Green Blimp Dwight Twilley
Big Oak

Author:
SAS

Dwight Twilley has had a long and slightly confusing career since the 1970s, including making music for films and coming in contact with many different music industry clicks. After a lost musical period in the 1980s, Twilley dove back into the mix, coming out with a whole lot of solo records, including this one.

But none of that is important. What is important is how the music sounds, especially on Green Blimp. What Twilley is giving us is a blend of old ’70s rock and heavy, modern drumming. The songs explore each musical theme to its max, and Twilley is clearly have a good time jamming on them. He explores sex, love and other themes in the comfort of stories and full, chiming guitars. Wayne’s World and Tom Petty enjoyed his music; perhaps you will too.

Editor’s Note: Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymor, his partner in crime, set out to preserve guitar pop during the mid-‘70s with the legendary albums Sincerelyand Twilley Don’t Mind, seminal works that combined Twilley’s straightforward Tom-Petty style rock and Seymor’s sweeter pop sensibilities. As he shows us again, the man is timeless, from the classics “I’m on Fire” and “Why You Wanna Break My Heart,” to Green Blimp’s “Get Up” and “Me and Melanie.”

Let the Good Times Roll!

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Live Like You Wanna Live Greenskeepers
Child’s Play / Om

Author:
SAS

If you want me to live like I wanna live, I’ll respond that I’d like Greenskeepers to play live at a robot dance party in my backyard. Hyperactive beats and fun, posi-core lyrics keep you body, and the heart that beats inside it, on their toes. Syncopation goes a long way in this electro-rific trio, which heavily utilizes keyboard and all the effects it allows for to amp things up.

It’s this kind of music that reminds us of the organic and unpredictability in electronic dance music. And this reminder is not just from the high-profile vocals, it’s also from the arrangements, the drumming and the morphing that happens within each song. Live Like You Wanna Live is tender sometimes, and other times blunt. Greenskeepers is on it. You’ll hear a care for quality and a flagrance for convention throughout the album, an earmark for a piece of work that will still sound good ten years from now.

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Alive Ed Kowalczyk
Soul Whisper

Author:
SAS

Turns out that one piece of that band Live is still living. Check out Alive if you want proof. Ed Kowalczyk, the former lead singer of Live who left in a disagreement with his bandmates, is venturing out on his own now, one year after he left the band. The result is nothing too spectacular, except for Kowalczyk’s signature voice, which still wavers with the force of “Lightning Crashes,” Live’s big ’90s hit.

It’s a fine listen for modern rock listeners, especially those who are vaguely religious and okay with Christiany spiritual song titles like “Zion,” “Rome,” “In Your Light,” “Grace,” “Drink (Everlasting Love)” and “Soul Whispers.” Alive is just edging around the creativity needed to put out a something exciting in the world of rock today. However, this is just Kowalczyk first try with a new lineup that includes, charmingly, his own brother, and there is obviously time for him to put out future albums that hone in on his voice as the instrument it has been in the past. In the mean time, while the music isn’t explicitly political, Kowalczyk has teamed up with groups such as the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision and musicians supporting Obama during his election campaign.

Editor’s Note: Anybody who was a star in the garage band Live is a star in my world. He fearlessly takes on the big subjects – religion, death, desperation, politics – but rocks with an authority that drives the lyrics home.

Political Album of the Week

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When the Last Morning Glory Blooms Peter Ostroushko
Red House

Author:
SAS

Composer, mandolinist and fiddler Peter Ostroushko treats us to a feel-good album for any occasion. Besides his more soothing, new-agey mandolin tunes, he sends us some fantastic waltzes that are gracefully composed to fascinate the mind with a superb sense of timing as well as sway the body. Accompanying piano and accordion hit the spot as well.

When the Last Morning Glory Blooms can be downcast at times, but is usually busy worming a way for us through the hard times. While it’s colorful, it seems to be unbiased enough – the tunes sprawl with such ease from his instruments – that it wouldn’t jar even the most sensitive butterfly. Old-timey thrills and just the right amount of modern frills – no words; letting the music speak for itself – that’s Peter Ostroushko.

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Wildlike Wonder Them Bird Things
Playground

Author:
SAS

Quality weird supposed country music is what Them Bird Things are known for, and they’re doing just fine on Wildlike Wonder. With a sense of humor and a taste for talking blues, we get a singular mix of fantastic distorted lap steel, organ, odd tunings and extra nasally vocals. The band has Finnish and American members, and perhaps some of the culturally unconventional sounds in the “country” music is due to the outsider perspectives on U.S. music.

There are overflowing melodies to check out here, and none of the tracks will quite resemble anything you’ve heard before. Wildlike Wonder is like a musical trip to one of those specialty ice cream parlors where you can get garlic ice cream, or choco-raspberry with pralines and raw brownie dough mixed in. Except that the flavors are musical styles and almost every one in the shop is mixed together.

New Artist of the Week

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Tough John Mayall
Eagle

Author:
SAS

John Mayall’s claim to fame might be his work with Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers, practically giving Clapton the break needed to rise to the incredible fame that he has, but it should be the fact that he’s been at this blues game for more than half a century now. His stuff right now reflects that – he is still playing a style that belongs in the yesteryear, but he is doing it quite well. He helped push forward the adaptation of old African American blues to 1960s British blues-style rock.

Tough is nice and jazzy, yet with a clear foundation on twelve-bar blues and Chicago style. It’s not too gritty but not too polished. This is an update from someone who’s been at it for a damn long time, and it’s only a blues master that you can trust to give you the straight dope.

Editor’s Note: A bit of an eccentric – in his early days he favored a curious nine-stringed guitar, and later he sported a kind of cave-man loin cloth – John Mayall is the great pedagogue of British blues.

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Love Drunk Boys Like Girls
Columbia / Sony

Author:
SAS

Pop punk, a teaspoon of AutoTune, some ’80s-like laser beam solos and multi-vocal, fist-pumping choruses. This album was produced with highly-rhythmic, high-energy high-school dance anthems in mind. Love songs that rebounded around the recording studio  at one point now echo off stadium stages across the country, inspiring the young ‘uns to get over their shit-storm broken-heart love lives and move on to a new sweetie who is as handsome as the guys in Boys Like Girls.

Love Drunk is decent work on a genre that has been sinking into repetitive crap for quite some time. We actually identify with the singer, and can’t help but jiggle a leg to beats. If you’re going to get into something that is a strange combination of happy, heavy guitars and apolitical love songs, Boys Like Girls is a good band to choose, because the songs sounds different from one another and seem to come from a place of sincerity. Skip the singles, though.

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The Age of Miracles Mary Chapin Carpenter
ZOË / Rounder

Author:
SAS

Mega chill, mega mature and mega folky, The Age of Miracles is a signature Mary Chapin Carpenter album. Carpenter is the mellow country singer with the deep tones and the slow vibrato. She could certainly be some kind of background music, but is best heard while in a sad mood with a cup of tea at your side.

Carpenter won loads of vocalist awards throughout the 1990s, and on this album, it is her voice itself that stands out. The guitars and piano and drums that make up the substance of her band play with a regularity that could only serve to make her voice stand out better. It’s music for a longing heart, for folks who don’t want to have to work too hard to listen to music that speaks to them. So don’t freak out, just calm down and fall into Mary’s arms.

Editor’s Note: New Jersey-born, Mary Chapin Carpenter owes as much to folk as she does to country. She has always examined important issues. She really is a folk-rock singer-songwriter, and has succeeded in Nashville with a mature examination of life and love.

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

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Through the Devil Softly Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions
Song Bird / Nettwerk

Author:
SAS

Through the Devil Softly creates another Hope Sandoval special full of echoing folk and delirious drawling vocals. Meaningful phrases pursue affected instrumental tracks at a pace similar to that of a racehorse running through knee-deep grape jelly. On Through the Devil Softly, Sandoval teams up once again with Colm Ó Cíosóig of My Bloody Valentine, releasing their second album as Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions. Their first, Bavarian Fruit Bread came out in 2001.

Sandoval and Cíosóig’s creative synergy is certainly what makes the album sizzle, but it is Sandoval’s warmly sliding voice that takes the stage upon a first listen, and she has a history to be noticed. Her previous work with such bands as Mazzy Star, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Air, Massive Attack and others is not to be missed either. If you liked Portishead but are ready for something a little different, something with more diverse instrumentation and rhythms, check out the impressive, narcotic teamwork on Through the Devil Softly.

Editor’s Note: Hope Sandoval is pretentious, precious and pouty-lipped, and with those qualities, she is the perfect vehicle for neo-psychedelic downer music. She sings like she could barely bother, sounding like a sad German ingénue – a sweeter-voiced Marlene Dietrich – she creates a perfect piece of pop melody. She can sigh as well as sing.

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I Learned the Hard Way Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Daptone

Author:
SAS

Dapper and lovely, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings effortlessly revive the beauty of funk and soul as it was back in the day. A full band, including glockenspiel, clavinet, celli, timpani and all other manner of usual and unusual instruments are kissed by the magic of Jones’s firm yet open voice.

The music was recorded originally on an 8-Track in effort to really recreate the sound of the olden days. And it works. Perfect arrangements come into different speakers at the same time, leaving you focused on the band’s inner workings and pure talent. At the same time, Jones’s backup singer’s “hoo” and “ahh” their way into your heart. This is like finding a gem that’s been hidden in a time capsule from 1972. You might realize that the time capsule was fake, but the gem is as real as can be.

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Spirit of the Air Jack Moss
Independent

Author:
SAS

A perfect storm of love, politics and prophecies, Jack Moss explores the feelings that we are all having but afraid to talk about, the joys that we long for, the trivialities that produce the meaning in life and the big things that bottom out our consciousness when the weather gets rough. Drawing inspiration from generations of singer-songwriters, Moss focuses on poetics and the musical backdrop that will set this poetry into motion. His main instrument is the ol’ steel string, but he dips into doo-wop, reggae and Steely-Dan-like rock. His diversity keeps you on your toes throughout the album, but it also means that what ties his sound together is his use of these sounds to deliver his words.
His cultural analysis stand out in such tracks as “Low-Rent Flat” and “Bullet-Proof Bible” while other themes, including mystic history and the much-explored musical theme of love. What’s great is that even when he tackles the topic of love, his crooning is multidimensional. What does it mean to fall in love? Who have we fallen for: a person or a spirit? Jack Moss cracks open skepticism and hope, scrambles them around in a many-toned rainbow, and spits them out in the form of moving blues, dark folk and shimmering ballads. Start to ask the big questions, turn up the speakers and you’ll find yourself in step with Spirit of the Air. You can download Jack Moss’s album here.


The Solo Anthology, 2 Disc Set Smokey Robinson
Motown / Pgd

Author:
SAS

These tracks are truly the love anthems of soul. Sung beautifully, and with creative backing rhythms and instrumentation, Smokey Robinson shmoozes us in only the most delightful and erotic ways. His voice here is joyfully gender-ambiguous, and the funky touch in the background keeps the songs from ever having a boring moment. Smokey’s melodic modulations are superb as well. They are just regular enough to give us the opportunity to sing along, and yet each is complex enough to surely be completely unique to the song.

Smokey Robinson was a Motown guy, with dozens of hit singles coming out since the 1970s. This explorations of his solo work – his work without The Miracles backing group – is a great way to open up your collection to all that Smokey has to offer.

Editor’s Note: Smokey sings with an unerring falsetto, and his lyrics qualify him as one of the USA’s great living poets. Master of supple half-rhymes and virtuistic language games, the songwriter always delivers his tour-de-force. You’d better buy it.

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I and Love and You The Avett Brothers
American / Columbia / Sony

Author:
SAS

The Avett Brothers are charming young cuties from North Carolina. One brother played the guitar and the other the banjo. On I and Love and You, they team up with bassist Bob Crawford for a folk sound that is acceptable to mainstream taste yet good enough to appeal to indie songwriters themselves. Their lyrics are frank and clairvoyant. A poignant verse of advice where we must look for hope these days: “When nothing is old deserved or respected / And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected / If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected / Decide what to be and go be it.”
Their voices make the band sound as if they are from Anytown, U.S.A., perhaps lowering the glamour level a notch, but also adding to their sincerity, as they are obviously not trying to fake anything. After all, they’ve been at this for ten years now. This new release is produced by Rick Rubin in his usual careful-yet-spare style. This is the crossover album that climbing folksters dream of achieving. The Avett Brothers have opened for Dave Matthews and Widespread Panic, but on their own tour will be playing venues like the New York’s Knitting Factory, and arts theaters across the nation.

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The Essential Lena Horne, 2 Disc Set Lena Horne
Legacy / Sony Masterworks

Author:
SAS

Did you ever wonder who that vocalist was, the one you just can’t put your finger on, who did all the haunting and multidimensional jazz standards of the 1940s? It’s Lena Horne. A stereotype-defying woman of mixed ethnicity, and active in the civil-rights movement, Horne had a rich musical career that lasted the better part of 70 years.

 


“Love Me or Leave Me,” “Mad About the Boy,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Just One of Those Things” and, of course, “Stormy Weather,” are among the nearly 40 songs on this collection. Some are sung with a band playing at breakneck speed, others are slow as a lullaby. In some she becomes the definition of coy, and in others she is furious. In every single track, the genius and complexity of Horne and her expressive voice crackles and croons.

Editor’s Note: An ageless beauty, an appealing personality and a civil rights stalwart, Lena Horne was never really a jazz singer as much as a superior vocalist, since she does not improvise. When she sang live on Broadway, a triumphant cast album from 1981, she captured her one-woman Broadway show on a two-record set. The album served both as a vinyl autobiography and also as a centerpiece to document her rise to symbolic importance for black performers.
Best Album of the Week

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Wake Up! John Legend & The Roots
Home School / Good / Columbia / Sony

Author:
Sophia A. Strosberg

Neo-Soul and R&B singer John Legend and the Roots create the album for this generation. It is built from covers of lesser-known, political soul songs from the 1960s and ‘70s. The update comes with the talent of Legend, his vocal guests Black Thought, Common, Malik Yusuf, CL Smooth, and Melanie Fiona, and the phenomenal Roots band. The Roots blew us away on Jay-Z’s unplugged album by twisting modern rap beats onto their live instruments, and they continue to innovate while remaking the soul that likely inspired them as well as decades of African American activists.
“Little Ghetto Boy,” “Wake Up Everybody,” “Our Generation,” and eight other covers accompany a Legend original for a well-rounded creation that waxes and wanes in energy like the moods of the people to whom it speaks. The Roots always know when to hold back and when to charge ahead full-steam. Shake yourself out of the capitalist stupor and see what happens when people come together to create something beautiful.

Editor’s Note: If John Legend thinks he’s a soul singer, he ought to go back to the university he comes from in Pennsylvania and listen to more James Brown, Otis Redding and Teddy Pendergrass. As someone who was born in the Washington Heights area of New York City, just above Harlem and Spanish Harlem, I know the blues. And John Legend, in this album, is an embarrassment. Why the Roots had anything to do with it is beyond me: they didn’t get enough space, they didn’t get enough time, they must have gotten enough money.

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It’s About Time Jacob Melchior
Independent

Author:
SAS

It’s that Duke Ellington kind of jazz with piano, bass, percussion and all the right vibes. You get to hear the musicians take the obligatory solos, which sound not at all like an obligation, but rather, like a pleasure; you get to hear the melodic themes grow and change throughout each track and you get to hear the superb timing of drummer Jacob Melchior.
Whether you sober as Frank Zappa or loopy as your neighborhood stoner, you’ll be able to appreciate the tingling rhythms of Melchior as well as the music flowing from the rest of his band. It’s nice to hear just how odd Melchior can get with rhythm, incorporate a wide variety of tools into the mix as well as multiple time signatures. With influences from his learnings in his home country of Denmark and his stop after that, Brazil, the now-New Yorker has much to offer in an exploration of the importance – and the potential – of the drummer.

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Good Times & Bad Advice Big B
SRH / Suburban Noize

Author:
SAS

Big B isn’t bad at all for the genre that he’s coming out of – late-era white-boy rap. In fact he tears it up pretty well on this album with quality beats, avoidance of fronting, and well-crafted stories. He tells about a kid who joins the army, all the things that can go wrong on a bad day, getting with a friend’s sweetheart, staying out too late getting drunk and dozens of other situations that we face throughout life.

With acoustic instruments readily used for the beats, and some nice Nintendo sounds, the audio styles are fun. The only downfall as when the beach guy jam band sound crops up here and there. There’s nothing like a fake reggae accent to ruin a song. But for the most part, the album isn’t too offensive and is sometimes even sweet, revealing Big B’s humanity as well as his ability to make us cry at the fucked up things in life and laugh at our own goofy situations.

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Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children Mushroomhead
Filthy Hands / Megaforce / Sony

Author:
SAS

Mushroomhead is another band for a the angsty kids. They have much less of a sense of humor than Gwar, as their mask-wearing doesn’t accompany completely off-the-wall tales of outer space and flushing ladies down giant toilets. Instead, they chug out the ubiquitous upset, outsider songs of non-commercial alt-metal.

But there is a bright silver lining – or perhaps in the case of Mushroomhead, a grimy silver lining – on their recent Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children. Their post-apocalyptic image, their use of samples and their choral singing (team spirit?) helps to push their music out to the forefront of the crowd. You might want to lay off the mushrooms the first time you listen, but if you are serious and pissed and also like creepy costumes and the occasional electroid wavelength, check out Mushroomhead.

Mighty, Mighty!

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Something Good Charmaine Clamor
Free Ham

Author:
SAS

Charmaine Clamor’s theory is that any genre can have good music, and that while she is a jazz singer, she wants to make something good, even at the expense of dipping outside of her assigned genre. The result of her latest efforts show off this attitude, with a funky jazz vocal album that climbs comfortably into our anything-goes musical culture, but with great taste as the underlying value.

In spite of its desire to incorporate nontraditional themes (environmentalism) and styles (funk, world, pop) into the mix, the album is still a vocal jazz album at its core. You’ll get into it whether you like experimental stuff or more traditional vocal jazz, partially because of the Filipino-American’s overflowing charisma.

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Carryin’ On Dale Watson
EntertainmentOne

Author:
SAS

Dale Watson created Carryin’ On with the lightheartedness that accompanies modern country, the instrumental trimmings of traditional country and the attitude of alternative country. He’s been in the country scene for a while now, and this album proves that while Watson may have settled down his angst a bit, he’s not ready to settle into repetitive music making.

Carryin’ On waltzes though cowboy-sounding love songs and Texas drinking tunes. Watson is a sweetheart but not too sappy. He knows about the city life but and is as inspired by rain-sodden pavement as by dusty country roads. As Watson’s tales oscillate from sincere to tongue-in-cheek, they will please the rowdy youth as well as a wider country audience.

Editor’s Note: A staunch adherent of old-style honky-tonk and Bakersfield country, Dale Watson positioned himself as a tattooed, stubbornly independent outsider who was only interested in recording authentic country music. He’s done it again.

Late But Great

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What You’re Getting Into Shannon Curfman
CC / Purdy

Author:
SAS

Young blues guitarist Shannon Curfman is 25 and she’s already shared a stage with John Mellencamp, the Indigo Girls, George Thorogood, and now Kid Rock. Shannon’s own voice permeates What You’re Getting Into, and she proves to be a deft singer. Breathy and deep, she rocks out over top of her background band and her own bold playing.


It’s awesome to hear this North Dakotan break through barrier and perform her talents in the most badass manner. The album is launched into life with songs mostly written by Curfman and a couple of covers thrown in for good measure. The high energy on the album doesn’t vary, it’s all solidly upbeat. But the lyrics range from loving to pissed, and they show that Curfman isn’t playing games when it comes to telling the honest truth about life: cigars to cocaine, heaven and hell, it’s all fodder for her ripping blues mill.


Artist to Watch

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