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Freegal Pick Archive

album coverOn Human Devolution by Deathcraeft
For this Halloween season, take a listen to Thrash-Death-Black Metal trio Deathcraeft’s debut album On Human Devolution. For the uninitiated, Trash is defined by fast, loud, harsh-sounding music that combines elements of punk and heavy metal. Black Metal deals with supernatural motifs, and Death Metal uses imagery that invokes dark themes including death, suffering and destruction. Meaning this is not a light listen in more ways than one. That said, On Human Devolution proves that Deathcraeft are masters of their craft.  It’s clear early on that the three members of Deathcraeft have mastered and could comfortably play any style or subgenre of Metal and their unique blend of genres make them stand out among other Metal acts.

On Human Devolution is a concept album based on the Cthulhu Mythos by H.P. Lovecraft, with a mix of socio-political themes. Deathcraeft hail from Greece, which has seen an unstable economy for over a decade and was front and center during the Syrian refugee crisis. The content is clear in the title of the album and highlights, as vocalist Nikonas Tsolakos stated in an exclusive interview on the website Metal Noise, "the self-destructing nature of humans."

The first song, “The Ritual,” opens with an eerie and sparse intro that is reminiscent of a train (or is it a ship? Maybe a helicopter?) moving away over a canvas of fog. Like a rollercoaster slowly taking the listener up the first ascent, “The Ritual” builds tension before crashing into a cacophony of gravelly screamed prayers to the octopus-like Elder God, Cthulu, to “RISE!” and fulfill the promises to release humans from their “empty lives and lies.”  It’s all downhill, in the best way possible, from here on out.

Standout track “Spreading Lies” begins with a paranoid orchestral that calls back to classic suspense films. If “Spreading Lies” is another rollercoaster, it is one that spirals in loops and kettles of chanting punctuated by thrash inspired blast beats from drummer Giannis Chiondidis. The song comes to an abrupt and jaw-dropping end that leaves listeners blinking in awe and asking, “Did that just happen?”

If some songs from On Human Devolution are roller coasters, “Survival” – with its literal invitation to oblivion (“Sleeping, stirring, dreaming for eternity”) and its contradictory start at breakneck speed then turn to a steady thrum – is the funhouse. Rather than stomach-churning momentum, “Survival” feels like a hypnotic fade out.

Throughout, On Human Devolution is a fast and wild ride. If you enjoy aggressive, intelligent and literary metal, look no further. Deathcraeft has delivered a holy tome for your listening pleasure. - Jami (Downtown)

album coverAppalachian Journey by Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor
Melding genres in unexpected ways has become a popular approach to modern music, notably with classical strings taking on musical styles that they’re not typically associated with. Appalachian Journey is a good example of the trend, where violinist Mark O’Connor, bassist Edgar Meyer and – arguably the most famous living cellist – Yo-Yo Ma, along with some guest performers, bring a classical take to traditional American folk tunes.

The album opens with “1B,” a constantly moving instrumental highlighted by dissonant slides in the violin and syncopated accompaniment. “Misty Moonlight Waltz” is a more lyrical tune, perfect for dancing or just relaxing, while “Hard Times Come Again No More” brings in folk legend James Taylor for soulful lyrics. “Indecision” lives up to its name by melding fiddle motifs with a jazzy and experimental counterpoint. “Limerock” is a jaunty fiddle tune that shows off the Celtic roots found in the Appalachian region and challenges the three string players to bow for all they’re worth. James Taylor is back for “Benjamin,” providing a guitar line and whistling an accompaniment to a light string melody, while bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss joins the trio for “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” another traditional Celtic dance form. “Duet for Cello and Bass” alternates slow and mellow themes with more aggressive and virtuosic passages. Celtic tunes are back with a pair of reels, the toe-tapping “Emily’s Reel” and “Cloverfoot Reel” with its meandering introduction and alternating solos offering variations on the melodic theme. The album turns further toward classical stylings with “Poem for Carlita,” then picks up the fiddling again – and some of the fastest notes you’ve ever heard on low strings – with “Caprice for Three.” “Second Time Around” sets a slowly building melody in waltz time and brings it back down again. Alison Krauss returns to provide vocals to the lullaby-like “Slumber My Darling,” and the album closes with the long track “Vistas,” which fittingly offers an overview of different musical styles and variations on a theme. If you’re looking for soothing music with a hint of familiarity, Appalachian Journey might just take you where you want to go. - Michelle (Sunset)

album coverMinari (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Emile Mosseri
Upon initial viewing of Minari, I quickly noticed the atmospheric sound that has become somewhat characteristic of A24 Films (Lady Bird, The Farewell). However, there was something more musically implicit that was taking place beyond the foreground screen and speakers. In moments, the sounds swept and rose to express an impressive range, while also being emotionally evocative. Behind all this is multi-instrumentalist Emile Mosseri, who had his breakthrough with scoring 2019's The Last Black Man in San Francisco. His appealing songs, composed upon piano, are embellished with a 40-piece string orchestra outsourced from Macedonia and rounded off by wordless vocals.

The soundtrack encapsulates and conveys the shifting vicissitudes of the Korean immigrant Yi family in their attempt to establish a family farm in Arkansas during the pre-Farm Aid eighties. “Garden of Eden” has almost an exotica quality and is presented with a lushness that belies the quotidian and incessant demands of tending to the earth. Sung in Korean by lead actress Han Ye Ri, “Rain Song” is an invocation to mother nature to summon her life-giving rains. These spacious songs offer bucolic hope, while confronting the deeply entrenched economic patterns and a hardscrabble land with a sense of determination. As heard on the film's trailer, the stirring “Birdslingers” enters with a bold marching cadence and wordless vocals which effectively conveys the dramatic elements of the film with verve before yielding to an extended piano outro. This most inherently grounded piece also presents Mosseri’s most memorable melody of the soundtrack. “The Wind Song” is sung in Korean by the aforementioned Han Ye Ri and unfolds in wide-open naturalistic fashion, while being carried along by a detuned 1943 Gibson L-2 acoustic and wavering theremin-like gusts generated by a 1984 Korg Monopoly synthesizer. The soundtrack succeeds at expressing the fuzzy, jumbled and blurred-around-the-edges impressionistic nature of childhood memories along with the shifting concepts of settlement & transience and embracing the foreign and the familiar. At times, Mosseri’s otherworldly score transcends its liminal space & time to connect the temporal and repetitive with the elusive eternal. Overall, this recording elevates and establishes Mosseri as one of the most adept and striking film composers currently working in the field. - Ted (Downtown)

album coverMala Santa by Becky G
International star Becky G’s 2019 release Mala Santa oozes confidence. Becky G is a woman who knows what she wants and what she doesn’t. The 16 songs of Mala Santa describe a woman who isn’t putting up with unworthy people (particularly unworthy men) and suggests you don’t, either. There’s a reason Becky G, who is proudly Mexican-American and sings in Spanish, is a feminist icon. When Becky G sings, her voice could be bumping over the speakers at the club or be coming from your best friend’s mouth while doing your make-up. Both intimate and universal, Becky G is one of the girls and that’s just the lyrics. The beats behind these vocals will have even the gringos swaying back and forth to this Latin Urbano/Latin Pop.

Some of the best songs on Mala Santa are danceable hits with guest stars. “Dollar,” the fourth single released from Mala Santa, is my favorite. In it Becky G tells a smooth talking suitor she “can’t pay her bills with words, they’re worth nothing.” She sings about men trying to slide into her DMs. Becky G is a star whose pictures break the internet. Why then, do these trifling men think they can get with her. She doesn’t sound vindictive or angry but instead shrug-your-shoulders and feel pity for these clueless dudes. I especially like how Puerto Rican singer and rapper Myke Towers' verse backs up Becky G’s claims. 

Another standout song is “Vamonos” with Panamanian singer Sech. Like her song with Myke Towers, Becky G is the one in control here. She likes you and if you like her, well, vamonos! Let’s go!  While switching up pronouns, Becky G sings to both female and male lovers - Forget him, forget her.  This is yet another example of Becky G’s confidence over a rhythmic backbeat mimicking the energy of a hot hook up.  Sech, who reached international fame with his hit “Otro Trago,” has been described by Billboard magazine as having “soothing vocals, sensual urban fusion melodies, and lyrics that focus on romance, dreams and positive vibes” which mix well with “Vamonos’” self-assured invitation.

“24/7” describes and exudes the non-stop and intoxicating feeling of a party that doesn’t end, blending the weekend together. Mala Santa is like that weekend - through the good and bad, you know you will come out alive and stronger. So strong, in fact, you won’t pay those trying to get you down any mind because you are having too much fun. - Jami (Downtown)

album coverSmokin' by Las Siete Potencias
It’s hard to know just how many Latin bands formed in the wake of 1972 cinéma vérité documentary Our Latin Thing. It could be stated that this gritty, yet celebratory film had a similar catalyzing effect that A Hard Day’s Night had on the kids out in the Anglo neighborhoods.  It’s quite possible that Las Siete Potencias (The Seven Powers) were set in motion by Our Latin Thing. This Bronx band was led by the versatile Louis Sanchez on vibraphone, who composed and arranged the majority of these songs that are not merely Smokin’, but are a sizzling wildfire of polyrhythmic proficiency. Sanchez clearly demonstrates that he was the prime mover and creative force behind this vibraphone-driven Latin Jazz, which incorporates salsa and pachanga with shades of exotica.

The opener “Los Seneros” may seem like standard-issue salsa upon initial listening, but additional listen reveals the subtleties and a summoning to dance. “Free Wind” sweeps in like “Flute Thing” by the Blues Project, which the Beastie Boys would sample on their “Flute Loop.” Ricardo Marrero, the co-producer of this album and who is still going strong, plays the stately piano melody on "Speak Like a Child." Vocals and instrumentation converge into a seamless whole on “La Juventude De Chango'' and are reinforced by the band’s strength of not sacrificing melody for the sake of rhythm. This 1976 album, released by Tito Rodríguez's TR Records, ends on an extremely strong note with two cosmopolitan instrumentals. “The Continental” features snap and crack percussion with dashing vibes that joyfully kick into gear to reach a panoramic crescendo. “Las Siete Potencias Theme/Green Dolphin Street” sounds like a theme for an ‘60s international espionage flick, but with a tropical twist of the sun breaking through.

Smokin’ not only stands up as a stellar seventies salsa album, but the skillful arrangements allow the songs to stretch out and radiate some vibrant edged exotica in the realms of Afro Blossom Westby the Andre Tanker Five and Percussionata by Monte Moya & The Surfers. In addition, the top-quality recording captures the percolating propulsive elements along with shifting layers of subtle touches. Overall, the incendiary Smokin’ continues to excite and endure as it's tuned to Bronx ‘76, while emanating a lasting glow. - Ted (Downtown)

album coverDonegal Rain by Andy M. Stewart
Andy M. Stewart was best known as the frontman of the popular Scottish heritage group Silly Wizard. On Donegal Rain, the fourth and last of his solo albums, Stewart expands on his folk roots and brings them into the present day with modern sounds and rock instrumentation. "Ramblin' Irishman" comes from Stewart's neighboring nation to open the album, with the characteristic sound of an easy modern beat behind his rich voice, which is ornamented with the turns so frequently heard in Celtic music. "Matt Hyland" is a more sedate tune, telling the ever-popular story of star-crossed young lovers, and "Gallant Murray" is a Jacobite rallying song straight out of the Outlander era. "Queen Amangst the Heather" pulls back to a simple voice-and-guitar arrangement, while "Tibbie Fowler o' the Glen" adds a full rock-and-roll complement to Robert Burns's 1796 poem about a wealthy young woman who's swamped by cash-seeking suitors (they're even in the pantry with her!). "Reckless Affection" is a purely modern song - a soulful voice pining for a love he should not pursue. "The Irish Stranger," "Mary and the Hielan' Sodger," and "The Banks of Sweet Dundee" are all very typical heritage tunes, while "When You Took Your Love" is another modern composition. "Donegal Rain" slows everything down with a different musical take, this time scoring a traditional song against a gentle piano accompaniment, always showcasing Stewart's warm and rich voice. It can be a strange listening experience to hear modern instruments backing Stewart's folk song lyrics, often in Scots English (you might feel like you need a dictionary), but Donegal Rain makes the experience enjoyable. - Michelle (Sunset)

album coverDropout City by Trummors
Dropout City starts boldly by exploring some unmarked trails on the opener “Late Arrival,” which leads into some dissonance that is as jagged as Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. This Taos, New Mexico-based female-male duo proceed to circuitously find their way back to the main trail before returning home to their kerosene lamps, Navajo rugs and Gene Clark records. The 3/4 waltzing “Oh Laura” is achingly reminiscent of the long-forgotten Idaho Falls in presenting a loping, lilting and lamenting tale of a Western drifter set against the vast horizon. In other spots, they evoke the Ladybug Transistor tuned into a classic honky tonk rural radio station. Sometimes, their unhurried pace seems a little too removed from the onward rush of life on songs like “Rollin’ Boulders” and spurs one to mutter, “Giddy up Giddy Up” and reach for the nearest disc by the Dickies.

The tempo picks up on “What You Had” and things start to fall in place on the back stretch of the album. This number rides the steel guitar rails and is straight down the pike with its sage wisdom of “No sense of where you've been.”  Another highlight is Anne Cunningham taking the reins and the lead vocals on “Tulsa Country,” which was written by Pam Polland of Gentle Soul and recorded by the Byrds - the bedrock band of this sound. “Peacock Angel” ventures deep into a hazy mirage and features their intertwined “harmonic convergence” vocals inspired by Friend & Lover, Chuck and Mary Perrin and Everly Brothers records of yore. Their coinciding vocals mostly convey a good natured and welcomed optimistic outlook, and are augmented with a host of proficient musicians from the West Coast Cosmic Country scene. Not to be missed are the pronounced and sweetly plaintive steel guitar lines, which run fluidly throughout the record. Both pedal steel and slide guitars embellish their sound with lovely accents, while filling the spaces between the distant stars and the Western sun. Dropout City is branded with Trummors’ rustic yet dexterous Western borderlands twang, which reminds listeners of adventures that still await in the Land of Enchantment. - Ted (Downtown)

album coverThe Great Dismal by Nothing
Want to listen to an hour of early 90s college radio all at once? The Great Dismal, Nothing’s fourth studio album, feels and sounds like the place where underground goth and dream pop music morphed into more rock-influenced mainstream alternative. Wearing its influences like chandeliers, The Great Dismal is a hazy and claustrophobic navel gaze that marries post-punk, neo-psychedelic and shoegaze. 

“A Fabricated Life” starts the album in a fog punctuated with a clear and ringing repetitive guitar, harkening back to a place between Seventeen Seconds and Faith-era Cure. Another Cure influenced song, “Bernie Sanders,” sounds like a less depressing outtake from Pornography, an album revered by Cure fans. “Bernie Sanders” is more pleading than other songs on The Great Dismal yet features an eerie and discomfiting scraping sound that worms its way into your ear canal.

The album’s strongest offering, “Famine Asylum,” starts off with Cure influences before veering into Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins territory. With indistinct lyrics reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine and Ride, this song showcases what Nothing is doing right, resurrecting some of the 90s’ heaviest dreamers at the height of their output. 

Songs like “Say Less” feature Placebo-esque vocals (one of the attributes Placebo is best known for) under a more aggressive guitar -- for Nothing -- with drums higher in the mix. “April HaHa” is 90s alternative all the way with Afghan Whigs drums and swirling shoegaze guitars. Again the lyrics are laid under a sea of brume, the listener knowing they’re there even as they barely reach the surface. Muddled vocals are one of Nothing’s signature phenomena. Songs like “Catch a Fade” that feature less buried vocals, are in turn forgettable.

While not entirely original, this album is consistently listenable and enjoyable if dreary contemplation with a side of jingle jangle and aggression is your thing. - Jami (Downtown)

album coverClassically Trained by Black Violin
Since 2004, Black Violin has been one of the biggest names in classical/modern fusion, melding the classical training of violinist Kev Marcus and violist Wil B. with their love of hip-hop. Their appropriately titled 2012 album is a clear statement of their style, opening with "Overture," a purely classical string duet, and immediately following it with the characteristic hybrid sound of "Opus," the strings now accompanied by an energetic rhythm line. "Virtuoso" adds vocals to the strings, now in a busy Baroque style, and a buzzy underlying bass.  "The Mission" leans more to the modern side of things, with a poppy sound and sing-along vocals. "A-Flat" opens with a soulful dissonance, leading into a driving minor melody and mostly wordless vocals. “End of the World” is atmospheric, syncopated and layered, and “Interlude” creates a classical guitar sound with pizzicato strings accompanying a soulful vocal line. “Rock Anthem” recreates the mood of its title with sounds of distorted strings, electric bass and an audience clapping in time. “Rhapsody” melds a hip-hop rhythm with constantly moving strings, while “Triumph” creates a dichotomy between the slow power of the modern elements of the song and the fast-moving violin line, featuring solos by the viola and an electric guitar. “Go” closes out the album with a more melodic sound and inspirational lyrics (“I’m doing the best that I can”). With the more widespread use of classical instruments in modern music, listening to Black Violin might not be as groundbreaking an experience as it was when the band got its start over a decade and a half ago, but Classically Trained is a polished and confident example of its genre, and an excellent introduction if you’re unfamiliar with this musical trend. - Michelle (Sunset)

album coverLiar, Liar by Wheels on Fire
Here is evidence that exciting rock ‘n’ roll can not only come from the most unlikely of places (Athens, Ohio), but also be recorded in this century (2010 to be exact). Perhaps it was the humdrum and indeterminate band name that prevented this group from ever crossing my radar. The four-piece not only had the Memphis sound down, but they accomplished it without a bass player, and on Liar, Liar  they successfully expand their sound out to the ‘70s melodic pop ‘n’ roll regions of the Real Kids and the Beat. With its prominent whirling keyboards, soulful vocal delivery and pop sensibilities, it was this third and final album on Germany’s Alien Snatch Records that proved to be the charm. On “Bad Lie,” they burst out of the gate, quickly work up a storm and fire on all cylinders. The little vocal inflections at the end of “Sarah” and interspersed throughout “Looking at You” initially threw me for a loop as I could not quite place where I heard them before, then I recalled they were probably inspired by a David Byrne or David Johansen scat. The incendiary “Losin’” is testimony that they were well attuned to a long-gone past that allowed them to skirt the transient hipster trappings of their time, while successfully bringing in street-level characters like “Long Tall Sally” into the darkened alleys of the 21st century.  The surging & shuffling minimalism of the Subsonics informs “Ambulance” which arrives on the scene "where the people were dancin’ in street/where the music never sounded so sweet.” The party rages on with “Looking At You” before heading back to the Reigning Sound of “Stick Around” - unadulterated, straightforward and brimming as tomorrow morning’s black chicory coffee. “Chasin’ UFOs” has them exploring the murky smear of night through the brambles with keyboards that reach a boil like a bubbling cauldron.  Lastly, “I Wanna Know” unspools with the radio “ahn” somewhere between “Heart” by the Remains and Modern Lovers' “Roadrunner." Bucking the trends, they understood what they were good at and they worked feverishly within that framework. This rudimentary intuition is at the essence of rock ‘n’ roll and allowed the soulful quartet to connect the sound and spark of the past to the chain reaction of the present. - Ted (Downtown)


album coverFrom Here by New Model Army
Released in 2019, From Here is the 15th studio album from New Model Army, a post-punk band well-known in their native England but less familiar here. Over their now 40-year history, NMA has gained a devoted following among those seeking music with a punk edge within a wide range of musical influences and more than the average thoughtfulness to their often political lyrics. The opening track "Passing Through" starts with bold vocals over the momentum of percussion before taking a turn mid-song to a haunting instrumental. "Never Arriving" showcases a prominent bass line (long a feature of NMA's music, despite several lineup changes over the years) alongside lyrics telling the story of the end of a long relationship. "The Weather" and "End of Days" set social criticism against driving music with rich instrumentation, while "Great Disguise" takes a turn toward the personal and "Conversation" imagines a lonely narrator looking for companionship. "Where I Am" is a guitar-based anthem of self-acceptance, and "Hard Way" uses a dark sound to explore themes of forgiveness and healing. "Watch and Learn" comes back to the band's punk roots with simpler chords and a warning about what we're teaching the next generation, while "Maps" is a more imaginative song featuring string sounds and seafaring imagery. "Setting Sun" is quieter but still fast-moving, with introspective lyrics. Closing out the album, the title track "From Here" is an eight-minute meditation on hubris accompanied by that characteristic haunting and driving sound. With compelling lyrics and energetic music, albeit with a more mellow tone than NMA's earlier fare, From Here makes a fine introduction to a band you might have missed. - Michelle (Sunset)

album coverUngodly Hour by Chloe x Halle
The release of this highly anticipated sophomore album from R&B sister duo Chloe x Halle, who play sisters Jazz and Skye Foster on Grown-ish, was pushed back a week in June as a response to the murder of George Floyd.  This album, much like their response to the civil unrest that followed, showcases the sister’s poise and grace. This may be something they learned from their mentor, Queen B herself. One thing is certain - Ungodly Hour is a show of confidence. With lyrics about navigating platonic, romantic and sexual relationships and ultimately loving oneself, Chloe x Halle’s album is the type to sing and jam along with while strutting with your besties on the dance floor on Girl’s Night or in the car while driving away from a past you. With the influences of Beyonce, women-led 90s hip-hop, and dare-I-say Diana Ross (on break-up and walk away song “Don’t Have to Make It Hard On Me”), Chloe x Halle fill up the sonic spaces on this album with lush melodies and their complimentary vocal style. The standout “Busy Boy” may be the “No Scrubs” of a generation. While their “Busy Boy” may have better swagger than the scrubs TLC refused to mess with, this song is an aggressive repudiation aimed at all the good looking playboys in the world. This album is truly what women-to-women support sounds like. “Baby Girl” talks about the complications and contradictions of being a (young) woman with the ultimate advice of “Baby Girl, it’s your world” and with gentle coaxing “Lonely” reminds listeners “You don’t have to be lonely when you’re alone.” Chloe x Halle are the cool older sisters we all deserve. Jami (Downtown)

album coverAlphabetland by X
Formed in 1977, X has been called legendary and iconic for their contribution to the Los Angeles punk scene. Alphabetland (2020) is their 8th studio album and the first since the late 1990s, and it finds them in fine form with 11 breakneck songs clocking in under a half hour. On display is lead singer Exene Cervanka and lead guitarist John Doe’s sing-song sneer. The last time I saw X, a show at the Music Box Supper Club in Cleveland, Ohio in what might as well have been another lifetime ago, my date leaned over and commented, “It must be so depressing to be singing the same songs with your ex-husband about the death of your sister and falling in love as teenagers.” This album is a big fat “Touche!” to that observation. “I wish I were someone else. Someone I don’t know,” Cervanka sings in “Angels in the Road” about a time “long and cold ago.” X has always reveled in their own and other’s polished disasters, and they do this on the title track “Alphabetland” -- about an ex-friend, lover or acquaintance who is so wrecked and pouring gasoline to erase the mere smell of their presence. There is an obligatory “you hurt my sister” reference in “Free."  Alphabetland, like the best of X’s early 1980s output, feels like a joyride sing-along with a group of hot-rodding juvenile delinquents. - Jami (Downtown)

album coverWise Up, Watch Out by The Hot Shots
In the grand tradition of the Japanese preserving and celebrating aspects of vanished Americana, the Hot Shots formed in 1995.  They were first embraced by the West Coast swing music scene which was still reelin’ in 1997 when the Hot Shots were ascending their first American stages in California.  After a few singles and the departure of co-founder Rockin' Enocky, they returned to the U.S. in late 1998 to record this debut album at Ecco-Fonic Studio in Los Angeles with Deke Dickerson. Released in 1999, “Wise Up, Watch Out” presents a sound that smartly avoids the trampled road of over-the-top rockabilly and ventures out to the rural routes of country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll, honkytonk, rhythm & blues along with some Latin flair. The one and only Chie Kodama sets the tone on her acoustic guitar and her vocals makes each song shine brightly, while joyfully expressing her innate love and conviction for this music. “Pretend” co-written by Chie along with bass player Hiroshi Shishikura gets things rolling in a refreshing manner with a slightly bucking rhythm and twangy fills provided by Yuichiro Matsushita. “Tell Me Baby” is an understated, lovely ‘50s pop number composed by Chie and capped off by her declarations of “I Wanna Know Right Now/I Wanna Know Right Now” in sincere Joey Ramone style. Hank Cochran’s “A Little Bitty Tear” is delivered by way of Wanda Jackson with some impressive fretwork replacing the orchestrated strings originally applied by Capitol Records to Jackson’s single. The album closes with “Guitar Battle” where Deke Dickerson and Yuichiro Matsushita trade off runs and riffs in classic Merle Travis & Joe Maphis fashion. Deke Dickerson plays a fitting and supporting role as producer, along with providing some backing vocals and accompaniment which brings forth further dimensions to the overall sound and presentation. You couldn’t ask for a better start for a combo that thankfully is still actively performing, recording and releasing records that are each distinctive in their own vintage-sounding way, while overall expanding and expressing the vast possibilities of heydays to come. - Ted (Downtown)

album cover

The Sensual World by Kate Bush
British singer Kate Bush is perhaps best known for her 1985 hit "Running Up That Hill," but this album from a few years later is a strong showing, perfect for an 80s throwback mood and still listenable. The opening and title track is Bush's response to the famously punctuation-free final chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses, which might add a layer of appreciation for literature buffs, but its sultry and mellow tone is enjoyable even without knowing the reference. "Love and Anger" raises the tempo with a percussion-driven anthem before lowering it again with the atmospheric "The Fog." "Reaching Out" is a more wistful track that showcases Bush's vocal skill against a deeply varied instrumentation. "Heads We're Dancing" is a song that tells a story – a charming man makes a bet with a woman who's reluctant to dance with him at a 1930s ball, and only later does she discover who the man was. Still in the storytelling vein, "Deeper Understanding" follows a lonely character who turns to her computer for companionship, an eerily accurate prediction for today's world. "Between a Man and a Woman" continues with a similar sound as "Reaching Out" but adds a minor key and the darker theme of a fighting couple. "Never Be Mine" is the culmination of these different musical elements and easily my favorite track on the album, with its wide vocal range, variety of styles in the instrumental accompaniment and a touching depiction of unrequited love. "Rocket's Tail" is a fanciful overture to the closing track, the powerful "This Woman's Work," which builds from slow and quiet to bold and emotional. This collection is evocative of its time, yet universal in its feeling. – Michelle (Sunset)

album coverPsychedelic Essentials by The Yellow Payges
With its galvanizing wake up call of “We’re Completely the Same,” lead singer Daniel Hortter delivers an opening salvo for the times on the driving “The Two of Us.” Hortter has mentioned that the song was derived from the intolerance that he and his black girlfriend faced for being in an interracial relationship at the time. Musically, this jolting and fierce song stops listeners in their tracks to be in the now with a sound similar to Rare Earth, Eric Burdon and Arthur Brown. Propelled by copious congas, “Little Woman” sweeps down like the cool Canadian air mass known as the Guess Who before spiraling into a guitar freakout.  The flared-out and heavy duty "Crowd Pleaser” enters the scene with its propulsive drumming and flashes of wah-wah slotting them somewhere between Blue Cheer, Black Pearl and Deep Purple. Being such an evocative and monster song, it's surprising that "Crowd Pleaser" has not yet been tapped to be featured in a television series and/or on movie soundtrack. After all this righteous ruckus, “Never Put Away My Love For You,” surprises listeners with its softness bordering on Bee Gees wispiness. This offset sound is actually not a stretch at all as the Yellow Payges were even known to have the smooth Herman's Hermits hit “There's a Kind of Hush” in their 1968 live repertoire. Given they first made their name as the house band at The Hullabaloo on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, versatility was their calling card and this adeptness allowed them to span several '60s crosscurrents. All roads lead to their showstopper “I’m a Man/Here ‘Tis” as it demonstrates their unwavering devotion to gritty rhythm & blues and the rough & tumble influences of Bo Diddley, Yardbirds and the Animals in particular. With its vocals through a megaphone effect, primal production and Daniel Hortter on harp, “I’m a Man/Here ‘Tis” sounds either like it's from 1966 or something from a garage punk band that Crypt Records would have unleashed in 1996.  This rave up builds and builds before being topped off by an incendiary drum solo pounded out by Danny Gorman. Volume 1presents an overall hard-edged iteration of the band stamped with metallic tinges and some road wear so prevalent during the late hours of the '60s.  It's almost a blessing that the standout selections contained within never became national hits as they might now be cursed by classic rock radio redundancy. Nonetheless, they more than paid their dues during the upended late '60s with the results being songs that continue to endure with a message and delivery for the ages. - Ted (Downtown)

album coverCaviar and Chitlins by The Exciters
The Exciters are best known for their 1963 #4 smash hit “Tell Him,” featuring the commanding and consummate voice of Brenda Reid. The dashing song, written by Bert Berns, is one of the highest peaks of the Girl Group-era and borders on punk rock with its propulsive drive. Follow-ups like “He’s Got the Power” bubbled under the Top 40, but lack of chart action is by no way indicative of the quality of their enduring songs. They went on to open for the Beatles in 1964 and recorded for Roulette, Bang and Shout Records before landing on RCA Records and working with producer Larry Banks in 1969. With soul going into every direction at that time, I was curious about the approach and orientation behind the appealing album cover. “Turn Me On” and “I Don't Have To Worry (No More)” are immediately evocative of mid-sixties soul pop in their arrangements and provide a sense of continuity with their older material. Surprisingly, a few of their songs actually seem a few months to a few years ahead of their time as they are on the cusp of what would be big once the ‘60s flipped over to the ‘70s. For instance, “Fight that Feelin’” seems to prefigure 1972’s chartbuster and current TV commercial warhorse “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers, while the fuzz-driven “You Don't Know What You're Missing ('Til It's Gone)” has a stutter and swing similar to what would later appear in “Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight. “Always” frequently gets maligned as being too middle-of-the-road and supper-club schmaltzy, but its straightforward melodic beauty works for me and would sound just right flowing effortlessly along with “Precious and Few” by Climax and Heatwave’s “Always and Forever.” The highlight of the album is the kinetic “Movin’ Too Slow,” as it works both as dance floor filler and as an early anthem of women's empowerment. Granted, there are some lackluster songs (e.g., the two numbers where Herb Rooney takes lead vocals), which results in the album being uneven. However, there is enough surging energy delivered with a sense of finesse to make Caviar and Chitlins well worth exploring. - Ted (Downtown)

album coverThe New Adventures of... P. P. Arnold
The New Adventures of
...presents Arnold's return to the forefront and first solo album in 51 years! It’s a fitting and appropriate title as these 15 songs aptly articulate new stages in an already remarkable life. The opening song “Baby Blue” sets an uplifting tone for the subsequent sounds, expressing a full spectrum of emotions to follow. Her musical momentum continues with the horn-driven “The Magic Hour” featuring her heartfelt vocals, which soar in the top-tier stratosphere of Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love. Her sublime reading of “Different Drum” continues her tradition of rendering some of the ‘60s' most endearing and enduring songs (e.g., “As Tears Go By,” “Angel of the Morning.”) “Daltry Street” presents a microcosmic window into a past scene fastened to a cinematic Bacharach-ian arrangement and delivered with calm, cool and collected vocals reminiscent of Dionne Warwick. The ballad “You Got Me” is the album’s sleeper. Originally recorded by Jaibi (aka Joan Banks) in 1967 and two years later by the Exciters, “You Got Me,” showcases Arnold’s timeless and stately elegance along with her protean abilities. After its initial splash when it was released in the different world of 2019, this expansive comeback album has proven to have lasting reverberations. Not that you would expect anything less than eternal from P.P. Arnold.  – Ted (Downtown)

album coverNatural Juices by Gene McDaniels
While most recognized for his 1961’s #3 hit record “A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” Gene McDaniels had a long and extensive career as a singer, songwriter, performer and producer.  His 1975’s Natural Juices long player for Lou Adler’s Ode label arrived a year after Roberta Flack took his composition “Feel Like Makin’ Love” all the way to #1.  The song is now considered a perennial pop standard and has been covered by George Benson, Marlena Shaw, Susan Wong and over 400 others. This songwriting success furnished McDaniels the collateral in the industry to release an album entirely of his own compositions.  So what does a self-produced Gene McDaniels album from 1975 sound like? While a significant portion meets the presuppositions of a mid-career recording made in the gap between funk and the domination of disco, it largely exceeds expectations due to his reassuring voice and resolute presence. The album begins in sparkling fashion with his own indelible "Feel Like Makin' Love" that features a pronounced piano break by Bob James. Interestingly, his voice veers at moments into that delightful Sammy Davis Jr. croon.  Decorated with baroque touches, "Lady Fair" sounds like what you would expect of a mid-70s single with said title released in the late Aquarian age. He hits his stride with "Can't Get Enough of You" where his soothing vocals shimmer in a whirlpool of warm and lush tones.  On the whole, it would have been preferable to have his four-octave voice up in the mix and on the forefront like his early '60s hits or his two overlooked mid-sixties singles for Columbia, but his leanings towards an egalitarian ensemble approach and the industry standards of the times are certainly understandable. Meanwhile, he goes in balladeering direction on the dreamy "Waterfall," which evokes the shades and sensibilities of Scott Walker. This comparison is not so much a stretch, as in 1966 the Walker Brothers covered "Another Tears Falls" that McDaniels previously performed in Richard Lester's first film "It's Trad, Dad!" The dusky "Perfect Dream" draws the curtains on this album and recalls Sinatra at his most understated and reserved. It's both a smooth landing for McDaniels and a return to transporting listeners to previously unexplored realms of soulful sounds. - Ted (Downtown)

album coverThree. Two. One. by Lennon Stella
Lennon Stella is an artist of a new generation. In 2012, when she was only 13, Lennon and her younger sister Maisy received widespread notice by releasing a cover video on YouTube. Both sisters were cast in the TV Show Nashville and went on to star in 119 episodes. Since the show’s end, Lennon has embarked on continuing her music career. She was signed to RECORDS and Columbia and has featured on a variety of collaborations in the last 2 years. In November 2018 she released her first EP Love Me and now, a year and a half later, Three. Two. One. marks Lennon’s full-length album debut.
Throughout this album, listeners are drawn into a smooth, easy, indie-pop dream. From the opening track “Much Too Much” through to the album’s close, “Goodnight,” every song is melodic, breezy and filled with gliding synths. Other than the opening song’s clever repetitions, lyrically this album is straight-forward, touching on themes such as relationships, breakups, growing up and being alone.
It’s easy to become lost in this album, as each track falls into the next one, leaving you only with a feeling of a sound as you progress. But it’s a nice sound and one I keep coming back to. Airy vocals from Lennon are sometimes reminiscent of a Billie Eilish type of quality, but the accompanying tracks don’t always bear the same resemblance. One of the most interesting tracks on the album is track 11, “Weakness,” which features the singer’s younger sister and partner in crime, Maisy. This track is over seven minutes long, but it doesn’t drag. Instead it meanders and takes you on a journey, feeling like a pop take on a progressive rock track.

Overall, I think this album definitely stands on its own two feet and is well worth a listen. Lennon Stella might just be the next big thing – give her a listen and decide for yourself. – Jordynn (Downtown)

album coverBullies by Acid Tongue
Hailing from Seattle, Acid Tongue is a rock & roll two-piece intent on reinvigorating a suffocating music scene in the city once synonymous with grunge. After finding success through multiple EPs and their first full-length album, they’ve carried on this mission into their second LP, Bullies, released on March 13, 2020.
The album starts out punchy and fun with the opening track “Follow the Witch,” which sets the tone for the next few songs. Filled with “ooh ooh”s and quick rhythms, it feels like a track made for a movie montage, the kind of song that makes you want to bop your head while doing housework. The next track, “Candy,” starts with a catchy riff and stripped back verse before diving head first into a more standard rock & roll vibe which reappears throughout the rest of the album. Upbeat and jaunty is the continued name of the game for the next couple songs before the album starts to turn toward a more somber tone.
Right in the middle of the 35-minute outing, “Liars” gives us the first hint of something more melancholy with soulful vocals and an aching guitar-driven bridge. Following “Liars,” though, Acid Tongue seems almost reluctant to give into this newly found slower, moodier tone and instead gives us “Walk Don’t Run,” a high-tempo tune that feels anxious and somewhat out of place at this point in the record. Thankfully, the band returns to the tonal shift started by “Liars” and the last few tracks feel like a cool-down from the fast-paced first half. “Sometimes,” “Forty Years” and “Am I the Only One” round out the album, with “Forty Years” being the real standout led by Bowie-esque vocals from lead singer Guy Keltner.
This album as a whole is fun and easy to listen to, the kind of album you sing along to in the car. Like comfort food for your ears, Acid Tongue isn’t offering new, experimental ideas with Bullies but instead gives us an enjoyable and well-made iteration of a sonic experience you already know and love. – Jordynn (Downtown)

album coverMelenas
Arising from Northern Spain, Pamplona to be exact, this female foursome has only been together since summer 2016, but they are already making international musical waves.  Melenas (which translates to Mop of Hair) released this stunning self-titled debut, sung entirely in Spanish, in November 2017. “Cartel de neón” sets the tone for the rest of the album with its churning and clanging guitars signaling the charge while being propelled forward by a pulsating Krautrock rhythm via Stereolab. They proceed to downshift on “Menitras” by employing taunt harmonies and atmospheric keyboards, evoking the melodic “Lovelife” moments of Lush. "Gira" has them deftly interlacing their Fender Jazzmaster guitar, Fender Mustang bass, stripped-down drums and Nord keyboard into a satisfying whole. Entering with a bucking bronco kickbeat, “Volaremos” exemplifies their innate knack of being immediate, while also being competent and in command. Meanwhile, “¿Dónde estás?” reveals not only their finely tuned attention to harmonies, but also melodies, arrangements and overall sound. This musical finesse could be attributed to guitarist and vocalist Oihana, who was classically trained on the violin, but they truly flourish as a dexterous and dynamic unit.  The quartet proceed to ace the perfect pop quiz with the dashing and ultra-catchy “Tú me haces lo mismo” on top rank Heavenly levels. In Spanish publications, they have expressed their dreams of playing live in Austin, TX. This record continues to hold on to that dream, while creating anticipation for additional guitar-driven pop songs to arrive from this blazing group. - Ted (Downtown)

Various Artists Cumbia Beat Vol. 1: Experimental Guitar-Driven Tropical Sounds From Perú 1966/1976
During the prolonged summer here in the Arizona low desert, I share the local tendency to yearn for cooler weather, yet once it finally arrives, music emblematic of warmer climes (Afro-Latino, Caribbean-Tropical) quickly returns to the listening rotation. Spurred by hearing the stunning “Guajira Sicodélica” by Los Destellos (included on this collection), the recent tilt away from the sun has brought about an extended exploration into Peruvian Cumbia Beat (aka chicha). The effervescent folk melodies interwoven through the constantly shifting syncopated rhythms leads to a sound that is at once dashing, dexterous, and hypnotic. The vast majority of this music is instrumental and guitar-centric, prompting many in Northern Hemisphere to instantly note the prominent Southern California surf, Spaghetti Western, and British Invasion influences. Equally important are the unbridled percussive patterns lent from Colombian cumbia and Afro-Cuban rhythms that make these sounds crack, whack, and gallop along with the dashing folk melodies imbued with Peru’s Coastal, Amazonian, and Andean influences. To top things off, these ground shaking groups incorporated the entire spectrum of emerging guitar effects of the innovative era. Some standouts like the merengue-tinged “Cabalgando Con Ella” by Los Miros and the coiling “Captura De Lobos” from Los Orientales De Paramonga employ the watery guitar effect like some sort of tropical Vinnie Bell, while the songs which try to approximate the overdone Santana sound are not as absorbing. Down the line, Los Átomos De Paramonga’s “El Trencito” is an example of the melodic ‘60s pop sensibility running through these songs that perform double-duty as floor-filling dance music.  An unexpected and twangy cover of the Beatles’ “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” (simply translated as “Aquí en la Fiesta”) shows up near the end in full-on dusty Bakersfield/Buckaroos regalia. Overall, these appealing and adventurous Peruvian sounds reach new sonic plateaus suspended somewhere between the lush rainforests, the steep-edges of the Andes, and the vast Pacific Ocean. –Ted, Downtown


Bremer/McCoy – Utopia
I hate to say it, but the holidays are bearing down upon us, and of course, all of the stress and anxiety that comes with them. If you’re like me and are always stressed out at this time of the year, you’d be hard pressed to find a more ideal listen than Utopia, the latest from the Danish instrumental duo Bremer/McCoy - a perfect album to unwind, soothe your nerves, and get lost in a meditative bliss. Clocking in at just a little over 40 minutes, this tight, compact album is warm and inviting, even while the songs themselves suggest moments of quiet reflection and contemplation. Their sound is difficult to pin down into one genre, but there are elements of ambient, dub, new age, classical, and jazz, and each track on the album flows into one another, playing off the previous track and setting the mood for the next. The interaction between Jonathan Bremer (acoustic bass) and Morton McCoy (piano/keys, tape effects) is fantastic, each one complimenting the other so seamlessly, it’s as if they’re of one mind - together they create a soft tonal palette that draws you deep into their evocative sound. There are a lot of albums that almost beg to be listened to in one sitting, and Utopia fits that bill perfectly; a meditative, nocturnal, dreamy record that wraps itself around you, keeping you safe from the stress of the holidays and the cloying treacle left in its wake. –Mark, Downtown

Leprous - Pitfalls
Over their last few albums, Norwegian band 
Leprous have made it clear they are not afraid of experimenting with new sounds and evolving their musical identity. Their latest release, Pitfalls, continues to progress down this evolutional track, which really began taking shape with 2017’s Malina. The result is an album that finds Leprous the furthest they’ve ever been from their metal roots. Gone are the days of harsh vocals and heavy, chugging guitar rhythms. Instead, listeners are taken into an airy, atmospheric exploration laden with catchy synths and clear, glass-like vocal aerobics. The lyrical content of the album deals primarily with the depression and anxiety that lead singer Einar Solberg was battling throughout its writing. Each of the 9 tracks on Pitfalls feels incredibly self-reflective and packed with emotion, illustrating the singer’s internal conflict and giving us a small insight into the ways he struggles to maintain his mental health.  The music itself accompanies the lyrics in expressing this constant struggle and does an amazing job at gliding between ups and downs, hards and softs, and conveying a delicate sense of urgency and a desire to be able to move forward. While this album won’t be for everyone - and there will definitely be quite a few Leprous fans who are unsatisfied by the band’s direction - it feels like an album they needed to make, for themselves, and that introspective honesty is what gives it life. -Jordynn, Downtown

Morning Glory – Two Suns Worth
While on the surface, it appears like this is Fontana Records’ last gasp effort to stake their claim on West Coast hippie trip, Morning Glory's Two Suns Worth has aged surprisingly well and gradually reveals additional dimensions with each listen. Overall, it's the folk-rock-psychedelic sound found at the fault lines of 1967 and 1968. Morning Glory rose from San Rafael and featured the yin vocals of Gini Graybeal intertwining with the yang vocals of Bob Bohanna. The thunderous "Need Someone" opens the album and probably went down well at their live shows supporting Moby Grape and the Grateful Dead. While the ensuing songs on side 1 tend to get a little too bombastic, cluttered and rigid for their own self-righteous good, there are some countervailing soaring harmonies that take flight on songs like "Stone Good Day." With some molten moments flowing into place, side 2 is the more resilient and mesmerizing Yin side. “Jelly Gas Flame” displays an uncanny resemblance to "Eight Miles High" with some eerie atmospherics seeping in, while the ecclesiastical sounding "I See a Light" offers stabilization with its abundant sunshine blazing through the murky and turbulent skies. In general, their best songs prominently features the lavish layering of the 12-string guitar chasing and capturing the fleeting moment. For instance, “Live for Today” is trellised folk rock in the genus of the Rose Garden, We Five, the Joint Effort, Jefferson Airplane and Yankee Dollar and seemingly could have contended on the pop charts-if the storms of 1968 didn't break on through. While once long lost and abandoned in the haste of the major label gold rush, the reemergence of the Two Suns Worth album has allowed Morning Glory to finally come to light. –Ted, Downtown

Bent Knee – You Know What They Mean
If you aren’t familiar with Boston art rock band Bent Knee, now is the time to acquaint yourself. Their fourth studio album, You Know What They Mean, was released on October 11th and very well might be their best work to date. All the things that made their previous albums great – Courtney Swain’s yearning vocals, Ben Levin’s erratic guitar, odd yet poignant lyrics, the intuitive musical precision of every band member– have returned, only multiplied by 10 and rotated 45 degrees to the left. Though they are generally considered an art rock outfit, it’s hard to pin any one specific genre label to their music and this album is no different. A plethora of influences present themselves in the 13 track release including grunge, metal, math rock, alternative, pop, even jazz. All of those combined might sound like a lot, but Bent Knee are masters at blending unexpected things together and they do it again here, creating one incredibly cohesive experience.  And that’s really what You Know What They Mean is – an experience.  And an aptly named one, at that. Constantly at odds with itself, flipping between loud, chaotic moments and gentle, measured ones, this album is 53 minutes of feel. Every track is seeping with something raw, something intangible that pours through the speakers and makes you feel alive in an intensely human way. You may not know what words they’re saying, and you may not know exactly what they’re playing, but throughout the entire album you know what they mean. –Jordynn, Downtown

Kills Birds - s/t
Explosive, visceral, and chaotic are the words that best describe 
Kills Birds debut self-titled albumKills Birds is a Los Angeles based punk/noise rock band which began as a secret project between lead singer Nina Ljeti and guitarist Jacob Loeb. It organically formed as an outlet for the band to vent the frustrations faced with trying to be an artist in LA, eventually growing into much more. The album starts with a bang, quite literally, in the song “Worthy Girl”as Ljeti yells “Bang!” repeatedly in a song that perfectly captures the energy output throughout the album. That energy ramps up until the song “Ow” which slows things down with a grungy, slimy, and even almost serene guitar riff, until ramping into a sound very reminiscent of songs on Goo by Sonic Youth, and it’s from here that you’re thrown onto the speedwagon of my personal favorite song off the album, “Volcano”. It’s thrashy, fast, and like the title of the song, eruptive. Lyrics are spoken in a single breath as if Ljeti is racing the guitar and drumbeat of the song until it explodes into a headbanging chorus. The rest of this album goes back in forth between being fast and noisy, and being almost peaceful yet menacing. Overall, this album left me wanting more and I’m excited for what the future holds for them. If you like bands like Sonic Youth and Nirvana or music out of the punk/noise/grunge genres, you’ll find a lot to love here so give it a listen. It’s Kim Gordon approved. –Brannon, Downtown

Sheer Mag – A Distant Call
After their critically acclaimed debut album, 2017’s Need to Feel Your Love, one would expect the sophomore slump to strike Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag. Thankfully it hasn’t. Their newest LP A Distant Call builds from their debut to deliver unapologetic guitar-oriented rock that has its roots in the scuzzy dive bar scene but its sights on the stadium. And at the same time, their music has a sparseness and simplicity that compliments its lyric themes, which are topical, contemporary, and just a tad political. Tackling big subjects like poverty (“Blood From A Stone”), political corruption (“The Killer”), labor unrest (“Chopping Block”), class warfare (“Silver Line”) and even the current refugee crisis (“Unfound Manifest”), the songs contain deep messages that reflect on the power of community, standing up for what you believe in, and the overarching meaning of human dignity in the face of craven political opportunity. It’s pretty heavy in terms of subject; however it’s buoyed by some truly fun riffs, blistering twin lead guitars, and killer soaring vocal melodies courtesy of lead singer Tina Halladay. A frequent number of bands these days play around with hard rock/punk elements, but their approach is more tongue-in-cheek, a “loving tribute” to the sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Not so with Sheer Mag, who truly embrace these aspects, fully owning their Thin Lizzy-meets-Cheap Trick-meets-Judas Priest sound to deliver a powerful punch. –Mark, Downtown

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Vweto II
As the first track on LA singer and multi-intrumentalist Georgia Anne Muldrow’s18th LP, “Almost Trendy” could be read as a mission statement from an artist who works happily and prolifically in the fringes. While jazz seeps slowly back into the mainstream, Muldrow’s esoteric experimentations refuse to sit on-trend. Her previous LP, 2018’s Overload, was classic neo-soul with tons of hip-hop inflections and kinetic, bubbling-under-the-surface beats; but nothing that would be out rightly described as “jazz”. On her latest, it seems as if she’s returned to her comfort zone. Vweto II is a record of celestial instrumentals, forgoing her old-soul R&B vocal to instead focus on slow-burning, bass-driven hip-hop and G-funk-inspired synth noodling. Darkness simmers beneath, as on the menacingly low-riding “Emo Blues”, but for the most part, the record hits like a blast of heat from the Phoenix sun. A sprawling jam session, the record contains a kaleidoscopic blur of 1970s and 90s sonic references, sounding a lot like a blend of classic Headhunters Herbie Hancock filtered through Chronic Dr. Dre. Across its 16 tracks, Muldrow deftly weaves the digital with the physical: on “Old School Fonk”, squelchy bass faces off with feathery synth melodies; “Big Mama Africa Jam” is a pure psychedelic sci-fi odyssey, and the uplifting single “Brokenfolks” provides a marching beat that propels you into the cosmos. Vweto II sits firmly outside of what’s trending: if you’re looking for a way to escape the present moment, it’s the perfect time warp to get lost inside. –Mark, Downtown

Lee Moses – How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles and Rarities 1965-72
While certainly not a household name, Lee Moses was an enigmatic figure whose influence was deeply felt even generations after his recording career had ended. A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, Moses burst out of the R&B scene of Atlanta, the “Motown of the South”, before moving to NYC in the early ‘60s, where he began working as a session player, sometimes playing with a pre-fame Jimi Hendrix. After making a series of recordings in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, lack of commercial success killed his career, and he returned to Atlanta, descending into obscurity. And even though most of his material was recorded in New York, his vocal style was very much in line with the Southern soul style of the ‘60s – fiery, raw, with an cathartic and passionate delivery. The newly released How Much Longer Must I Wait is a fantastic 16 song compilation, collecting all of Moses’s non-LP singles, and a great introduction to his Stax-style soul and energetic funk/blues hybrid. The whole album is great from start to finish, but highlights include “My Adorable One” – his first single and a devastatingly heartfelt torch song featuring his throat shredding vocals; his funky take on the Beatles “Day Tripper” - played at a breakneck pace with a subtle homage to Steve Wonder thrown in on the verse; and “Bad Girl” – his biggest single and a verifiable showcase for his deep soul style. Moses should have been as big as James Brown (he certainly has the vocal chops), but this compilation goes a long way into shedding some light on his criminally underrated catalog. –Mark, Downtown

Astrud Gilberto with Stanley Turrentine
Surprisingly, Astrud Gilberto and Stanley Turrentine's musical paths converged and they collaborated together on this 1971 album that was later reissued on compact disc in 1988 and 2003. This 2003 remastered version from Sony Legacy is augmented with three bonus tracks. The lush, sweeping and textured production makes Creed Taylor’s presence immediately felt and heard, while Eumir Deodato’s adept, curvilinear and unexpected arrangements gives the recording an ahead of its time feel. Not only does the album come across as a precursor to the schematics of Stereolab and the High Llamas, but vibrant songs like “Traveling Light” and “Just Like You” sound like they could have even sprung forward onto a Stereolab album from 1999 or a Laetitia Sadier album from 2010. Overall, the album is not a strict showcase of Gilberto and Turrentine, but a diversified collection held together by a top-flight combination of American and Brazilian musicians. They present a panoramic sound by successfully overlapping jazz and samba and stretching their possibilities. Furthermore, their first-rate musicianship provides a solid foundation to counterbalance Astrud’s airy vocals. Her delicate voice slides over the pinball bumper basslines of Ron Carter, and glides over Eumir Deodato’s Fender Rhodes piano. (BTW-Deodato is currently Justin Bieber’s grandfather-in-law.) On the opening and closing songs, both composed by Bacharach-David, Astrud’s soothing voice breezes over the warm guitar tones of Gene Bertoncini. On adventurous songs like “Ponteio,” Turrentine’s tenor saxophone arrives on the forefront and then recedes to accompany Astrud’s vocals delivered in her rhythmic Portuguese. Turrentine is later given the limelight on the instrumental “Vera Cruz", and the original "Mr. T" releases a sound imbued with poise and dexterity. The bonus track “Polytechnical High” sounds like one of those mechanical songs that the warped Brian Wilson wrote in the ‘70s in exchange for a brown bag of unhealthy substances. Upon further exploration, the quirky song was first released by Harpers Bizarre in 1970 with writing credits going to Nilsson. Gilberto with Turrentine has the crossover appeal and variety to where far-flung listeners of easy listening, bossa nova/samba, Latin jazz, sunshine/soft pop, Shibuya-kei, soundtracks or jet set pop all could easily find something to suit their individual musical needs, while also being a captivating listen in its entirety. – Ted, Downtown

Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
For Father of the Bride, their first LP in 6 years, Vampire Weekend  pull out all the stops. A massive, sprawling record packed with fresh ideas, experimental song arrangements, and labyrinthine narratives about loss and the passage of time, the Brooklyn indie rock darlings continue to challenge themselves, delivering some of their best work to date. The album kicks off with a one-two punch of elegiac baroque pop; both opener “Hold You Now” and second track “Harmony Hall” feature majestic organ and piano, richly layered chorale harmonies, and wistful lyrics about regret and learning to accept past mistakes. Thematically, the LP is focused on concepts like change and the anxiety one feels about growing old; however, these heavy themes are juxtaposed against bright, optimistic sounding melodies and soaring vocals. In lesser hands, a record like this would crumble under the weight of having so many fragmented and scattered ideas, but Vampire Weekend  pull it off deftly, employing a sunny disposition and playfulness that keeps it from feeling over-stuffed. The Afropop influence, a trademark characteristic of the band, is still in the mix as well, prevalent in cuts like “Flower Moon”, “This Life”, and “Rich Man”, where intricately picked electric guitar, groovy basslines, and upbeat tempos wind their way into your brain. An excellent record, Father of the Bride is sure to be on many of the year end “best of” lists. – Mark, Downtown

Moondog – An Introduction to Moondog
Moondog was the ultimate outsider of 20th century music. Championed by an assortment of musicians including Frank Zappa, Igor Stravinsky, Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman, and Janis Joplin (among others), he was born Louis Thomas Hardin in 1916. After a tragic farming accident left him blind at the age of 16, Hardin learned ear training and classical composition, and was largely self-taught as a musician, playing a variety of instruments, many of which he invented. In the 1940s he made his way to New York City, where he was often seen in midtown Manhattan, standing silently on the sidewalk, wearing a cloak and giant Viking helmet. While he chose to work as a street busker for most of his life (his five decades as a recording artist were mainly spent on tiny indie labels), his music draws heavily on jazz and classical influences, with a heavy dash of Native American rhythms and natural sounds (like street noise, traffic, ocean sounds, babies crying) to form a unique style that was adventurous, playful, and always uncompromising. The recently released An Introduction to Moondog is an excellent compilation of his songs and compositions, and a great way to baptize yourself in the waters of weirdness. Standout tracks include the stately “Bird’s Lament”, recorded with a 40-piece orchestra; the minimalist “Rain Forest”, itself a huge influence on Phillip Glass; “All Is Loneliness” which he cut with a small acoustic combo – covered by Joplin in the late ‘60s, and the melancholic “To A Sea Horse”, a solo piano etude that is as haunting as it is eerily simple. –Mark, Downtown

The Budos Band - V
For funk enthusiasts, the newest release from The Budos Band is a breath of fresh air. For over fifteen years, the nine-piece instrumental group from Staten Island has been meticulously crafting some of the grittiest funk since the genre's heyday in the early '70s. Their previous record, 2015's Burnt Offering surprised their fanbase because it delivered a slight shift in their musical direction; in addition to their trademarked fusion of Afrofunk and driving R&B, they offered up a dark vision of psychedelic menace with a splash of hard rock. Think Black Sabbath, but with a greasy horn section blasting out the hard-driving riffs instead of a distorted guitar. The Budos Band V (their fifth LP) continues this aggressive angle with refreshing results. Album opener "Old Engine Oil" is an infectiously groovy shockwave of ragged riffs, similar to Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" but with an inspired horn vamp and energetic guitar flourishes. Throughout the album they employ the push/pull of heavy hooks bristling up against dark, exploratory jams; boisterous and freewheeling on one song, narcotic and spacey on the next. Other highlights include the shuffling two chord drone "Veil of Shadows", with spikey Mariachi-flavored horns that wouldn't sound out of place in a '60s spaghetti Western, the rumbling "Arcane Rambler" featuring some of the highest pitched trumpet squeals this side of Maynard Ferguson, and the swaggering soul of "Ghost Talk", full of explosive drum cascades, trippy guitars, and more than enough cowbell to satiate Christopher Walken. As uncompromising as it is adventurous, The Budos Band V is a challenging record full of twists and turns, perfect for demolishing the spring doldrums. -Mark, Downtown

Los Holiday’s – Sounds of Los Holiday’s
Here is the sound of the British Invasion cascading down to Caracas, Venezuela circa 1966. While there is the expected, inescapable and delightful influence of the lads from Liverpool, there is a much stronger affinity for those beat merchants from Manchester - The Hollies. Upon initial listens, I could also detect what I thought was an undercurrent of Nederbeat. This Dutch tilt turned out not to be merely coincidental as I learned that the group's lead singer, Franklin VanSplunteren, was originally from the Netherlands and immigrated with his family to Venezuela in 1964. Los Holiday's affection for The Hollies is clearly evident as they include five of their songs: “When I’m Not There," “What Kind of Love,” “Baby Don’t Cry,” “Little Lover” and “Come on Back." Even their take on Doris Troy's "What'cha Gonna Do About It" was initially covered by The Hollies.  On lado/side 2, they branch out with the Searchers' "Till I Met You" where their early incarnation as an instrumental band can be heard in the guitar twang. While their spare original songs like "I've Had My Dose" and "You'll Learn this Way" are not as up-front or staggering as those from leading South American big beat combos like Uruguay's Los Shakers or Los Datsun's from Peru, their earnest harmonies and delicate melodies are endearingly expressed. The Dutch-accented English vocals and their immersion into The Hollies spill over into the Venezuela air - resulting in some well-crafted, plaintive and truly distinctive minor-key beat. Overall, it's a traversing South American sound on the threshold of something still striking and seeking. –Ted, Downtown

Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn & Larry Knechtel – Rejoice!
Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of this 1968 album, beyond its striking period charm quasi-religious front cover, is that this co-ed folk duo is backed and bolstered by three heavy hitters of the Wrecking Crew including legendary drummer Hal Blaine who passed away at age 90 in March 2019. While none of the subsequent tracks are as immediately transporting as the banjo-flecked lead-off track “Sausalito Sunrise,” the album is an intriguing late entry in the ampersand co-ed folk duo movement that spanned across the entire decade of the ‘60s. The proficient musical bed tilled by the Wrecking Crew musicians on lilting, albeit fleeting songs "Spring Flew in Today" and "Even Through" makes it sounds as if Tom & Nancy Brown are layering their flowering vocals over a sweeping '60s motion picture soundtrack. In other spots, you can hear the underlying tension of a ramshackle Bay Area couple bereft of their familiar Marin County-based accompanying band and not quite coalescing with the professional approach of the top flight L.A. studio musicians (Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on piano & organ, besides the aforementioned Blaine). "Establishment Blues" might have brought down the communal house in 1968 with its barbed jabs and then trenchant commentary, but the resistance sounds futile today. In contrast, it’s the more gleaming commercial AM transistor radio material which remains in focus to this day. "Golden Gate Park” is a bubbly psychedelic lite pop chronicle of being momentarily footloose and fancy-free on a turn down day. It was appropriately chosen as the first single as it's an audio equivalent of Peter Max’s "UnCola" advertising art for 7Up. While Rejoice! lacked the crystalline harmonic interplay of Blackburn & Snow, or the turn up the AM radio factor of Friend & Lover, their opportunity to combine forces and record with members of the Wrecking Crew is beyond compare. –Ted, Downtown

Maren Morris – Girl
Mainstream pop has been increasingly welcoming of country artists (call it the “Taylor Swift effect”), and even while today’s country music seems to be male-dominated – despite its excess of female stars – Maren Morris is one of the most prevalent and popular. Morris has been blurring the lines between country and pop ever since her first EP in 2015, and her newest full-length is no different. Packed with tons of adventurous and emotional songs, Girl is sure to help continue her domination of the country charts. And while there aren’t any cutesy titles like “80s Mercedes” or “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry”, there is instead a confident batch of country/pop hits here, jam-packed with upbeat rhythms, jagged and rocking guitars, and Morris’s velvety smooth and powerful voice. It all starts off with the title track, an ambitious blast of kinetic energy, with a super catchy chorus and a chugging guitar that wouldn’t be out of place on any indie rock song. Throughout the record, Morris is constantly stretching herself, playing around with multiple genres, including Top 40 (like on “The Feels”, “RSVP” or “Common”), raucous beer-guzzlin’ country (the song “All My Favorite People” with guests Brothers Osborne), ‘80s synth rock (“Flavor”), or just straight-ahead balladry (“Shade”). Song after song on Girl is a testament to the versatility of Maren Morris, an album that sure to be found on many “best-of” lists at year’s end. –Mark, Downtown

Various Artists - Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990
New Age music gets a bad rap. Lambasted for being vacuous, with its tedious sounds emitting from yoga studios or hippie bookstores, much of the derision came from not only listeners, but from the musicians themselves who felt their music was incorrectly labeled under an umbrella term with intentionally vague marketing. While New Age is meant to inspire contentment, relaxation, and create an environment of tranquility, the connotations of “vacant” and “uninspired” certainly make it an easy target for critics. However, in the late ‘70s, concepts like Brian Eno’s “ambient” music (itself an extension of Erik Satie’s “furniture music”) were beginning to gain some traction with musicians in Japan. To them, it was known as Kankyō Ongaku, or environmental music, and by the 1980s it became a cultural phenomenon – their version of Muzak - not the cheesy ditties you’d hear in an elevator or out shopping for shoes, but incidental music meant to soundtrack the spaces, products, and experiences of everyday Japanese life. The recently released Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 is a fantastic overview of the country’s best selections from that era – a sublime melding of ambient, folk, and natural sounds. Standout tracks include “Variation III” by Misashi Kitamura and “Praying for Mother/Earth Part 1” by Akira Ito, where the sounds of lapping ocean waves, babbling rills, and chirping birds all coalesce into the atmosphere of shimmery synths. Elsewhere, traditional instruments cohere with more cosmic elements like in “Ear Dreamin’” by Yoshiaki Ochi, with synthesized choirs that beautifully contrast against organic percussion, and “Seiko 3” by Yasuaki Shimizu, with warm keyboard splashes and infectious pulsating minimalism. Kankyō Ongaku is a welcome respite from the daily chaos, a soothing utopia far from “vacant”. –Mark, Downtown

Doorbells – s/t
While the cover makes this looks like a swirling album of Japanese psychedelia, this is actually a stripped down Merseybeat record proudly revealing its skiffle roots. This duo is from Okayama - located roughly halfway between Hiroshima and Osaka. Google Translate cites George Harrison, Gene Clark, Jonathan Richman, Love, Happy End, Belle & Sebastian, and Hollies as their influences, but I’m hearing the Apples in Stereo, Billy Bragg, the Decibels, the Dentists, Television Personalities and Tony Molina topped off with charming vocals that evoke Davy Jones (the Monkees) and Peter Noone (Herman's Hermits) folded in their sound.  Overall, their 8 original songs, capturing and delivering the spirit of 1962-1967, are as compact and efficient as a vintage Honda Civic. This debut offers finely crafted pop like “Gimme Looks” which strums along in a guitar-driven and stately manner that recalls the best of the 1978-1980 mod revival. The spare elegance is quickly followed by the dashing Hi-Five-ish beat of “EZ Boy.” The only deviation and misstep is the song “Stay” as it wilts towards the besotted blooze rock stylings of early‘70s John “Lost Weekend” Lennon. While “Stay” does feature competent blues licks and provides contrast, it’s a letdown compared to all humbucklin' punch found in the surrounding succinctness. The crisp production, distinctive presentation and gnarly guitar tone allow these Doorbells to truly stand apart as there is enough grit not to be trite and more catchy hooks packed into one song than many acts deliver in their entire careers. In brief, this combo achieves that tricky balance of sounding off the cuff while simultaneously maintaining their rarefied cool. –Ted, Downtown

Barry Walker Jr. – Diaspora Urkontinent
For many, pedal steel guitar is synonymous with country music; the instrument’s sinuous string bending and crying sound have long distinguished the songs coming out of Nashville and Bakersfield, and its haunting atmospherics make it one of the most identifiable. Barry Walker Jr. is a Corvallis, OR-based multi-instrumentalist, and his approach to the pedal steel is pretty unique, as heard on his latest LP Diaspora Urkontinent. Building his compositions around the warping sound of his instrument, like the shifting of tectonic plates, the sound of the pedal steel in his hands becomes other-worldly, with long passages of ambient sounds, shimmering harmonics, and hypnotic melodies. It’d be easy to classify this album as new age – as a whole the sounds are serene, laid-back, and even wistful at times, yet there’s a bit more to it than just soothing background music. A strangely beautiful haze presides over the album, exemplified by tracks like the echo-saturated “First Life”, and “Ediacaran Moonrise” which has patiently bouncing chord changes that bubble and float around while an eerie single-note melody chimes in the foreground. Walker isn’t afraid to let loose either, and he kicks on the overdrive effects on tracks like “Late Heavy Bombardment” and “Finis Pacificae”, exploring the more percussive aspects of the guitar, and the tremolo-heavy “Jack Hills”, a minimalist voyage that carefully unfolds and weaves its simple notes into the ether. Diaspora Urkontinent shows off the pedal steel at its elastic best, a diverse and contemplative record - perfect for the balmy winter nights that we enjoy here in the Valley. – Mark, Downtown


Modern Sound Quintet - Otinku
In general, recordings of steel drum bands usually end up sounding thin while failing to capture and convey the dynamic live experience. Over the years I have purchased albums like Liberace presents the Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band, only to donate them right back to the thrift stores. Still, the appealing description of this 1971 album on the Bear Family Records website recently enticed me to reconsider and re-investigate recorded steel drum sounds. Modern Sound Quintet actually formed in Stockholm, Sweden and was led by Rudy Smith who hailed from Port of Spain, Trinidad-the epicenter of the steel drum/pan sound. This international quintet was comprised of musicians from Barbados, Ghana, Surinam, and Sweden. They conspired to make a churning sound that endures as their jazz orientation is not just a mere accessory, but a bedrock foundation underneath the gleaming steel pans. The recording itself fastens the melody-carrying steel pans with the shingled percussion to avert the usual shrill ping and rapid evaporation that plagues many recordings of unaccompanied steel drums. “Flowers in the Rain” presents percolating pans seemingly submerged in liquid to create a shimmering effect. “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” previously recorded by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, and the Buckinghams, features a pronounced piano setting the scene before the steel drums deliver the signature sweeping chorus. “Flamenco Groove” is one of the album’s original compositions and serves as a testament to Rudy Smith’s full command of the pans-working within and beyond the tension & release framework of the flamenco tradition. While originally available only in Finland upon its initial release in 1971, multiple reissues of Otinku have proven these radiant Afro-Caribbean sounds too panoramic, durable and adventurous to stay bound to one particular place and time. –Ted, Downtown

Holygram – Modern Cults
This post punk Gothic rock band from Germany will leave you nostalgic for some of the 70's and 80’s greatest bands. Their debut album, Modern Cults, has a number of songs that are very reminiscent of staples like The Cure and U2, both broody and romantic in a way that is still relatable. The music is very atmospheric, to the point of vocals being almost lost, and flows easily from one song to the next. The sound this band creates could easily be a full on sound track for a cult classic like The Crow. While their influences are very clear in respect to the 80’s, Modern Cults also offers something for those of the next generation who went to high school with groups like Nightwish, Within Temptations, and Evanescence  blasting into their ears. There is a way that Gothic Nordic bands such as these tell a story with instruments and Holygram as definitely kept to this tradition without going too far into the metal genre. The two sounds layer together in a beautiful sound scape that instantly had me hooked. –Elizabeth, Downtown

Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits was my first introduction to the music of Robert Zimmerman; a serviceable LP chock full of the songs that everyone knows, yet it was a fragmented avenue for truly understanding where he was coming from. However, my next purchase was a home run - 1975’s Blood on the Tracks – often seen as Dylan’s best record in a career already littered with great works, from Freewheelin’ to Highway 61 to Blonde on Blonde to, well, you name it. Just in time for the holidays, the Bootleg series continues with an exhaustive peek into the making of Blood on the Tracks – 87 tracks including multiple versions of songs, outtakes, false starts, abrupt finishes, hiccups, anything and everything – an intimate glimpse into Dylan’s artistic process during the creation of what many consider his highest achievement. While there’s numerous takes of the same songs, the repetition doesn’t make for a tedious listen. Rather, the way in which Dylan changes his mind, alters a phrase, rearranges lyrics, modifies the rhythm, or entirely revamps a song is utterly captivating. It’s difficult to pinpoint any highlights on this all-encompassing set, but this would make a great case for having more than one library card so that you could download more than 5 tracks per week. For example, you could focus on the standout cut “Idiot Wind” (there are 7 takes before the final version) and explore the rawness of the earlier sessions and compare them to the grandiosity of the end result. Or you could dive into the numerous renditions of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” (12 takes) and look at the way he changes lyrics, constantly revising and bettering himself each time. A masterpiece in the truest sense and an absolute must for any Dylan fan. –Mark, Downtown

The Striders – Columbia Singles
While the Spiders, fronted by a teenage cross country runner named Vince Furnier (later Alice Cooper), crept about Phoenix during the mid-sixties, over in Albuquerque, the Striders swiftly sprung from the Duke City to the City of Angels. Being managed by promoter, producer, musician and wunderkind Lindy Blaskey certainly fast tracked the group’s rapid rise from University of New Mexico students to recording artists for Columbia Records. Their particular California Cinderella story resulted in three singles issued in the still resonating years of 1966 & 1967. Their recorded repertoire was certainty intriguing, as half of their songs were previously first done by more recognized acts.  It’s almost as if Columbia Records was trying to get additional mileage from material like “Sorrow” (McCoys, Merseys) “There’s A Storm Coming” (an enduring Dirty Water album cut by the Standells) and “When You Walk into the Room” (written by Jackie DeShannon and most associated with the Searchers).  Adjoining these covers are a couple of songs written by the aforementioned Lindy Blaskey. "Am I on Your Mind" falls short in its emulation of the Troggs, Dave Clark Five, and Paul Reveve & the Raiders with its lack of punch, while “Say That You Love Me” is a pleasant mid-tempo number somewhere between the sweep of the Beau Brummels and the fragility of the Nightcrawlers. The Striders went out on a strong note as their last single was arguably their finest two minutes.  Despite the potentially misleading MC5-ish title of “Do it Now,” it sounds like early folk-rock Turtles with vocal harmonies galore elevating the cavalier "time to move on" lyrics. Numerous personnel changes and the seismic late '60s shift towards heaviness probably contributed to the demise of a group that has yet to be properly documented.  Overall, it's another unanticipated set of restored recorded remnants of the California pop dream from a determined group and manager from the perennially overlooked city of Albuquerque. –Ted, Downtown

Valley Lodge – Fog Machine
Fans of the popular HBO news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver are no doubt familiar with the catchy theme song, but may not be acquainted with the band behind its genius. Valley Lodge have been together for a little over 10 years, and their newly released LP Fog Machine is a 13-track blast of hook-laden rockers more infectious than a summer cold. Every track on the album is a clinic in power pop mastery, with traces of classic Cheap Trick, Big Star, The Knack, and Matthew Sweet all mixed in with more recent groups like Weezer, Foo Fighters, and Fountains of Wayne. Imagine all of those influences shoved into a blender and whipped up into a dizzying frenzy of killer rock and roll. Valley Lodge consists of an all-star collaboration of NY hipsters including guitarist Phil Costello (Tragedy, Witch Taint), drummer Rob Pfeiffer (Sense Field), bassist Eddie Eyeball, and comedian/guitarist Dave Hill, whose entertaining and hilarious lyrics add to the overall charm of this engaging record. Standout tracks include the T. Rex glam jam shuffle “It’s Alright”, the ELO-inspired explosion of “Days of Our Lives”, and the mid-tempo “I’m Gone” – a break up song that seems to celebrate singlehood as opposed to lamenting it. With viciously inventive guitar playing, clever songwriting, and more cowbell and tambourine that seem humanly possible, Fog Machine is a record that, in an earlier time, would wear away from repeated listenings. –Mark, Downtown

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Wasteland
If you’re a fan of the early 80’s metal bands and the blossoming of the Hair Band scene, you will appreciate Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats. Their tracks are similar enough to gel the album but different enough so that it doesn’t seem like you’re listening to the same track over and over. This gem of solid guitar, strong drums, and bold bass, combined with a Vince Neil sound-alike makes this an album worth listening to. “I See Through You” sounds like early Mötley Crüe; heavy guitar, strong drums, early Neil sounding vocals. “Shockwave” swirls with repetitive chords and harmony, taking a little different path than the rest of the tracks. “No Return” is heavier, driving and Black Sabbath-esque. “Blood Runner” sounds a little like the first track but is still a likeable tune. “Stranger Tonight” is somewhat Cheap Tricky, while “Wasteland” is the album’s softer, deeper ballad and sounds much like Crüe’s “Glitter.” “Bedouin” is a little bluesier and almost psychedelic Beatles, and “Exodus” reminds me of Alice Cooper’s Trash phase. All in all, a great album; ideal for road trips or pool parties. –Karrie, Downtown

Hozier – Nina Cried Power EP
Hozier is an Irish born artist that first came onto the music scene in a big way in 2014 with his self-titled debut album. The music is uniquely his, in that it blends the very best parts of so many genres. Indie rock and blues meld with his rolling Irish style of singing in a way to create a sound that resonates through the listener. Especially when played loud enough to cover your own voice as you sing along, like I do. To the great dismay of his fans he has been virtually hermit-like in the past four years, only releasing one song in all that time. Until this fall, that is. Nina Cried Power is three songs that are currently only available digitally (including on Freegal). Each one has its own feel to it. From the empowering upbeat, rhythms of the title song that make you feel like getting up on your feet, to the slower, acoustic guitar that is so reminiscent of songs on his first album. This is an album to sink into and just be for a moment. –Elizabeth, Downtown

Hypoluxo – Running on a Fence
One of the most difficult things to do when listening to a new band is avoiding the temptation to compare. I feel sorry for newer artists who painstakingly work for years crafting their sound into a wholly original and unique place, only to have some hack like me inevitably correlate them to an already existing artist. So, I’ll try my hardest to avoid any comparisons in this review. The Brooklyn quartet Hypoluxo‘s newest LP Running on a Fence features a smattering of shoegaze, indie pop, and riff-ready alt rock that’s been shellacked with a misty glaze of spacey ambience. Delicate and dreamy at times, with tons of reverb and echo hypnotically bouncing around, and at other times, complex and elaborate, with serpentine guitar lines that intertwine and bury themselves into a layer of snap-tight drums and lumbering bass riffs. Singer Samuel Jacob Cohen is a dead-ringer for The National’s Matt Berninger (oh well, I tried), with a smooth baritone that often sounds like he has a mouth full of marbles, yet exudes a cool confidence that catches you off guard when you first hear him. Recorded here in Phoenix, Running on a Fence is yearning and autumnal – and although not incomparable, a beautiful listen nevertheless. –Mark, Downtown

JEFF the Brotherhood – Magick Songs
JEFF the Brotherhood are a sibling duo from Nashville who have, for the better part of a decade, delightfully frolicked in the haze of the stoner rock genre. With songs like “Sixpack”, “Mind Ride”, “Wastoid Girl”, and “Mellow Out”, their goofy guitar-oriented jams recall the halcyon days of ‘70s AM radio, where bands like Foghat, or Free, or Bad Company dominated. For their latest album Magick Songs, the duo have not only added a few more members to the band, but they’ve gone back to the drawing board in terms of their overall sound. Gone are the boisterous bong-rattling riffs and sludgy distorted grooves in lieu of a sonic palette that would best be described as experimental. Loose songs that dabble in Krautrock minimalism (“Focus on the Magick”), jazzy introspective mid-tempo numbers (“Parachute”), and Asian new-age meditations (“Singing Garden” and “Locator”) are now part of JEFF the Brotherhood’s repertoire, adding diverse instruments including saxophone, clarinet, and gamelan. Thankfully, they haven’t lost their knack for creating memorable riffs either. You can’t expect an artist to repeat themselves album after album (ahem, AC/DC), so it’s a welcome addition to their sound - a challenging LP full of surprises, much like the band themselves. –Mark, Downtown

Yo-Yo Ma - Six Evolutions - Bach: Cello Suites
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suites are generally regarded as the most profound of all baroque works. The music, over two and a half hours, runs the gamut of human emotion – breath-taking and mesmerizing at times, and at others, some of the most sublime and relaxing pieces of music ever written; musicologist and composer Wilfrid Mellers described them as “music wherein a man has created a dance of God”. It’s fitting that the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma is intimately familiar with the suites. After all, it was the very first piece of music he learned on the cello, and he’s performed and recorded them numerous times throughout his illustrious and dignified career (his 1984 recording of the complete suites nabbed him a Grammy). His most recent interpretation Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites showcases his absolute mastery of the work – an intimate and constant companion that has evolved over the course of his life. And because of his closeness with the music, Ma is able to transcend the difficult technique and execution to fully express himself – his phrasing and dynamics are so fluid and spontaneous sounding, and his passion and dedication are evident throughout this beautiful recording. If you never heard the Cello Suites before (and it’s likely that you’ve heard some iteration of them in movies or TV), this is required listening – a master cellist performing the most important work composed for the cello, with years of experience and familiarity. –Mark, Downtown

Liz Cooper & The Stampede – Window Flowers
Liz Cooper & The Stampede are a Nashville-based trio who’ve just released a gorgeous debut LP, sure to break you out of your summer doldrums. Window Flowers is an ambitious blend of psychedelic folk and indie Americana, marked by Cooper’s distinctive guitar work and unique voice. But she isn’t the only focal point – her backing band, The Stampede, are skilled and tasteful, effortlessly complimenting the songs in ways that are unobtrusive and natural sounding; as a unit, they gracefully transition from soft, pastoral acoustic numbers into boisterous rock as fluently as any veteran act. Check out the country-leaning “Mountain Man”, graceful and upbeat, with a circular finger-picked acoustic and bouncy rhythm section to get a good taste of what this band is capable of – carefree and spirited music that pays homage to numerous classic Americana-sounding groups while sounding wholly original at the same time. Cooper’s voice is pretty unique too, a scratchy/sweet blend, somewhere in the realm of Stevie Nicks meets Billie Holiday after listening to a healthy dose of The Band and Neil Young. Everything on the record is great here, like the mystical “Dalai Lama” where the band hurtles into a long stoner jam that never seems to get bogged down in its excess, to the beautiful “The Night” with a sublime vocal melody that features lovely backups and violin embellishments, to the rockabilly “Hey Man”, easily the heaviest song in the set that has a punchy bass groove and retro reverbed guitars. Ultimately, the songs on Window Flowers are varied enough to keep you wanting more. –Mark, Downtown

Various Artists – Late Night Tales
Late Night Tales is a series of artist curated compilation albums that began in 2001, and over the years have featured a dizzying array of musicians who select the content, from the popular (Flaming Lips, MGMT) to super obscure (Nils Frahm, Agnes Obel) to somewhere in between (Franz Ferdinand, Air). The tracks on the albums are chosen to create the ultimate late night mix (hence the name of the series), and as a result of the diversity of artists selecting the content, each album is a pretty mixed bag, reflecting the individual artists’/bands’ influences and sounds. I was pretty psyched when I found out that every single one of the Late Night Tales compilations are on Freegal. These albums are amazing, and it’s worth a look especially if you thrive in the “I only download songs I like” age in which we live. For instance, Captain Beefheart’s “Observatory Crest”, a surreal and longing masterpiece from his otherwise awful Bluejeans & Moonbeams LP (found on the Snow Patrol comp) is a perfect example of getting the song without having to deal with the rest of the album. The list goes on, because there’s all sorts of hidden gems throughout the series: Nico’s unforgettably bittersweet cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” (Midlake’s comp), Elliott Smith’s solemn “Let’s Get Lost” (the Air comp), Brian Eno’s plastic-melting synth dirge “Another Green World” (Flaming Lips comp) – you could spend hours going through all of these albums. Another added bonus – each of the artists who curate the compilation were responsible for contributing one “exclusive” track, usually in the form of a unique cover tune. Some of the highlights: Midlake covering Black Sabbath’s “Am I Going Insane”, MGMT covering Bauhaus’s “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything”, Snow Patrol covering INXS’s “New Sensation” – a veritable smorgasbord of songs to check out. – Mark, Downtown

Har-You Percussion Group – Har-You Percussion Group
Formed in the aftermath of the 1964 Harlem riots, the Har-You Percussion Group, defied the forces closing in and bucked the odds to create this fully-realized album teeming with Afro-Cuban-Jazz-Latin-Soul sounds. The group, comprised of 11 African American & Puerto Rican teenagers, took root in the Arts & Culture division of the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU) organization led for a time by Cyril DeGrasse Tyson (father of astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson). Legendary Latin jazz musician Montego Joe was hired to provide overall direction and guidance, while being tasked to deliver a finished project that demonstrated "progress" was being made with these young men. In the span of four years, Montego imparted the rudiments of Afro and Afro-Cuban percussion and off they ran with it-frequently into exciting new directions. Their progress report was delivered in the form of this exploratory 1968 recording. The first half of the album is a spirited warm up leading to the jolting and brilliant fireworks found on the second half. The ebullient "Welcome to the Party" is their signature song with its dashing Ramsey Lewis-ish piano lead riding a high tide of percussion surging over the seemingly extemporaneous arrangement. "Santa Cruz" follows immediately behind with its momentum generated by its percussive cylinders firing off in perfect working order and topped off with an alegre melody line rendered by a flute.  In other words, polyrhythms galore going on under the hood, with Montego Joe's production steering things straight. Overall, this album is the sound of an ensemble rising to the occasion and surpassing all exigent expectations of its own time and place. Little did anyone know that in the process they were making one for the ages. –Ted, Downtown

Albert Hammond Jr. –Frances Trouble
The newest LP from Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. is a blast of scrappy energy, chock full of blistering up-tempo rockers, with ferocious guitar riffs, radiant melodies, and clever power pop songs. While not a concept record, Frances Trouble is inspired by his lost twin brother who died in a miscarriage while Hammond himself continued to grow in utero. While that may sound morbid (you’d expect a reflective and somber affair in those circumstances), instead the record is tight and focused, free from somber introspection. For anyone who enjoyed Hammond’s work with the Strokes, this LP occupies that same classic cool style, with effortless hooks and tons of energy. Standout tracks include the razor-sharp “Far Away Truths” (my vote for best Song of the Summer – really), the bouncy and infectious “Harder, Harder, Harder”, and the boisterous “Muted Beatings”. Despite its macabre background, Francis Trouble is an invigorated set of unpretentious rock and roll, an excellent complement to the scorching summer. – Mark, Downtown

Ruen Brothers – All My Shades of Blue
One look at these pomade-coiffed siblings, their vintage wardrobe, and the throwback album cover graphics, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Great, another retro act.” You wouldn’t be wrong either, as the Ruen Brothers conjure up sounds of Roy Orbison, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and the Everly’s. But nostalgia isn’t the only thing they have going, thankfully. With songs like “Finer Things”, a brass-heavy hard rockin’ number, or “Vendetta” a cabaret-style torch song overflowing with vocal theatrics, they aren’t afraid to embrace their modern influences either. Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, and featuring contributions from Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Lana Del Rey, and Ian MacLagan (Faces/Small Faces), the Ruen Brothers debut All My Shades of Blue is a great pop record, loaded with tons of catchy pop hooks and great performances. The wistful title track is a stand-out, as well as the shuffling “Walk Like a Man” (not the Four Seasons song), the yearning “Aces”, and the Springsteen-esque “Summer Sun”. If you love close-knit harmonies and classic songwriting, this LP is just for you. –Mark, Downtown

Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen
This is according to her biography: “Kadhja Bonet was born in 1784 in the backseat of a sea-foam green space pinto. After spending an extraordinarily long time in her mother’s plasma, she discovered the joys and gratifications of making noise with her hands and face while travelling at maximum velocity through intergalactic quadrants.” Hmmm. As bonkers as that sounds, after listening to her music, it’d be hard to argue with the overall vibe she’s trying to nail there. Childqueen is her second album, and it is a tour-de-force (confession: I was a big fan of her debut LP The Visitor). Bonet has a hard-to-define sound – to most ears, it’d be called R&B, but it’s a bit more complex than that. There’s a ton of different influences flying around the periphery of her songs, anywhere from ‘70s Stax-era soul, to classic ‘50s-‘60s jazz standards, to ‘80s hip-hop. It’s also pretty incredible that she’s responsible for every sound that you hear on this album, playing and singing every note (and man, does she have a beautiful voice), ambitiously writing and self-producing this mysterious and quirky album. Take my word for it, this LP is pretty hard to describe and it’s better to just let it play out and sink into your ears. The whole record is great but some standout tracks include: “Thoughts Around Tea” a short groovy number built around a drum machine loop with warbling synths, bells, and guitars; the deliberately paced “Wings”, a bouncy song with contoured bass and vintage synth lines that interlock with the nervous tremolo of violins and violas; and “Joy” a beautifully slow burn that starts off with a gentle caress of otherworldly harmonies, pastoral strings and woodwinds, and an elegant, almost wordless melody. There a lot going on with Childqueen – a record with tons on “intergalactic quadrants”, just begging to be explored. –Mark, Downtown

Michael Rault – It’s A New Day Tonight
After listening to Michael Rault’s latest It’s A New Day Tonight, it’s clear that he made a pit stop in the “B” section of his local record store and never left. Alphabetically, “B” contains a host of influential acts, obviously The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Byrds, but for Rault the true inspiration is the seminal band Big Star. There’s nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve (Big Star’s brand of American power pop held agency over countless bands including The Replacements and R.E.M.), especially if the end result is a freewheeling and amiable record that consistently delivers bright songs, jam-packed with clever hooks and earwormy melodies. Recorded live to tape for Daptone’s spin-off rock label Wick Records, the album is everything a pop fan could wish for – playful songs, lots of hooks, and simple production, full of warm electric guitars and snappy drums. Choice cuts include album opener “I’ll Be There” with its cascading McCartney-esque vocal harmonies, the mid-tempo “Dream Song” that sounds like a blend of Bread-meets-Badfinger with vintage cheesy synth effects, and the masterful singalong closer “When the Sun Shines” that will stay in your head long after the closing strains have faded. It’s A New Day Tonight is a fantastic record to kick off the beginning of summer. –Mark, Downtown

Rex Kona & His Mandarins – Wild Orchids
While existing in the world since 1964, I only recently had the good fortune to encounter this domestic oddity with its tilt towards the Far East. Overall, it’s a now sound record layered with copious vibraphone, wind chimes and marimbas. Further explorations reveal the prominent cross-currents of Latin jazz and samba swirling about at the time of recording. The album is atmospheric in that listeners can hear the separation of the instruments and feel that something different in the air. Wild Orchids starts off with a brisk sense of urgency as the Mandarins quicken the tempo of the old standard “Kisses Sweeter than Wine.” Besides the obvious influences of Martin Denny and Lex Baxter, there are also hues of Tak Shindo as heard in the Sino-Japanese motifs which run throughout the album and are especially pronounced in “Bushi, Bushi.” “The Trolley Song” seems to even anticipate the playfulness of Rolfe Kent’s soundtrack for Sideways with its accordion-led melody. “Bird Train” meets and exceeds its song title with its dashing bongos and a whole Tiki Room of bird whistles. The only ambient sound absent seems to be the rhythm of the falling rain. Don’t expect a profound or earthshaking experience with Wild Orchids, however these sounds float through the speakers like a refreshing Pacific Ocean breeze. -Ted, Downtown

Bobby Montez – Viva! Montez
Bandleader and vibraphonist Bobby Montez hailed from Sonora, Arizona, but good luck finding it on a current map or on the actual horizon because it’s one of those copper mining towns like Ray that no longer exits. Montez was able to quickly rise from his dusty desert beginnings to space age heights by creating a vast array of musical stardust by blending Latin jazz with elements of exotica. Viva! Montez is one of two albums he recorded with World Pacific after previous releases on Jubilee (1958’s Jungle Fantastique) and GNP Crescendo (1959’s Lerner & Loewe in Latin). Viva! Montez abounds with his sophisticated, yet sweeping arrangements which slide open at times to reveal their percussive infrastructure. One of his most evocative numbers is “Garden of Allah” which refers to the long-gone West Hollywood hotel and favorite haunt of F. Scott Fitzgerald. While Montez’s vibraphone and piano carry the waves of melody, the congas and timbales swirl and then crest before the chanting chorus. His playful instrumentals “My” and “Brazilian” sound way ahead of their 1961 time due to their freshness, vibrancy and understated elegance. The paucity of biographical information across the interwebs, only heightens the mysterious allure of this versatile artist and his incredible musical journey from Sonora, AZ to this century’s belated acclaim as an integral figure overlapping the West Coast Latin jazz & exotica scenes. –Ted, Downtown

Gloria – Oîdophon Echorama
Retro garage rock bands are nothing new these days, but few are able to nail the essence quite like the French six-piece group Gloria. While it’s tempting to categorize any band that dwells in cavernous reverb, back-masked guitar solos, and energetic but simple songs as “garage”, what many of the retro bands fail to recognize is the unpolished atmosphere, the creative structures, and the general unorthodoxy that was characteristic of classic Nuggets-era groups. What sets Gloria apart from the pack is their commitment to weirdness that seems familiar, ragged looseness that somehow has structure, sophistication blanketed in simplicity. It also helps that they blend beautifully crafted 3-part female harmonies with sloppy guitar workouts. Their 2016 brilliantly titled debut album In Excelsis Stereo was a clever pastiche of ‘60s throwback that incorporated all of these elements, a blend of classic girl group vocals mixed with lava-lamp rattling garage rock. On their latest Oîdophon Echorama, they seem to be hitting their stride – a cohesive and easy digestible 6 song EP that continues their vision of gritty-meets-glossy retro rock. Ranging from hooky foot stompers (“Heavy”, “The Rain Is Out”) to reverb-drenched psychedelia (“The White Lily”, “Mama Milker”) to a mellow country-esque ballad (“Gloria’s Recipe”), this EP manages to both continue their trajectory from their debut, and anticipate a promising future. –Mark, Downtown

Juliana Hatfield - ...Sings Olivia Newton-John
When it comes to tribute albums, the work of Olivia Newton-John doesn’t immediately come to mind. Not that she isn’t deserving - for a brief time in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s she occupied the zeitgeist like no other female pop star – it’s just that her material was a little pedestrian, kinda schmaltzy, and a tad over-produced. After all, she wasn’t really known for her songwriting, but for her interpretations of classic country and adult contemporary songs, and for the most part, her “sound” was defined by her slick production team (lots of sentimental strings, cheesy guitar tones). I think Juliana Hatfield understands all of this, which is why her tribute LP Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John is such a captivating listen. Hatfield logically stays away from slick production angles and studio gimmickry to instead focus on the way in which Newton-John interpreted these tunes, a re-interpretation, as it were. This isn’t some ironic, tongue-in-cheek project, nor is it an attempt to recast Newton-John’s critically uncool music as something hip. This charming album is a love letter to one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, a playful and good-natured homage that doesn’t dramatically alter the songs. All of Newton-John’s hits are here, from her signature song “I Honestly Love You” to her mega-hits “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, “Magic”, “Physical”, and “Xanadu”, and they’re all lovingly straight-forward arrangements, with Hatfield’s melodic indie guitar pop style intact. –Mark, Downtown

Debbie Lori Kaye – Columbia Singles
Debbie Lori Kaye had the unique distinction of being of Portuguese heritage, growing up Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and signed to Columbia Records as a teen. It appears that she was possibly being groomed by CBS to be a consummate crossover artist. She certainly straddled mid-sixties styles ranging from big production Nashville country through multiple branches of CanCon pop. In other words, you could place her records somewhere between early Dolly Parton, Skeeter Davis, and Lesley Gore. This album starts with “Picking Up My Hat,” which was a #1 record in Canada for 9 weeks in 1965, and is undeniably catchy skip-a-long pop. Her most recognized single “The Iron Cross” was arranged by Bergan White and commands $50 bucks in collector circles. The B-side is the delightful “Baby What I Mean” which the Drifters would later convert into a R&B hit in late 1966 and then again covered by Spiral Starecase in 1969. However, her most compelling moment might be “The Playground” as it is laced with some monster fuzz guitar over subterranean lyrics, lavish strings and acoustic latticework. Her one and only album from 1966, Hey Little One! smartly included this track. Columbia Singles serves as a rectifying reintroduction to a singer previously resigned to one topical song, The expanded view presents a somewhat underrated musician who overlapped both national and musical borders. –Ted, Downtown

Three Days Grace – Outsider
Outsider, the sixth album by Canadian rockers Three Days Grace, is the latest in a consistent sound for the band, but with some definite improvements showing. They’re still post-grunge alternative metal, but there is some electronica along with lots of harmonious melody on this work, an indication of open-minded writing and experimentation. “Right Left Wrong” alternates between heavy chords and ballad-like verses; “The Mountain” has driving guitar and a typical ‘90s song arrangement and there’s a vibe of solitude that carries across other tracks on the record.  “I Am an Outsider” has a Linkin Park-y kind of feeling to it; this is clearly an ode to the loner. “Infra-Red” is a sort of love song with plays on words giving it a (probably) unintended cheeky attitude. “Nothing to Lose but You” is angsty and full of melancholy, as well as “Me Against You” which seems to be a battle cry for individual conflict.  One is sad, the other is angry. “Love Me or Leave Me” does not offer much in the way of lyrical genius, but it has a nice arrangement of chord changes and playing with different sounds. “Strange Days” is much more upbeat than most of the tracks but still heavy, and very TDG sounding. “Villain I’m Not” is kind of simpering and whiny, and is a simple sort of ballad/love song. “The New Real” is fast paced and more fun.  Probably one of the best tracks is “The Abyss”, which is strong and heavy with great harmonizing and strong vocals. Overall, it’s what you would expect from Three Days Grace. –Karrie, Downtown

Habibi – Cardamom Garden EP
This all-female quintet certainly exudes a certain thrift shop charm, while weaving an appealing tapestry. Their focal point and catalyst is lead singer Rahill Jamalifard who is of Iranian-American descent and actually grew up in the flatlands of Michigan before following her global dreams to NYC. Under her direction, the combo adeptly intertwines Middle Eastern undercurrents with the enduring influence of the Shangri-Las, Luv’d Ones and Vashti Bunyan - which differentiates their sound & image to stand apart from their contemporaries. While many kids nowadays (inaccurately) call this surf rock with its abundant echo, reverb, double picking and rolling drums, it all conspires to have a magnetic pull on listeners. Cardamom Garden sometimes slopes into that languid realm of wooziness where the weekend slips away before it even gets started.  Despite moments of slack, they have thickened their overall sound and expanded their sphere of influences to include Persian poetry (“Nedayeh Bahar”) and Pebbles covers (“Green Fuz”) with the verses sung in Farsi that works to everyone’s advantage. They should also be commended for their attention to harmonies, backing vocals and arrangements. This focus allows them to transcend the one-dimensionality that plagues many an emerging band.  If you have ever been enamored by the Century 21 female-fronted sounds of La Luz, Slumber Party, Louie Louie, Bobcat ’65, the Girls at Dawn, Summer Twins, the Splinters or even Best Coast, there is certainly something similar to connect to with Habibi.  It should be interesting to hear what they will do next, which is usually the point of an EP. Here’s hoping they incorporate even more pronounced Persian influences into their future pop efforts. –Ted, Downtown

Jonny Greenwood – You Were Really Never Here: Original Soundtrack
In addition to his celebrated work with the band Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood has increasingly become a sought-after film composer, known for his collaborations with director Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread, The Master, and notably, There Will Be Blood). His film scores are strange and evocative, characterized by otherworldly discordant strings, ethereal drones, and unusual passages of incidental music that seem to operate as their own character, intermingling with the action on the screen. On his latest score, for the upcoming revenge-fantasy thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here, Greenwood employs three distinct approaches. First, there are abrasive orchestral swaths of dissonance, not unlike Greenwood’s main influence Krysztof Penderecki. Then, there are electronic noises and techno beats, reminiscent of synthwave, sounding often like Tycho nursing a bad migraine. And lastly, bookending the album, there are gentle, synth-heavy atmospheric moods, with celestial guitar textures, and soaring elegiac melodies. In some instances, Greenwood uses all three of these contrasting styles within one cue, like in the sublime “Sandy’s Necklace”, or in “The Hunt”. Amazingly, all of these contrasts work beautifully throughout the album, and it makes for a riveting listen – maybe not something you’d slap on at your desk to help you concentrate, but certainly if you have time to chill out with an engrossing soundtrack. -Mark, Downtown

Jimi Hendrix – Both Sides of the Sky
A new Jimi Hendrix album?! Why? Seemingly every year, a “new” Hendrix album appears, each one guaranteed to feature some unreleased gem, an unheard guitaristical voyage, a dusty demo that the janitor at Electric Ladyland found in some random guitar case. And, of course, the Hendrix Estate feels it’s necessary to adorn these releases with a ton of filigree, alternate takes, extended edits, studio chatter – all freshly remastered (naturally) in the hopes that fans will fork out more cash off the legacy of a man who passed away over 40 years ago. Call me cynical, I guess. That is, until I heard Both Sides of the Sky – an impressive set of material culled from 1968 featuring his 2nd great line-up (Billy Cox, Buddy Miles) along with a few guests (like Stephen Stills, Lonnie Youngblood, and Johnny Winter). The songs are loose and playful, and Jimi is absolutely scorching throughout. Check out the blistering tempo on “Stepping Stone” and prepare to be amazed at how Jimi tears into his guitar solo. There’s familiar stuff here, like the hear-it-a-squabillion-times-before “Mannish Boy” and “Hear My Train A Comin’”, yet somehow it still sounds fresh – a testament to the genius of Hendrix. “Cherokee Mist” is another standout, a psychedelic exploration to new worlds featuring dueling sitar and guitar and a delightfully phased drum solo. And, since it’s totally free to download this LP, I don’t feel stupid paying for stuff I’ve invariably heard before - that is, until next year when a new one comes out. –Mark, Downtown

The Wildlife - Columbia Singles
What an unexpected surprise to see this collection of singles surface here in 2018. Previous to this release, The Wildlife were one of those ‘60s bands that recorded a handful of standout singles on high profile Columbia Records, but their music could only be partially found as YouTube recordings of the original records. Legacy is most likely releasing this digitally in order to extend their copyright and prevent having these 50-year old recordings slip through their grasp and into the public domain. The front cover photo presents the band in their full pop art glory-almost looking like a ‘90s Madchester band sitting in on a Stone Roses photo shoot. The first half of the album opens a trove of folk-rock pop songs that I have heard before by other acts, but needed to refresh my memory in order to recall their exact origins. “This is What I Was Made For” came from the prolific pen of PF Sloan. “Where Do You Go” was actually Cher’s first single and written by none other than Sonny Bono. “Hard, Hard, Year” is a deep cut by the Hollies in waltz time, while “New Games to Play” was written by Ritchie Cordell, who composed some of Tommy James’ biggest hits. “Come See About Me” is The Supremes number, which was a certainly a brave & bold move by the band. After uncovering these covers, we get the downbeat & folked up “Time Will Tell” which could be considered the chiming centerpiece of the collection. The verses presents the conflicted jilted lover pleading for that one last chance, while the choruses have him convincing himself of the eternal truth and foregone conclusion that "Time Will Tell." Directly following is the previously unissued "Visions" which is mid-tempo psychedelic-propelled pop at its mid-sixties finest. The tale of a combo from the Ohio hinterlands getting lost in proverbial New York major label hustle-bustle-shuffle is among the oldest tropes in show business. However, their captivating and enduring songs have reemerged 50 years later, thanks to copyright extension, to convey there are sometimes second acts for unsung American garage bands. –Ted, Downtown

Twin Peaks - Sweet '17 Singles
The sloppy spirit of ‘60’s garage rock reigns free in the music of Twin Peaks, a five-piece guitar-oriented band from Chicago. Their newest release, Sweet ’17 Singles, a compilation of limited edition vinyl singles the band put out over the course of 2017, runs the gamut from good time party rock, to brash power chord jams, to bright introspective pop songs, all with a heaping dash of DIY aesthetics and goofy fun. The band has a very low-key approach, and their songs ooze “classic rock” without sounding like a carbon copy of their obvious influences (a little bit of the Stones, Tom Petty, and the Who). Ragged vocals, loose song structures, sprawling guitar melodies, and tons of memorable hooks are scattered all over these 12 tracks. From the bouncy opener “Tossing Tears” with its meandering loopy guitar riff and lazily crooned vocals, to the bruised ballad “Shake Your Lonely” which has a beautiful horn melody and harmonized slide guitar, to the swaggering, ultra-cool “In the Meadow”, this LP is bursting with creativity and playfulness. –Mark, Downtown

The Soulful Strings - Paint It Black
Here we have some truth in advertising with the abstract image of a red background painted black aligning to the album title. Appropriately, this 1966 album of all covers leads off with a striking rendition of “Paint It Black” featuring abundant echo, prominent flute and Latin polyrhythms. The main man and driving force behind the red door was Richard Evans, a bass player who later went on to produce and arrange for megastars like Peabo Bryson and the legendary Ramsey Lewis before becoming a distinguished professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. At Chicago’s Cadet Records, Evans led the large house band which included guitarist Phil Upchurch, flautist Lenny Druss and harpist Dorothy Ashby who became known collectively as The Soulful Strings. While none of their recordings express the deep depths of a David Axelrod project or the compounding congas heard on Music from Lil Brown by Africa, the music is certainly textured while the employment of strings allow for the unfurling of sweeping melodies. They interpret these hit songs in way that retains their essential core, but customize them to the point to also make them adventurous, dynamic, and enduring. In short, the strings are smoothly blended and skillfully balanced with the soulful elements. The album does sag in the middle as the source material (“Sunny” & “When a Man Loves a Woman”) now sounds tired and turgid due to radio overplay. The album takes flight once again and peaks with “Eight Miles High.” Paint it Black is the place to begin exploring their transitional sounds created by Evans layering musical elements of Africa and Europe over mid-sixties pop and soul in the heartland of North America. –Ted, Downtown

Julian Lage – Modern Lore
30-year-old Julian Lage has yet to step on a rake, at least in terms of his career. The former child prodigy (who performed at the Grammys when he was just 13) has flourished into a successful jazz guitarist, with a slew of LPs as a leader and sideman under his belt, working with legends like Gary Burton, Nels Cline, and John Zorn. His latest as a bandleader, Modern Lore, is just another example of his immense talent. Channeling equal parts Jim Hall and Joe Pass, with a little Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell thrown in for good measure, Lage conjures up a confident set of jazz/rock instrumentals with a primary focus on the “rock” element. For the most part, these songs here don’t sound jazzy; there’s a lack of the typical scalar noodling and show-off dexterity, allowing the songs grow loosely and organically, with a solid groove intact. His Telecaster gives the songs a countrified approach, and his control of the instrument evokes comparisons to Jeff Beck, with a haunting mid-range tone, and a hypnotic, chiming sustain during the album’s quieter moments. Highlights include the uptempo rocker “The Ramble”, the elegant “Wordsmith”, and the LP’s true standout, “Splendor Riot” - a lyrical and groovy number, with beautiful sliding chords that brush up against a laidback hook. Even if you’re not a fan of jazz records, you should give this LP a listen; it’s easily his most accessible, and a great addition to his already impressive catalog. –Mark, Downtown

The Shins – The Worm’s Heart
About a year ago, The Shins released Heartworms, a return-to-form from the indie rock band, after a few LPs that stumbled a bit in terms of overall consistency.  Don’t get me wrong, both Wincing The Night Away (2007) and Port of Morrow (2012) were great, but after the 4th or 5th songs, they tended to meander a little and didn’t hold up well after repeated listenings. Heartworms was different, or as one of my colleagues glowingly lauded it, a ”love song to 80’s New Wave,” filled with “beautiful guitar riffs” and “cheery drum beats” – to her, a perfect album. Now the band is back, attempting to perfect perfection, as it were, with a “flipped” version of last year’s LP. Called The Worm’s Heart, they’ve made some drastic changes – slow songs are re-imagined as fast songs (and vice versa); bubbly 80’s pop cuts are now retro 90’s workouts; tempos and instrumentation are altered; even the songs are presented in reverse order – a Superman Bizarro World version indeed. My first thought is: why don’t more bands do this? While I enjoyed Heartworms, I’m even more entranced with the new versions. More importantly, when I hear different run-throughs of the various songs, I struck by how the songs themselves hold up, no matter the arrangement. It reminds me of how Bob Dylan (or Elvis Costello) would frequently return to his back catalogue to re-imagine his classics, concentrating on the words and melody, but tweaking everything else. Between the two versions of the album, you’re bound to find an ideal balance, which may be what they were striving for, after all. –Mark, Downtown

Trummors – Headlands
While most of the nation is grappling with freezing temperatures, snow caked sidewalks, and icy windshields, we here in the Valley have been blessed with some unseasonable warmth. And it’s hard to think of a more perfect background to our beautiful weather than the 3rd LP from the cosmic country duo Trummors, an immensely engaging and warm sounding album, chock-full of dreamy pastoral folk songs and introspective ballads. Instrumentation is sparse throughout this delightful record, with dashes of harmonica, bouncy B-Bender telecasters, weepy pedal steels, and cheerful piano lines strewn around like sagebrush on the desert plains. Songs like “Spanish Peaks”, “Hollis Tornado”, and “Breezin’” are prime examples of the band’s intimate rural grooves, oozing with sweet close-knit harmonies and gently strummed acoustic guitars, evoking images of sun-dappled porch swings and lazy lemonade sipping afternoons. Close comparisons to Neil Young’s Harvest-era country rock, coupled with the spare earthy strains of American Beauty Grateful Dead, make Headlands a sublime listen, no matter what kind of weather we’re having. –Mark, Downtown


Sunny & The Sunliners – Mr. Brown Eyed Soul
For over 60 years, Sunny Ozuna has been major force on the Southwestern music frontier as a singer, bandleader, composer and independent label owner. The versatile and dynamic singer is as comfortable and conversant with traditional Tejano as he is with horn-driven instrumental R&B and smooth soul. Throughout the ‘60s, Ozuna and his bands the Sunglows & the Sunliners were the leading lights of San Antonio’s vibrant Westside Chicano Soul scene. The spotlight on this collection shines on his 1966-1972 soul sides sung in English and originally released on his own Key-Loc Records. What is most striking is the soaring doo-wop influence which lifts several of these songs into another realm. Their sublime treatment of Billy Stewart’s “Cross My Heart” could be considered a crowning achievement in Chicano soul. A lovely spare elegance is expressed through their version of Marvelettes' "Forever." “Open Up Your Love Door” presents their elaborate vocal arrangements topped off with a coda of the signature James Bond Theme from the horn section. “Give it Away” has that not a care in the world “Grazing in the Grass” feel of the Friends of Distinction, but is actually a cover of the Chi-lites' first charting record.  Another highlight is their dusky cover of Little Anthony and the Imperials' “Outside Looking In” where the Sunliners’ backing vocals express the determined mantra of "Gotta Find a Way, Gotta Find a Way." Mr. Brown Eyed Soul  is not only a starting point in hearing some of the most accomplished sounds to come out of the San Antonio and Southwest during the ‘60s, but also an immersion into the prevailing spirit of Chicano Soul. –Ted, Downtown

Miley Cyrus – Younger Now
Say what you will about Miley Cyrus’ past antics, the girl can sing! On her newest album Younger Now, she continues to show off her very wide range of ability for vocals and a knack for emotional lyric writing. The title track “Younger Now” is an admittance of her sometimes odd behavior in the past, with the explanation that “even though it's not who I am / I'm not afraid of who I used to be.” The edgiest song on the album is “Bad Mood” with some Cher-like vibes and a heavy, clunky beat that lends itself well to the mood of the song. “Love Someone” is a little darker than her poppy stuff as well, with strong twangy vocals and a great rhythm. “Miss You So Much” is soulful, smooth, and simple with harmonious background vocals. “A Week Without You” could have been taken right from a sock hop – the song that makes everyone want to do The Stroll. It’s fun and full of nostalgia. While it’s without a doubt a pop album, there’s certainly a flavor of her Nashville roots in a few of her songs, with tinny guitar and some of her belted out notes a nod to Dolly Parton. Without question, each single identifies emotions, past mistakes, or current relationships. Her vocals are consistently smooth, much like most of the tracks on the album. Miley has definitely calmed down over the past couple of years, and her music has done the same.  Perhaps a melancholy stage is exactly what she needs to round out her musical repertoire. –Karrie, Downtown

The Silver Seas – High Society
One recent Saturday afternoon, I was in a local Tuesday Morning store and immediately after George Benson’s decent live version of “On Broadway,” a song followed that stopped me in my tracks.  What I heard between the knick-knacks was what I thought was certified early ‘70s AM radio gold that missed my radar or some bubbling under “Round Wonder” that was deftly included in the store’s subscription music service.  I located the nearest overhead speaker and locked into the lyrics, in order to backtrack later. While making sure the kids were not breaking the many breakables, I thought I was hearing something in the same mystical realms of Curt Boettcher, Ron Elliott of the Beau Brummels or even Mark Eric with the alluring couplet: “Now as the summer starts to fade/Into the gold of autumn shade.”  Outside the air-conditioned store, temperatures were still toasty, but at least the mornings & evenings offered a contrasting reprieve and hope of a much needed tilt away from the Arizona sun. This buoyant yet reflective song perfectly encapsulates those elusive sparkling moments of golden sunlight through the crimson shadows.  The song turned out to be “We’ll Go Walking” by a Nashville band known as the Silver Seas and led by one Daniel Tashian, the son of Barry Tashian of the Remains.  (His dad once asked me if I could lend him a hand transporting some of his musical gear, while he was checking out of the Gold Coast Hotel in Las Vegas.  I was more than glad to assist.) I was furthered surprised that the album, The High Society, containing this lilting gem was over a decade old-as the era of release was delightfully indeterminate upon initial exposure.  While the Bacharachian “We’ll Go Walking” is the clear standout on the album, the other songs reveal themselves to be competent Chamber pop along the gold rush routes of the Thrills and the Heavy Blinkers.  The Silver Seas' own harmonic detectors seem particularly attuned to Jimmy Webb, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Paul Simon and to the piano man himself-Roger Williams.  While this band of prospectors have yet to strike it anywhere close to commercial success, they have already evoked the soft-focused tints of autumn inside a Tuesday Morning store. –Ted, Downtown 

Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - Stranger Things 2 – A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack
For a TV show brimming with such confidence, originality, and intelligence, you’d think that they could come up with something better than Stranger Things 2. Since it’s an ongoing series, is the number even necessary? We’re not calling it Will & Grace 2, are we? (C’mon, even the Full House reboot is called Fuller House). Pedestrian titles aside, fans are psyched as the second season of the popular Netflix show hits the airwaves later this week. A lot of the charm and success of the series can be attributed to the inventive and quirky music, composed and performed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, who managed to walk the precarious tightrope of serving the dramatic tension without relying on kitschy nostalgia and maudlin sentimentality. Undulating synth arpeggios, gurgling electronic noises, all laced with a foreboding sense of urgency and malice played a key role in setting the vibe of Stranger Things, and the music for the new season is no different. Paranoid at times, unsettling and abrasive, warm and melodic at other moments, the music continues with themes explored in the first season, and grows into a compelling and mesmerizing listen. Download Stranger Things 2 while you wait for the show to air, and perhaps brainstorm a better title. Even Stranger Things? 2 Strange 2 Furious? Stranger Things 2: Electric Boogaloo? –Mark, Downtown

Biblical – The City That Always Sleeps
Very reminiscent of the 80’s Hair Bar scene; you can almost see the smoke-shrouded, guitar-playing silhouettes. “Mature Themes” is driving and rhythmic with a touch of punk but without straying too far from the 80’s vocals formula. Add a dash of techno and it’s a good, strong song without too much self-importance. “The Last Thing I Remember” is rather blurry and sloppy and fits perfectly into the background. “Regicide” has tones of Depeche Mode paired with an easy rock drumbeat and smooth guitar notes. I like this song for its simplicity and non-obtrusiveness. The easy path of the song leads up to a muscular apex before descending back into the smooth rhythm for the finish. “Fugue State” is just that. Skip this one unless you’re trying to fall asleep. “Gallows Humor” is kind of fun, with more 80’s rock formulaic foundation. The instrumental “Spiral Staircase” is a darker song than most on this album and is well structured and moody. Opening with classical piano and giving way to bass, this is definitely one to sit down for at the concert; it’s relaxing and easy, but with a jazzy strength. The title track has a very mellow beginning and interesting use of distortion. “House of Knives” is rocky and repetitive without the gifts of some of the other songs. Overall, the album has varied sounds and styles, but the tracks are hit or miss. Pick your favorites and ignore the others. –Karrie, Downtown

Flamin’ Groovies – Fantastic Plastic
It has been 25 years since the legendary Flamin’ Groovies released their last studio album Rock Juice. While the band resumed actively touring around the rock ‘n’ roll world in 2013 (Japan, Australia, Europe, U.S.A., Canada), fans have been clamoring for a new full length. Things truly click into place when the recording reaches the crucial third and fourth positions. The Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk to Strangers” has been a long-time favorite and here the Groovies, place their truly distinctive style on it. With “Let Me Rock,” Chris Wilson is in his element and in full command. I can envision him on the other side of the stage, adorned with his scarf like Snoopy vs. Red Baron, and belting out this exuberant new classic in full rocking mode. Additionally, the song reveals the clear influence the Groovies had on their guitar-driven followers ranging from the Dictators and the Barracudas through the Hoodoo Gurus. The “good timey” backing vocals place a smile on the face that reminds me of one their original influences and one time label mates-the Lovin’ Spoonful. The yearning “She Loves Me,” with its layered harmonies and stacked guitars, takes us back to their yin & yang sound of their Sire years -which was all about sonically and visually evoking much needed mid-‘60s majesty in the mid-to-late‘70s. It is an unexpected delight to hear the instrumental “I’d Rather Spend My Time with You.” Instros are somewhat anomalous in their back catalog and they cast it out in a continental Shadows style that lifts off the ground with its jet streamlined sound. “Cryin’ Shame” rolls over the odometer and brings everything back home by encapsulating everything wonderful (lavish harmonies, jingle-jangle guitars and underlying rhythmic propulsion) about this resounding California born and bred band who have been dashing past forward for over 50 years. –Ted, Downtown

Beaches - Second of Spring
At 17 tracks, Second of Spring is a massive record. The third album by the Melbourne all-girl band Beaches begins with a blast of rumbling percussion (the sing-songy opener “Turning”), and over the course of its gargantuan 75-minutes, manages to encompass sublime guitar tapestries, wordless rhythmic instrumentals, and ‘60’s meets ‘80’s retro garage rock, all without overstaying its welcome. Sounding like equal parts Sonic Youth, The Cure, and Stereolab is no easy task, yet Beaches make great use of these similarities (and dissimilarities) while creating something totally unique. And the album sequence itself is a study in contrasts, alternating between swirly shoegaze drones, upbeat pop anthems, and spaced-out sound collages. Second of Spring is perfect for fans of dreamy guitar-oriented textural rock, psychedelic and shimmery one moment, aggressive and driving the next. –Mark, Downtown

Antibalas - Where the Gods Are in Peace
The first time I heard Fela Kuti, I was hooked. His unique blend of African music mixed with jazz and funk elements, called Afrobeat, is characterized by chanted call-and-response vocals, hypnotic percussion, tight horn arrangements, free flowing extended soloing, and above all, intensely danceable music. The songs are cathartic, mesmerizing, and groovy all at the same time. For nearly two decades, the Brooklyn based 12-piece group Antibalas has continued Fela’s vision, maintaining their position as ambassadors of Afrobeat, embodying not only the sound, but the political sentiments as well, confronting government corruption, cultural theft, and spiritual bankruptcy all with a groovy backbeat. Clocking in at less than 35 minutes, their newest album Where the Gods Are in Peace continues the Afrobeat tradition, but in a digestible length, a perfect introduction to what makes them so special. Leadoff track “Gold Rush” features a revolving door of trombone, saxophone, and a blisteringly distorted electric piano solos, punctuated by staccato rhythms and gritty lyrics about 19th century Western-American expansion and the ensuing chaos it ushered. The album’s true standout though is the 3-song suite “Tombstown”, a loose and experimental foray into the more jazzy aspects of their music, cosmic and dark, but infinitely groovy. Exhilarating music with a political edge - Fela would be proud. –Mark, Downtown

Rufus Harley – Re-Creation of the Gods
Initially inspired by the Scottish Black Watch pipers of JFK's funeral procession, Rufus Harley emerged from Philadelphia in the mid-'60s as “the world’s first jazz bagpiper.”  His sound is packed with that pervasive snaking, stinging and buzzing sound created by the inherent sustain of the bagpipes. Harley is able to express the melody via the chanter while delivering true distinction through the three drones. During his most active period of 1965-1970 in which he recorded four albums for Atlantic Records, he was reviled by old guard critics, embraced by listeners, and respected and championed by fellow musicians like Coltrane, Herbie Mann and Sonny Rollins.  Many listeners consider 1972's Re-Creation of the Gods as Harley’s crowning achievement with its nods to the triangular power of community, church, and cosmic consciousness as expressed by his quartet. While embraced by the crate diggers for incorporating funk, hard bop, and ground level storefront production, initial listens left me ambivalent and unmoved.  The stacked strands of bagpipes, B-3 organ, bass, drums, and desperate baby cries act as overlapping obstacles in that they cancel out much of the surging momentum or sense of melodic wholeness found on his previous works. It took some repeated listens to sense and begin to appreciate the looseness and density that some listeners will instantly embrace. Still, I gravitate towards his previous Atlantic releases and would first reach for his 1970 album King/Queens which includes spaced-out and soaring covers of "Eight Miles High" (The Byrds) and "Windy" (The Association).  On this final album for Atlantic, Harley taps into upper echelon Pacific Coast pop while offering promise land possibilities. –Ted, Downtown

Childhood – Universal High
There’s a semi-famous quote that is applicable when discussing the band Childhood – “If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less.” In a noble effort to stave off irrelevance, the British alternative band has gone back to the drawing board for their sophomore release Universal High.  Their former sound was a hypnotic whirlwind of layered electric guitars, upbeat tempos, and ‘90’s sounding hazy rock, not entirely dissimilar to The Stone Roses, Blur, My Bloody Valentine, and Primal Scream.  With a breakneck about-face, the band decided to tone down the shoegaze influence in favor of a shimmery, soul-influenced sound, brimming with retro synths, smooth saxophones, and eunuchian falsettos. The change couldn’t be more drastic. Sure, the psychedelic influence is still there, but the distortion and haziness have been abandoned in favor of a clean, jazzy grooves and sweet, syrupy soul. Standout tracks include the Prince-inflected “Cameo”, the Marvin Gaye-esque title track, and the breezy leadoff cut “A.M.D.” In forging their own path, they've not only paid respect to their Motown influence and cleverly blended it with a classic shoegaze sound, but they've created something more modern sounding than most records released today..  –Mark, Downtown

Bob Morrison – Columbia Singles
Where did this come from?  While Dion's once long lost folk-rock recordings, as heard on Kickin Child: Lost Columbia Album 1965, are receiving warranted recognition, I didn't know of the wanderer's label mate until this summer.  Being on Columbia Records in the Mid-60s, there will be the automatic associations with Bobby Dylan.  Yes, both Dylan and Morrison were "discovered" by John Hammond and there are times of that wild mercury flight of fancy lyricism beading up on minor key songs like "I Looked in the Mirror" and "I Fall to You." These self-reflective songs express Morrison's valiant and tricky attempt to align the emotional depths of the heart with the vast dimensions of the mind. Other less mystical songs present a versatile artist with a clear and competent voice working with material that is all over the sixties stylistic map-even veering into overgrown areas entangled with copious use of strings.  Leaning in a Bobby direction (Vee & Vinton this time) on "Let Her Go, Little Heart," he evokes Gene Pitney being inspired by David Gates' "Never Let Her Go" a decade before this could even be possible. Representing the accelerated stylistic shifts of the '60s, this collection begins with the initial shock of a monster fuzz-laced number "Hey! Puppet Man," which has propped up on a few garage compilations over the years.  The 1966 single "Wait" stands out as his peak pop moment and is arguably his strongest showing.  This John Simon-produced 45 bounces merrily along side of the Cyrkle while shining like a Boyce & Hart commissioned gem for the Monkees.  While the cover image presents Morrison as an over-earnest, but well-intentioned folkie, he had an ace up his houndstooth sleeve.  Morrison later co-wrote "You Decorated My Life" for the Gambler himself-Kenny Rodgers.  It is his own songs, even if they came nowhere close to the charts, that cross the decades sounding fresh and enduring. Once considered second-tier, singles like these now sound frequently remarkable, as they still reflect, sans overexposure, the rapid transitions being made in those tambourine times. –Ted, Downtown

Nicole Atkins – Goodnight Rhonda Lee
You can be forgiven for not knowing who Nicole Atkins is. For the better part of the last 12 years, she’s flown under the radar, hailed and adored by a devoted fan base and critics alike, yet elusive to mainstream attention. Her style is traditional singer/songwriter, but with an indie rock influence, and for the bulk of her career she’s been linked with the alt/country sound – a style that compliments her big throaty voice and classic rock leanings. Goodnight Rhonda Lee is Nicole Atkins’s 4th full length album, and it’s certain to bring her a lot of well-deserved attention. For fans of Dusty Springfield, Peggy Lee, Patsy Cline, and even Roy Orbison, this album a perfect amalgam of those sounds - reverb drenched ‘60’s country, soul, and R&B, complimented with weepy steel guitars, and close miked horn sections.  Using Leon Bridges’s same production team (another great retro soul artist), these groovy Brill Building-style songs come alive, with soaring and elegiac melodies, tasteful musicianship, and polished sounds. The material on Goodnight Rhonda Lee vacillates from weepy torch songs (“A Little Crazy”, “Colors”), to funky Motown-y callbacks (“Darkness Falls So Quiet”, “Listen Up”), to inspirational anthems of self-empowerment (the title track, “Sleepwalking”). All of the songs on the LP are ageless and enduring, and at the same time, intimate and confessional. Do yourself a huge solid and download this record. –Mark, Downtown

Isasa - Los Días
Isasa plays and composes in the American Primitive tradition or what could be flipped as Primitivista España as the musician is based in Madrid. Besides the requisite acoustic guitar as the foundation, he also incorporates a Weissenborn lap slide guitar and banjo into the frameworks found on his second solo album Los Días, released in late 2016. With the fretwork infrastructure in place, he shapes his sonic sandcastles in the air.  In these realms, he plays in the ethereal open spaces between the finger-picked notes and the rounded off slide notes, while allowing ample room for listeners’ imaginations.  The musician admits that he needs the tangible instrument in his hands when he is composing and is not one of those artists where melodies hit like a flash of lightning and later the instrument is utilized to decipher, translate and express the inspiration. With this background knowledge, he knows that deliberate practice (aka work) can make momentum and sometimes summon the muse that won’t instantly beckon him to compose off the top of his head. Being a creator of all-instrumental music, he’s already working in the realms of the implicit, with the music‘s inherent ability to express and evoke feelings that are beyond the capacity of words.  In translated interviews, he emphasizes the importance for others to bring in their own set of unique experiences in order to make their own interpretations of his music. These abstracted sounds bring listeners to the point of reflecting on the subtle and mostly forgotten experiences which stack up to change us (hopefully for the better) as individuals. The lone banjo number, “Gorrión” (i.e., Sparrow), is actually the standout song on the album and could have fit in on the seminal The Banjo Story-Vol.I compilation from 1963.  Hopefully, he will continue these banjo explorations on future recordings.  Later, “Rondo de Segovia” unfolds to reveal Middle Eastern motifs & Indian ragas running alongside the Spanish accents and flair. The quixotic spirit is imbued in the notes, heard from the strings and felt in air on Los Días.  –Ted, Downtown

Cage The Elephant – Unpeeled
Live albums are curious things, because it’s nearly impossible to capture the magic of a live performance on record. Nevertheless, given a long enough career trajectory, it’s inevitable that your favorite recording artist will release a live album, and in many cases, multiple ones (like the Stones, or Dylan, or the Dead). A live recording also presents two distinct schools of thought. On one hand, when a band releases a live album, they’re offering their fan base a taste of what makes them great, the chance to relive a concert in the less sweaty confines of one’s home. On the other hand, they present a case for the unconverted, an opportunity to show what a band is truly made of, complete with their greatest hits played to an adoring audience. What’s not to love? Unpeeled is Cage The Elephant’s 3rd live release, so obviously, there’s something about the format that appeals to them. And Unpeeled is a greatest hits, certainly, yet the songs are stripped down, with much of the material culled from their critically hailed 2016 release Tell Me I’m Pretty. But these versions aren’t note-for-note recreations of their studio counterparts, and that is what makes this album so compelling. Cage The Elephant are known for their eclectic music, a mix of classic rock sounds blended with funk, soul, and garage-influenced psychedelia. Hearing the band in a “bare bones” format, without the all the studio gimmickry, shows that at their core, the songs are well-crafted, with fantastic arrangements, performed expertly. In addition, there are inspired covers in this set, songs by Wreckless Eric, Daft Punk, and The Stranglers. If you’ve never heard Cage The Elephant before, this is a great introduction to their diverse sound, and I’m sure this album will make a convert of you. Also of note, the cool retro cover artwork just screams vintage ‘70’s A&M/CTI records, a quaint touch to a great album. –Mark, Downtown 

I was 13 when I went to my first concert without my parents. It was on a college campus in Michigan. Two groups were performing, one that was more established at the time, Black Sheep,and one that was the newcomer, TLC. They both were on a stage that was super small, standing room only. It felt a bit like a high school dance. But then these three ladies took the stage and they were all decked out in colorful condoms (remember that look they had?!) As a 13-year old I thought it was super bold, brave and cool. Since then, the group has suffered enormous tragedy, losing group member Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes who passed away from a car crash, and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins being diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia. The group, now a duo, is back this year after a 15-year hiatus with a new album called TLC. There are three songs that stand out, including the beginning track called "No Introduction", which is fitting because they are completely right. The track states "We back" and if you are a TLC fan, it's true. I miss Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes adding her talent to the songs, but the album is still good, especially "It’s Sunny" which is upbeat and fun to listen to. The last track I enjoyed called “American Gold” has a serious tone to it with lyrics like, "I lost some friends/some friends that I didn't want to/I lost some stars/my heart bleeds red, white and blue...I bleed American Gold." It seems to speak doubly to losing lives to war and a nod to the friends they've lost and personal battles they've fought.  Although I understand they have always blended their voices together to make their unique sound, I wished I could've heard them each take the lead in a song or two. But overall, it was just great to hear them again. Even better, as luck would have it I got to see TLC perform again this weekend. They played some of their hits from the past and the new ones, too. It really felt like I was back in high school. I loved it. They are still good live. Welcome back, TLC. –Jill, Hamilton

Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski,  John Scofield – Hudson
Jack DeJohnette is one of the most influential jazz drummers of all time.  His distinct style, besides simply providing the backbeat for a veritable who’s who of jazz (Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett), is exploratory, abstract, and often quite cerebral – qualities that have allowed him to be one of the most sought-after percussionists in the history of the genre. Hudson is his latest supergroup, teaming him with the legendary guitarist John Scofield, bassist Larry Grenadier, and John Medeski on piano/organ. Their debut record (also called Hudson) is a fantastic tribute to ‘60’s rock with inspired results; the songs are loose and conversational, and the mix of clever covers and originals is ambitious throughout. The true standout though on this record is Scofield – his dexterous playing mixes beautifully with Medeski, and their pairing is absolutely sublime on cuts like the elastic “Wait Until Tomorrow”, the reggae-infused “Lay Lady Lay”, and the rollicking “Up On Cripple Creek”. The whole album runs the gamut from pleasantly fun to mind-blowingly virtuosic, and this elite jazz combo will hopefully be cutting records like this for years to come. –Mark, Downtown

Songhoy Blues – Résistance
Though its members are originally from Timbuktu, Mali, the band Songhoy Blues formed in the capitol of Bamako, after being displaced from their homes following violent civic unrest. Résistance is the second full length for the desert rock/blues quartet, and given their unique situation, it would be understandable for them to release music with a political edge (the album is called “resistance” after all).  Instead their approach is one of celebration, focusing mostly on positivity and jubilant life-affirming songs. Featuring guest appearances from Iggy Pop, MC Elf Kid, and Stealing Sheep, this joyous and energetic album, jam-packed with dense, euphoric funk is the perfect pick-me-up after a stressful day. Loaded with retro sounding disco vamps, staccato blasts from blaring brass sections, and groovy chicken-scratched guitars, it’s easy to get lost in the sweaty funk from a band whose sole purpose is let loose and enjoy life. Standout tracks include the intoxicating “Bamako”, the guitar-heavy desert drone of “Dabari”, and the Fela-inspired workout “Yersi Yadda”. A perfect compliment for the triple digit temperatures.  –Mark, Downtown

Miranda Lee Richards – Existential Beast
Existential Beast is singer/songwriter Miranda Lee Richards‘s 4th album, a sprawling journey of psychedelic folk, with ethereal vocals, classic country rock sounds, and confident songwriting. It is also a political album, examining our post-election climate in stark poetic terms, rife with symbolism and analogy, evoking protest records from a half-century ago. And while she addresses a wide range of topical issues, her lyrics aren’t heavy-handed, allowing the songs to have ambiguous meaning with each listen. Leadoff track “Ashes and Seeds” is a perfect example of this – a hazy, laid-back song dripping with images of nature and mankind’s fleeting role within it, complimented with lush strings and country-tinged pedal steel embellishments. The album itself vacillates between folky acoustic tunes, reminiscent of softer works by Led Zeppelin or Fleetwood Mac and harder, tripped out songs with exotic instruments and unusual song structures.  Other standout tracks include “Lucid I Would Dream” a mesmerizing melody with baroque pop elements, the labyrinthine “Golden Gate”, a finger-picked guitar shuffle with an serpentine rhythmic arrangement that almost seems to fall apart yet never does, and the dreamy title track, a slow burn that starts off simple, but slowly builds into a retro ‘70’s AM number, with jazzy horns and sweeping strings. This is a beautiful and complex album that remains fresh each time you hear it. –Mark, Downtown

Saint Pe’ - Fixed Focus
Longtime Black Lips guitarist Ian Saint Pé’s first solo outing, which readily lends comparisons to his parent band, released in April 2017. 
Looking for decent garage music with distorted guitar and vocal discord?  Here it is.  Most of the tracks on the album are Tom Petty meets Social Distortion - distinctive, driving beats, multi-voice choruses, lots of drums and cymbals, and simple bass. “Southern Sunshine” hints at Dylan, while “Street Lights” has a touch of Blink 182.  There’s definitely a gentle punk element running throughout, and most of the tracks are similar sounding with guitar and bass chords that make reappearances.  Variations on this theme include some keyboards here and there, and an attempt at a banjo-sounding riff.   There is potential here, and this album would be much better with a little more experimentation in sound and composition. –Karrie, Downtown

Luke Combs – This One’s For You
If you like traditional, mainstream country music then Luke Combs’s new album This One’s For You is just that. His current hit, “Hurricane” peaked in the number 3 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 in May ahead of its release, and it does not disappoint.  Luke was recently interviewed by Taste of Country’s Billy Dukes where he talked about his roots, being from North Carolina and wanting to thank people who helped him come up through the ranks. His song “This One’s for You” speaks to that as well. There is a touch of nostalgia throughout the album where he reflects on good times, and past relationships that anyone could relate to. Luke’s full voice has a gritty edge to it that really brings his songs home. This is the type of album you can play right through and not feel like you need to skip to your “favorites”. However, some of his songs that I could put on repeat that I liked (outside of “Hurricane”) include “Out There” with its catchy chorus and summer adventure feel, “Beer Can” which is a clever anthem to a night out gone wrong, and “Be Careful What You Wish For” a cautionary tale about youth’s rite of passage that has a good mix of sounds from rock and county. I believe Luke Combs has mastered the feel good pop and country sound with his debut album. It’s definitely worth checking out. –Jill, Hamilton

Amber Coffman – City of No Reply
Cathartic break up albums deserve their own genre in music. Everyone has had relationships that end in bitter disappointment, and listening to music that reflects one’s sadness is an important rite of passage. Think of Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, or Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, or even Beck’s Sea Change – heartbreak is universal, and these albums all speak to us while we lick our wounds and try to recover. However, not all break-up records have to sound sad. Such is the case with Amber Coffman’s City of No Reply. After the dissolving of her relationship with David Longstreth (her romantic partner & bandmate in Dirty Projectors), it would be expected for her first solo outing to be a melancholic sob fest, filled with remorseful confessionals and bitter sullen reflections. Thankfully, her first LP is bursting with lush optimism, upbeat pop reaffirmations, and sunny positivity. Fans of Dirty Projectors will be happy to note that she hasn’t abandoned her avant garde leanings; there’s a lot of creativity and eccentricity throughout the record (close knit harmonies, clever sonic flourishes, unique song arrangements) but her approach is more straight forward and accessible. From the buoyant, guitar-oriented “No Coffee”, to the phased Zeppelin-esque “Under the Sun”, to the heartfelt confidence of album closer “Kindness”, City of No Reply is perfect antidote to the typical break up record, for we all know there’s better things to do than mope around, eating tubs of ice cream, sighing forlornly.  –Mark, Downtown

Maria Andersson - Succession
Whatever became of the Swedish musical invasion which was constructed and purported to be the next big thing around 2002?  Part of the answer can be found in hearing this release from Maria Andersson.  She was previously the lead singer of Sahara Hotnights, a Swedish female foursome who were on the verge of a mainstream American breakthrough a decade or so ago. This mature and elegiac solo effort is something entirely different from Sahara Hotnights’ Joan Jett takeoffs and emulations of the Eyeliners.  It’s imbued with that Scandinavian sleekness, spareness and streamlined elegance that is both familiar and foreign.  The rousing and sweeping opener “Lift Me Up” would not sound out of place on the “The Official Music of the 1984 Olympics” record and would have aged better than the actual Loverboy inclusion.  The standout “Birches” expresses the “Life in a Northern Town” desire to return to a time when things were seemingly less impeded, but also acknowledges a pragmatic take-it-as-it-comes acceptance of the forces pushing in particular directions. This bend-with-the-wind theme would not be out of place on a Jens Lekman recording. Echoing the airy, but grounded dance & retail floor vibes cast by New Order, “End of Conversation” was selected as the lead-off single of this album. The closing two songs, “Wild Thing” and "The Girl who Loved Islands" are somewhat hushed under blankets of sound and layers of snow swept up by those relentless Nordic winters winds. Andersson’s voice frequently expresses the persevering determination to slice through life's noise and nonsense and get to the elusive essence-which frequently, surprisingly and paradoxically shows up in the noise and nonsense. Succession presents eight variations on the theme of the attuned adjustments that are necessary for heightened awareness of the ongoing moment, branching out and growing towards the light. –Ted, Downtown

Deep Purple – Infinite
Still solid and strong sounding, Deep Purple’s recent release Infinite proves they are every bit the musicians they have always been. Each track has its own personality and each of them are well-written and deftly played. “Roadhouse Blues” is a great cover – an old favorite containing some new sounds.  “The Surprising” is just that  - much gentler than the rest of the tracks but very soulful. The instrumental “Uncommon Man” takes this album in a different direction for a while, but then “Hip Boots” brings it right back to Deep Purple again.  This hard-rocking, reminiscent-of-earlier-Deep Purple record is most definitely worth the listen.  Catchy tunes, melodic rock guitar, and each track a great song make this whole album a collection of the “new” Deep Purple sound while keeping all of the stuff that has always worked well. –Karrie, Downtown

Brazilian Octopus – Brazilian Octopus
For some reason, Brazilian music awash in bossa nova seems to really beckon when the daytime temperatures start to climb into triple digits. The summer winds have swept this reissue north of equator and offer an overall fresh, playful and effervescent listening experience. Upon initial listens, I was most struck by flights of flute which are evocative of the music that would accompany film strips in ‘70s classrooms or Jerry Goldsmith’s theme to Room 222 (an ABC-TV series that ran from 1969-1974). Subsequent listens revealed the details like a "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” (from Cinderella) organ quote in “Canção Latina” and a switched-on moog in “As Borboletas.” The backstory on this ensemble is that a well-heeled São Paulo businessman gave the musicians the impetus to band together in order to play sophisticated affairs and soirées for his fashion company. The same businessman also commissioned this 1969 album for the large outfit. Their multiple instruments converge together to make for a well-balanced and proportional amalgamation of sound somewhere between Sérgio Mendes & Brasil '66 and Quarteto Novo. This zingy album exerts a playful push and a lighter gravitational pull, but is not lightweight due to strong compositions and inventive arrangements. It's melodically propelled by the trinity of organ/guitar/vibes and rounded off by a teeming number of other instruments. This is definitely a rewarding and refreshing half-hour for those who like bossa nova bubbling in their jazz or for those who enjoy their jazz percolating in their bossa nova with no Portuguese required. –Ted, Downtown

Alice Coltrane – The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane was one of the most complex and misunderstood artists in jazz. An amazing pianist who also played the harp (one of the few in the history of jazz), her recordings in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s for the Impulse label were legendary, chock full of experimental tonal music, dappled with Middle Eastern, North African, and Indian tonalities, dense drones, hypnotic rhythms, and otherworldly sounds. Despite being criminally overshadowed by her husband, her status as one of jazz’s most distinct performers was cemented with a wide-ranging influence that is still heard today. Now, nearly 10 years after her death, the recent The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane celebrates this iconic figure, a compilation of hard-to-find releases that showcase her exploration of unique sonic realms, drawing largely from her homemade religious synth experiments and Hindu devotional music. This is some pretty heavy music – vast, intense, and ecstatic, with stunning tapestries of cosmic drones, punctuated with heavenly choral voices, whooshing organ and synths, and some never-before-heard vocals from Coltrane herself. An absolutely mesmerizing record just begging for you to download and enjoy. –Mark, Downtown

Morning Teleportation – Salivating for Symbiosis
Morning Teleportation
are a Kentucky based band whose first LP Expanding Anyway was a chaotic mess of sloppy indie rock which bridged multiple genres, from lo-fi noise to intricately textured afro-pop to soft picked guitar folk odysseys. It was a bit rough around the edges, for sure, but it was ambitious and bursting with tons of ideas. For their newest tongue-twisting release, Salivating for Symbiosis, they’ve enlisted top-notch production help from Jeremy Sherrer (Sun Kil Moon) along with several guest stars (members of Death Cab, Cage the Elephant, Mimicking Birds) to craft a more cohesive album, chock full of the same enthusiasm, but with more careful execution and craft. The result is a sprawling record of excellently written songs, rich in texture, sonically adventurous, and instantly likeable. Standout cuts include the hypnotic “Re-wiring Easily”, a mellow singalong with a gentle strolling banjo line, beautiful close-knit harmonies, and subtle brushed drums. And pop masterpieces like insanely catchy “Turning the Time”, and the slow burn of opening track “Rise and Fall” show that Morning Teleportation are jam-packed with talent, recalling some of the best parts of The Shins, Modest Mouse, and Vampire Weekend. It’s not all perfect, but like the goofy slapdash cover artwork, there’s a lot of beauty hiding in this fascinating record. –Mark, Downtown

Las Rosas - Everyone Gets Exactly What They Want
You’ve heard the Brooklyn trio Las Rosas before, only they had a different name and lived in a different era. They would’ve been operating under the name Psychedelic Banana, or The Groovy Bellbottoms, and you’d have heard their gritty blues rock blasting in the background of a party scene in a ‘60’s movie. Garage rock revisionism may seem passé nowadays, especially after bands like The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Black Keys (or any other band with “the” tacked on the front) have made it their calling card for the better part of the last 20 years. But when the genre itself proves to be a wellspring of inspiration, it’s hard to write it off as just another retro cliché. Las Rosas have all the garage rock characteristics – the nasally Dylan-esque snarl, the uncompromising sloppy hooks, the vibrant lo-fi feedback, and their debut album Everyone Gets Exactly What They Want is a delightful collection of songs dripping with simple beauty and slacker charm. Killer cuts include the super-catchy “Mr. Wrong”, the Stones-y swaggering “Secret”, and the loopy Kinks-like “Ms. America”. In the end, this muscular set of memorable psych pop is overflowing with enough charisma to keep it from being nostalgic kitsch, a grimy blast of infectious energy that’ll have you scrambling for your go-go boots. –Mark, Downtown

Bob Dylan – Triplicate
In popular music, there are few figures more polarizing than Bob Dylan. Although universally hailed for his impeccable songwriting, the honesty and directness of his poetry, and the way in which he defied existing pop music conventions, his detractors seem to focus on one specific (but understandable) gripe - his voice. Sure, even in his prime, Dylan’s snarly baritone took some getting used to, and there were plenty who simply couldn’t get past it. So why, in the twilight of his legendary career, would he embark on interpreting the Great American Songbook, a path forged by more traditional vocalists? Many were asking this in response to his previous releases Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels, and with his newest: Triplicate (the 3rd album in this series, a triple album, no less). The answer quickly reveals itself upon listening to this captivating and haunting album. While Dylan’s adenoidal voice has a bit more dust on it, there’s tons of character and charm – qualities that make even the most marginal passages on the album flicker with life. The genius of this record (and its predecessors) is Dylan’s wisdom and experience in interpreting these standards; his careful phrasing, precise and delicate, complimented by a lovely backing band, is what keeps this album from turning into a mushy parody. And while there’s a lot of humor here - his versions of “But Beautiful”, “Stormy Weather”, and “There’s a Flaw in My Flue” are delivered with a knowing wink – it’s the slower numbers that reveal an enigmatic mastery that only Dylan could pull off. –Mark, Downtown

R. Stevie Moore & Jason Falkner – Make It Be
There’s a device used frequently in Hollywood movies called the “One’s a” plot, in which a mismatched pair (one’s a cop! one’s a crook!) have to work together to solve a common problem. Here’s a clever pitch: one’s an eclectic underground singer/songwriter with over 400 releases under his belt, and the other’s a pop music savant who’s had his fingers on tons of cult bands (The Three O’Clock, Jellyfish, Beck) – what could happen? The answer is Make It Be, a fantastic collaboration between R. Stevie Moore and Jason Falkner, a truly odd couple who have crafted an amazing set of catchy pop music and weirdo rock. The diverse duo work surprisingly well together, each playing to the other’s strengths; the resulting collection jarringly moves through sludgy noise rock, poetic spoken word ramblings, intermezzos of instrumental guitar, and some great nuggets of pop music perfection. Opening cut “I H8 Ppl”, is a sarcastic slice of sing-songy heaven, while “Another Day Slips Away” ventures into XTC territory, with an elastic vocal melody and quirky chord changes. Song after song on the album had me scratching my head trying to come up with comparisons (it’s like the Beach Boys meet Captain Beefheart, sorta), but once I just accepted what was going on, I was treated to a wholly original record oozing with personality. If you have a taste for some adventurous and goofy music, you can’t go wrong with this dynamic duo.  –Mark, Downtown 

Temples – Volcano
British neo-psychedelic band Temples craft trippy pop music that sounds like a cross between the experimental leanings of The Beatles and The Byrds, mixed with the swagger and goofiness of ‘70’s T. Rex and Bowie.  Their debut record Sun Structures was a hallucinatory slice of ‘60’s vibe, where jangly folk-rock, spaced out vocals, and drony distorted guitars conspired to make an impressive blend of retro pop. With the recently released Volcano, they’ve maintained the same blueprint, but added hazy synthesizers that give the music a lush cinematic vibe, resulting in a larger, arena-rock sound. And while the music may be less challenging, the band still retains the catchy hooks, unexpected chord changes, and soaring melodies of the previous record. Leadoff track “Certainty” is a perfect example of this give-and-take; the main focal point is an elastic keyboard line that cascades around a simple beat, but shimmery 12-strings, bubbling bass lines, and buoyant vocal line keep things refreshingly memorable. From the bouncy earworm “(I Want to Be Your) Mirror”, to the reverb-drenched “Born into the Sunset”, to the hypnotic Marc Bolan-esque “Roman Godlike Man”, Temples sophomore effort is a solid modern pop record with tons of left field surprises. –Mark, Downtown

The Shins – Heartworms
After nearly five years, on March 6, The Shins released their new album - Heartworms. For this reviewer, it was highly anticipated after wearing out their 2007 release, Wincing the Night Away (by far, my favorite album to listen to while I write). This album is seemingly a love song to 80s New Wave - the sound many bands are embracing and recycling lately (I love it!). The happy melody vibe, mixed with serious lyrics, reminds me of bands like Squeeze. Right away with “Name for You”, I am transported to my ‘80’s childhood filled with cheery drum beats and synthesizer. The song “Cherry Hearts” is like an ode to Erasure with its electronic dreamy rhythm and computer-like voice track; it made me smile to find an old friend in a new album. “Fantasy Island”has a gentle melody that rolls over me like something from Simple Minds. “Mildenhall” sounds more like The Shins I know with beautiful guitar riffs that feel like I am rambling on a road, but then the next song, “Rubber Ballz”, takes me right back to hearing something Squeeze-like (I think this is my favorite song on the album). From beginning to end, this album is the perfect road trip, hanging out with friends, going to the beach, making breakfast music. It has been a constant on my phone since it came out on Freegal, blaring it on my Google home. And, if you really like it, I implore you to check out Joe Jackson, XTC, Elvis Costello and Madness…all of them available on Freegal as well. –Cynde, Downtown

Louie Louie - Friend of a Stranger
Louie Louie's Friend of a Stranger is like descending into a sacred miracle cave, however this is not a tourist trap or a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. allusion.  This is a sonic exploration to where it’s always 66 degrees with these cave dwellers of subterranean Philadelphia. After the gathering call of "Come Over," the directness of the Troggs and the Seeds branches off through passages illuminated by girl group gems to the foggy notions of the Velvet Underground. Within the song “I Want to Dance with You” sense of time recedes as its soaring harmonies climb to forefront and fill the majestic cavern while a swelling organ casts flickering shadows upon the wall. These troglodytes lead you down some unexpected turns where roped-off grottoes to the Feminine Complex, the Luv’d Ones and Slumber Party glow out of the darkness.  Their dashing cover of “You Still Want Me,” is one of the best covers of a Kinks song since the Pretenders presented “Stop Your Sobbing” as their first single.  Emily Robb’s voice actually takes on a Belinda Carlisle inflection that works within the context. "Do It (In Your Mind)" and "Miles Around" finds them marching in cadence down the angular steps of some herky-jerky new wave.   They quickly find their footing upon the Danceteria vibe of the early-Talking Heads, the B52-s, Double Fantasy-era Yoko Ono and even Julian Cope.  The watery and floating Asiatic organ of "Will to Find" taps into their underlying hypnotic pull, while transporting visitors to fuzzy new realms.  Hidden gold is found with "What a Man Can Do" which evokes the Bangles before they applied the super high gloss production. The :35 minute tour fittingly winds up with “Keep on Dancing” which is not the Gentrys song, but an unearthed Ronettes number which manifests their ability to integrate their voices into an unified whole. Explorers of timeless sounds will resurface in exaltation and head out knowing that groundbreaking sounds are still echoing strong. –Ted, Downtown

Crystal Fairy - Crystal Fairy
Let’s face it – supergroups usually don’t fare very well. Sure, there have been several outliers (like Cream, CSNY, or even ELP) that have made some pretty memorable music. But the lethal combination of high-expectations from the ready-made fan base, and the individual artists’ own lofty goals and massive egos usually produce some tepid results.  Thankfully, this is not the case with Crystal Fairy, an aggressive super charged combo of members from The Melvins and Mars Volta, with vocals from the versatile Terri Gender Bender (from Le Butcherettes). Their self-titled debut is a clamorous blast of psychedelic sludge and unpretentious artsy punk, fierce in its delivery and teeming with rambunctious musicianship. Track after track on this intense album plays to each members’ strengths; a beautiful combination of ambitious and trippy guitar playing mixed with a propulsive rhythm section, all complimented by the brutally beautiful vocals of Ms. Bender.  This concise 11-track debut certainly won’t appeal to everyone’s taste, but for those who like heavy music (a la Black Sabbath) mixed with a liberal dose of freaky, this album is perfect. –Mark, Downtown

Luke Bell – Luke Bell
There's a hilarious fish-out-of-water scene in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, where Dan Aykroyd's character asks the bartender at a small roadside honky-tonk, "What kind of music do you usually have here?” “Oh, we got both kinds," she replies, "we got country and western!” This exchange underlies a common misconception about country music. Sure, it’s simple music, and country fans like it that way, but the genre itself has a rich history, with larger-than-life musicians, evolving sounds, and numerous sub-genres (like Bluegrass, Appalachian folk, Americana, Outlaw Country, just to name a few). Lately, country music has seen a welcome growth of exciting new voices and emerging artists, each with a respectful acknowledgement of its rich traditions, but with their eyes clearly on the future. Luke Bell is one of these artists, and his eponymously titled third album is a gem.  Made up from songs from his second record, 2014’s Don’t Mind If I Do, along with a smattering of newly recorded tunes, his latest LP showcases a hard-livin’, honky-tonkin’ crooner, modeled in the vein of Roger Miller, Buck Owens, and Dwight Yoakam.  Bell grew up listening to hard rock, yet was drawn to the timelessness of honky-tonk, where pleasing fiddles and chirpy lap steel bounce around, and his down-to-earth tone is reflected in the self-effacing and humorous lyrics. His robust, black coffee baritone echoes his bold Wyoming upbringing, while the truck stop arrangements of his music are slapped straight from the heart of Bakersfield. Highlights include the breezy “Where Ya Been?” with beautiful lap steel and plucked guitar counterpoint, “Glory and the Grace”, a bar room stomper with old-timey piano fills and tongue-twisting verses, and the gritty “Working Man’s Dream”, a yodelly hoedown that features show stopping solos from his able band mates. This short album, clocking in a just over a half hour, is a dazzling trip that is bound to please fans of “both kinds” of music.  –Mark, Downtown

Sohail Rana – Kyhber Mail
Get on board to discover some adventurous, vibrant, and bending music from Pakistan. At first, this reminded me of the watery organ music that I used to hear playing at the Hawaii Supermarket in San Gabriel, CA circa 2005-07. Subsequent listens of this 1970 album, revealed an unpredictable, yet accessible instrumental set that was written to capture and express both the overlooked details and the expansive vistas of  a train ride departing coastal Karachi and traveling 32 hours inland to Peshawar. With his breadth, depth and panoramic wide-scope, composer Sohail Rana could be conveniently compared to the grand Italian Ennio Morricone.  However common their final destination of producing state of the art soundtracks, they take their own singular initial approaches towards conducting sounds. While Morricone rides (South)West and constructs the colossal, Rana veers Eastward--slanting towards a deconstructive “Cubist” angle.  On Kyhber Mail, he first fractures the canvas of sound.  He then proceeds to recombines his main musical elements (organ, swirling sitar, vibes) and seemingly disparate shards (click-clack percussion, guitar twang, Doppler effects) into a cohesive whole. It all converges into a layered, propulsive and ultimately sweeping sound collage.  To place into a Western pop framework, it’s sort of a song cycle on the playful periphery of the pocket symphonies of Brian Wilson’s “Smile,” the exploitative and enduring sounds of the Nirvana Sitar and String Group, the lush villages of Martin Denny and Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade’s theme “Baroque Hoedown.” With these tracks, it’s possible to explore unexpected sonic realms while rearranging your train of thought somewhere between the East and the West. –Ted, Downtown

Jah Wobble – In Dub
(A 34 track compilation from the legendary Public Image Limited bassist, culling from his ‘80’s and ‘90’s efforts, along with four new songs and several remixes) There is no one word or genre to describe Jah Wobble’s In Dub, aside from Eclectic.  Some tracks are jangly, with a Middle Eastern vibe while others are smooth, incorporating jazzy notes and feelings.  The album reverberates with unconventional instrumentation.  It is experimental, artsy, and instrumentally diverse.  Many tracks integrate world music styles while others whisper with electronic chill.  There is symphonic sound, collisions of horn sections with Disco, and chipper percussion.  No matter your mood, there is a track on this album to match it. –Karrie, Downtown

Dave “Baby” Cortez  - with Lonnie Youngblood and his Bloodhounds
Dave “Baby” Cortez is most remembered for his 1959 hopped-up & whirling instrumental “The Happy Organ” which was first #1 hit record to feature the organ as lead instrument. While the Hammond B3 organ was already established in jazz and gospel at the time, it was rarely heard as a lead instrument in the world of instrumental pop.  Far from being a one-hit novelty musician, Cortez was active throughout the ‘60s, releasing albums for Roulette with his overall sound incorporating more soul, jazz and funk elements as the decade spun into the’ 70s.  Almost 40 years after his last solo album in 1972, this 2011 release brings Cortez back to musical life and is the next natural step in his sonic evolution which included session work stints with the Isley Brothers, the Moon People and the Harlem Underground Band. This landing features the yakety saxophone of Lonnie Youngblood, who is most renowned (outside of his gospel work) for playing on some pre-Experience Jimi Hendrix sides in 1966.  Mick Collins of the Gories and the Dirtbombs steers the production which sparks like a bumper car and satisfyingly bleeds into the red on several occasions.  After a couple of warm up runs across the keyboard, Cortez quickly gets back into the flow of things and wipes out any perfunctory notions of an old-timers game. Highlights include the subterranean cool and shimmering electric piano flashes on "Suki Bomb" and the low riding Whittier Boulevard triplets of "Let's Do a Slow Dance." The bubbling "Hot Cakes" is where things get fluid and stretch out with molten melodies dripping over the already stellar schematic established in the mid-fifties.  The disc reaches its crescendo with "Flame Gettin' Higher, Fire Gettin' Hot" that rages with riffs that seems to quote the Beastie Boys' "Remote Control." Regardless of any possible (re)creative borrowings, this stomper is a true revival in all senses of the word. "Midnight Sun" explores some Wes Montgomery/George Benson territory before crossing over the currents of Booker T./Odell Brown and out to the expanses of El Chicano.  After all this time, overdue credit goes out to Norton Records for their ardent efforts in bringing Dave Cortez back into the driver's seat, so he can take the lead once again. –Ted, Downtown

The Olympians - The Olympians
Recording for the Daptone label, a company that is synonymous with the new soul revival, the self-titled debut album by The Olympians is a masterpiece of impeccable musicianship, sophisticated grooves, and vintage throwback sound. For fans of ‘60’s R&B music, particularly the instrumental style of bands like Booker T. & the MG’s, The Barkays, or Young Holt Unlimited, it’s great to hear that the tradition is alive and well with this fantastic 14-piece group. And while the song titles conjure up images of Greek mythology, the music itself could easily accompany a ‘70’s Blaxploitation film, as each track is a celebratory blast of nostalgic funk and elegant soul. Highlights include “Mars”, with its blistering backwards guitar solo (with a subtle nod to Hendrix), punctuated with soft brush strokes of pizzicato harp and plinky baroque harpsichord, and “Saturn”, an uptempo jazzer, replete with wah-wah pedal grooves, and tasty start/stop solo sections. The music on The Olympians’ debut is funk at its finest – a wonderful way to start the New Year and break a few resolutions. –Mark, Downtown

Kadhja Bonet – The Visitor
Artists hate to be labeled. For one thing, pigeonholing a particular musician or band into a category does a tremendous disservice to their art, while relegating them to one genre reveals itself as a marketing ploy more than anything else.  Kadhja Bonet is a perfect example. Her music could best be described as psychedelic soul – but that’d be too simple.  Instead, the songs on The Visitor sound like they’re from another time and place, brimming with string flourishes, skillfully soft percussion, with soaring vocal harmonies, and subtle bits of jazz flute and bossa nova plucked nylon stringed guitar.  Her impressive voice is reminiscent of Minnie Ripperton or Maria Muldaur, with just a hint of Joni Mitchell thrown in for good measure. The Visitor is remarkable in that someone so young sounds so experienced and confident. Take the song “Honeycomb”, which starts off with a predictable descending string motif, before jumping off into luscious vocal atmospheres with otherworldly scat embellishments and swooping octave harmonies, which then settles into a plaintive, sublime groove. Sounding at times like ‘80’s 4AD bands and other times like early ‘70’s British folk, her music, again, defies categorization.  “Music to wash down your yoga mat to” opined one of my colleagues, and it is indeed quite soothing and relaxing when played at low volume. Yet, when listening with headphones, a surprising amount of depth and nuance are present, with crystalline production and dense orchestration. A promising debut.  –Mark, Downtown


A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
To me, there’s something sad about older rap artists. While the vitality of hip-hop isn’t necessarily tied to youth, there is an inherent dilemma about an aging rapper desperately trying to hang on to his youthful vigor. Similar to a 30-year-old punk singer still rebelling against his parents, or a long-in-the-tooth boy band pushing a comeback album, many elder rap artists seem to be chasing a moment that is long gone. Simply put, most of them have only a short moment in the spotlight to rhyme and snarl before the houselights come on, making way for younger, fresher talent. Fortunately, the newest (and likely, last) A Tribe Called Quest album was just released, shattering my theory and dispelling any notion that one has to be young in order to craft a great hip-hop record. Starting off with a bang, opening cut “The Space Program” is an energetic blast of classic Tribe, undeniably funky with knotty blasts of spastic lyrics and kaleidoscopic intensity. And it doesn’t let up from there. Track after track on this album is a clinic in clever sampling, experimental song structures, polished sonic tapestries, and inspired guest appearances (from a diverse roster of artists like Elton John, Jack White, Kanye, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000). And while Phife Dawg may be gone (having passed away earlier this year), his shadow looms large over the album, trading verses with Q-Tip, ever prescient with his bombastic guttural bark. Neither a nostalgic reunion nor quick cash-in-on-the-moment record, We Got It From Here… is a fantastic collection of songs, and a timely reminder that Tribe are one of the best hip-hop bands ever, regardless of age. –Mark, Downtown

The Turtles – All The Singles
In a span of 5 years (1965-1970), The Turtles effortlessly straddled the styles of the times, from stellar folk-rock through timeless top 40 pop to an eclectic smatterings of styles simply because they could.  They were the recipients of vast piles of first-rate songs from the high tide of ‘60s songwriters (e.g., Dylan, P.F. Sloan, Gene Clark David Gates, Warren Zevon and Bonner & Gordon). Many of their shifts and swerves were illuminated with sunburst harmonies and requisite humor needed to stave off the chicanery of the music industry.  They were also versatile enough to be a singles machine almost ready made for AM radio and as an album group who would garner airplay on the FM stereo side with their more theatrical & experimental excursions. All The Singles presents both an introduction to the band –say a child hearing “Happy Together” for the first time or second time (as it frequently appears in commercials and movies) and as the current definitive overview of the band. For long-time Turtles listeners, what’s especially exciting are some the rarely heard B-sides and previously unissued recordings like the haunting and brittle “So Goes Love,” one of my favorite Gerry Goffin & Carole King compositions. It was not until seeing Flo (Mark Volman) & Eddie (Howard Kayland) live in 2011 at Wild Horse Pass Casino did I realize their enormous vast talents and what a hoot they are as a “musical comedic" duo.  Buoyed by its underlying classical elements, the night became transcendent when the entire audience sang along to “Happy Together” with unbridled joy. Like their namesake, they were not the sleekest band, but their playful and oblique ‘60s sounds have continued to convey levity, express elation and endure over the long haul. –Ted, Downtown

Lafayette Afro Rock Band vs. Ice – Afro Funk Explosion!
If you’re a fan of classic hip-hop and rap, then you know the funk music of the Lafayette Afro Rock Band, you just don’t know it, per se. Their infectious drum hooks and slinky guitar rhythms provided countless samples for artists like Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Biz Markie, and much more. While recording under several names (Ice, Crispy & Co., Captain Dax), they toiled in obscurity for much of the ‘70’s, somehow unable to seize the limelight like their peers in the funk rock world (Funkadelic, Cameo, Kool & the Gang, The Meters, et al). As a result, their albums have remained the stuff of legend, relegated to cult-like status, and barely heard beyond the samples in rap music. Luckily, this recently released compilation will set the record straight. Featuring 31 tracks of pure booty-shaking bliss, Afro Funk Explosion! is a godsend to funk enthusiasts, assembling not only their classics, like “Hihache” “Darkest Light” and “Red Matchbox”, but deeper cuts that are destined to influence a new generation of listeners.  The music on Afro Funk Explosion! is as groovy and hooky as they come, and after hearing to this amazing compilation, you’ll see why they are universally hailed as one of the standout funk bands from the ‘70’s. –Mark, Downtown

Brownout – Brown Sabbath, Vol. II
For many discerning Black Sabbath fans – the Latin influence has always been in the background of their music, whether it’s the use of congas and flamenco guitar flourishes in “Planet Caravan”, or in the Santana-esque breakdown in “Symptom of the Universe”, or in the so-overt-it’s-subtle samba section in “Supernaut”, not to mention all of the Spanish-tinged instrumental guitar passages that are scattered throughout their catalogue. As true fans of the English heavy metal group know, as much as they adhered to the stereo-typical sludgy doom-and-gloom, they also were quite adventurous sonically. So it comes as no surprise that eventually a Latin funk/jam band would release an album of Black Sabbath covers, as the Austin, TX based group Brownout did in 2014. It’s also not surprising that their blisteringly groovy versions of “The Wizard”, “Iron Man”, and “Hand of Doom” work really well, switching out the evil horned devil signs for greasy horn rhythm sections. They’re at it again with a new set of songs, Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, Vol. II, and it’s as funky as their first album, diving deeper into the dark repertoire of Ozzy-era Sabbath. The whole thing is great, especially if you’re a fan of Sabbath, and highlights include a muscular “Snowblind” featuring an infectious bongo undercurrent, a nightmarish “Children of the Grave”, and my personal favorite, the menacingly unhinged “Fairies Wear Boots”.  –Mark, Downtown

Barry Gibb – In the Now
In an appreciable attempt at reviving the music of the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb offers In the Now, and while most of the album does sound like a slower, softer, older Bee Gees, a few of the tracks don’t follow suit.  “Grand Illusion”is a little harder and more driven; “Blowin’ a Fuse” is upbeat and has a hint of early Cheap Trick.  “Home Truth” and “Amy in Color” both have stronger bass lines and a rock beat, giving them the slight flavor of Tom Petty.  If you’re looking for an album that will complement a candlelight dinner, this would be a good pick.  If you’re seeking carefree Bee Gee’s jams, there's nothing like the original. –Karrie, Downtown

Various Artists - The Banjo Story: Vol. 1
While this has been reissued endlessly, repackaged under several different titles, cover variations, track configurations, this is where it all began in 1963. This tabula rasa is comprised of some of the major five-stringers of the folk revival era including two who would subsequently go on make huge waves on popular culture, Roger McGuinn with the Byrds and Mason Williams with “Classical Gas.” While I was previously unfamiliar with some of individual names (Dick Weissmann and Art Podell), I knew of the popular folk groups they were involved with (respectively the Journeymen and the New Christy Minstrels).  I have since learned they are considered consummate players and are still active to this day.  With remarkable finesse, Dick Weissmann celebrates the Colorado Rocky Mountains on his textured “Trail Ridge Road.”  Meanwhile with “Ragaputa," Art Podell takes the standard ringing banjo sound on a journey of exploration when he enmeshes it with the droning latticework of raga--all in one jet age minute. Mason Williams’s “Banjo Hello” is suffused with classical flourishes that would later become his trademark sound. The ol' stirring Irish traditional “Rakes of Mallow” is prominently echoed in Eric Darling’s “Banjo Tune.” Dick Rosmini’s “Fast and Loose” is a highly-evolved breakdown that is so speedy that it blurs into drones at moments.  Lastly, Jim (Roger) McGuinn’s rustic “Ramblin’ On” might be the roots of the Byrds, but it actually sounds like Charlie Chin’s banjo work with Buffalo Springfield. The Banjo Story-Vol. I has been influential for over a half century as it encapsulates 12 distinctive approaches to the banjo, while expressing the resounding & ramblin' spirit of this transitional time. –Ted, Downtown

Vitamin String Quartet - Performs Jason Mraz
Being a longtime fan of Jason Mraz, I am always intrigued when other musicians attempt to cover or emulate his work.  Listening to Vitamin String Quartet Performs Jason Mraz gave me a totally new interpretation of some of his more popular songs.  While some tracks (Lucky, You and I Both, Tonight, Not Again) would be great for pre-wedding or reception music, the other tracks contain spirited violins, conjuring images of barn dances or pioneer settlements.  It’s a fun, upbeat album for the most part and a nice tribute to the artistic musician, but this format just doesn’t quite capture the quirky, lyrical magic of Mraz. –Karrie, Downtown

Jimi Hendrix - Machine Gun: Live at the Fillmore East 12/31/1969 (First Show)
In 1969, after years of pushing the boundaries of rock music and electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix found himself at a crossroads. Having disbanded his group The Experience, riding high on the fame of his incendiary performance at Woodstock, and pressured to create a follow-up to his masterpiece Electric Ladyland, he naturally turned to what he knew best – the blues. Band of Gypsys, the band and the album, was to be Hendrix’s last – a steamy live set of blistering blues and frenetic funk, performed over two days at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve/Day - the last hurrah of the 1960’s. The original album was culled from the New Year's Day shows, and while it sold well and is critically regarded, it’s a bit anemic, hampered with poorly recorded vocals, and a pedestrian rhythm section. In light of this, the newly released Machine Gun: Live… is a godsend for Hendrix fans. Showcasing a previously unheard of dynamic, the earlier set is blistering, chaotic, full of energy and amazing performances from not only Jimi, but his more than capable band mates Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. Their interplay is fantastic; the mostly improvised jams are mind blowing, and the remastered recording sounds incredible. –Mark, Downtown

The Album Leaf – Between Waves
Fall seems to be everyone’s favorite time of the year, at least here in the Valley of the Sun. Even though the drop in temperatures is miniscule, and we don’t really see colorful foliage (nor have a reason to start wearing scarves), the general mood of everyone changes, reminding us that the sweaty days of triple-digits are gone. Speaking of mood, The Album Leaf has just released a melancholic new album, Between Waves, which is a perfect complement to the changing season. Led by multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Jimmy LaVelle, their music is layered, atmospheric, and complex. The album is mostly instrumental, and when lyrics appear (often after several minutes into a song) they’re dreamy and cerebral – an effective counterpart to the dense and reflective music. The songs on Between Waves are never forced, effortlessly shifting from simple rhythms to complex and back again with casualness and ease. “Wandering Still”, one of the album’s standout tracks, begins with a menacing bass figure looped with hazy computer static, eventually swelling into a soothing ambient groove, melodic and hummable, before returning back to the sullen opening riff. Another gem is “Back to the Start”, a majestic and sweet-sounding tune that starts off with a labyrinthine drum arrangement before building into a sublime climax of keyboards and horns. So, grab a pumpkin-spiced something, download this beautiful album, and prepare for the fall weather. –Mark, Downtown

Jack White – Acoustic Recordings 1998 – 2016
Proving that time really does fly, Jack White has just released a celebrated career-spanning anthology –stripped-down acoustic versions delving deep into his catalog with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and solo work. It seems like just yesterday when Mr. White and his sister (or was it wife?) exploded into the limelight from the scuzzy Detroit indie rock scene, boasting rambunctious hook-laden blues riffs filtered with garage rock urgency. With their matching peppermint candy outfits, The White Stripes were chaotic, messy, and aggressive, releasing album after album at a feverish pace – never seeming to look backward and always pushing the boundaries of their artifice. Moving chronologically through his work, Acoustic Recordings 1998 – 2016 is a refreshing look at the prolific and creative guitarist, showcasing careful attention to his songwriting craft, with an emphasis on his folk and bluegrass influences. Highlights include the droning “City Lights”, an unreleased gem from the Get Behind Me Satan sessions, “Love Is the Truth”, a lost jingle for Coca-Cola which is as sweet and effervescent as the soda itself, and the hummable “Hip [Eponymous] Poor Boy”, an infectious juke-joint shuffle. A great retrospective that is sure to top many critics’ “Best of” lists at the end of the year. –Mark, Downtown

Gaby Moreno – Ilusión
The lovely Gaby Moreno, Guatemalan born and raised in Los Angeles, describes her music as “Latin pop”. This straight-forward description, obviously meant to simplify what is difficult to pigeon-hole, is just a bit short-sighted however. Her latest record Ilusión is no different. From the Motown/Stax shuffle of “Se Apagó”, to the romping Bakersfield swing of “Maldición/Benedición”, to the Dylan-esque waltz of “Fronteras”, you’ll hear Ms. Moreno’s unique ability to not only transcend multiple genres, but do so with refreshing ease.  Her beautiful, bluesy voice, complimented with solid musicianship and songwriting, make this one of the best records of her career. And if you’re not familiar with her (even though she co-wrote the theme music for the TV show Parks and Recreation, and sings the theme song to Disney’s Elena of Avalor), you’re in for a treat.  Download this fantastic record today to see what I’m getting at. –Mark, Downtown

Berry – Poptune
My 5-year old daughter became instantly intrigued by this album’s sound when I was playing this on the laptop the other night at home. She also took to the front cover art which looks tailor-made to attract any girl with its Pippi Longstocking-like figure floating atop the backdrop imagery of whimsical kawaii. Like so many Japanese acts, the influence of the Ramones plays an integral role. The main riff of the Ramones’ “Do you Remember Rock & Roll Radio?" is employed throughout the song "3 Code." While the Ramones (and Shonen Knife) inspire the rocking parts, there is a predominant pure pop orientation on the whole (somewhere in the vicinity of Peach Kelli Pop, Japanese TV theme songs and Herman’s Hermits). The melodies are fittingly catchy and unencumbered as the song titles (e.g.“Life,” “Pop World,” “Green Guitar”) while the Windex-clear production vividly reveals the springy guitar tones slicing through the Japanese and English lyrics sung in that endearing chirpiness. From the choppy Google “translation” of the Japanese characters found on the artist’s website, I was able to piece together that Berry previously played in two outstanding girl groups from Osaka (The Milkees, The Bunnies). Both of those bands were heavily influenced by American girl group Spector-pop like the Ronettes and Crystals embellished with a dash of Motown and the vibrancy of the Go-Go's. All of these underlying currents, from both sides of the Pacific, lead us back to this magnetic album, attracting the ears of the young and the youthful alike. –Ted, Downtown

L.A.Salami – Dancing With Bad Grammar
I wasn’t sure what to expect from an artist named L. A. Salami, yet despite the hilarious name, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a thoughtful singer/songwriter, modeled in the vein of soul-searching ‘70’s artists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, and Bob Dylan. His heartfelt songs, catchy melodies, and a deft turn of the lyric phrase owe a lot to his influences, and his knack for telling a great story with his music reveals a wonderful amount of depth and maturity. His voice is a dead-ringer for early David Bowie, and sonically, his music vacillates between soft folk/blues acoustic strumming, punctuated with experimental instrumentation and modern production. His just released debut Dancing With Bad Grammar is an outstanding record, overflowing with tons of great songs about untitled lovers (“& Bird”, “I Can’t Slow Her Down”), sardonic musings on religion (“Going Mad as the Street Bins”, “No Hallelujahs Now”), and acute observations about everyday life (“The City Nowadays”). Not all of it is perfect, but when he hits his mark, the results are magnificently messy and refreshing. –Mark, Downtown

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Miss Sharon Jones! Original Soundtrack
The amazing Sharon Jones, often referred to as the Female James Brown, and with a powerful, freight train of a voice, is the star of a great new documentary hitting theaters this month. Since the release of her first album in 2002, she has enjoyed immense success and her work with the Dap-Kings is credited as spearheading the soul and funk revival of the early aughts. If you’ve never heard of her, then this album is a perfect introduction, because not only is it a soundtrack to the new documentary, but it is also a pretty comprehensive greatest hits collection. There is one new song here as well, the fantastic “I’m Still Here”, an anthemic powerhouse of autobiographical soul, and it complements the rest of these awesome songs, including the freewheeling “100 Days, 100 Nights”, the gutsy “I Learned the Hard Way”, and the funky “People Don’t Get What They Deserve”.  If you like this album, do yourself a favor and check out her other records, and explore some of the deeper cuts of one of the most compelling artists of the new soul revival.  –Mark, Downtown

Horseback – Dead Ringers
Horseback are a pretty unique band.  Their unusual mix of Americana roots rock (think Neil Young/Crazy Horse) fused with the doom and gloom of Scandinavian black metal (along with the cookie monster vocals) had many fans scratching their heads. While the two genres don’t seem compatible on paper, the actual results are hypnotically wonderful, expanding the nihilistic tendencies of dark heavy metal with the expansiveness of the rural South. Instead of clashing, the off ball charm of ugly-meets-beauty somehow works. Dead Ringers is Horseback’s newest album, and thankfully they’ve ditched the garbled vocals, streamlining their music into a spaced-out collection of narcotic drones, minimalist Krautrock, and sprawling psychedelic jams.  From the pulsing and eerie opener “Modern Pull” to the cathartic epic of “Descended From the Crown”, Horseback have put together their most accessible release; a perfect companion to the dog-days of summer that never seem to end. –Mark, Downtown

DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall
When DJ Shadow’s first full-length album Endtroducing… was released in 1996, it was a watershed moment for hip-hop music. While singlehandedly inspiring a generation of kids to ditch their guitars for turntables, the album’s mix of infectious rhythms, eclectically clever mash-up sampling, and ethereal beats revealed a surprising amount of nuance to a genre known mostly for excessive bragging, misogyny, and materialism. Twenty years later, DJ Shadow’s latest, The Mountain Will Fall, is his best work after a series of erratic releases. Like his best work, this collection of songs is wide-ranging sonically, with tons of dense, tactile beats and hazy, filtered synths. The album features several collaborators, from the adventurous (“Bergschrund” with experimental producer Nils Frahm), to playful (“The Sideshow” with rapper Ernie Fresh), to the sublime (“Ashes to Oceans” with trumpeter Matthew Halsall). It would be futile to single out a “best” track on the album, since a straight-through listen is warranted for this complex and ingenious record. Versatile is an apt description for this collection of songs - a perfect soundtrack for chilling by the pool, or hanging with friends, or a soul-searching nighttime drive. –Mark, Downtown

Cotton Mather – Death of the Cool
If one were to somehow meld The Beatles, Squeeze, Guided by Voices, and Oasis into one cohesive band, it might sound a little like Cotton Mather. Using a healthy mix of power pop influences, along with lo-fi production, warm and welcoming melodies, and vintage instrumentation, the band has been crafting their inspired music for over two decades.  Death of the Cool comes after a 15 year hiatus, and they pick up right where they left off, with the catchy opening cut “The Book of Too Late Changes”, before diving into a kaleidoscopic journey of chugging riffs (“Close to the Sun”), dreamy sunshine glaze (“Candy Lilac”), and baroque pop (“Queen of Swords”).  Cotton Mather’s underrated masterpiece Kontiki came out nearly twenty years ago, and their latest proves that they haven’t lost their knack for writing contagious and engaging music.  Check out this fantastic record today! –Mark, Downtown 

Lesley Gore – Ever Since
Released over a decade ago, Ever Since was Lesley Gore’s first new album in 30 years and would ultimately be her last due to her passing in February 2015.  With Ever Since, Gore rewarded listeners with 10 sophisticated jazz-tinged pop songs which emanated her conviction, textured wisdom and her vast resilience. The stirring centerpiece is a revised rendition of her signature song “You Don’t Own Me” that is not perfunctory, but interpreted from a different stage and station in life. Overall, the songs are contemporary and forward moving, but without the padding of guest appearances, rehashes of the Great American Songbook and/or glossy production which plague so many of these affairs. While her dynamic range evokes jazz vocalists from Pat Suzuki to Anita Baker, she’s ultimately true to her own distinctive voice and heart’s orientation. “Not The First” features an arrangement where the playful show tune verses expand out into a chorus of classic girl group proportions. The fitting swan song “We Went So High” closes out the album and a recording career with elevated elegance. Resolutely unconventional, yet non-abrasive, Gore was a strong-willed proto-feminist who continually overcame personal adversity and persevered in the push of popular culture. In the end, her indomitable spirit and timeless music came out ahead. –Ted, Downtown

Jacob Collier – In My Room
For those familiar with Jacob Collier’s infectious and savant-like music, it will come as no surprise that the 21-year-old’s debut record is just as amazing and crazy as his YouTube videos.  For those uninitiated with the viral star, Mr. Collier has been posting videos showing off his incredible talent since he was 15.  His covers of R&B classics, along with his inventive split-screen videos (he plays every instrument and harmonizes himself), have made him a viral phenomenon and solidified him as one of jazz’s most promising musicians. The recently released In My Room is jam-packed with tons of crazy originals and wildly experimental covers (including the Beach Boys, Al Jerreau, and even the theme song from The Flintstones), and showcases his prodigious talent.  Take the opening track, “Woke Up Today”, a joyous and infectious song bursting with musical ideas that sound like a bizarre cross between Frank Zappa and Bobby McFerrin. Or try the first single “Hideaway”, an epic ballad that recalls George Harrison, Manhattan Transfer, and classic Broadway show tunes, filtered with a back-masked psychedelic tinge. Trust me, this kid is immensely gifted, and his ability to play everything is uncannily reminiscent of early Stevie Wonder, while his music shares just as much optimism and joy. In a time in which there isn’t much to be happy about, Jacob Collier’s debut will lighten up even the most hardened cynic. An astonishing record. –Mark, Downtown

Melanie de Biasio – No Deal (2013) and Blackened Cities (2016)
Belgian jazz singer Melanie De Biasio’s sophomore release No Deal, from 2013, was a dark and atmospheric album, loaded with haunting, close-miked vocals, and eerily beautiful songs that had critics and fans calling it as one of the best jazz albums of the decade.  Although deeply entrenched in traditional jazz, the atmosphere of No Deal is similar to that of Portishead, This Mortal Coil, or Cocteau Twins, and its powerful songs (including an inspired cover of Nina Simone’s “I’m Gonna Leave You”) are mesmerizing and seductive. However, not content to rest on her success, de Biasio’s latest album is just as daring. Inspired by her travels through post-Industrial urban landscapes, Blackened Cities is a single, 24 minute song suite that explores jazz, soul, trip-hop, and modern classical with captivating results. Both of these amazing records are available on Freegal and are just begging you to be downloaded and listened to.  -Mark, Downtown

Ray LaMontagne – Ouroboros
On Ray LaMontagne’s latest Ouroboros, the acclaimed singer/songwriter dives head-first into the splashing, retro sounds of the 1960’s. Where his earlier releases were quiet, restrained musings on love and loss, sung in his growling Van Morrison-esque baritone, his latest offering represents a complete tonal shift, bathed in a playful, trippy haze. It’s refreshing to hear an artist as accomplished as LaMontagne completely abandon his earlier style, and his confidence and assured songwriting on Ouroboros makes this one of his best records, if not one of the best albums released this year.  Divided into two long-playing song suites, the record is brimming with fuzzy guitars, vintage synths, long-winded solo jams, and soft, hushed vocals that immediately recall early Pink Floyd and other British psychadelia. An ambitious and hypnotic album.  –Mark, Downtown

The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust
The Jayhawks blend of folk, country, and roots rock has made them one of the most critically hailed and widely acclaimed artists of the alternative country movement for over 20 years.  With their latest, Paging Mr. Proust, the group has returned after a five-year hiatus doing what they do best – great songwriting, playful and heart aching vocal harmonies, and consummate musicianship. Fans of Wilco, Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo, Neil Young, Blue Rodeo, etc. will no doubt love this record. From the Beatle-esque “Lovers of the Sun”, the disjointed funk of “Ace”, and the up-tempo rocker “The Dust of Long-Dead Stars”, The Jayhawks have put together a fully satisfying and inspiring album.  –Mark, Downtown

Joy –Ride Along!
Every time someone says “Rock is dead” or some iteration, I always dismiss it as a pessimistic opinion of someone who’s given up on new music. And while it’s easy to say that everything that can be done with rock music has already been accomplished, from time to time I’m reminded that it just doesn’t matter. Music is arbitrary, and certainly not “alive”, so it really can’t be dead, can it? It also helps when you hear music that really, truly makes you feel alive – which is the case with Joy’s new album Ride Along! The San Diego trio’s latest is a paean to the pleasures of ‘70’s hard rock – lava lamp rattling bass grooves, scorching lead guitar riffs, blisteringly phased drum fills – music that just begs to be blasted from the deck of your Trans Am while you cruise around on a hot summer night. Fans of Sabbath, Zeppelin, Cream, Hawkwind, Foghat, etc. will undoubtedly champion this electrifying record, while anthems like “Misunderstood”, “I’ve Been Down”, and “Gypsy Mother’s Son” will leave them gasping for breath. The louder you play it, the more alive you’ll feel, trust me. –Mark, Downtown

Fruit Bats – Absolute Loser
After a five-year hiatus, Fruit Bats have released a fantastic new album, jam packed with their country-tinged indie pop rock, and brimming with catchy earworms. While not as successful or famous as The Shins (who they curiously sound similar to),  Absolute Loser is a solidly crafted set of songs that will please both longtime fans and the uninitiated. Highlights include the sweet sounding “None of Us”, decorated with subtle pedal steel filigree and jangly guitars, the trippy “Good Will Come to You” with its blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation, and the sparse “Don’t You Know That”, a simple and uplifting lament on loss. -Mark, Downtown

JC Flowers – Driving Excitement and the Pleasure of Ownership
The debut album by the London group JC Flowers is chock full of dreamy, pastoral, psychedelic low-fi songs, reminiscent of the Velvet Underground, mixed with the pop sensibilities of other lesser-known ‘60’s bands (The Association, The Zombies, Free Design).  Fans of Belle & Sebastian (or a less frenetic Stereolab) will relish the laid-back mellow grooves, the delicate vocal harmonies, the atmospheric reverb, the whole “retro” vibe.  Every song is short and sweet, the longest - a 4 minute cover of Bowie’s “China Girl”, re-imagines the song as a heartfelt and tender lullaby. The songs are simple and instantly accessible, but like all great earworms, have an infectious way of sinking into your subconscious. An outstanding debut – Mark, Downtown

Mean Jeans – Tight New Dimension
Einstein once said that “the difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”  After listening to the great new album by Mean Jeans, you may be inclined to agree.  Rock and roll has never been about intellect; rather, some of the best rock music is a celebration of the simpler things – dancing, partying, having a good time, etc.  Portland, OR based Mean Jeans revel in those pleasures.  Formed over a decade ago, Mean Jeans are a trio of lovable goofballs whose fast, loud, riff-driven punk music is dedicated to the “stupid” things in life – junk food, carnal pleasures, partying hard.  Fans of The Ramones (their most obvious influence), Descendents, All, and Black Flag will love this band, and Mean Jeans latest release, Tight New Dimension, is a hilarious exploration of all things simple.  Standout tracks include “Croozin’”, “4 Coors Meal”, and the opener, “Long Dumb Road” – tight, heavy, aggressive punk music with an irreverent edge.  In addition to the great album cover, the songs on this record are short, intense, and of course, stupid – or to paraphrase Einstein, limitless. -Mark, Downtown

Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want
With some clever and concise writing, along with a newly retooled lineup, Boston’s Bent Shapes have just released their best album (in their relatively short career, that is) - Wolves of Want.  Fans of The New Pornographers, Zumpano, The Feelies, and naturally, The Modern Lovers (also from the Boston area), will find that the Bent Shapes are cut from the same tapestry of powerful pop hooks, angular and jangly guitar rhythms, and clever vocal harmonies.  The songs on this album are smart, short, and crackle with sharp intensity, proving that while brevity may be the soul of wit, it also helps when crafting an ingenious rock record. –Mark, Downtown 

The Orange Humble Band – Depressing Beauty
Great news! The Orange Humble Band reunited after a 10 year hiatus and released Depressing Beauty last year to world-wide acclaim. Wait, what? Who?!  OK, seriously, The Orange Humble Band were an alternative rock band that released two power pop records in the early ‘00’s before disbanding.  And while their reunion may become overshadowed by other more well-known groups that are threatening to get back together, their latest record is a revelation of understated rock and roll.  Featuring soaring vocals with intricate harmonies, clever roots rock/Alt-country leanings, catchy hooks and tasteful musicianship, Depressing Beauty is a, well, beautiful record.  Fans of Big Star, the Jayhawks, the Posies, and by lesser extent the Replacements and R.E.M. will find something to enjoy in these songs.  Check out “If That’s What You Want” a shimmery jangle pop anthem which just begs to be turned up loud with the windows rolled down.  Excellent power pop songwriting that gets better with each listening. -Mark, Downtown

Robert Drasin - Voodoo
The late ‘50s/early ‘60s were the halcyon era of exotica recordings partly due to the ascendancy of high fidelity, the popularity of easy listening & jazz, and requisite post-war Polynesian escapism, along with the universal human search for the indigenous. While not one of the genre giants (Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Yma Sumac), the adventurous sounds and intricate musicianship found on Robert Drasnin’s Voodoo has allowed his original compositions to endure and connect to ensuing generations. In its original vinyl incarnation, this is one of the most sought-after exotica albums due to the original minuscule print run and distant realms evoked within its grooves.  “Orinoco," flows and floats like lava over the continually shifting plates of pan–global percussion - sweeping the sound to overlooks of the vast Pacific. Interweaving harp, glockenspiel and wind chimes, “Enchantment” sways like a flourishing palm tree somewhere between the still spreading seafloor and the jet stream.  “Tambuku,” featuring a young John Williams on piano, takes on Far East motifs with an understated atmospheric approach, free floating over a panorama of perpetual percussion. Voodoo frequently explores the rarefied space where exotica overlaps with Latin Jazz. Accordingly, it's the perfect soundtrack for an excursion to the famous Kon-Tiki in Tucson or on the back porch between drug store tiki torches and visions of Easter Island. –Ted, Downtown

Jeff Buckley – You and I
Jeff Buckley, the angelically voiced and immensely talented songwriter who released one studio album, 1994’s Grace, before tragically drowning at the age of 30 in the Mississippi River, was an artist who defied easy categorization. His music blended several styles, from jazz-tinged progressive rock, to lush Zeppelin-like blues, to emotional Broadway-esque crooning, and his early demise brought forth tons of posthumous releases and nostalgic anthologies. The latest release, You and I, is a collection of covers ranging from well-known ‘60’s & ‘70’s icons (Dylan, Sly Stone, Zeppelin), to obscure Blues and Jazz standards, to curiously random  (The Smiths, Jevetta Steele), but all of his choices are revelatory in terms of influencing his hard-to-pin sound.  If you’re a fan of Buckley’s work, you’ve no doubt heard about this release, and the press about this is well-deserved; his affinity for the material is obvious, and his careful and considerate re-workings of these songs reveal a mastery that belied his young age. While his early death was indeed tragic, what would’ve been more devastating is withholding these songs from the public to hear. This album is truly a bittersweet gem. –Mark, Downtown

The von Trapps - Dancing in Gold
You may look at the name of this band and think, Sound of Music. And, you would be right. They are the great-grandchildren of Captain and Maria von Trapp (bet you didn’t know the movie was based on a true story). They have perfect harmony like the von Trapps in the movie, but the resemblance stops there. Their ethereal melodies bring to mind Fleet Foxes - relaxed and beautiful, rolling and soft.  They collaborated on Pink Martini’s eighth album, Dream a Little Dream (also on Freegal). Their album is an EP with just four songs, but each one is a perfect little French macaroon cookie, soft and delectable at the beginning, but rich and satisfying once you get your teeth into it. A favorite is Next to Me which begins with a gentle ukulele lead blending with two female dreamy harmonizing voices, while the chorus is a crescendo of horns, drums and an added male voice to pick up the tempo. This EP does not disappoint; there is a reason they toured with Pink Martini and Rufus Wainwright. - Cynde, Downtown

Eleanor Friedberger - New View
If you’re a fan of breezy, easy going, acoustic pop anthems and clever hooks, Eleanor Friedberger’s latest album New View is just for you. Ever since The Fiery Furnaces split up in 2011, Ms. Friedberger has been content to release music which is much more subdued, yet just as captivating. This is her third solo record, showcasing a confident and conversational tone along with groovy musical arrangements. Check out “Cathy With the Curly Hair”, a witty up-tempo rocker, and the lead off track “He Didn’t Mention His Mother”, for a good dose of her winsome vibe. A great start to the New Year for music. –Mark, Downtown