Body Talk Pt. 2 Robyn
Cherry Tree / Interscope / Universal

Author:
Sophia A. Strosberg

This is the follow-up to Robyn’s creative and quirky Body Talk Pt. 1. It quakes and pulses its way through a wide variety of vocal styles and samples. Her white-girl rapping has a pleasing, interesting connectivity, and the incongruence of her bubbly tone with a variety of manipulated vocal noises lets us know that she’s interested in making something that rises above the average electro-song.

Some of the tracks would certainly work in a club setting, or at a dance party, but often enough, the new-wave effects and modern stylings create a sound too sparse for the kind of ultra-pop she was known for at the beginning of her career. The lyrics of Pt. 2are not as odd as those on Pt. 1. She tends toward love mantras and cohesive, badass narratives on this one. Which should suit you just fine; her underlying social consciousness makes this a very worthwhile addition to a pop-dance collection. By the way, be prepared for a trancey duet in which Robyn grits her teeth while Snoop Dogg backs her up, complete with a choir in the background.

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A Thousand Suns Linkin Park
Machine Shop / Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

What the… Linkin Park!? This is the kind of well-thought-out, arty piece that only comes as a theme album, and that blasts your prejudices to smithereens. What happened is that the members of the well known as a nu metal/rap metal band Linkin Park stopped unconsciously riding that same well-worn boat that carried them to fame and thought more about what they wanted to be known for, what they wanted to listen to themselves, what they wanted to stand for, and how they want to influence the youth. The message: the illusory barrier between human and nature is broken and the world is torn at continually by war from all angles. The music: a bridge between human and machine is broken as it can only under the harsh light of a thousand suns.

Linkin Park didn’t want A Thousand Sunsto be moralizing. It writes that the imagery in the album was meant to be neither “dogma nor political premeditation,” but rather to “illuminate a uniquely human story.” And the feelings that they attempt to get across flow in their unexpected new sound. The melding of organic and electronic, of old metal and experimentation, of hip-hop and pretty industrial (in the vein of late-era Nine Inch Nails), of manic and impressively sad, serves them well. Traces of world music, snippets of famous speeches and turntable cuts complete Linkin Park’s transformation, making this a rock record for the most discerning taste. Bravo, Linkin Park. There are still elements of overly-dramatic nu metal in here, and it’s not a theme album that’s the first of its kind, but it obviously deserves an examination by music lovers.

Best Album of the Week

Single of the Week: “When They Come for Me”

Editor’s Note: Linkin Park was the consummate rap-metal band: angry vocals and head-banging guitars. On the other hand, this album goes more into the world of politics and spirit.

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Soca Gold 2010, CD and DVD set Various Aritsts
Waist One Muzik / VP

Author:
SAS

Soca is a kind of modernized calypso music from the island of Trinidad and Tobago. If you’ve never heard Soca before, it can only be described as dancehall or reggaeton, but with a must greater embrace of different rhythms, particularly traditional calypso and Caribbean rhythms. While other kinds of dance music are busy Autotuning and synthesizing, Soca, which is still electronic, prefers sample from cowbells, hand drums, steel drums, flutes and much more. The African influence in the music goes beyond rhythm, too, and into a call and response style that melds with the danceability of the music. Finally, East Indian sounds also permeate the album, reminding us of the history of Indian laborers on the island.

Soca Goldcollects 16 of the top Soca artists happening right now. If you want to get ahead of the game with the hot dance music of today, a kind that is sure to be popular with kids seeking out the some of the best sounds from around the globe, pick this one up. Soca has been around since the 1970s, but it still promises to rise in popularity in the coming years.

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Pictures of the Highway Suma Marc Black
Suma

Author:
SAS

Marc Black is guilty of nothing except having a little too much fun on Pictures of the Highway. For example, when the long-time rock ‘n’ roller jumps into “Ooh I Love My Coffee,” you’ll giggle but perhaps find it a bit too personal and fun for its own good. But most of Black’s work on this recent release is well-grounded and relaxing, and even when you hear a goofy track, it simply reminds you to stop taking yourself and your modern folk music so damn seriously.

Black’s high-school band toured with Van Morrison and The Doors once upon a time. But while those days are over, and Black has moved on to a more calming musical sound, his solid songwriting abilities remain apparent. With jazz, blues and faux-old-timey sounds, this moderated release is a folk album for all ages.

Artist to Watch

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The New Bye & Bye Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez
Train Wreck

Author:
SAS

The New Bye & Byeis a collaboration between very different people who have some kind of wonderful chemistry. Carrie Rodriguez hails from Texas and is a trained violinist, while Chip Taylor, a New Yorker older than Rodriguez, comes in on the guitar. The two both sing on every track, and they sing like an old pair of friends who probably clicked upon first meeting.

This album is a collection of Chip and Carrie’s songs from 2002 to 2007, plus four new ones. They storytell and philosophize their way through their musical partnership. Whether they sing about whiskey or God or travelin’, the duet’s thoughtful old-timey country playing style and lyrics are relevant to just about everyone.

Single of the Week: “Memphis, Texas”

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Fuerza Milongnera Raúl Jaurena & His Tango Orchestra
Soundbrush

Author:
SAS

Tango is that strange and delicious mix of classical, African, other South American and immigrant European music, as manifested in Argentina and Uruguay over the last 100-plus years. It was the ballroom music of the underclasses, the music of brothels and gangsters, the music of bubbling sexuality.

Here it is in orchestrated glory, still with tons of emotion, with tons of bandoneon (a small kind of accordion) and with tons of lusty potential. For a real taste of what tango can incorporate, check out Uruguayan Raúl Jaurena, his sensual bandoneon and the rest of his talented orchestra. They tell stories in music as clearly as if calling longingly in your ear.

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Nightfall Astron Black & the Thirty Tyrants
Metal Blade

Author:
SAS

Concerned deeply with melodies, moods and poetics, Nightfall’s release Astron Black & the Thirty Tyrantsis a pleasant passageway into metal, flying you toward the night sky rather than to the volcanic depths of hell. The album is less freaky and more diverse than a lot of other metal, while still maintaining a genuine metal attitude toward serious themes.

A new lineup injects energy into the recording, helping it cross over metal genres. A respected Greek metal band since 1991, Nightfall insists on pumping it loudly and with impeccable rhythm. It doesn’t seek to show off extremes – it’s not the fastest, loudest or weirdest. Rather, Nightfall makes a catching story and engaging style the name of the game.

Mighty Mighty!

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Still Behind Tint J-Dawg
EntertainmentOne

Author:
SAS

J-Dawg is an absolutely unapologetic un-P.C. rapper from Houston, Texas. He’s back with dark beats, maxed-out compression and hard lyrics about the hard life. In fact, this is the modern-day blues. Hip-hop has already been co-opted by white audiences, but Still Behind Tintis guaranteed not to make it into the frat house. J-Dawg and his badass persona is but one aspect of unmediated and uncompromising rap, but it is a striking one. He is not Google friendly. He is not “family friendly.”

If you are ready for something of a harsh awakening, something tiring for the ear and hard on the heart, something as intense as the 3 a.m. rumble, Still Behind Tintis it. Texas rap is rising, but it sure isn’t sold out yet.

Single of the Week: “Gangsta Party”

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Need You Now Lady Antebellum
Capitol Nashville

Author:
SAS

Country in the key of emo, with interesting flecks of old-time, of rock, of folk – these genres, which are bland in name, somehow turn Need You Nowinto a refracting rainbow where they chime together the way that music trio Lady Antebellum does it.

The twanging male-female duets in most of the songs, sung with practice and backed by rock drums and strings, tell us the usual stories with a finesse not always observed by country artists today. Shining charisma here and there from a “yip,” a fierce fiddle or a surge of distortion reminds us that this isn’t just another country album. It’s got attitude, and the attitude is in the music rather than just the saucy lyrics. Watch out for a couple of less interesting songs. Overall, though, Lady Antebellum – in spite of the fact that the band is questionably named after pre-Civil War Southern architecture – is a fantastic country ride.

Let the Good Times Roll!

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Classic Sounds of New Orleans Various Artists
Smithsonian Folkways

Author:
SAS

This is a voyeuristic look into the musical life of African American New Orleans – and what other life is there – with recordings from throughout the mid-twentieth century. The voices collected on this stunning album range from a shoeshine boy’s call to a street corner harmonica player to the lesser-known, but ever so formative, jazz musicians of the place.

Smithsonian Folkways has never put out an unjustified historical or educational collection, and some, like this one, provide the raw fodder that will inspire hundreds of musicians to come. Piano, guitar, voice, brass, percussion – all of these are played in a way that must, at the time, have seemed like it came from another planet. Well, it did. Or perhaps there was something in the New Orleans air – or the New Orleans spirit – that caused sheer innovation. Let us consider the amazing New Orleans cultural history before we turn its post-Katrina streets into a playground for the wealthy.

Single of the Week: Saint James Infirmary

Political Album of the Week

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Enjoy Yourself Billy Currington
Mercury Nashville

Author:
SAS

He’s a damn charmer, this Billy Currington. He’s not too aggressively fond, but not too disinterested, either. For a country artist, Currington is also surprisingly cosmopolitan. This doesn’t come out in a straightforward way in the styles he incorporates into his music, rather, it’s a confident attitude and an appreciation of others’ ideas that really makes him so well-rounded. At the same time, touches of 1980s ballads, old showtunes and folk all peek into his latest creation.

Enjoy Yourselfis, in fact, a album pieced together from songs written by different country songwriters, and this diversity is celebrated, rather than hidden, by Currington. In his humbleness – openly singing what others have written – he shows a kind of strength and willingness to give himself up to whatever the world has to offer him.

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A Story About You and Me Trisha Gagnon
Stony Plain

Author:
SAS

It is time to appreciate this Canadian musician, who, before putting out this debut solo album, worked with bluegrass bands such as the Jaybirds and Tumbleweed. Trisha Gagnon is folk in the vein of the other great female folk players of out time. However, she incorporates a more traditional, regular sound than these others, and an almost jammy sounding mandolin, banjo and other stringed-instrument background.

Gagnon backup singers are a big part of this album. It’s lovely to hear different voices in harmony. The vocal collaborations give the album a more organic feel that when an artists simply layer their own voices over and over. This is either chilled-out bluegrass or upbeat folk.

Single of the Week: “When Am I Gonna Get Over You”

New Album of the Week

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Strawberry Moon Neptune’s Car
Independent

Author:
kfm

 The debut release from New England coffee house and country fair veterans Steve Hayes and Holly Hanson is notable for the quality of its production and the attentiveness to songwriting. Neptune’s Car mixes the squeaky-clean sound of an Americana duet bound for muzak with a proclivity for quirky storytelling reminiscent of contemporary children’s music.

Hayes’s guitar work and Hanson’s vocals are joined throughout the album by violin and stand-up bass, with minimally present percussion that push Hanson’s lyrics to the fore. It’s the kind of record that might be nice for drinking herbal tea or shopping for pottery; pretty, but you might not notice if someone turned it off. –KFM

Single of the Week: “Strawberry Moon”
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Another Day’s Journey Ken Whiteley
Borealis / Linus / True North

Author:
SAS

Ken Whiteley incorporates the mood of jazz standards, the fun of a kid’s record, the history of the jug band, gospel, bluegrass and good ol’ bluesy folk. Such a diverse mix on one album could only be created by the Canadian who can play such a wide variety of roots instruments as banjo, accordion, dulcimer, mandolin and more.

Whiteley has experience in numerous genres including children’s music and the ability to entertain though a proper mix of lyricism and instrumental exploration. It’s no wonder he sounds so comfortable behind the mic, he’s been at it since the 1970s, snagging great collaborators along the way. This is a sweet album that, in spite of its occasional blues song, works when taken with a light-hearted attitude. The CD comes with a telling map, connecting in a single montage Atlanta, Toronto, Philadelphia Montreal, Brooklyn and other cities that have influence Whiteley on this recording.

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Live at The Forum, 2 Disc Set The Jackson 5
Hip-O Select / Motown / Universal

Author:
SAS

 Released to coincide with the 40-year anniversary of the concert from which many of these recordings originate – The Jackson Five’s debut performance in Los Angeles on June 20, 1970 – Live at the Forum shows that public thirst for hits from the young Jackson family is as strong today as it was then. And, notably, as strong today as it was following the death of Michael Jackson a year ago. 

The 1970 concert at The Forum in L.A. was noted at the time for poor amplification drowned out by the sea of screaming teeny-boppers. Despite the show being the first major appearance of The Jackson 5 in L.A., the venue managed to sell more tickets than than it had to any previous performance at The Forum. Those hoards of screaming girls are audibly present on this release, but, through the magic of masterful engineering, they sink to the spaces between songs.  What is left is a document of two great performances by the young quintet.  

The first, mentioned above, from 1970, is doubtless a classic moment in the explosive rise of the 5 to greatness. The takes that they offer on collected hits albums are flawless, of course, but the real joys come from listening in on the corny, slightly stilted banter that the brothers unleash to fan the flames of girlish lust amongst the crowd. The second disc is packed with 23 tracks that originate from a 1972 performance at Los Angeles’s same Forum. Here we witness a slightly matured Jackson family; they are at the height of fame and showmanship, and if Michael’s baby-doll cuteness has begun to wear thin, it can’t be detected in the impeccable harmonization, nor in the reactions of the audience.  Serious fans of any generation will purchase this two-disc set for a glimpse into what once was. For the rest of us, it will stand as an impressive testament to the group’s real greatness as well as a resource for party-pleasing songs that come as surprises from The J5: “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “There Was a Time” are generally associated with other recording artists, but the J5 bring to them the funk and the sweetness for which the group will be forever loved.

Editor’s Note: The Jackson 5 were already a huge black music draw when Motown scooped them up in 1968. Eleven-year-old Michael and his brothers had already been touring around the country when Gladys Knight recommended them to Berry Gordy. Like all Motown performers before them, The Jackson 5 were positioned as a singles act. And what a singles act became.

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

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Western Country Caleb Klauder
Hearth

Author:
SAS

Here’s to hoping that the country folk revival of the new millennium goes on for a long time. Now that old-time and early country is hot, we get talented musicians from across the U.S. – like Caleb Klauder from the Northwest – participating in this type of music as well as adding their own two cents to the tunes.

Honky-tonk is, on Western Country, explored as a smooth style of easy-rolling music, complete with old-time and bluegrass and the spirit of the first half of the twentieth century. Klauder’s incorporation of a extra vocals by bandmates Stephen Lind and Sophie Vitells works perfectly to take us back to musical times we all know hold the key to the perfect country sound.

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Somewhere in Glory Common Strings
Rural Rhythm

Author:
SAS

A gospel-bluegrass recording, Somewhere in Gloryis a very serious Christian album. The banjo playing is fantastic, the call and response is pretty, and the songs are certainly inspired by the same songs that have inspired many of today’s old-time folk musicians who dare to go there (like Gillian Welch). But there’s no soldier’s joy on this album, or even any whiskey. There’s not even much in the way of hard times. It’s mainly focused on biblical stories and straight-up praises.

If you’re into Christianity and want some upbeat bluegrass in your home, this is a boon. If not, it’s an insider look at a huge part of the history of Appalachian music: religion.

Editor’s Note: Any album that has Dale Ann Bradley singing harmony with her angelic voice is fine with me.

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Sweet Home Alabama: The Country Music Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd Various Artists
Hip-O / UMe

Author:
SAS

Southern country rock took the nation by storm in the 1970s as Lynyrd Skynyrd rose to fame. A full electric sound mixed with a country twang, and a badass, hard rocking attitude are the marks of real Southern rock. And Southern rock is a style that has managed to stick around.

On Sweet Home Alabama: A Country Music Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd, we hear other preeminent country rockers give a little love to the band, covering eight Lynyrd Skynyrd tracks altogether. Because of the mix of artists on this album, there is something for everyone - Shooter Jennings and Jamey Johnson for those who like folky country, Eric Church and The Eli Young Band for the hard rockers and Ashley Ray for the ballad lovers. The mix of artists means that there’s probably something you won’t like on the album as well – unless you are a die-hard Skynyrd fan, in which case, this one is for you.

Single of the Week: “Gimme Three Steps”

Editor’s Note: If the Allman Brothers invented Southern Rock at the dawn of the 1970s, then Lynyrd Skynyrd perfected it as the decade wore on. They boiled down their potent regional influences – blues, country, soul – into a heady, potentially crippling home-brew. This album captures their real, powerful sound.

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Testify! Rocky Jackson
High Life

Author:
SAS

Sometimes slower means heavier. Keeping an even keel, Rocky Jackson may not be at the cutting edge, but he is doing his own kind of blues, combining his liking for doing Texas guitar, straight blues and 1970s rock ‘n’ roll. Incantations about love and long legs hover next to the tales of the down-and-out. The guy, however, sounds like he’s doing just fine, and is mainly concerned with revving up his sexual prowess through song.

If you are a easily offended when dudes hit on you, this may not be for you.  But otherwise, as for Texas blues, or even Chicago blues, Rocky’s spare distorted sound is doing it pretty well. He’s surprisingly convincing in his sexual attitude considering it’s not his image that he’s trying to sell, and his guitar timing is perfect.

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The Essential Sun Records Country Hits Jerry Lee Lewis
Sun / Varése Sarabande

Author:
SAS

Jerry Lee Lewis is a man who was racked by scandal and passion, by tragedy and fame, by love and religion. And it is probably because of these tensions that his music packs such a punch. Like Elvis, Carl Lee Perkins, Johnny Cash and his other white contemporaries, he made it big copying the music of African Americans who were not allowed to share their innovations with white audiences.

The real trick he had was to not dumb this early rock ‘n’ roll down for the sake of mainstream acceptance, and to give it his own touch. He wailed out hard, and he rocked with country vigor, especially as he picked his broken career off the ground in the late 1960 and early 1970s. This early period of his now-famous country career is what you will hear on the Sun Records collection.

Single of the Week: “Love on Broadway”

Late But Great

Editor’s Note: Time hasn’t tamed Jerry Lee’s unholy image, but it has allowed his record to be rolled back via the issuing of all his nearly 300 Sun tracks, which reveal an artist of enormous stylistic range. If there’s anything surprising about Jerry Lee, the country artist, it’s that the basic rugged concept of his personality hasn’t been altered by the trouble he’s seen. Varése Sarabande has captured Jerry Lee’s early days for you to know the country legend that he is as well as the rock and roll hero.

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Four Aces and a Harp Chris Harper
Swississippi

Author:
Kyle McKinley

A Chicago Blues harmonica player from Switzerland is somewhat unlikely; that same musician laying down an outstanding collection of classics with an all-star cast of bluesmen is against all odds. Yet that’s what Chris Harper pulls off on this first release from his newly formed Swississippi Records label. Backed by a core band of the “four aces” (Jimmy Burns, John Primer, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Robert Stroger) and a dozen other guests, Harper has recorded an album that tells the story of Chicago Blues (its emergence from delta traditions) by alternating between acoustic tracks and innovative takes on electric Chicago standards such as “Long Distance Call” and “Mojo Hand.”

Best about this record is the feeling of intimacy and circulation amongst the musicians; rather than emphasizing the virtuosity of the individual players with lengthy solos, the focus is on the group as an ensemble – even as the members of the band rotate out and rotate instruments from track to track. As a debut release from a new label, Four Aces and a Harp holds a distinct promise of the cards yet to be dealt. As a collection of blues tunes it is highly listenable throughout with moments of toe-tapping fun.

Single of the Week: “Fattening Frogs for Snakes”
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