Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rock ‘n’ Roll Roundup

The Replacements – Let It Be (Twin Tone 1984, Rhino 2008)

The Replacements were a scruffy band of malcontents out of Minneapolis that had a cult following in the college rock scene in the late eighties and early nineties. Made up of Paul Westerberg on guitar and vocals, Bob Stinson on guitar, Tommy Stinson bass, and Chris Mars on drums, the band bridged the local hardcore punk scene and more melodic mainstream rock. It is an interesting record that mixed juvenile snotty punk like “Gary’s Got a Boner” and "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" with thoughtful slower paced examinations of teen angst like “Sixteen Blue” and “Androgynous.” Some oddball tracks like the Kiss cover “Black Diamond” and the anthemic poppier openers “I Will Dare” and “Favorite Thing” round out the original album. Bonus tracks included on this reissue include some outtakes and alternate mixes but nothing to make owners of the original album run out for a new copy unless they are diehard fans.

See also:

The allmusic blog on the Replacements reissues on Rhino.
Carrie Brownstein on her favorite Replacements lyrics.

The Kills – Midnight Boom (Domino, 2008)

This band plays nasty, attitude filled rock and roll. Comprised of Alison "VV" Mosshart on vocals and Jamie "Hotel" Hince on guitar and vocals, the band originally started by the two trading tapes across the Atlantic and eventually morphed into a full fledged collaboration. Garage rock, dirty electric blues and punk (a song on one of their previous albums was entitled “Fuck the People”) are elements of the band's sound, which has grown more unique as they have evolved. The Opener “URA Fever” comes lurching out of the gate sounding like that chant of a group of soccer hooligans, and then the band moves into the gloriously sleazy “Cheap and Cheerful” which adds a layer of glam glitter to their music. The ode to changing times “What New York Used to Be” is another highlight, adding pumping bass to an ominous mix. Short and sweet at an LP length 40 minutes, it’s another fine album from an underrated band.

See also:
The Kills at Foxy Tunes Planet.

The Rolling Stones – Shine a Light Soundtrack (Interscope, 2008)

The soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s concert film of the group’s 2006 tour is surprisingly spry and active, filled with some genuinely memorable moments. While it can’t quite match the band’s late sixties heyday, the performances found here mostly of their most famous material are quite respectable. Keith Richards in particular sounds great spitting out riffs with the energy of a teenage punk rocker and playing some delicate slide guitar on the slide and country numbers. Jagger’s vocals are deep and powerful and Charlie Watts’ drumming is as subtle and jazzy as ever. Guest appearances by Buddy Guy on the Muddy Waters chestnut “Champagne and Reefer” and Jack White on “Lovin’ Cup” are interesting, but the real highlights come from the core bands longevity and the fact that their music is still relevant after all these years. “Faraway Eyes” combines country music and gospel with deep respect and subtlety while the rockers like “All Down the Line” and “Start Me Up” are potent. It’s a solid record, and certainly worth checking out.

See also:
Interesting article from the Times Online.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings (Columbia, 1994)

The quiet and gentle manner of Mississippi John Hurt's music and singing often belies the tales he spun. Hurt in considered unique in the blues, his deft fingerpicking shows a strong ragtime influence, and his singing is soft and well articulated, like listening to a old friend recount his favorite stories over coffee. Discovered by a traveling talent scout in his hometown of Avalon, Mississippi; Hurt recorded a few tracks in Memphis, before traveling to New York City to record the remainder of the songs found here. He was fortunate to have recorded for the Okeh label rather than paramount, as the music was treated with a little more care than the race records of the time usually were, and then given that and a thoughtful remastering by Columbia for the compact disc release, allowing his intricate guitar work and vocals shine through clearly. Though they were not particularly popular at the time, Hurt's early recordings has a profound impact on musicians, particularly those of the "blues revival" of the early 1960's setting the stage for the second act of his career. Given his genteel nature, it is very interesting to hear Hurt's "Frankie" a version of the immortal "Frankie and Johnny" a timeless song of cheating and reprisal, and another American legend "Stack 'O Lee" and the story of a gambler and murderer and a Stetson Hat. Hurt is a born storyteller and these songs are given a depth and breadth that few bluesmen achieved. Hurt's own compositions "Avalon Blues" and "Candy Man Blues" show his unique abilities. Growing up and learning music the comparative isolation of a Mississippi crossroads town, Hurt developed a unique style that sounded like no other. Over thirty years later, fortune smiled and folk blues fans who scoured old records like they were sacred texts, located Hurt still living and working on a farm in Avalon. Although he was initially skeptical of their intentions, Hurt joined these musicians and had a very fine run playing folk clubs and coffee houses around the country and recording once again.

Se also:

Hurt's biography at allmusic.
Hurt resources at Foxy Tunes Planet.
The Mississippi John Hurt museum.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, April 28, 2008

Marcia Ball – Peace, Love and BBQ (Alligator, 2008)

Wherever pianist and singer Marcia Ball goes, a party follows, and this is no exception. While the shadow of Katrina hangs over a few of the songs, even that wrathful disaster can only slow the party briefly. Ball's rolling keys and very tight and soulful band make her rhythm and blues irresistible. “Where Do You Go?” and “Ride It Out” both reference hurricanes Katrina and Camile, which were generation altering disasters for the soutern United States that she calls home. As touching and well written as they are, also impressive are the acoustic gospel rave-up “Miracle in Knoxville” and the party-hearty stompers like “Watermelon Time” and the raucous title track. Another highlight is the diet between fellow lifers Ball and Dr. John, "I'll Never Be Free." Referencing soul, blues, R&B and zydeco, this group plays them all with deep respect and talent. Marcia Ball has been one of the most consistently talented musicians of the past thirty years and this is another feather in her considerable cap.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rob Brown – Crown Trunk Root Funk (AUM Fidelity, 2008)

Alto saxophonist Rob Brown has an appealing tart and citrus tone that works well on this hour long LP of freebop and abstract improvisations. The funk in the title is referenced by the strong communication and in the pocket sensitivity of the rhythm team of William Parker on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums and Craig Taborn on piano and keyboards. The disc leads off with “Rocking Horse”, an up tempo song where strongly comped piano fuels an aggressive saxophone solo. “Clearly Speaking” has a well articulated saxophone solo over a pulsing tempo. “Sonic Ecosystem” slows the music down considerably for an abstract exploration of an open musical landscape. “Ghost Dog” moves at a medium tempo, carefully probing the melody, while “Exuberance” delves headlong into Ornette Coleman style wide open uptempo jazz. “Lifeboat” is a careful midtempo performance and the ending “Worlds Spinning” end the disc on a slower and steadier note. This is a solid disc of New York jazz, safely situated in the middle ground between the established mainstream jazz of uptown New York clubs like the Village Vanguard and the edgier performances spaces of downtown. This is a solid group that would be welcome on either side of town.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Akron/Family – Love is Simple (Young God, 2007)

Fans of experimental or psychedelic rock 'n' roll will have a field day with this interesting record. Multi instrumentalists Dana Janssen, Seth Olinsky, and Miles Seaton make up the core of the band with lots of help to create a rich and diverse sound. After extolling the virtues of love in the opening invocation, the band moves on to the centerpiece of the record, jumping into Sun Ra territory with “Ed Is a Portal” apparently a science fiction epic about a man who is a gateway to other dimensions and universes. A cacophony of strummed guitars, stuttering percussion and chanting vocals takes this song into the stratosphere. Although the band occasionally seems like they are about to fly off into the aether, they manage to hold it together with a fun and memorable performance. The trippy and hymn-like “Don't Be Afraid, You're Already Dead” follows, leading into the twisted Zappa-esque pop of “I've Got Some Friends”. The Blake-ian psychedelica of “There's so Many Colors” is a navel-gazing lament, open ended between group vocal sections and instrumental improvisation. This album is an interesting mix of pop, psych and hippie revival meeting, and should appeal to those who have an open ended view of rock 'n' roll music.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sun Ra - Media Dreams (Art Yard, 2008)

Media Dreams documents an unusual but interesting Sun Ra performance in Italy in 1978 with only a quartet instead of his usual Arkestra. Ra performs on a battery of electronics along with organ and piano, accompanied by John Gilmore on tenor saxophone, Michael Ray on trumpet and Luqman Ali on drums. Ray gets a lengthy spitfire solo on “Images” before Ra and Ali engage in an electronics and drums section. Gilmore then muscles his way in and blows the roof off with a titanic solo statement of his own. Ra responds by switching to some splendid post-bop piano improv, percussive in a Monkish way, it is fascinating to hear, followed by a drum solo from Ali. It is a sprawling, all-encompassing performance, and touches on all the aspects of what made Ra's music so special. Truly an epic performance. “The Truth About Planet Earth” has sung and chanted vocals, as does the short and sweet version of the Ra standard “Space Is the Place” Sound quality does become an issue, especially on the second disc, with fluctuations in volume noticeable. There is a short but serviceable liner essay included that sets the music in its historical context. Art Yard has done a fine job picking up the torch for the Evidence label and conducting well researched and packaged reissues for the sprawling Ra catalog.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Various Artists - Spiritual Jazz (Jazzman, 2008)

Spiritual Jazz is a compilation album, and an interesting corollary to the classic albums of the sub-genre by the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. While there's nothing on this disc on a par with the music made for Impulse Records in the late 60's and early 70's, the playing is of a high standard and the groove is palpable. James Tatum's “Introduction” leads off the music, with solid hard bop giving way to an austere spoken invocation. Lloyd Miller's “Gol-E-Gandom” is introduced by an obscure string instrument before settling into a powerful modal groove, while “Paul's Ark” leans toward bass led hard bop. ”Ayo Ayo Nene” has chanted vocals over solid musical accompaniment, sounding like a lost recording from the Ethiopiques series. Salah Ragib keeps the ethnic groove with a fine mix of jazz with a Middle Eastern influence. “Afrikan in Winter” has spoken word vocals over percussion heavy music. There's actually more of an Afrocentric vibe rather than spiritual, and that theme pervades much of the music. The liner notes are extensive and very well written, but suffer from being written in a microscopic font. While the music here is not essential, it is interesting especially for fans of kozmigroov jazz.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Melvin Jackson - Funky Skull (Limelight, 1969; Dusty Groove 2007)

When the great independent music store Dusty Groove found out that one of their favorite albums had gone out of print, they didn't pout, they organized a label to reissue it themselves. Jackson had been playing bass in saxophonist Eddie Harris's jazz-funk band and for this occasion he put together a meeting of funk heavyweights and members of the AACM, like trumpeter Lester Bowie and saxophonist and flautist Roscoe Mitchell. What results is an interesting mix of time-locked funk and timeless jazz, all anchored by Jackson's massive bass which is run through a wall of effects and amplifiers to produce science fiction sounds that Sun Ra would be proud of. The music consists of funky jams and spacey interludes with some vocals bubbling up from the mix. "Funky Skull" and "Cold Duck Time" both use deeply distorted bass and backbeat heavy drums to keep the pace moving forward along with some riffing horns adding spice. "Bold and Black" struts a powerful groove and includes vocals singing lyrics of racial pride and civil rights. Moaning background vocals also turn up on the atmospheric "Dance of the Dervish" with a trumpet fanfare and trippy multi tracked bass giving the music an eerie feel. "Silver Cycles" ends the album on a spacey note as well with flute and distorted bass odd elastic feel to the proceedings. "Say What" is a fascinating highlight, with bass, mellow horns and organ giving way to a startling avant-garde tenor saxophone solo which positively jumps out of speakers. This is an interesting snapshot of a time and place where inside and outside music could exist in harmony. Fans of the funky "kozmigroove" side of jazz will find a kindred spirit in Melvin Jackson.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There is an interesting interview with composer and flautist Nicole Mitchell at Open Sky Jazz (via Avant Music News): "In fall 2005 I finally had the opportunity to meet Octavia Butler at Chicago State University’s Black Writer’s Conference and I found her presence to be as unique and intriguing as her work. I decided to make a proposal to Chamber Music America’s New Works Creation and Presentation Program and the day after I put it in the mail I discovered that Octavia Butler had died suddenly. With that shocking news I decided that with or without the commission I would have to do the project."

An interview with jazz writer Ted Gioia in Bagatellen allerted me to the new website he is curating, "Web writing is usually the exact opposite – a place where people toss off random thoughts, often poorly thought out and rarely backed by research."

Big Road Blues reviews their weekly radio with some typically intelligent commentary: "From the Vee-Jay label we spin a pair from the label’s big hit makers, Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker; “I Know It’s A Sin” and “Canal Street Blues” are a pair of great moody blues. From 1957 we clock in with Buddy And Ella Johnson’s “You’ll Get Them Blues.” With his sister Ella serving for decades as his primary vocalist, pianist Buddy Johnson led a large jump blues band that enjoyed tremendous success during the 1940s and ’50s."

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, April 21, 2008

I have been pretty lax in the podcasting category lately, so to alleviate that a little bit, I have posted an online mixtape over at Muxtape available for streaming, with examples of some of the music I have been listening to over the past several weeks:

Tampa Red - Don't Blame Shorty For That
Melvin Jackson - Funky Skull, Pts 1 & 2
R.E.M. - Living Well Is The Best Revenge
Phillip Walker - Lying Woman
Neil Cowley Trio - We Are Here To Make Plastic
Dave Douglas & Keystone - Traveling Salesman
The Raconteurs - Salute Your Solution
Akiko Tsuruga - Meanie Queenie
The Black Keys - Remember When (Side B)
Otis Taylor - Five Hundred Roses
Nick Lowe - They Called It Rock
Lou Donaldson - Watusi Jump

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Well, Saturday was declared Record Store Day, so I couldn't let that go by unnoticed. I used the opportunity presented by a nice spring day to drive down and scope out the Princeton Record Exchange (recent NYT article). After weighing the merits of various records and discs, I went with an all vinyl purchase: Dr. Ross - His First Recordings; Ahmad Jamal - The Awakening; Leroy Carr - Blues Before Sunrise; Roosevelt Sykes - Hard Drivin' Blues; Shirley Scott - Satin Doll and Blue Flames; Billy Boy Arnold - More Blues From the South Side. Anyone else celebrate the day accordingly?

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Steve Lehman - Manifold (Clean Feed, 2007)

Saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman works at the intersection of composition and free jazz, creating many opportunities for improvisatory exploration. On this live album, he is accompanied by
Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, John Hebert on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. "Interface D" opens the disc in an explosive fashion with a storming and powerful freebop performance propelled by very powerful drumming. Andrew Hill's composition "Dusk" is the centerpiece of this album, with bass and drums laying down a carpet for sax and trumpet. This builds to an exciting alto solo from Lehman, reminiscent to Hill's colleague Eric Dolphy. Powerful, hyperactive drumming anchors this exciting performance. "Interface F" opens with throbbing bass and some thin trumpet in an abstract improvisation. "Interface C" puts Waits' great strength behind the kit on display again, while "Cloak and Dagger" sports some jumping and juking saxophone akin to Lehman's mentor, Jackie McLean. Intense, swirling saxophone is also at the center of "Interface A" along with strong, muscular drums and bass. The concert ends on a abstract note, with "Berceuse", a moody and melancholy performance, and the solo saxophone encore "For Evan Parker" which weaves circular patters of distorted saxophone in a manner reminiscent of its dedicatee. This was a very good and consistently interesting album of modern jazz. This group is using jazz instrumentation and improvisation to explore interesting avenues of music with positive results.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, April 18, 2008

Eric Alexander Quartet - Prime Time (High Note, 2008)

Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander is one of the most effective torch-bearers of the modern hard bop flame. Much like the legendary Dexter Gordon, Alexander possesses a virile, masculine tone that hints at swagger but never descends into self-parody. In some respects, he is a man out of time, as his dark mahogany tone would have made him an icon during the glory days of bop in the 1950's. Regardless, this is a solid and classy performance of mainstream jazz , recorded live in concert with David Hazeltine on piano; John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. There's no messing about here, the band cuts right to the chase with a program of bop, ballads and blues. The final two tracks of the CD were the highlights for me, "We All Love Eddie Harris" is a soulful and toe-tapping tribute to the unjustly ignored tenorman, and "Nemesis" is a steaming and intense performance, hinting the exploratory bop based music performed by Jackie McLean and Sam Rivers during the early 1960's. The DVD included in this package features a similar lineup and playlist, although apparently from a different performance than the CD. It's a well produced video with a lengthy live set and some interesting interview snippets. Overall this is a well done and generous package, sure to delight fans of modern mainstream jazz.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bar Kokhba Sextet - Lucifer: Book of Angels, Vol. 10 (Tzadik, 2008)

One of the added bonuses of John Zorn's recent burst of compositional activity is that many of the groups that fall through his orbit will reap opportunities to record his music. So it is with the jazz meets classical via middle eastern music ensemble Bar Kokhba, comprised of Mark Feldman on violin, Erik Friedlander on cello, Marc Ribot on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass; Joey Baron on drums, Cyro Baptista on percussion and Zorn composing and conducting. Although the music is definitely based around the ensemble as a whole, Ribot stole the show for me on this album. His playing was tightly restrained, but he still managed to incorporate blues, surf music and a whole host of other influences which was a tremendous addition to the music. The music found here is very accessible and enjoyable, fans of both classical music and jazz will find much pleasure.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Reverend Organ Drum - Hi Fi Stereo (Yep Rock, 2008)

Short, sharp blasts of grinding R&B, jazz chestnuts, and movie themes are the order of the day for this band. Comprised of guitarist Jim Heath (Reverend Horton Heat), organist Tim Alexander and drummer Todd Soesbe, the group was originally designed to just be a side project, but it then took on a life of its own. Old school rhythm and blues is where the band makes its mark and has the most success. Ray Charles' classic "I Got a Woman" is taken at an intense and churning pace, while "Honky Tonk (Side A & B)" is fueled by a roadhouse guitar solo and "Can't Be Still" gives the drummer some, leaving Soesbe in space for an over the top solo. Jam session jazz standards "C Jam Blues" and "Night Train" work well, as does the unexpected addition of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "The Black and Crazy Blues." The only soft points on the disc occur when Heath steps up to the microphone to sing in a faux-hipster manner that quickly becomes tiresome. But this is only on a few tracks and is compensated for with the fun movie soundtrack covers "James Bond Theme" and the music from the atmospheric spaghetti western "Hang 'em High." This was a fun and enjoyable album, the group plays very well, but never takes themselves too seriously. The must be a hoot to hear live, and hopefully their next album will document their live performance.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, April 14, 2008

Neil Cowley Trio - Loud... Louder... Stop! (Candid, 2008)

The Neil Cowley Trio (Cowley, piano; Richard Sadler, bass and Evan Jenkins, drums) fits in well with the modern piano trios who embrace rock and pop music as an important part of the improvising jazz aesthetic. The Bad Plus, EST, and the Brad Mehldau Trio all use rock and pop melodies and tempos as platforms for improvisation, as does the Cowley group on this disc. Dramatic shifts in tempo are used as well, much like the abrupt shifts used by the legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal. On this CD, the band alternates between two areas of playing: fast and percussive improvisations that feature the group's speed and dexterity, and slower performances that spotlight their lush and melodic side. The uptempo tracks like the two opening songs "His Nibs," and "Dinosaur Die" have a fast percussive feel that builds in strength to dynamic flourishes. "We Are Here to Make Plastic" is the highlight of the cookers, with strong rock influenced playing and strong performances all around. The more nuanced slower songs like "Scaredy Cat" and "Clumsy Couple" have rich chords and a quiet, romantic feel to them. This is a solid album of piano jazz by a group that is genuinely looking for new ways to update the genre. The fast/slow dynamic works pretty well, but some more subtle shading in their music would allow them to articulate their ideas fully and separate themselves from the growing field of rock-influenced piano trios.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Wired's Listening Post writes about a cool application that allows you to listen to while reading the Wikipedia profile of the artist playing: "Say what you will about the information on Wikipedia, but it's accurate in many cases and its crowds of dedicated users keep a good amount of band entries updated, especially when it comes to tour dates, new releases, and other information that bubbles up in fan networks."

Allmusic's blog has an interesting post about the reissuing of the Terence Blanchard/Donald Harrison LP's from the 1980's. When I was young I loved their Dolphy/Little tribues and took them our of the Library regularly: "Notably, in 1986, Blanchard and Harrison released two live tribute albums to another great jazz duo with Eric Dolphy & Booker Little Remembered Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 1 and Fire Waltz: Eric Dolphy & Booker Little Remembered Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 2. Featuring the late trumpeter and saxophonist’s rhythm section of pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Ed Blackwell, these albums were a distinct honor for Blanchard/Harrison at the time and based on the cuts, a deserved one."

Big Road Blues posts with MP3's about the collaboration between Houston Stackhouse and Robert Nighthawk: "These are beautiful recordings with Stackhouse singing magnificently as he delivers a perfect falsetto in the manner of Tommy Johnson coupled with some his fairly modern guitar playing while Nighthawk seconds on guitar and Peck Curtis provides ramshackle, clattering drums. Nighthawk took the lead on three numbers; “Nighthawk Boogie” was an inventive instrumental not far removed from the recordings he made on Maxwell Street three years earlier, “Blues Before Midnight” was a gorgeous mellow blues with a “Blues After Hours” feel while Carey Mason takes the vocal on “You Call Yourself A Cadillac.” Carey Mason was a guitarist/vocalist from Crystal Springs who was the main local partner of Stackhouse."

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely (Warner Brothers, 2008)

The second disc by this supergroup involving Jack White of the White Stripes, Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence of The Greenhorns and Detroit singer/songwriter Brendan Benson, is an altogether more interesting and enjoyable album than their scattershot debut Broken Boy Soldiers. Where that album felt like it was thrown together in haste, this one sounds well thought out, the band members sound like they are having fun, and the feeling is infectious to the listener. The group shoots out of the gate with confidence on the openers "Consoler of the Lonely" and "State Your Solution." Many commentators have noted that the band is thoroughly rooted in 70's rock, and while this may be true they are not afraid to play with the conventions of the genre, like in the ironic "Rich Kid's Blues" or the thoughtful "Top Yourself." Also, horns and violin pop up throughout the album, padding the sound, but they are tastefully arranged and never detract from their basic rock 'n' roll sound and the songwriting is solid throughout. The album ends with "Carolina Drama," an odd southern Gothic tale of sin and redemption, in other words, perfect Jack White territory. This is a positive step forward for a very talented band. While it seems that White is really dominating the music found here, that is not necessarily a bad thing, since he has the drive and vision to make it successful. Where the previous album lacked such cohesion, this time they sound like a real group and the improvement is noticeable. All in all, a pleasing album, sure to be appreciated by rock 'n' roll partisans.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Black Keys – Attack and Release (Nonesuch, 2008)

Rust belt garage rockers The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach, guitar and vocals and Patrick Carney, drums) are one of my favorite rock ‘n’ roll bands, so when I heard that they stumbled out of their vintage gear and vacuum tube filled Akron cellar to have their new record midwived by the eclectic producer Danger Mouse, I was intrigued to say the least. Originally scheduled to be an Ike Turner tribute project, Turner’s death late last year saw the original project abandoned and morph into a full fledged Black Keys album. The music on this disc is a very interesting combination of the band's customary blues rock, mixed with some modern flair. For example the eerie shuffle “Psychotic Girl” has some ominous tape loops and background vocals framing Auerbach’s soulful singing. This method combined with some tasteful organ also fills out “Lies” which has a atmospheric haunted loss vibe. It’s not all slow grind however; “I Got Mine” and “Remember When (Side B)” are pulverizing rockers, lurching forth from the same Midwestern auto graveyard ooze that spawned The Greenhorns and The White Stripes. “Same Old Thing” marries the rock stomp and R&B vocal style to some unexpected flute. This is an absorbing and provocative album, with just the right amount of experimenting and consolidating. Danger Mouse’s production accentuates rather than dominates the band’s sound and allows them to move forward while still remaining true to their core musical values.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Congratulations to Ross Lawson at Illasounds for his 100th podcast, a celebration of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's 70th birthday: "All tracks feature Freddie Hubbard (trumpet, flugelhorn) with Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, George Benson, Joe Henderson, Hank Mobley, Jimmy Heath, Tommy Flanagan, John Gilmore, Cedar Walton, Julian Priester, Tina Brooks, Curtis Fuller, James Spaulding, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Sam Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Lenny White, Louis Hayes, Jack DeJohnette and Elvin Jones."

Tom Hull has posted another edition of his Jazz Consumer Guide on his blog: "So I did something different this week as an experiment. I used Rhapsody to stream a bunch of jazz albums I never received. I think my first idea was that I might find a usable dud, but I soon got distracted by more interesting fare. I also have to report that I had a lot of trouble finding things. Mainstream European labels that I have been wanting to hear more from, like Criss Cross and Steeplechase, are not available. Avant-garde stuff is very spotty. Last year's "wish list" came up virtually empty, and checking stuff off the Voice's jazz poll didn't offer much more. And in the end I didn't bother with the few pop jazz things I thought of (Chris Botti, Kenny G) -- figured I'd just as well spend my time with, well, see below."

Big Road Blues wraps up their weekly radio broadcast with a nice post about Forgotten Blues Heroes of Chicago: "The idea is to provide shows devoted to lesser known blues greats who don’t have enough recordings to build a whole show around. Most shows will spotlight a few different performers who usually have some connection to one another. Our series kicks off with a batch of great unheralded Chicago artists who’s heyday was the 1950’s and 1960’s."

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, April 07, 2008

Philip Walker - Going Back Home (Delta Groove, 2007)

Veteran Gulf Coast bluesman Phillip Walker (guitar and vocals) leads a tight and swinging band through and hour long album of traditional, yet thoroughly modern blues on this disc. The disc was organized to allow Walker to revisit some of the music of his youth, and there are echoes of legendary blues musicians like Champion Jack Dupree on the strollin' "Bad Blood" and "Sweet Home New Orleans" and Big Bill Broonzy on "Happy Man Blues." Walker's guitar leads an extraordinary jams on "If You See My Baby" and on "Mean Mean Woman," The slow grind of "Blackjack" examines the perils of gambling, with some impassioned singing and snarling yet articulate guitar work. The horn riffs and stinging guitar make the opening "Lying Woman" a highlight. Walker pays tribute to Gulf blues heroes like T-Bone Walker and his distant cousin Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown in fine style with this well played disc. Subtle and well arranged hors fill out the sound and Walker's distinctive guitar and vocal style are memorable. Fans of traditional post war blues should find a lot of enjoyment with this interesting and well played disc.

Send comments to: Tim

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash (Matador, 2008)

Malkmus' most sympathetic and in tune band since Pavement gives him solid and challenging backing on this ten song LP. The music is crisp and well played (particularly Janet Weiss' drumming, which gives everything just the right kick) with witty songwriting and performances that reach out past the five minute mark, but never resort to noodling. Energetic interplay between guitars and drums is the key to the successful performances found here. "Dragonfly Pie" weds snarling guitar rock to a singsong pop chorus. "Real Emotional Trash" builds slowly to a sludge rock jam, clocking in at ten minutes plus, but working surprisingly well. "Hopscotch Willie" is one of the highlights of the disc, with some of the strongest songwriting on this tale of crime and punishment. "Gardenia" is another highlight, a joyful burst of pure pop candy, sure to infuriate the flannel wearing indie rock enthusiasts. The taught "Cold Son" is a finely crafted performance with some interesting wordplay in the lyrics. Inscrutable lyrics also fill "Baltimore" which includes abrupt tempo changes and a near pro-rock structure. Thoughtful lyrics and music that is always stretching for something more make this is a solid and interesting album of modern rock and roll.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, April 04, 2008

Akiko Tsuruga – Sweet and Funky (18th and Vine, 2007)

Organist Tsuruga grinds the old school jazz organ like a veteran of the smoky bars of Newark, so it is no wonder the likes of Lou Donaldson have employed her. And just like it says on the tin, things here are a sweet and funky mix of hard bop, blues and ballads. She is joined on this LP by guitarist Eric Johnson, drummer Vince Ector and percussionist Wilson "Chembo" Corniel. The roaring “Meanie Queenie” leads things off in fine style, with hard charging drums and percussion pushing the organ forward. Ditto the grinding “DLG” with some swinging guitar added to the mix. The title track “Sweet and Funky” slows things down to a medium simmer, featuring a nicely paced guitar solo. The standard “Stormy Weather” takes things on a mellow, melodic turn, before “Saving All My Love For You” goes for the pop end of the spectrum with a bright and shiny if somewhat superficial performance. More pop is found on “Where is the Love” and while you can't fault the band for trying to get some mainstream recognition, these are the two weakest and most unchallenging cuts on this album. The standard “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” is taken at a solid and percussive med-tempo, before the band gets back into the grinding organ groove, ending with nice uptempo performances on “Mishi-Mishi” and “Broadway.” This was a solid album of organ centered jazz by a talented band. While the poppier cuts didn't really appeal to me, the band's execution of the “grits and gravy” traditional jazz organ sound was spot on and very enjoyable.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, April 03, 2008

R.E.M. - Accelerate (Warner Bros, 2008)

After nearly ten years of relatively uninspired albums, I had pretty much written R.E.M. off, a sad and difficult thing to do since they were one of my favorite rock and roll bands during the Eighties and Nineties. The group seemed to lose their way as the new millennium dawned and throughout the last few albums they eschewed their previously winning formula of tight guitar based songs, exchanging them for overproduced keyboard centered melancholy. So it comes as quite a surprise to hear the band come out of their corner fighting like a bloody brawler who knows it's his last chance. While most media and fans seem to see the band revolving around Michael Stipe's lyrics and vocals, I have always felt that the band's fortunes have risen and fallen with Peter Buck's guitar playing. In the early Eighties, his Byrds like jangling chords set the tone for the band's music, and his strong electric guitar playing buoyed albums like Document and New Adventures in Hi-Fi. When the band drifted in the Noughties, Buck's energy and drive was conspicuously absent. He is front and center on this album, and the music is all the more successful for it. Storming guitars and tight performances dominate this short and potent record. While the songwriting may not be the most profound of the band's career, the sense of mission is palpable, as is the sense that this last chance must not slip away. The opening track "Living Well Is the Best Revenge" throws down the gauntlet for the album, blasting a wall of electric guitars and rocking out in an almost desperate style. By the time we get to "Hollow Man" and the slow, mournful intro I started thinking oh no, not again, but then the guitars muscle in the the music really takes off. As a record collecting nerd, it's tough for me to resist Stipe gleefully chanting "Since death is pretty final/I'm collecting vinyl" on the-apocalypse-is-coming rocker "I'm Gonna D.J." "Horse to Water" is another example of the band at their most robust, roaring through a torrid tempo. So while this isn't a masterpiece on the level of Murmur or Document, it is still an impressive comeback. After years of overproduced, over-thought and overwrought music, to hear this band taking risks and reaping their rewards is more than enough to recommend this album.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Otis Taylor - Recapturing the Banjo (Telarc, 2007)

Originally an African instrument, the banjo has long had a history in African-American music before being adopted by white hillbillies for country and bluegrass music and usurped by the guitar in the blues. Taylor recruits some like minded fellow travelers such as Keb Mo and Alvin Youngblood Hart to bring this instrument back into the fold of the blues. Taylor's deep dark tales of race, loss and redemption are as profound as ever, and the use of the banjo and some backing vocals gives him even more of an old testament prophet feel. This disc includes impressive tales like "Ten Million Slaves" which recounts the journey in shackles to America, the opening "Ran So Hard the Sun Went Down" which is a harrowing tale of going on the lam to escape a lynching for the crime of talking to the wrong person. The haunting graveyard tale of "Five Hundred Roses" and alcoholic despondency of "Absinthe" are countered by the joyful stomp of "Little Liza Jane," the easy rolling "Walk Right In" with it's addition on female background vocals and gentle harmonica, "Les Oignonos", sung in French, also lightens the mood, and shows the different roles the banjo had in African-American music, and the oft-covered murder ballad "Hey Joe" will be familiar to rock 'n' roll fnas. This is a well done and thoughtful album that both sheds light on a forgotten tradition and also manages to be thoroughly modern and socially aware blues music.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Lou Donaldson - Here 'Tis (Blue Note 1961, 2008)

During the early 1960's, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson made the transition from a bebop specialist and follower of Charlie Parker to a blues, R&B and boogaloo specialist. This is a fine example of the transition, with Donaldson given the opportunity to indulge in all of the music he loved, bebop, ballads and blues in the fine company of Grant Green on guitar (a Donaldson discovery, who would go on to have a very productive career as a Blue Note recording artist himself), Baby Face Willette on organ and Dave Bailey on drums. "A Foggy Day" leads off with a mid tempo organ groove, and tart and citrus alto. Grant Green's guitar is brittle but swinging and cleanly articulated. Willette gets some grinding organ with pneumatic pumping bass pedals. "Here 'Tis" is a slower groover with solid ballad sax playing and an interesting guitar solo. "Cool Blues" is joyfully up-tempo with pumping organ prodding the guitar solo and keeps it moving before moving into its own groovy interlude. "Watusi Jump" has a pumping and grinding boogoloo feel. This is an enjoyable album of soul jazz, sure to please fans of the bluesy organ groove.

Send comments to: Tim