Chandler Public Library

Pick of the Week Archive

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

2017


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 


TLC - TLC
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

2016


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