UN Dan Black
The Hours / Fontana / Polydor UK

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Dan Black is a former member of the UK band The Servant, but has come out with a debut solo album that twinkles with clean electro shine. Black’s character is what dominates the sound of UN. He is desirous, hollering, crooning over a deliberate, pared down beat. Even on the dance tracks on the album, he sounds like he is seated while singing: as far as electro-pop goes, this isn’t a very energetic album.

If the album was a little more flamboyant or else less perfectionist in its production, it would be something we could leave on repeat in our music player. Still, Black did a nice job with UN, including his signature borrowed pop samples and emotional falsetto vocals.

Single of the Week: "Yours"

Purchase from Amazon

Hang Cool Teddy Bear Meatloaf
Roadrunner / Loud & Proud / UMG

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Meatloaf is almost out of his mind with passion on this apocalyptic, almost country rock recording. His signature warbling voice is fashionable and his riffs are wholesomely slung around the album, as is an urgent pace and unrelenting energy.

The theme Meatloaf chose was one of societal breakdown and rebuilding, of love and chaos. The backup vocals add depth and a kind of showiness that lies well with his image. There is a glam aspect to the metal, and in this age of the gender-ambiguous hipster, this album may be able to make it with the kids as well as long-time Meatloaf-heads.

Editor’s Note: The hefty metal belter came roaring out of left field with the incredibly popular shock-rock magnum opus Bat Out of Hell. The cat was an incredible sexual star, a punk rocker and a beautiful rebel. Did he lose his voice? Where did he go? Whatever the answer, he’s back, as good as ever.

Purchase from Amazon

Sunday Music RydazNrtist
Ncredible Entertainment / Def Jam

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

RydazNrtist is a modern R&B troupe, sweet-talking the ladies and, on Sunday Music, Jesus as well. There is nothing sarcastic about this album, just gospel and charm. However, it is a follow up to Strip Club Music, their previous album, which was presumably about a debaucherous, sexy Saturday night, proving that they are not a Christian R&B group, but rather R&B artists who happen to be sweet on God the morning after.

The music on Sunday Music is somewhat typical for its genre. It’s quality but not surprising. The lyrics are interesting and worth listening to. However, the religious tone is intense, so if you are previous fan of RydazNartist, be prepared.


Coming Up For Air Davy Knowles & Back Door Slam
Blix Street

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Davy Knowles and his band blend bluegrass and blues into intuitive bars of music and vocals. Knowles is able to open up and really sing, bending his voice along with his guitar strings. He is young, but his voice is mature and strong, a winning combination with the gritty 1960s sound of Back Door Slam and the album’s production.

The lyrics come at things from a clever country perspective: “Country girl, the city has swallowed you whole/Country girl, you followed your heart but you lost your soul.” They, too, blend the upbeat yodeling of bluegrass with head-shaking blues. Much of Coming Up for Air is recorded with a band and even backup vocals, but at times Davy’s playing is highlighted, and he is clearly able to capture his emotions in the notes of his guitars and mandolin.

Artist to Watch

Purchase from Amazon

Face to Face Professor RJ Ross
Lantana

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

An easy listening album by the mustachioed Professor RJ Ross, Face to Face dishes out a piece of his heart. He jams out with jazzy keyboard and piano, and plenty of live musicians are there to accompany him, as well as a female backup vocalist.

The songs, which include eight originals as well as covers like “Summertime,” “Drive My Car” and “Autumn Leaves,” flash with Ross’s soulful expression. Born in Detroit, this long-time musician has produced a mellowed solo debut. Face to Face is for those who revel in the sound of smooth jazz and a laid-back beat.

Purchase from Amazon

Love Is the Answer Barbra Streisand
Columbia / Sony

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

 

Jazz standards focused on love are the name of the game, and Barbra Streisand always knows the rules of the game. Her voice keeps us on the edge of our seats with a voice always able to convince us that she is actually going through the wide range of love-related emotions explored on the album.

An appropriate catch in her voice here and there, a smooth transition between words, notes and keys and a gorgeous vibrato mean that Streisand is still on top of her game. If you like slow romance, Love Is the Answer is the answer for you.

Late but Great

Purchase from Amazon

Chicken Pickin’ Cort Armstrong
Hearth

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Charming and picking his way into your chicken yard, Cort Armstrong knows how to handle his guitar, showing off alternating bass finger picking and songs that fly from blues to sweetness to optimism. Legs will bounce at the sound of Armstrong’s guitar and the opportunities for singing along to these original songs are plenty.

There is at least one drinking song and plenty about love and chickens. Armstrong’s life, while not uncomplicated, is unraveled here for our listening pleasure. It’s just him and his guitar throughout the album, which gives us a vintage feeling and a chance to really focus in on his talents. Enjoy with biscuits and gravy.

Purchase from Amazon

Black Sunshine Black Sunshine
Break Silence

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Black Sunshine is a modern metal band that offers quality songwriting to the masses of cynical listeners out there. A vortex formed by experienced instrumentalists (Charles Lee, Matt “Toast” Young) and a tragically disabled champion free-skiier (Matt Reardon).

There is plenty of the usual metal fare: the emotional song, the party song, the pissed off at the world song. And the lyrics aren’t exactly Shakespeare, or even very charismatic. But the music never idles, and the drums continue to wail out clear through to the end. Black Sunshine isn’t nice. It’s slightly creepy, hard rock. And that is exactly what it seeks to be.

Mighty, Mighty!

Purchase from Amazon

Heat in Here, Vol. 1 Cam’ron & The U.N.
Diplomatic Man / New Era / Asylum / Warner Bros.

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Clubby and upbeat, Cam’ron is onto being rich and into the ladies. But what he’s into, he goes for with gusto. He sounds in-control and confident, as does Vado, the other rapper making noise on the album. Heat in Here is dramatic and intense, especially on songs that talk about the hard side of life (“Kill ‘Em,” “Fed Story”), but it also has its share of songs made for bumping (“It’s Your Party,” “Butta”).

The music is okay, with samples that fit into the usual encasement of modern hip-hop dance beats. Unfortunately, Cam’ron hasn’t picked up the pieces after the fading of the Diplomats. However, the album is listenable, with several high points, even if the content and delivery of the songs is sometimes brash.

Editor’s Note: Cam’ron has recently found the platinum-level success he has coveted, but he’s no overnight sensation. The Harlem native started rapping with neighborhood cronies Mace and Big l. The cat is a gangsta crime rapper eschewing lyricism for easily understood boasts and threats.

Purchase from Amazon

Crazy: Music Inspired by the Life of Hank Garland Various Artists
Favored Nations

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Hank Garland was one of the sleekest, baddest musicians to come out of the Nashiville scene in the 1940s. By the 1950s, he was hot stuff. He went on to play with Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams Sr. and Patsy Cline, leaving his high guitar mark imprinted on the minds of millions. On this recording, there is a mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks all inspired by Garland and performed by various artists.

Graceful runs of guitar notes connect the circuit between country bluegrass and early rock n’ roll. When there are words in the songs, the lyrics line up perfectly with the swing of the music in the background When there are no words to the songs, the guitar speaks for itself.

Purchase from Amazon

Live at Montreux, 2005 Steve Earle
Eagle

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

You can almost see Steve Earle’s arm flexing as he strums through the songs on politically oriented Live at Montreux. The tracks were recorded live in 2005, and they are, happily, politically astute as well as catchy. The lyrics cover a range of hot topics today, including violence in Palestine/Israel, tragedy at the US-Mexico border and the damages of war. From “Jerusalem,” the open song on the album: “I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham/Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem.”

Earle’s songs are lyrically poetic, musically simple, and they lend themselves to the country-folk style he plays. If you are interested in hearing the kinds of song you can learn to play yourself, pick up Live at Montreux. Steve Earle’s songwriting won’t let you down.

Single of the Week: "Rich Man's War"

Editor’s Note: In the sin-and-redemption sweepstakes, few life stories in rock compare to Steve Earle’s and few musical artists can match the depth and power of the body of work he has produced during his journey. Steve Earle is a real working-class hero.

Political Album of the Week

Purchase from Amazon

Blue Bones Kim Beggs
Black Hen / Burnside

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Kim Beggs sings country-folk influenced by her life growing up in northern Canada. At age 12, she began working in the trades, working with hands and muscle. But from her lyrical abilities, you can see that this physical labor just provided her with fodder for her songs.

Blue Bones included four cover songs, but these aren’t the only ones to look out for on her album. Her own songs burst with intelligence and observation. She is a storyteller, and a master of metaphor. From a song about folks who end up on the street: “The dust from the road and wind make her blue/For the sun wants to fade her memory’s tattoo.” Kim Beggs may not ever become a radio hit, but her bare-naked voice and imagistic lyrics will make a nice addition to your folk collection.

Purchase from Amazon

White Collar Lies Kopek
Religion / SIN / Sony

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Irish band Kopek is rock and roll without beating around the bush. The lyrics express frustration, an undying love for music, love and anti-love, unjust greed and the strangeness of the navigating the world these days.

The vocals have a fierce, pleasant cracking, and the sounds of the songs are varied. The album’s production leaves us with an over clean feeling, like we could watch the person at the mixing board turning knobs to get the echo just right. However, the arrangements are good. The music and the lyrics are both interesting throughout White Collar Lies, so heavy rock fans, perhaps youth especially, will be able to pump their fists to Kopek’s first US release.

New Album of the Week

Purchase from Amazon

Homing Patterns The Blue Cranes
Independent

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

The Blue Cranes are jazz – pretty jazz, listenable jazz, blow-your-mind jazz. The spray off into frenzies here and there, it’s true, but for the most part, a hip-hop paced beat holds the rhythm as stories are told with rising and falling saxophone, guitar, piano and bass. The time signatures are enough to keep your mind busy, but if you’d like more to think about as you listen, try unraveling colorful threads of the melodic themes.

There is something aesthetically pleasing about this Portland, Oregon, group. The seem to take what we all want to hear in jazz and cut out the boring parts, the stressfully abstract parts, and throw together instead meaningful riffs and solos into song after solid song. There is nary a cheesy sax in the whole thing. So get on your dream wagon, and come join us in the adventure land of people’s jazz.

Purchase from Amazon

The Cedar Creek Sessions Stonehoney
Music Road

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

The Cedar Creek Sessions is a feel-good album of harmonies, upbeat drums and riffs that will give you a chance to exhale after a long day. The sweetest of their songs are sung with sincerity, and their loner songs will ironically keep you from feeling alone.

Guitar is the dominant instrument on the album, but it is the band’s ability to play off one another that makes the sound come together. In the liner notes, Stonehoney writes, “There were no overdubs or studio tricks. What you hear on this record is exactly what you would have heard standing in the control room while we were recording.” This makes the vocals more astonishing, too, and as you are listening, a variegated texture emerges during the harmonies. Enjoy this one with an iced tea and some cowboy boots.

Purchase from Amazon

The Blues Sessions Tim Woods
Earwig / Burnside

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Clearly inspired by old Southern blues, but with a fuller sound, Tim Woods explores the potential of transformation for this much loved genre. Some of the songs glide on piano gloss while others shout with acoustic guitar. Boogies mesh with a classic rock sound, and you can feel the real-life experience that inspired such tracks as “Bad Whiskey and Cocaine” and “Wind Howlin’ Blues.”

While Woods has that classic bluesy grit in his voice, he doesn’t overuse it, so the talented instrumentation behind the tunes truly has time to shine. Further, it’s nice that the pace is so varied on the album, showing us the gamut of moods that can be encompassed by the blues. The addition of David “Honeyboy” Edwards’s weathered voice and guitar give several of the songs extra depth and variation.

Purchase from Amazon

Symphonicities Sting
Decca / Deutsche Grammophon / Cherry Tree / UMG

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Though his voice is always unmistakable, Sting his been gracefully exploring new styles in order to keep his music fresh. For example, last winter, he release a fantastic, though unexpected, album of traditional British Isles music that explored themes of that introspective season.

This time, he has made an album that will appeal to old fans, but with a new twist: everything is arranged with orchestral instruments. Songs such as “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “The End of the Game” team with violins, clarinet, flute, tuba. The drums are sometimes hidden and subtle, and other times booming with radio-worthy energy. Here and there, female backup vocals complete the sound. “Symphonicities” was made to accompany Sting’s 2010 tour with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. The sound of the project is big and wide, and reminds us of just how high Sting has managed to go in his career.

Single of the Week: "Englishman in New York"

Best Album of the Week

Purchase from Amazon

Town and Country Blues: From the Bluesville Records Archives Various Artists
Concord

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Staring both much loved artists and almost-forgotten gems, Town and Country Blues is a collection from Bluesville Records that lays out exactly who was defining the blue at its birth and beyond. Organs and sax hoot alongside straight-up pianos and guitar. Seventh chords and minor keys exchange vows with the many original scales imagined by these brilliant blues musicians.

Perhaps the album gets its title from the fact that blues truly came from both towns and the country. It was a style with evidence of the hardships – and the inspiration – coming from both places. The songs are split between straight-up acoustic renditions and sassy, urbane recordings. That the album features so many different artists allows room for completely different styles scattered throughout. However, all of the sounds are vintage. There are no slamming electric solos, just sweet twanging talent.

Single of the Week: "Mother Earth" by Memphis Slim

If You Love Music, You'll Love This!

Purchase from Amazon

It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright mewithoutYou
Tooth & Nail

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Sufi indie rock turns out to be fun, catchy and vibrant as well as philosophical. Philadelphia’s mewithoutYou experiments with a new, pretty sound and at the same time explodes with a passionate iteration of the lead singer’s spiritual path, Sufism, an mystical branch of Islam.

Some of the songs tell fables in a conversational manner, and the delivery fits perfectly with the imagistic, time-tested content of the tales. Other lyrics are in turn poetic and silly, but they are always stimulating. The music is fine as well. The tone of It’s All Crazy… has been compared to Neutral Milk Hotel’s overcompressed, chanting, folk-instrument sound. However, while the bands may share fans, it’s a mistake to convolute the two: mewithoutYou is exploring new territory, though they may use some well-used tools (including accordion, storytelling, the theme album and dynamic changes within the songs). Check it out, whether you are a groovy Sufi or just an art rock junkie.

Let the Good Times Roll!

Purchase from Amazon

Back Home Americana Spanky & Our Gang
Eclipse

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Americana it is, and Spanky’s voice is rich and deep as she leads the gang bravely through a dozen tracks, mostly covers, from various corners of the musical world. Such songs as “California Dreamin’,” “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor” and “Sinnerman” are played casually on guitar, with piano, bass and drums joining in.

But the album is nothing without the front and center voices of all the members of the Gang, Spanky at their lead. The songs dip into soul, gospel and straight up blues. The recording quality is, well, low budget. But you don’t need fancy equipment to capture a vocal gem or the joy of Spanky’s original arrangements of a well-loved classics.

Purchase from Amazon

Black Coffee Ann Savoy & Her Sleepless Knights
Memphis International / Merless

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

You'll identify at once: "Black coffee, I'm in trouble / Black coffee, I see double / Oh, how am I gonna get home?!" A lady who knows how to capture your heart in a battlefield of felt hats and teacups and fiddles, Ann Savoy’s vocals are at once wholesome and sexy. The sound of the band draws on the best of swing, gypsy jazz and blues, making it a café album deluxe, the kind where you simply must ask the barista what great music she is playing.

Complete with warm French vocals in places and prominent fiddle, no date will go badly with Savoy and the Knights playing in the background. It’s even okay if you don’t have a record player: the music will trick you into thinking you do, with its up-close, warm production sound. From the way she sings, Savoy seems friendly and sensitive to the good things in life. Her music will make a fantastic listen for you old-timey people out there. And if you, yourself, strive to play like they did back in the day - you'll be tied to your headphone until you figure the whole thing out.

So Nice Gotta Do It Up Twice! (as created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

Purchase from Amazon