is like that of an alt-country street preacher: pensive and passionate with a flare for the romantic. Hallelujah Anyhow, Taylor’s seventh record as Hiss Golden Messenger, finds the singer/songwriter at his most jovial and uplifting. Backed by an all-star band, including members of Megafaun, Taylor seeks to find light in the darkness through touching storytelling. He seeks to find solace through human connection on “Harder Rain” when he sings, “Harder rain, darker darkness/If it’s up to me, a little love would go a long way.” Album closer “When the Wall Comes Down” finds Taylor making the best out of a grim situation, singing “Turn them into tools and make a garden/On the prison grounds/Turn your chains to roses, child.” There is an overwhelming sense of positivity and hope throughout Hallelujah Anyhow, with Taylor’s pen finding rays of sunshine in cloudy spaces. The music of Hiss Golden Messenger has always fallen more in the realm of alt-country, but on his seventh effort Taylor provides some much appreciated bluesy swagger. “Domino (Time Will Tell)” chugs mightily behind a soulful slide guitar and some very welcome barroom vocals from Taylor. The harmonies continue to be a bright spot for Hiss Golden Messenger, and nowhere is this more apparent than on “Jaw,” where Taylor’s high pitched southern twang fits snug amongst the rest of the company. Hallelujah Anyhow is another strong record from one of the hardest working songwriters in the business, and hopefully we won’t have to wait long again to hear what he has to say.
VAN MORRISON, Roll With The Punches (CD/LP)
Roll With The Punches – Van Morrison’s 37th studio album – sees him simultaneously hand-picking a selection of rhythm and blues classics (by the likes of Bo Diddley, Mose Allison, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Lightnin’ Hopkins among others) and recording a set of new self-written songs. It’s an album that features raw, intimate interpretations of some of the cornerstones of rock’n’roll alongside five new numbers by one of our most consistently brilliant recording artists. Roll With The Punches was produced by Van Morrison and recorded with an incredible team of studio collaborators including Chris Farlowe, Georgie Fame, Jeff Beck, Paul Jones and Jason Rebello.
DRIVIN N CRYIN, Archives Vol. 1: 1988-90 (CD/LP)
Originating from the deep south of Atlanta in 1985. Rooted in punk rock and folk, rock n roll angst seasoned with southern rock anthemic melody, Drivin N Cryin created a sound that was truly unlike anything else. ‘Archives Vol. 1 88’-90” is filled with never-before-released songs and original versions of their classic songs from 1988 to 1990.
JON LANGFORD, Four Lost Souls (CD/LP)
Carted to Alabama under the cloud of dark politics, a band drew a glistening straight line from punk to country to soul to grand theater. On November 8th, the day after the 2016 election, Welsh-bred, Chicago-based musician and visual artist Jon Langford and a crew of merry-makers and alchemists filed into the NuttHouse studio, a one-story former bank building in Sheffield, Ala. (population 9,039). The musicians from Chicago, Nashville, Los Angeles, and just over the Tennessee River bridge made the pilgrimage to a place of legend and myth, where music runs as deep as the river’s current, to see what might come of it all. Four Lost Souls, recorded over four days, originated in 2015, 100 miles north in Nashville where Langford produced artwork for Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City, the long-running exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Fate had it that one of those Nashville Cats, bassist and producer Norbert Putnam, was so enamored with Langford’s paintings and piratey singing, he invited the stranger to come record in the Shoals. Thus was the strange weather in the Shoals during that week in American history. Crammed between arrival and departure at the NuttHouse was a fever heat of creativity that crossed musical generations, racial lines, and the invisible barrier separating the flatlands of the upper Midwest and rolling hills of the deepest South. Even the ocean between the Delta and the dingy port city of Newport, South Wales, Jon’s hometown, evaporated out of sight. The South is full of ghosts and they all ask unresolved questions. Nothing is settled and the music won’t sleep. Muscle Shoals itself personifies a place where America’s great cultural explosion transcends the murderous politics of race and class that stain this country from slavery and civil war to today. To tomorrow. The music speaks to the best in us, while reflecting, at times, the worst of us. Four Lost Souls is pure Americana, not just because of where it was recorded or who played on what track, but because it is beyond the news of the day. It is a travelogue of sorts; it goes to a place where the differences between country, soul, blues, and rock-and-roll are blown aside by the warm languid breezes. The music had no time for such petty details, because in the moment, in that place, was the sound of sweet agreement.
STEVE MARTIN & THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS, Long-Awaited Album (CD/LP)
The title is self explanatory. Steve Martin has been playing with the Steep Canyon Rangers, a bluegrass band from North Carolina, for about eight years now. Martin is no stranger to the banjo, picking up his first as a teenager. When he met the Steep Canyon Rangers, it was a match made in Heaven, and the band provided many perfect pairings musically with Martin. This is their first album since the 2011 collaboration, Rare Bird Alert. And without counting Martin’s Love Has Come For You with Edie Brickell in 2013, which features all five members of the Rangers (who then backed Martin and Brickell on tour for the record release), it’s safe to say The Long Awaited Album was indeed very much anticipated. Both Martin and the SCRs create music that’s deep in storytelling, and on this album, the stories revolve around the topic of love. In typical Martin form, there’s no shortage of laughs blended into this group of talented bluegrass musicians. Listen to his vocals. “Not your average,” “unusual,” “refreshing”, “full of talent” are easy phrases to use when talking about this album. “Office Supplies” is an instrumental ode to something you find on your desk, a great example of their showmanship, as is the lullaby-like “Always Will” (though judging from the song titles and lyric content, who knows if that’s what the band is even implying). “Nights in the Lab” sings of Sue and Brad, a couple of people who work in a lab. One pines for the other in a humorous but sweet genre-specific song. Perfect for a pair of scientists who may be looking for an incredibly unique first-dance song. The following track, “Angeline the Barista,” encourages everyone onto the nearest dance floor. There aren’t any vocals on this one, so you can only imagine what was going through the band’s collective head as they put together this tune. Fast-paced and on point banjo picking, skillful fiddle, and clever songwriting, it will be hard to turn this album off. When’s the next one, guys?
GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR, Luciferian Towers (CD/LP)
For nearly a quarter century, the shifting, roughly nine-member Canadian collective known as Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been releasing swelling, torrential compositions that also gracefully loom, like a dewed spiderweb, squaring the circle of neo-classical and punk rock. It is demanding, complex, wordless music, directed in part at the off-switch of the information age. Godspeed — a project that, remarkably, exists completely on its own financial and creative terms — expects an interpretive exchange from its listeners, and rewards surrender to the transaction. This is music that’s not a map but an unreliable compass, precise in its dissonance and generous with its emotions. Luciferian Towers, its sixth official album, is cut roughly into two parts: the not-subtly-titled “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State.” The record is introduced with “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” — a subtle plaint that scribbles into the anthem for a nation of bombed-out skyscrapers — and split by the entr’acte “Fam_Famine,” an anxious, addled crest built from rust-dust and dirt motes. Both pieces serve as Luciferian‘s connective tissue, and share a principal melody and momentum, like a giant lumbering over a forest. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s dissonance, often paired with grand resolution, can feel like attempts at manifesting real-world beauty through sheer will. Luciferian Towers brought to mind the useful (but often insufferable) cultural philosopher Theodor W. Adorno. In his “Aesthetics” lectures in the late 1950s, he referred to the “dark, shocking, alienating and in many ways repulsive” art he saw and heard around hm at the time. He tied it to the “constant threat of disaster under which we all live,” a time of space-racing and nuclear armament as the dust settled on a new post-war world order. In the midst of that, he said of art that failed to challenge itself and the world around it: “a harmonistic art, an art that simply idealized existence with its forms, would inherently take on a quality of impotence and nullity which any art seeking to be a genuine manifestation of truth must rebel against with the utmost vehemence.”
MASTODON, Cold Dark Place (CD/LP)
After a record which could perhaps come to define the band for its strength and creativity, it comes as surprise that they’ve dropped a four track EP so soon after. Although looks can certainly be deceiving, because Cold Dark Place is in itself another sprawling epic that they’ve ploughed serious thought into. Opener “North Side Star” shows an emotional and expansive side to the band that has perhaps been masked by outright riffs in recent years. The instrumentation is weepy and saddening but it’s pulled off on an epic scale as the guitars plunge into math-rock territory. “Blue Walsh” then moves things on aptly with a spirited and frankly titanic vocal coming to the forefront. If there’s a masterpiece amongst these four songs, then it’s certainly the closing title-track which is cloaked in a sorrow that’s breathtakingly sinister. This is a record which likes to hurls surprises and you’re never entirely sure which direction they’re going to turn next. It’s a true testament to the band that they’re still not happy to dwell in a certain style after all these years. Instead the four-piece strike a fine balance between elements of prog, doom and straight down the line metal at times. Although one thing Mastodon can be credited for is that they’re never happy to simply dabble, instead they truly throw themselves into everything they do. The magnifying glass is on everything with this release, and it results in something distinguished and quite frankly mammoth.
CHELSEA WOLFE, Hiss Spun (CD/LP)
Hiss Spun is a full-on sludge-metal extravaganza, never content to go slow and heavy when it could be going slower and heavier. The bombast is overwhelming, and while there’s an admirable zeal to her drive for making almost every second as intense as possible, it begins to get numbing, the musical equivalent of a Passion Of The Christ that pushes for so long that it starts to lose its force. Stripping away much of the electronic and dark folk elements that still drove Apokalypsis, this album feels like the work of a band, thanks to drummer Jess Gowrie and Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen. There are still flourishes of her previous work here and there—most notably on “Two Spirit,” which goes for nearly half its running time with just an acoustic guitar and her atmospheric vocals—but overall, this is a pummeling, punishing record.
LEON RUSSELL, On A Distant Shore (CD)
On the growing list of farewell albums by dying rockers, Leon Russell’s contribution – recorded months before his November 2016 passing – may be the most unflinching yet. “Sounds like a funeral for some person here/And I might be the one,” he bemoans; elsewhere he dwells on loneliness and lost lovers. Paradoxically, though, the soul-rock icon hasn’t sounded so alive in years. From the swampy choogle of “Love This Way” to the supper-club orchestration of “On the Waterfront” to the Cotton Club jazz of “Easy to Love,” he poignantly circles his musical bases one last time.
CHRIS HILLMAN, Bidin My Time (CD/LP)
From the opening beat drop of his first album in more than a decade to the bluegrass-infused cover of a Tom Petty song at the end, Chris Hillman doesn’t apologize for the nostalgic journey he’s on. But it’s a pretty sweet trip. Hillman, who made his name with the Byrds, even has Petty’s help as the album’s producer. In that respect, “Bidin’ My Time” is a full-circle project, a warm tribute to a band whose influence pervaded much of Petty’s own work. Hillman still sounds like a man in his 20s, though he is 72, and the stellar playing behind him gives the album the feel of one last Byrds’ record. The contributions of former bandmates David Crosby and Roger McGuinn and seasoned rockers from Petty’s Heartbreakers don’t diminish that sensibility. The album begins with a reworked version of “Bells of Rhymney,” which opens with gentle acoustic fingerpicking and Hillman’s unmistakable voice, followed by a rolling beat drop into impeccable harmonies — elevated to Byrds-level purity by Crosby and Herb Pederson. The sound will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the Byrds in their heyday. On twangier cuts like “Walk Right Back” and the closer, a bluegrass take on Petty’s “Wildflowers,” Hillman evokes the Byrds’ most influential album, “Sweethearts of the Rodeo,” which helped lay the folk-rock foundation for what would become Americana. Like the album as a whole, it’s an appealing celebration of an important American band
ROBIN TROWER, State To State (CD)
Influential guitarist Robin Trower emerged in the late 1960s as a member of Procol Harum before going on to earn further acclaim as a bandleader. State to State: Live Across America 1974 1980 charts his rise to fame throughout the 1970s, from small clubs to major stadiums.
JIMMIE VAUGHAN TRIO w/ Mike Flanigin, Live At C-Boy’s (CD/LP)
When Jimmie Vaughan isn’t out fronting his big “Tilt-A-Whirl” band, there’s nothing he likes more than grooving in this fine trio at C-Boy’s Heart and Soul in his hometown of Austin, Texas. These very cool recordings – oozing with the late-night club atmosphere of Steve Wertheimer’s gem on South Congress Avenue – perfectly capture Mike Flanigin’s mastery of the mighty Hammond B3 and Frosty Smith’s attentive drumming which form the bedrock for Jimmie to lay down some of that trademark peckin’ guitar.
BRIAN WILSON, Playback: Brian Wilson Anthology (CD/LP)
AMADOU & MARIAM, La Confusion (CD/LP)
BALMORHEA, Clear Language (CD/LP)
BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION, BCCIV (CD/LP)
CLIENTELE, Music For The Age Of Miracles (CD/LP 10/6)
WILL DOWNING, Soul Survivor (CD)
ELECTRIC WIZARD, Let Us Prey (CD/LP)
FERGIE, Double Dutchess (CD)
EILEN JEWELL, Down Hearted Blues (CD/LP)
LEDISI, Let Love Rule (CD)
METZ, Strange Peace (CD/LP)
SHOUT OUT LOUDS, Ease My Mind (CD/LP)
TOMMY CASTRO & THE PAINKILLERS, Stompin’ Ground (9/29)
DAVID GILMOUR, Live At Pompeii (9/29)
PEARL JAM, Let’s Play Two (9/29)
And don’t forget these STILL-NEW platters that matter!
FOO FIGHTERS, Concrete & Gold (CD/LP)
On “Concrete and Gold” Foo Fighters reflect the entire timeline of the classic-rock format; there are clear homages to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, glam, thrash and grunge. But the band has a new producer, Greg Kurstin, who has collaborated with Adele, Pink and Beck. And with him, Foo Fighters now shuffle genres, even within songs, more suddenly and whimsically — more digitally — than ever. Previous albums have presented studio-enhanced versions of the band onstage, while on “Concrete and Gold,” Foo Fighters can switch configurations in an instant, from brute-force riffing to platoons of multitracked vocals. “Run,” which was released in advance of the album, signaled the new style-hopping prerogatives. It has the kind of desperate yet yearning refrain that Mr. Grohl has delivered again and again: “Wake up/Run for your life with me.” It begins with pretty guitar arpeggios — the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” in a hall of mirrors — but escalates to a buzzing, thrashing guitar riff backing distorted vocal, and goes on to whipsaw between half-speed arena chorus and fast headbanger. It hits hard without worrying about naturalism. The songs churn through personal and political turmoil, maintaining the old grunge desperation. In “The Sky is a Neighborhood,” a walloping power ballad, an unabashedly overwrought Mr. Grohl sings, “My mind is a battlefield/All hope is gone/Trouble to the right and left/Whose side are you on?” In “Dirty Water,” he declares affection in ecocatastrophe terms — “I’m a natural disaster/You’re the morning after all my storms” — as the music evolves from gentle neo-psychedelic pop to full rock blare behind an environmental warning: “Bleed dirty water/breathe dirty sky.” Mr. Grohl and Foo Fighters wear their influences so openly — Pink Floyd in “Concrete and Gold,” Led Zeppelin in “Make It Right,” the Beatles all over the album — that they still come across as earnest, proficient journeymen, disciples rather than trailblazers. But in 2017, there aren’t even many disciples left, while Foo Fighters keep honing their skills.
LARRY CAMPBELL & TERESA WILLIAMS, Contraband Love (CD/LP)
Pictured on the cover of Contraband Love, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams look like nothing so much as a new American Gothic. And the record follows suit, comprised of eight originals plus three choice covers with the spare accompaniment of bassist Jesse Murphy and drummer Justin Guip (who recorded and mixed the record under the supervision of Campbell as producer). Campbell and Williams have created an object lesson in authenticity comparable to their eponymous debut. Yet, even as carefully posed as are Campbell and Williams in all the photos inside and out of this package, they do not put on any airs that undermine the legitimacy of the music they make together. Instead, they remain cognizant of their roots both traditional (Louvin Brothers, Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner) and contemporary (Grateful Dead, Gram Parsons). So, even as the pair evoke the lonesome sounds of Appalachia on “The Other Side of Pain,” the polish they apply is enough to make their sound modern, without any strain to sound ‘right.’ A Carl Perkins tune, “Turn Around,” is an overt nod to influences, including Band member and mentor Levon Helm on drums shortly before his passing. It’s a more lighthearted number than many of those on Contraband Love and one that, like the nonchalant stomp of “It Ain’t Gonna Be a Good Night,” clarifies the successful processing of jazz on “My Sweetie Went Away.” There’s a sense of history both musical and personal on this album highlighted by the deliberate juxtaposition of two tracks in the song sequence: a streamlined song of Campbell’s called “The Wishing Well,” and the blues traditional (complete with yodel ) “Slidin’ Delta.” It’s impossible not to hear comparisons with Emmylou Harris in hearing Williams’ singing on “Save Me From Myself,” but there’s a sense of depth, arising from the song itself, that personalizes it even more than the quietly rollicking piano played by Little Feat’s Bill Payne. Campbell’s skills as a composer clearly arise directly from his instrumental expertise, but he doesn’t exercise technique for its own sake; rather, as with his pedal steel and mandolin here, he performs in service of the song. And when he lets rip with electric guitar solos and fills on “Hit and Run Driver,” the exuberance of that interval only enhances the subdued acoustic waltz of this title song. The man’s slightly wooden vocal style makes a good foil for Teresa’s more tuneful, fluid voice, so that, when they raise their voices together in song during “When I Stop Loving You,” the clear-cut effort the duo exert removes any sense they take their collaboration lightly. Similarly, the phrasing Larry uses on “Three Days In A Row” suits the restless pace of that number, placing his designation as lead singer there right in line with all the other wise choices in the arrangements on Contraband Love.
For its follow-up to 2013’s Negativity, Deer Tick has released two full-length albums, each showcasing a distinctly different side of the Rhode Island band. Volume 1 is a soft, mostly acoustic album that emphasizes Deer Tick’s twangier, country and folk-influenced sound. In contrast, Volume 2 is a loud garage rock album that is as aggressive and powerful as anything the band has released. Though Deer Tick has always shown strong country and folk influences, while rebelling against the alt-country label. With Volume 1, the band seems to have finally embraced the twang. Full of intricate melodies, toe-tapping strummers, and rootsy fingerpicking, Volume 1 shows the softer, down-home style of Deer Tick. John McCauley’s vocals are subdued as he croons with a slight drawl over songs that are introspective with a subtle wit. “Somewhere in a fog of a million pleasantries I kept my secrets safe inside,” McCauley sings on the opening ballad “Sea of Clouds.” Throughout Volume 1, Deer Tick delivers vocal and musical melodies that are infectious as much in their familiarity as in their inventiveness. The songs are original and well-written, but are also reminiscent of traditional country and folk music. With Volume 2, Deer Tick goes the opposite direction; when it comes to the sonic landscape that Deer Tick has established throughout the last 13 years, Volume 2 covers everything that Volume 1 rejects. Instead of hummable choruses and soft strumming, Volume 2 erupts from its opening notes with the energy of punk and the guitar chops of garage rock.
KRONOS QUARTET/TRIO DA KALI, Ladilikan (CD/LP)
Kronos Quartet’s musical adventures have included an award-winning recording with Rokia Traoré, and now they return to Mali for one of their most successful collaborations to date. Trio da Kali are a young supergroup, all related to distinguished griot musicians, and the album starts with a reminder of their virtuoso skills. Hawa Diabaté’s emotional, soulful voice provides a reminder of her legendary father Kassé Mady Diabaté. She is backed on those ancient instruments, the xylophone-like balafon and bass n’goni lute, by Fodé Lassana Diabaté and Mamadou Kouyaté. Then the Quartet join in, at first with respectful playing and then with exuberant, thrilling flourishes that transform the ancient griot song Lila Bambo. Hawa had never heard of gospel music or Mahalia Jackson until persuaded to re-work God Shall Wipe All Tears Away with Bambara lyrics. The result is one of the highlights of an elegant, exquisite set.
LIZZ WRIGHT, Grace (CD/LP)
For the new album Grace, Joe Henry collected about 70 songs for Lizz Wright to cover. She selected the ones she felt best mirrored her past and present state of consciousness. Wright took on well-known songs like “Stars Fell on Alabama” and “Southern Nights”, offered her versions of cuts by Bob Dylan and Ray Charles, went spiritual on Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Carol Jackson’s “Seems I’m Never Tired Lovin’ You” yet never lost continuity. Every song links to the others somehow. The thread that ties the ten songs together largely can be found in Wright’s blessing of a voice and in the way Henry frames it. There is a Southern elegance to the music. One can almost touch the Spanish moss. The songs are most frequently languid and sensual. Wright imaginatively transforms familiar sounding lyrics such as “I never planned in my imagination / A situation so heavenly” into an intimate declaration of love. Sometimes her love is for the Lord or humankind in general rather than for an individual, but there is a corporal feeling even in the most spiritual songs. The last concert reportedly attended by the Purple One before his untimely death was watching Lizz Wright perform at a Minneapolis nightclub. Prince apparently really enjoyed the show. Wright may not be the new Prince—there can only be one—but despite their stylistic differences, the two artists show the same affinity for hitching together sex and religion. One can only imagine what the two could have created together.
THE TEXAS GENTLEMEN, TX JELLY (CD/LP)
Studio bands don’t get enough credit. They’re usually made up of insanely talented people who rarely get their due 15 minutes of fame, relegated to liner notes and maybe performing on stage with a well-known artist a couple times. But the Texas Gentlemen are not your average studio band, and at last year’s Newport Folk Festival, the Dallas natives finally got their due. They joined Kris Kristofferson on stage for his first appearance at the festival since 1969, when he played guitar for Johnny Cash as a total newcomer. A few weeks after their Newport performance, the band’s ringleader, Beau Bedford, who also produces records and worked on Paul Cauthen’s debut My Gospel (Cauthen is featured on two songs on this record: “Gone” and “My Way”) was in Muscle Shoals with some time to kill after an artist had to cancel their studio time. Faced with an empty studio and no one to record, he invited the gentlemen and a bunch of their buds over and TX Jelly was born. It’s a fantastic collection of good-ass guitar music. Sometimes it sounds like The Beatles, sometimes Jefferson Airplane, sometimes Leon Russell. It’s both funky and psychedelic, softly acoustic singer-songwriter, and occasionally perverted.
BRUCE COCKBURN, Bone On Bone (CD/LP)
At long last, Canadian songwriting hero Bruce Cockburn is returning with a new full-length. Titled Bone On Bone, Cockburn’s first album in six years will arrive on September 15 via True North Records. The record comes in the wake of Cockburn’s last proper LP, 2011’s Small Source of Comfort, and the 2014 memoir Rumours of Glory — an undertaking that made the wait for Bone On Bone all that much longer. “I didn’t write any songs until after the book was published because all my creative energy had gone into three years of writing it,” Cockburn explained in a statement. “There was simply nothing left to write songs with. As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again.” Bone On Bone features 11 new tracks from Cockburn and marks his 25th studio album, which was produced by Colin Linden. According to a press release, the album contains a “prevalent urgency and anxious tone,” which Cockburn has attributed to living in America during the era of Trump. Cockburn said, “There have been so many times in my life when an invitation has come from somewhere…the cosmos…the divine…to step out of the familiar into something new. I’ve found it’s best to listen for, and follow these promptings.”
MIKE GORDON, Ogogo (CD/LP)
Through consistent, successful touring and the occasional studio album, Phish’s status as Vermont’s legendary jam band kingpins remains unscathed. But this doesn’t mean the band spends its off-time resting on laurels. Far from it. Singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio, in particular, enjoys a healthy, multifaceted solo career, and bassist Mike Gordon keeps churning out delightfully weird releases both with his band as well a variety of collaborators. The content of Gordon’s latest album shouldn’t surprise any fans of the bassist’s solo career or even those who’ve kept tabs on his contributions to Phish. OGOGOcontinues his trend of making flaky, off-kilter music that thrives on expert musicianship but still manages to retain plenty of hooks that work well within the pop music realm. The one aspect of OGOGO that sets it apart—just a bit—from the rest of his discography is the heavy influx of synthesizers and programming. Gordon’s been down this road before; his previous solo album, 2014’s Overstep, dabbled in synths but also managed to stay relatively organic. OGOGO dives headfirst into an ocean of blips and patches that almost seem like an attempt to distance himself from the past and start over. But upon further examination, it’s clear that the songs (and their arrangements) work well with previous works and just manage to nudge the sound a bit further into the future.
MINDI ABAIR & THE BONESHAKERS, The Eastwest Sessions (CD)
Detroit raised, Motown trained guitarist Randy Jacobs formed The Boneshakers in 1994 to “project his vision of funk, blues, R&B, rock and soul into the universe.” Current members of his band include gritty soul singer Sweet Pea Atkinson, bassist Derek Frank, keyboardist Rodney Lee, and drummer Third Richardson. Their second joint release, The EastWest Sessions, reflects the name of the Hollywood studio where the project was recorded under the guidance of noted blues-rock producer Kevin Shirley.The album opens with Abair taking over the vocals on the hard rocking ‘Vinyl.’ True to the lyrics, the song is “in your groove like a needle on vinyl.” Following is “Not That Kind of Girl,” which allows Abair to strut her stuff on sax, bringing down the house with this raucous party song. “Play to Win” is another hard rocking anthem, a feminist mantra espousing a no-holds-barred philosophy that continues into the bluesy “Pretty Good for a Girl.*” This extended track about the difficulties of being a woman in a man’s world finds Abair trading solos with her old friend, guitarist Joe Bonamassa. The Boneshakers take over on “Let Me Hear It From You.” Sweet Pea Atkinson covers this Sly Stone ballad with a voice steeped in soul, then takes us to church with a gospel style chorus as the song comes to a close. Another notable track is “Freedom,” an instrumental with Abair and Jacobs both letting loose in a battle for dominance, then coming together in harmony over the sweet chords of the B3. Without a doubt, the most interesting track on the album—the one that makes you jump up and shout “what is that?”—has got to be “She Don’t Cry No More.” Written by and featuring Fantastic Negrito, this slow dirge of a blues song conjures up the soul of Robert Johnson and throws it into a chain gang where Abair’s sax wails like a banshee over the relentless rhythm. Seriously, this song will haunt you for days. The album concludes on a lighter note, passing the mic back to Abair who sings “I Love to Play the Saxophone” over finger-picking guitars. The EastWest Sessions is by far the best collaboration to date between Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers, with its rotating blend of jazz, blues, rock, soul and smooth groove.
JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA, Handful Of Keys (CD)
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and special guests take you through 100 years of jazz piano on their new album, Handful of Keys. Star pianists Joey Alexander, Dick Hyman, Myra Melford, Helen Sung, Isaiah J. Thompson, and the JLCO’s own Dan Nimmer grab hold of all 88 keys and reveal the full extent of the piano’s evolution over the 20th century. This landmark live performance will be released on 9/15/17 by Blue Engine Records. Recorded on opening night of the 2016-17 Jazz at Lincoln Center season, Handful of Keys showcases a band in full stride, burning through electric arrangements of beloved compositions from James P. Johnson, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, and more. With guests ranging in age from 13-year-old prodigy Alexander (recently featured on 60 Minutes) to 89-year-old American treasure Hyman, Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO survey jazz piano’s past and give the stage to several prodigies who are taking the instrument in bold new directions.
HANK WILLIAMS III, Greatest Hits (CD/LP)
Hank Williams III’s Greatest Hits presents fifteen of Hank III’s biggest selling country songs for the first time in one package. Available on vinyl as well as CD, this collection simultaneously showcases Hank’s strong country influences from his legendary heritage as well as his own outlaw edge.
ARIEL PINK, Dedicated To Bobby Jameson (CD/LP)
LA’s Ariel Pink has long been in the business of off-kilter, sardonic, sleazy sounds that cut and paste 60s psychedelia, 70s prog and 80s synthpop with obvious adoration and more than a tinge of ironic pastiche. “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson” is ostensibly themed around the cult Californian singer from the 60s whose career was derailed by drugs and alcohol, except that it’s loaded with strange non-sequiturs – such as the krautrock-heavy Time to Meet Your God, and Santa’s in the Closet, high on cut-price Bowie vibes – which meander away from the central conceit. The moments where Pink truly connects with the Jameson myth – albeit with minimal context for the listener – are the most effective; Another Weekend and the Cure-nodding Feels Like Heaven are raw and authentic in their ennui and romance, while the title track channels Pink’s knack for facsimile into something productive, as he narrates Jameson’s struggles on the Sunset Strip.
JOHNNY RAWLS, Waiting For The Train (CD)
Johnny Rawls calls upon Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines for the much awaited follow-up to Tiger In A Cage, the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards nominee for soul blues album of the year. That release was edged out in the voting by Curtis Salgado’s Beautiful Lowdown, but was a sensational release that climbed to the top of multiple charts and remained there for months. And this pleasing CD should receive equal attention. Waiting For The Train is a beautifully conceived album. It’s thoroughly modern and delivered with taste and style. It’s smooth, tight and in the pocket throughout, giving Johnny and his beautiful pipes plenty of space to deliver his message. Available direct from the artist at the address above or through CDBaby and other online dealers, it’s definitely up your alley if you love modern soul with an old-school feel.
SON LITTLE, New Magic (CD/LP)
Son Little’s unassuming but potent interpretation of soul is defined by a world-weary mellowness that makes his second LP compelling, and perhaps a more mature offering than his 2015 self-titled debut. The tired angst of a song like “The Middle” and the more simmering yearning of “ASAP” exhibit the album’s range, while his effortless vocals are smooth with gruff undertones, not unlike soul pioneer Billy Paul. Throughout, there are intriguing hints of sonic experimentation and unanticipated studio effects: more of this may have added a welcome further dimension to New Magic, but it’s hard to argue with such a beautifully solemn, but also serene, statement.