Past & Present The Carter Family III
Cash House

Author:
Sophia A. Strosberg

The Carter Family has always been able to capture the soul of country Appalachia. Just as importantly, it is able to entangle our souls in its musical web. We are held by the strums, we are rocked by the fingerpicking and we are in love with the voices. Of course, Past & Presentwas made by the Carter Family III, not by the earlier, better-known generations of the Carter Family.

These are all newly recorded tracks, and many of them were newly written as well. Some of the songs on the album are from the old family songbook, and other are about the history of the Carter Family. But the Carter Family III is clearly making music because it loves to – it is not simply seeking to ride on the coattails of the original Carters’ fame. The recording moves at a relaxed pace as Dale Jett, John Carter Cash and Laura Cash use Autoharp, guitar and fiddle to engage us. There will never be another pair of voices like the Carter sisters, and the Carter Family band from back in the day will always stand above any newbies. But the Carter Family III maintains that old-time, acoustic country spirit, providing an alternative to modern electro-pop country, and calming our heart rate to a normal pace.

Single of the Week: “Nowhere Train”

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The Remix Lady Gaga
Interscope / Universal

Author:
SAS

Fine. I admit it. I like it. I have railed against Lady Gaga for a long time because I felt that she was appropriating an outsider style in order to gain fame and fortune (she made $62 million last year alone). But she is making some important points along the way about commodity culture and, possibly, about gender. And her ridiculously virulent earworms are nothing to turn your nose up at.

The Remix brings together 10 hits from her only two albums, and subjects them to vigorous remixing (totally new background music and sometimes new vocal arrangement as well) by 10 different producers. The outcomes are always clubby, sometimes hard and engaging, and other times slightly too cheesy, falling short of the glory of the originals. It’s a quality addition to her work thus far, however; I was compelled to begin bopping my head from the first track. The best remixes are “Just Dance,” “LoveGame,” “Poker Face” and “The Fame.” But the real highlight is a cameo by Marilyn Mason, her freak predecessor, and, I’d like to think, her inspiration, who never made it mainstream because his stuff was too heavy and he wasn’t a hot 24-year-old lady.

Single of the Week: “LoveGame”

Best Album of the Week

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Big Otis Blues Rob Blaine
Swississippi

Author:
SAS

This is like your usual Chicago blues, except that there is this swizzling guitar in each track, tearing up the recording tape. Rob Blaine has a big wet voice and it is this voice that manages to bridge the steady guitar-bass-drums of the backdrop and the wandering, ripping electric riffs of the lead guitar.  

The electrified music does show a nice amount of instrumental skill, but the real treat comes at the end of the album when the one acoustic track shines. Blaine’s rough voice provides a nice contrast to the clean sound of steel strings, and we get to hear what he hears as he is writing songs alone, playing them through with his acoustic only. Note, also, the new Chicago blues label, Swississippi. We’re sure to hear more greats from them soon.

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Reggae Gold 2010, 2 Disc Set Various Artists
Planet Reggae / VP

Author:
SAS

Oh, if only things were turned around and the cover of this record featured four young men of different nationalities posing and smiling coyly, lips parted, wearing soccer micro-shorts and nothing else. But instead, you’ll just have to bypass the cover (it features objectified women instead) and go for the gems that have been digitally arranged on the surface of the CDs instead.

The beats are hot and the flows are swift. There are some more old-school-sounding tracks with brightly colored samples, and others that lean into the world of rap and dancehall or have harder, more intense beats. The dance floor will be well worn at the end of a night with Reggae Gold 2010. Some famous names have worked on creating this love-themed party music; Busy Signal, Santigold, Chevaughn Clayton, Sean Paul, Damian Marley, Nas, Michael Franti and many others give us the variety that has made this a much-anticipated release.

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I Am My Brother’s Keeper: Expanded Edition Jimmy & David Ruffin
Hip-O Select / Motown / UMe

Author:
SAS

Bristling with talent, the Ruffin brothers recorded these songs in 1970. The well-developed quality of the songs, of their harmonies, of their spirit, or their rhythms and blues, truly shines. They draw from the music of the 1950s and 1960s, and David Ruffin’s experience in the Temptations, but their groove shows the beginnings of transformation into funk and disco. In short, 1970 was a sweet year for music, and therefore a great one to release an album. There’s nothing that can match the sound of sibling voices together, and the Ruffins take full advantage of this. They have distinctly different voices, yet their vocals mesh beautifully. They are simply some of the best-sounding voices out there in soul. The brothers sing about loyal brotherhood, about lusty sex and sweet love, and other interpersonal life experiences, often through well-selected covers. They will make you cry. They will make you fall in love. They have that kind of power.

Single of the Week: “Stand By Me”

Editor’s Note: David Ruffin was one of the otherworldly lead singers of the temptations. If you want a piece of how great they were, pick up this album.

Late but Great

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No Beginning No End Kenny Werner
Half Note

Author:
SAS

Upon first hearing this album, you can tell that it is ripe with emotion. Something happened to stimulate the incredible dynamics, the operatic cries, the sweet piano and violin and woodwinds. And then, if you read the booklet in the album, you will see why – and how – Mr. Werner wrote such haunting and lovely melodies. His teenaged daughter was killed in an accident in 2006. He and his wife were paralyzed by it for quite some time, and this entire recording is a way for him to process the sadness.

Using theatrical vocals and music that ranges from old-school-sounding movie music to jazz to opera to modern classical, he churns up themes including death, transformation, sadness and love, all of which are complicated and intensified by his own experiences. Whether you like Björk or jazz or classical, as long as you are prepared to sit and listen with your full attention, No Beginning No Endwill captivate you.

Editor’s Note: Kenny is a fascinating pianist/electronic keyboardist who is bound by few restrictions. He creates a simple but surprisingly engaging experience for the listener.

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Things They Don’t Teach You in School Robert David Hall
Independent

Author:
SAS

Robert David Hall is best known as an actor. He’s been in a number of TV shows and films, including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. But he’s been harboring another passion throughout his life: music. He plays guitar and sings out his knowledge and his questions on each track of Things They Don’t Teach You in School, leading us to wonder where he’d be with his music now if he’d focused on that instead of on acting.

Of course, there are plenty of starving musicians out there, so there’s no guarantee he could have made a career out of playing. But he his senses of music and style come out in his cool songwriting, and his backup musicians make good, too. Hall has presented us here with a true insight into who he is, all to the tune of acoustic country rock that uses slide guitar, harmonica and lots of other strings to set the easy-rollin’ mood.

Single of the Week: “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight”

Artist to Watch

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We Walk This Road Robert Randolph and the Family Band
Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

Wow. A new genre has just entered the scene. Except that this band has been around since 2001. Still, it’s like nothing else you’ve heard. There are hip-hoppy beats and rock beats and sparse  beats, and all are played on live drums. There is a surging pedal steel. There is banging piano. There is gospel singing. There is soul and Jesus and old-time and social justice and blues.

Robert Randolph is incredibly charismatic as he plays and sings. He sounds like he’s having a great time with his family and friends throughout the album, and his attitude simply drags you along on his inspiring trek though musical and social history. This is for the person who loves hip-hop or black southern music but wants to expand. We Walk This Road has a new sound with concrete influence from its predecessors.

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Fi’mbulvintr King of Asgard
Metal Blade

Author:
SAS

It’s fun to be able to hear what these guys are saying even through their groaning metal-king voices. Like most metal bands, they go in big for the double bass of doom, guitar of iron, and solos of twisted silver. Like other metal bands, they are highly concerned with complex rhythms and epic lyrics about swords and battles. But unlike the others, they seem extremely concerned with thought-out melodies, vocals that can be understood and music that always matches the mood of the lyrics.

Whether marching to secure vengeance for the murder of a family member or going on a search for a golden orb, the tales on Fi’mbulvintrare engaging and the music just intricate enough to be stimulating, but not so complex as to become unlistenable. A good choice if you like epic metal for, well, the epics.

 

Mighty Mighty

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Gonna Boogie Anyway Chris James & Patrick Rynn
Earwig

Author:
SAS

This is some boogie-woogie blues, 1950s-style. Breakdowns in the music mirror uplifting lyrics. And they are so uplifting because they remind us to just chill out. Yes, times are hard and life is one giant SNAFU. But heck, we got our guitars, we got our friends and even when we are freaking out, we should take some time out to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Using typical 12-bar blues style and foot-pounding rhythms, Chris James and Patrick Rynn take it way. You can hear the chemistry between the playing of the two guitarists. The other big notable musician is Henry Gray, who played piano with Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf, and who knows how to jiggle the keys just so in order to snuggle into your musical cortex.

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Black & White The Maine
Fearless / Action Theory / Sire / Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

The Maine is one of those typical poppy punk bands targeting preteen girls with their lyrics about growing up and relationships. Lyrics from track three: “But then “Wonderwall” comes on the radio/I flashback to the night in your parent's yard/When we drank too much and we talked about God.”

It’s more interesting than some of the other teeny-bopper stuff out there. With different guitar techniques and stories that sound like they are from real experience, there is some substance on Black & White. But it’s interesting that young people continue choosing this same old pop-punk sound over and over again. Perhaps the more you listen to this stuff, the better you can tell each band apart. Or maybe you can tell them apart if you wake up each morning to posters of the band mates gazing down at you lovingly.

Let the Good Times Roll

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Live! A Weekend at Centre St. Ambroise The Franco Proietti Morph-Tet
Bongo BeatBurnside

Author:
SAS

This is the jazz of today, made of the ever-morphing fusions of jazz and hip-hop and funk. There’s poetry and brass, turntables and high-hat. And it’s all taking place in the city of Montreal, Canada. The recording was taken live, and there is certainly some undesirable reverb in the background.

Overall, though, the album is still well-worth checking out, partly because it will give you ideas. In no time, you’ll find yourself trying to herd about 12 of your friends into a creative jazz band of your own. Don’t forget to include the shadowy vocals or the dancing saxophones. Don’t forget to play in room crowded with absolutely adoring fans, and include at least one Charles Mingus song, like these folks did.

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Clarity Dave Anderson Quartet
Pony Boy

Author:
SAS

Wait – is this jazz, or is it some contemporary adult electronic music? Okay, it’s not at all electronic, but the drummer is just that precise and plays some complex stuff. And the piano is what lends a contemporary feeling. And finally, the sax gives it Claritythe vibe that it was made for adults and you’re still a kid – it’s too slick and mature.

 

That is, unless you are a contemporary adult who appreciates a talented rhythm section. Then, you are in luck, because this will melt away your adult aches and pains, the stress from your job, the pounding of your head after dealing with children or other adults all day. Then again, you could just quit your job and start listening to punk music. On topic: This is quality jazz that dips into some interesting key changes, and that will soothe your evening much better than whatever random stuff is on the easy jazz satellite channel tonight.

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First Flight: Early Calypsos From the Emory Cook Collection The Mighty Sparrow
Smithsonian Folkways

Author:
SAS

We don’t often think about calypso music, yet it has an amazing taste all its own that will appeal to lovers of early reggae and other Caribbean music as well as those who value folk sounds from around the word, music made with found objects and those who like exploring new and interesting rhythms. Calypso originated in Trinidad and Tobago. Mighty Sparrow of Trinidad has been making calypso since the 1950s, and the tracks on this album are all from his first decade making the music. The recordings are not of the highest quality, but that only lends a softness and authenticity to the recordings. You’ll hear call and response, steel drums, lots of brass and home-grown percussion. Speaking of life in the city, with a politicized outlooks as well as colorful character portraits, Mighty Sparrow makes from some interesting party music that will leave you wanting more.

Single of the Week: “Gun Slingers”

Editor’s Note: The Mighty Sparrow’s jovial, ebullient style was applied to both the titillating romantic music that are calypso’s staple diet and more topical fare about regional politics and human rights.

Political Album of the Week

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Pauper's Field Dylan LeBlanc
Rough Trade

Author:
SAS

If you look up Dylan LeBlanc’s biography, the first thing you will notice is that he is only about 20 years old. The second thing you will notice is that his father was a studio musician and songwriter at the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, a place that recorded such artists as Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, followed by the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson.

But you shouldn’t bother reading LeBlanc’s biography before you listen to his music, because it’s the music that matters. He sings with the sincerity of a youth and plays with the skill of an experienced musician. The songs are slow and warm and rolling like big green Southern hills, and his guitar playing is truly a treat. The slide guitar in on the recording is given more of a spotlight than on other country albums, perhaps because it is rarely so well played. Never tinny, it almost has the quality of a human voice. It moves from note to note clearly and warmly, without hesitation. The effect is as comforting as it is ethereal.

New Album of the Week

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Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival John Fedchock’s NY Sextet
Capri

Author:
SAS

There’s a sax in this sextet, but the trombone is sexiest. The trombone is played by John Fedchock, the main composer on this live album. And honestly, having a character-encrusted trombone leading a jazz band is a welcomed change from all the smooth sax you hear these days.

The kind of jazz on Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festivalwill entrance you, even with songs ringing it at 12 and 13 minutes long. It could turn any old clove-smoking teenager into a jazz aficionado. Listening to a song on this album is like hearing a conversation between the different instruments in the sextet, particularly between the trombone, trumpet and sax, and knowing that, like a child hiding under the table at a grown-ups party, there’s always more to the conversation you’re overhearing than what you can grapple with all at once. Luckily, if you have a recording of the conversation, you can back it up and listen again and again.

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Getting Dressed in the Dark Jaron and the Long Road to Love
Jaronwood / Big Machine / Universal Republic / Universal

Author:
SAS

It’s super poppy and over-the-top emotional – and that’s just the music. Jaron’s not terrible – his narrative songs aren’t boring, and his boyish voice is surely appealing to some. Working up those heartrending parts of the album is a well-loved technique in modern country music, and he does it with an extra dose of eye-watering sappiness; PMS-ing people, beware.

But he and his music are just too cute and preppy. And his lyrics that are more rough around the edges, just aren’t three-dimensional. For example, his song “Pray for You,” the one that is getting lots of airplay right now, is just obnoxious, and even less ironic than Alanis Morissette's "Ironic." The cool thing: Jaron claims he started playing and singing again after his six-year hiatus because he wanted to cheer up all the unemployed people in this country with a bit of music.

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Ordinary Heroes Howard Jones
KobaltUniversal

Author:
SAS

Brit Howard Jones got his start in 1980s synth-pop. Yes, let the stereotypes come rolling in, because that is what you’ll get from his newest syntholicious album, Ordinary Heroes. But although it’s pretty non-descript, it isn’t bad, per se. That is, if you like radio-worthy pop songs that speak about life, love and other usual stuff in a nice male voice with the latest in synth-pop backup instruments.

Basically, Ordinary Heroesis for those who want ordinary lyrics, ordinary melodies and ordinary songwriting. It’ll make a nice gift for that normal-core, posi-core, older family member whose birthday is coming up. And for Easy Listening FM stations everywhere.

Editor’s Note: Howard Jones, as always, creates melodies that are study, with cheerful arrangements and tunes that are of high quality.

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

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Red Horse Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka & Lucy Kaplansky
Red House

Author:
SAS

Why is it that Neil Young has the prototypical smooth, high, vibrato voice? Here is a folk trio, where all three member sing at different points in their album, and two out of three of the members have that warm Youngian sound; the comparison seems unavoidable. It’s nothing to complain about, though. Red Horseis serene and cozy, perfect as we slip into the Autumn.

Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky all deserve a lot more than a comparison, though. They’ve each been in the folk scene for a while, coming together for the first time in Red Horse, and the way that their voices and instruments and inspirations blend is as natural as frost in the fall or hot cocoa in the winter. Be ready for some chill folk music to warm you up.

Single of the Week: “If These Walls Could Talk”

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Keep the Blues Alive Teeny Tucker
TeBo / Burnside

Author:
SAS

“I hope you dig/My message is so big.” So is Teeny Tucker’s voice. She knows how to holler and shout and sing beautifully, even when the times get tough. And it seems that times are tough a good amount of the time. She tells us of childhood and womanhood, of regrets and wishes. Equal parts hard-time blues lady and soulful diva-singer, Teeny does find the time here and there in the album to give us some nuggets of hope.

A majority of the tracks are inspired by old-time blues, gospel music and Chicago style blues, and truly do carry on their legacy of coping through music. She isn’t afraid to change up her background music here and there to give us tastes of her different musical inspirations. This artist’s sincerity and passion for the history of the blues is bold, but her voice is bolder.

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Cowboy’s Back in Town Trace Adkins
Showdog / Universal

Author:
SAS

Holy crap, is this metal or is it old-time music? Okay, it’s clearly country music, but it has this fantastic heavy drum and distorted guitar going on along side the banjo pickin’ and the lyrics about blackbirds and chickens and corn and tractors.

Serious guitar solos take place on both slide and distorted guitars. Trace Adkin’s voice moves between a deep, intense bass and a friendly, twangy country drawl. All of these juxtapositions are fun, but best of all is that Adkins has an awesome sense of humor. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and this is the basis of his ability to charm every single listener. Besides, his stories are vivid and creative, and truly allow us to relate to the guy.

The first highlight of the album: “Brown Chicken, Brown Cow,” the title and chorus of the first song, sounds like “Bow-chicka-bow-wow,” which Adkins did purposefully and somehow makes sound hilarious. In the very next song, a bride and groom each ask the preacher to hold their beers as they exchange wedding vows and rings, warning the preacher not to drink it while they are occupied. But, of course, he does. Of course, it’s not all this funny. And his previous albums weren’t always funny. But a good portion of Cowboy’s Back in Townis. You’ll have to check out the rest of the album for yourself, though.

Editor’s Note: Trace Adkins helped keep country’s traditionalist flame burning during the cross-over happy late ’90s, mixing classic honky tonk with elements of gospel, blues and rock and roll. He was and will always be a huge hero.

If You Love Music, You’ll Love This!

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