Remember John Lennon
Hear / EMI

Author:
SAS

John Lennon gave us a lot to remember him by throughout his musical career. However, more important than remembering the man is remembering the message behind his music. The songs on Remember, which are drawn mainly from Lennon’s solo work and written almost exclusively by him alone, shine with hope and optimism.

While Lennon’s work with the Beatles yielded stunning songwriting and revolution after music revolution, his solo work is more traditional. It bears few marks of the experimental sound of the Beatles, and the lyrics are more down-to-earth. If you don’t know John Lennon yet, here is your chance to get inside his head.

Single of the Week: “Imagine”

Editor’s Note: The great John Lennon created rock n’ roll as he always understood it: anger, catharsis, deliverance. He bears his soul, and finds himself unburdening the John Lennon of an exhausting, mythic past and seeking – though harsh nihilistic exhilaration – release. If you don’t buy this album, I will send the Godfather to visit you.

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My Way Lady Saw
Toasting Music / Diva / Fontana / Universal

Author:
SAS

Lady Saw is badass. She takes total control over her music, telling producers exactly what she wants and writing all her own songs. Her songs are intelligent and female-positive. They speak from the point of view of women, something rare in the dancehall and dance music worlds, even from the leading pop divas.

The music on sex-saturated My Wayswings from mellow reggae to ultra dance to pleasantly distorted ear-freaking. Her voice, whether presented with added effects or straight and simple, has the right to be ranked with the voices of other strong women rappers such as M.I.A. and Queen Latifah. Lady Saw is busy now bringing feminism into the everyday (and every night).

Single of the Week: “He’s at My House” (feat. Eve)

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Stages Vedera
Epic / Sony

Author:
SAS

Holy pop-rock, Batman. Vedera is bright and punchy rock music, interspersed with moody piano songs. All bear the mark of Kristen May’s high bubbly voice, and her propensity for love songs.

This is probably music for high-school kids and radio-listeners, which doesn’t make it bad. The combination of heavy-ish music and cute vocals makes things a bit more interesting. However, the lyrics are not exactly mind-blowing and the songs are so predictable that it’s hard for the listener to focus the entire way through Stages. It makes you wonder if the band has more character when it is performing outside of the studio. It could really use the addition of an accordion or a second layer of vocals or something.

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Black Clouds & Silver Linings Dream Theater
Roadrunner / Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

One part stormy ambiance, one part gleaming metal and one part attention to detail, Dream Theater gives us a dramatic epic in six tracks, ranging from five to 20 minutes. This is their eleventh album, and their proficiency at playing their instruments and the high production quality can be appreciated by progressive metal fans and plain-old adventurous music-lovers alike.

If anything, the album could stand some dirtying up. The three band mates, who met at the Berklee College of Music, focus on creating well-orchestrated pieces using unusual chords changes, choral effects, complicated time signatures and numerous other techniques. This, combined with the clear, heartfelt, story-telling lyrics found on “Black Clouds & Silver Linings,” make for yet another trance-inducing, Dream Theater metal success.

 

Artist to Watch

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Built Right on the Ground Andy Cohen
Earwig / Burnside

Author:
SAS

Built Right on the Groundis a good showcase of the playing and singing skills of musician Andy Cohen, but it is an even better introduction to a number of old-time blues styles, including talking blues, piano rags, boogies and fingerpicking style. He covers Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Woodie Guthrie and others, but he also presents us with seven tracks that are traditional tunes.

Cohen’s ability to select great tracks is every bit as important as his dexterity on the piano and guitar and his obvious experience playing. There are imperfections on Built Right on the Ground: a slight lateness here and there, a bit of roughened string work. But this doesn’t make the music sound less practiced, it makes it sound more genuine.

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Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970, 2 Disc Set The Who
Eagle Rock

Author:
SAS

Listening to this live concert recording of The Who from 1970 will make all the young ones out there wish that they had experienced the days when rock and roll was still a forbidden pleasure, that sweet nectar of rebellion and aural stimulation.

Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970includes the entirety of the concert, right down to the stage chatter. The songs reveal the influence that American blues had on British Invasion bands as well as the anger of youth. Most impressive about bands like The Who, however, are their ability to be heavy as hell while remaining, groovy, melodic and even a little effeminate. This one gives you an instant injection of hormones, beauty and sheer badass rock and roll.

Single of the Week: “Pinball Wizard”

Editor’s Note: The Who’s music is fast, furious and noisy, and three of the four members – singer Roger Doltrey, guitarist Pete Townsend and drummer Keith Moon – performed with the obnoxious abandon of juvenile delinquents. Above all, the musicianship was first-rate, and the original band was together at the Isle of Wight.

Late but Great

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Get Big Dorrough
NGenious / EntertainmentOne

Author:
SAS

Dorrough is straight out of Dallas, Texas, a city that hasn’t much in the way of national hip-hop acts. He worked hard on Get Big, his second musical effort, and he certainly does deserve to get big off it.

The beats are well chosen and urge you to keep listening, with just the right amount of tension, the right amount of sampling and the right amount of synth. They’d be worthy in the club, in the car, at a house party, doesn’t matter. They’re pulled together. Meanwhile, his flow is also smooth and confident. His lyrics aren’t super full of metaphors and clever one-liners, rather they steam you with stories and philosophy from Dorrough’s life experiences. He’s not super-violent, but he’s not at all silly. Check Dorrough and see what Big D-Town has to offer.

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The Conscious Sedation System Divide
Metal Blade

Author:
SAS

Echoes recoil off walls of stone, male and female vocals roll deeply and soar high above the double bass, which itself threatens to move so fast that it turns time inside out and causes it to reverse its direction of flow.

There are some truly beautiful parts of this music, helped along by talented female singing. The male vocals are the typical shredding yelling of metal music, but provide perfect counterpoint to the melodic singing. The songs are well-arranged. If they don’t manage to change in style too much from track to track, that’s okay – like most metal albums these days, System Divide has created a theme album, and this one presents something to challenge your male-oriented expectations.

Mighty Mighty

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Brazilian Love Song Roger Davidson Quintet
Soundbrush / Allegro

Author:
SAS

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Welcome to Brazil, where music is the language of love. Pianist Roger Davidson leads his band bravely in the world of chilled-out, engrossingly rhythmic romantic jazz on this compilation that presents us with some of his best work from 1978 to 2008.

 

The jazz is entirely what you want to hear in Brazilian jazz –  it’s delicately syncopated, it’s got cohesive melodies and it’s clearly played by talented acoustic musicians, who play, in addition to the piano, drums, bass, sax and additional percussion. The speeds of the songs vary. Some will make you want to grab up your lover for a close dance, while others will make you want to get down (whatever get down means to you).

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American Bang American Bang
Reprise / Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

What do Americans do better than slam-bang artists to the tops of the charts? It looks like this full-length follow-up to American Bang’s 2007 EP is a hit, and will guide the band onto the big stage, where they will then have the chance to play on their strengths to take their fame to the next level – or blow it in a 15-minute flurry of singles.

Let’s hope that American Bang is about to use their catchy choruses and classic rock twang to ride the wave further. What they need to do is refuse to sacrifice creativity to over-antiseptic producers. In the mean time, enjoy the full-bodied anthems on American Bang.

Let the Good Times Roll

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Black Gold Duane Stephenson
VP

Author:
SAS

A unique tenor in the form of Duane Stephenson teaches us about the struggles of the people, the desires of the people and sweet, sweet love. Black Goldis reggae you will feel with heart and mind. Jazzy sax, keyboard plunking and dub echoes pursue conscious lyrics and a chorus of female backup vocals.

The sound is certainly on the smooth side rather than the danceable thing going on in much reggae today. Most of the songs by Stephenson are on the melancholy side, pretty guitar kicking in here and there and regrets as well as fond reminiscences. The lyrics are a bit essentializing to women, but other than that, Stephenson uses relaxed reggae as an ideal vehicle for delivering his thoughts.

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Take a Trip With Me Enoch Kent
True North / Linus / Borealis

Author:
SAS

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Enoch Kent – Take a Trip With Me – True North/Linus/Borealis

 

With a nod to Woody Guthrie in the title, Scotland-born folk master Enoch Kent has produced a album chock-full of originals. At age 70, Kent’s experience is not to be ignored. His radical perspective is sharp and well-rendered in these songs crafted with passion and presented with a charming Scottish accent.

 

On Take a Trip With Me, you will, indeed, travel to a universe brought to life by Kent’s storytelling abilities. The tales could be inspired by life today or harken back to the time when folk music was pop music. The songs are as intricate and well-presented as anything you’ll hear by a modern folk musician, so listen and learn. Take a Trip With Me is for history-lovers, political buffs and love-lorn listeners alike.

 

Single of the Week: “1913 Massacre”

 

 

Political Album of the Week

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For Reasons Unseen Hanneke Cassel
Hearth

Author:
SAS

For Reasons Unseen presents clean-cut, emotive adaptations of traditional songs as well as originals by violinist Hanneke Cassel. With other strings and piano accompaniment, she is able to explore to the fullest inspirations arising from Scottish, Chinese, American and other cultures. Even within these broad categories, her musical assertions run wild – you’ll hear traces of pop music as well as classical moodiness.

Hanneke Cassel has traveled the world and decided that collaboration with musicians from all over is the best way to get a recording that manages to be teeming with energy even at a relaxed pace. Her fiddling embellishments intertwine with non-verbal vocals here and there and some serious playing techniques from her guests. An absolutely non-cheesy addition to your instrumental Celtic music collection.

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The Gracious Few The Gracious Few
Questionable

Author:
SAS

This is a reformulation of the bands Live and Candlebox. Kevin Martin of Candlebox is the lead singer and character-builder in the band, but the mark of Live’s serious demeanor and careful instrumentation remain. The lyrics: serious, love-oriented, sweet and dark.

Live and Candlebox were both considered post-grunge. However, The Gracious Few is plunged into the post-industrial as well, a sea of atmospheric guitar and clanking drums and straight up hard rock stringing one song to the next. Still, The Gracious Few is clearly a continuation of the 1990s’ pretty-sounding, impassioned metallic music that was rock’s saving grace in a world of cheesification.

New Album of the Week

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Live With What You Know Dave Rave
Bongo Beat / Burnside

Author:
SAS

Dave Rave has been in and around the punk and rock scene since the late 1970s. All that time the British Invasion sound has been that the root of his music making. Luckily for him, music trends tend to recirculate, and it just may be his turn again.

With well-laid stripes of guitars and drums and a personable emo-indie voice, Rave captures with an experienced hand the sounds and styles that have become so popular today in slightly electrified indie rock. Psychedelic effects, forlorn drums and a falsetto sheen, acoustic guitars on the verge of colliding with their electrified cousins in the course of a single bar. On top of all this, the songwriting is catchy and well-performed.

If you run into him at the next SXSW festival, give him a high and a high five – he deserves it.

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Live at Legends Peaches Staten
Swississippi

Author:
SAS

Peaches Staten’s brushy voice is the highlight of her live album. If you were seeing her live, you’d be floored by the power emanated by her voice, and you can hear it in this recording as well. Live at Legends provides a competent example of Chicago blues, and will convince you that Chicago blues need not stand alone: there are touches of zydeco and funk also playfully laced throughout the performance.

Most interestingly, Peaches also plays the washboard, an under-utilized rhythm-maker known for its presence in jug bands and zydeco music. When she’s on the washboard, you know a good song is coming up – highly danceable, sing-alongable and just overall fun.

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Burning the Day Randy Rogers Band
MCA / Nashville

Author:
SAS

Randy Rogers and his band are the highly popular romantic country group that has been topping charts for years now. His rough voice and sweet lyrics are sure to make the ladies swoon, and the time-tested pop-country songwriting, with just an added touch of heaviness here and there guarantees radio hits.

The multidimensional lyrics show that a significant amount of thought went into the songwriting. Invoking nostalgia left and right, both in the stories told and in the emotional quality of the chord changes, Burning the Daywill at least reassure you that you are not alone when you’re feeling alone or looking over your shoulder.

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

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Views From Chicheng Dennis Rea
Precipice / Moonjune

Author:
SAS

You might assume from the title and the cover of this album that this kind of Asian-art rock fusion is just for the snobby bourgeois ladies or sleazy guys who want to seduce you into their meditation rooms, but you are in for a surprise. This collection of five intricate commentaries on the dimensions of our world are actually pretty mind-blowing.

There is jazz and there are traditional East Asian scales. There are intricate webs of rhythm and anti-rhythm. There is a Vietnamese monochord, a kalimba, a conch shell, a melodica and resonator guitars. Be ready for anything, and make sure to pay attention while the music is playing – it will be the most stimulating thing you’ve heard without words for a while.

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Shine Shaman’s Harvest
Tribal

Author:
SAS

Heavy rock is the swamp that Shaman’s Harvest has jumped into, but it’s not that simple. The crocodiles swimming around the swamp are named Catchy and Party. An album of anthems, Shineechoes the alternative rock era of the late 1990s with chiming guitars, conclusively sound guitar solos and lots of repeating lines at the ends of each song.

Shaman’s Harvest is a good ol’ upset-your-parents-a-little-but-still-listenable album. They certainly have the potential to become radio rockers they get too much play on Clear Channel stations, but for now they are still too sincere and interesting. Enjoy them now, and hope that they continue in the direction of creativity and passion rather than getting a record deal and catering to big-label producer’s demands.

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Confessions Liza Minnelli
Decca / Universal

Author:
SAS

It’s surprising to be approached once again by Liza Minnelli’s deep, throaty voice, rich and undulating with passion on Confessions. In this personal self-reflection on her past musical career, the daughter of Judy Garland shows that she’s still around and still loving music as much as ever. She perhaps expresses herself more leisurely than ever before in her life right now, showing even more clearly that she’s in it for the music, not the money.

These new recordings have a stripped-down sound, Minnelli’s voice at the forefront, her long-time pianist just behind her and subtle jazz bass and drums accompanying her as needed. She sings these world-wise, standards-quality tracks with a gusto that will give you a real looking into who Liza actually is.

Editor’s Note: Liza Started in show business early on, guest-dueting as a youngster with her mother, from whom she inherited much of her energetic singing and performing abilities. She has won an Oscar, and her musical vision and cabaret roots hold fast to this day.

Single of the Week: “He’s a Tramp”

If You Love Music, You’ll Love This!

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Band of Joy Robert Plant and the Band of Joy
Trolcharm / Rounder / Concord

Author:
SAS

Led Zeppelin is no more. No more lemons will be squeezed, and no more stairways built. But one of the great minds and personalities behind the band has been buffing his skills with other projects since 1982. On Band of Joy, Robert Plant teams up with Patty Griffith other artists to create a work that old-timers and today’s folkies will all enjoy.

Along with that Led Zeppelin British Isles mandolin sound, Plant’s much loved voice and new energy from the Band of Joy make this mellow, sweet album an updated ride brought to you by one of the best-known psychedelic rockers of the 1960s and ’70s. There is no lack of distorted guitar, and the all-new songs are 100% quality, whether they wander in the folk direction or they are testing out modern rhythms and styles.

Best Album of the Week

Editor’s Note: One of the greatest screamers in rock history has come down, but his molten lava still cries with peals of thunder. With Band of Joy, Plant pays respect to his early influences – this time focusing on folk and country. This look backward seems to step from true inspiration.

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