Deceived Ruth Gerson
Wrong

Author:
KE

Domestic violence.  The words seem clinical, and much of the language about violence against women reads like a public service message.  The complicated emotions, fears, feelings of loss, guilt, and the secret knowledge that we live in a world built on a legacy of violence and fear, all this is left out of psychological and legal discussions of domestic violence.

Enter the extraordinary talented, emotionally intelligent Ruth Gerson whose album Deceived is a collection of  murder ballads about violence against women and women’s violent lives.  Here, the fugitive emotions and ambiances of a haunted, evil legacy are brought out in songs that often were originally sung by men. She is at once understated and emotional in her delivery of such cruel lyrics as these from “Delia’s Gone:”

First time I shot her, I shot her in the side/ Hard to watch her suffer but with the second shot she died

She gives the lyrics to “My Delilah” the sinister, haunting treatment they deserve:

She stood there laughing/ I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more

The song “Down from Dover” is downright gothic and creepy:

I drew my saber through her which was a bloody knife/I threw her in the river which was an awful sight
/My father often told me that money would set me free/If I would murder that dear little miss whose name was Rose Connelly

The cumulative effect of this album is to resurrect the ghosts and give voice to the spirits of generations of silenced women.  More than a concept album, it is an important historical document.

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The Beginning Black Eyed Peas
Interscope / Universal

Author:
Kyle Forrest

As a follow up to their enormously popular 2009 release "The E.N.D." the Black Eyed Peas have made all the right moves with "The Beginning." They know that these days the core of their audience is of the Top 40 radio pre-teen lot. Young kids that hack into Mommy's itunes account to download a single or two and might use the hook as the ringtone for their BFF for the next two weeks. And like with "The E.N.D." Will.I.Am has sought out some truely funky and fresh beats from the hippest clubs in Europe to add a bit of legitimacy to a record that will ultimately sell well simply because it says "Black Eyed Peas" on the cover.

And though America's favorite politically correct rap-pop stars somewhat missed the boat during production by listening so closely to DJs in Ibiza and Paris that they missed the Cataracs and Odd Future popping up back home in LA with the most dazzling and marketable beats in a decade, there are some moments of genuinely great music here. The first single, "The Time (Dirty Bit)," is a funny and irreverent dice-up of "The Time of My Life," from the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack. And whereas vocalist Fergie makes scant appearances on "The Beginning," her chorus for the second single "Just Can't Get Enough" provides the pop high point of the record, and carries the record smoothly into the final track "Play it Loud," which is probably the most compelling song on the album despite appearing as an overblown out-tro.

Editor's Note: The lyrics are for everyman, they weren't thinking about what they were playing: it just moves through them.

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So Beautiful or So What Paul Simon
Concord/ Hear

Author:
KF

I'm really not qualified to review this record. I'm probably one of a relatively small subset of people who love Simon and Garfunkel but hate "Graceland." Well... maybe there are more of us than is usually acknowledged, but it should still bar me from responding to a record that might as well be titled, "Graceland Part II."

Which is not to say that Paul Simon hasn't grown or changed as a musician in the 25 years since "Graceland" reshaped the landscape of "folk" and "world" music. On the contrary, "So Beautiful or So What" takes cues from contemporary rock (backward drum loops a la Modest Mouse), hip-hop producers (spoken word over-dubbed samples), and the rise of the Roots Americana folk scene. And parts of the record kinda rock, which is not what you'd expect from Paul Simon, ever. There are a couple of obligatory intolerable, droning ballads that probably tell touching stories if you can stay awake long enough to understand their meaning. Even these are saved by Simon's pith and mixture of the quotidian with the sacred.

Again, I'm really not the right person to tell you about this record, but it is, by all counts, a significant addition to the Paul Simon oeuvre. And if, unlike me, you actually liked "Graceland," you will definitely love this.

Editor's Note: Paul Simon sounds like he's saying, "I wrote this song for you, and if you can't see that, you had better leave."

Single of the Week: "Questions for the Angels"

Best Album of the Week!

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A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen Taj Weekes & Adowa
Jatta

Author:
KF

Roots Reggae has always represented the more explicitly political branch of the musical tree that has grown to include ska, dancehall and dub. But in recent years it has been a little unclear what the project of such forthright political posturing might be. Though Taj Weekes hails from the small island of St. Lucia and resides in New York, his political project is solidly in line with the aims and aspirations of the Jamacian greats.

"A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen," the third full-length from Weekes and his band Adowa, runs a wide gamut of topics with a blazing empathy and a swinging, upbeat rhythm. Weekes chimes in on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, on the ecological and economic crisis of Hurricane Katrina, on the continuing attrocities of US wars of aggression, and, finally, on the morally corrupt underpinnings that led to the Deep Water Horizon disaster a year ago. But Weekes also touches on the general themes that lead to these human crises: spiritual poverty, child abuse and its cyclic violence and shame, and distance from the nurturing power of the earth.

At the same time, "A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen," fully embraces the other traditions of Roots Reggae with fun and silly songs like "You Ain't Ready for the Heavy," and a staggering version of the classic Toyes track "Two Joints."

Editor's Note: They have created a prayer for transcendence in a wounded world.

Single of the Week: "Two Joints"

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Play Roxanne Potvin
Black Hen / Factor / Canada

Author:
KF

Roxanne Potvin isn't an obvious choice for a pop-star. Sure, she's lovely and she's Canadian, but her voice and her presence are, well, just a little odd. Potvin doesn't embrace larger-than-life swagger of post-Madonna fembots. Nor does she fit easily into the cute and soft-spoken persona popularized by Feist et al. No, Potvin is more of some other era.

With an emphasis on song-writing and the occasional inclusion of electric organs a la The Band, she has moments that recall Carole King, but in a good way. In other spots on "Play," she sounds like a long-lost Deal sister, breaking out quirky, stoney rock that could go before or after your favorite Breeders song on that mix tape you're planning for your Jr. High School best bud.

Potvin is more than a little odd, and flaunts it. She goes so far as to cover the Right Said Fred's one-hit-wonder, "I'm Too Sexy." Though most artists would reduce the rediculous track to a cheeky party-pleaser, Potvin squeezes it in between a rambling cosmic dirge about seashells and a rock ballad album closer in a manner that makes us take her seriously. And by replacing RSF's hook, which they sampled from Hendrix, with a reverb-packed guitar and bass ditty Potvin even manages to meld one of the tackiest songs in music history into her artsy and ecclectic album.

Artist to Watch

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Spells The Laureates
Funambulist

Author:
Karen Eliot

On Sale June 28th!

 

The Laureates’ second album Spells is a witches brew of feel-good indie pop.  The songs reflect a generous love for decades of music, from sixties psychedelia to classic rock to punk.  This album does what it should, casts a spell on a dreary world, reanimating it with music.  

As someone who has trouble waking up on the right side of bed, I recommend this as morning music.  Each song, from the anthemic “Changes” to the refreshing “Life of Leisure” to the angular “Don’t Lose You’re Cool”  has a high octane, bouncy, enthusiastic vibe that will give you at least enough adrenaline to make your morning coffee.  Not only will the energy of the album help you wake up, but it will stimulate your faith that the day has good things in store for you, by harkening back to all your favorite bands from classic favorites like the Beatles, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, David Bowie to more modern bands like The Pixies, Spoon, Guided by Voices, Interpol .   So wake up sleepyhead.  If these Chicago can wrap that long history of good times in one sunshiney package, you can at least muster the energy to stumble from bed to the shower!


Irish Tour '74 Rory Gallagher
Capo / Eagle Rock

Author:
KF

Raw, throbbing electric british blues played by an Irishman in his native land before an audience of adoring fans in an era of tumult and excess. As Ireland's answer to Cream, Gallagher's original band Taste made waves at home and abroad, but it is really with these later sets that Gallagher distinguished himself as one of the great guitarists of the generation that included Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

As a guitarist Gallager was noteworthy for his dazzling dexterity and mind-bending note-bending effects. But as a performer he was perhaps even more noteworthy for his soul and sensitivity. Both are on display here and both are brought to a touching conclusion with the 34 second excerpt of "Maritime" that closes the album.

"Irish Tour '74" has long been one of Gallagher's best selling records, continuing to please fans in the decades since his untimely passing. This elegantly packaged re-issue of it does an important service to Gallagher's memory and to fans alike.

Editor's Note: He uses the effects pedal so that his guitar comes to sound like a bass, and he howls with a rage so intense that he might take on armies all by himself.

Late But Great!

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Rumba, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha Various
Putumayo

Author:
KE

Rumba, mambo and chacha are known by dancers all over the world.  These genres are related to Cuban music and bring in African rhythm and instrumentation with European contradanzas (a syncopated form originating in the 19th century.)  In the fifties mambo became a globally popular dance form with both Anglos and Latinos.  Big band mambo could be heard from Havana to Mexico to popular night clubs in New York. 

 

This album is an entertaining presentation of these forms.  Like in such famous dance clubs as The Palladum the frenetic, passionate mambo music is broken up by more languid “cha cha cha”  numbers such as “Mi Chachacha” allowing the dancers to catch their breaths.  This is a well put together collection of these infectious dance numbers sure to get the blood roiling and to inspire an enjoyment of partying and love. 

Editor's Note: Putumayo, the favorite record lable of this editor, has done it again.

Single of the Week: "Asere" by Oriente

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Nervous System Kottonmouth Kings Presents: The Dirtball
SRH / Suburban Noize

Author:
KF

The Dirtball is the newest addition to Orange County based rap-metal group the Kottonmouth Kings. With "Nervous System" he comes out on his own, with a staggering 23 track record of hard-hitting West Coast white-boy stoner rap. This isn't music for everyone: lyrical themes include chainsaw murder, psychedelic drugs, prostitutes, megalomaniacal fantasies and of course, the size of the joints he rolls. It isn't even music for everyone who likes West Coast rap: the beats are pretty standard fare and the rhymes mostly bite early Em and recent Snoop.

One interesting stand-out is the irrepressibly poppy "Party Parade," which picks up the posi-core vibe of, say, the Coup, but with the bizarrely dark refrain, "Enjoy Life, it's a party parade, I'm Dying, so baby stop cryin', I'm gonna die young." As though we should celebrate the likelihood that The Dirtball will overdose or get shot before he reaches 30.

Fans of Eminem and Insane Clown Posse will find a lot to like on this record. In fact, the rapidly growing number of Juggalos who reside on the West Coast (it's never clear if these folks are born here or grow in dark rooms like mildew) would do well to broaden their taste beyond ICP and take in the Dirtball and his friends on Suburban Noize. The whole phenomenon of white gangsta rap is neatly illustrated with this record, in fact. The Dirtball was born and raised in idyllic rural Oregon. Now he sings about pimping and slinging bags; it's the American pastoral paved over with Strip Malls and Pill Farms.

Mighty Mighty!

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Horse Lattitudes Jeffrey Foucault
Signature Sounds

Author:
KE

Jeffrey Foucault’s Horse Latitudes is in the best tradition of folk, in the vein of Richard Martin, Tim Buckley, John Prine, Nick Drake.  The name “Horse Latitudes” may refer to a chaotic drug nightmare song by The Doors or a haunting folk legend about a remote region of the sea where Spanish sailors run out of water and the horses must be thrown overboard.  The album is pervaded with that eerie feeling, the loneliness of a sailor moored at sea. 

 

Foucault’s lyrics are elliptical and the sadness is atmospheric rather than confessional like that of many singer songwriters.  The album is produced beautifully to bring out the spare, expressive vocals.  The album features excellent performances by well-known musicians such as Eric Heywood from the Pretenders on pedal steel, baritone and electric guitars; Billy Conway  from Cold Satellite and Morphine on drums; Jennifer Condos who has played with Ray LaMontagne and Sam Phillips on electric bass, and Van Dyke Parks who has been partially responsible for  some of the best albums of the century such as the Beach Boys Smile and Joanna Newsome’s Ys.  All this talent helps Foucault explore the edges of human consciousness, the fugitive ambiances inaccessible to language.  As his namesake the French philosopher Michel Foucault once said: “Chance does not speak essentially through words nor can it be seen in their convolution. It is the eruption of language, its sudden appearance. It's not a night twinkle with stars, an illuminated sleep, nor a drowsy vigil. It is the very edge of consciousness.”

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Love to Beg Dana Fuchs
Ruf

Author:
KF

Dana Fuchs has a wicked set of pipes that she's been putting to good, if constant, use since her supporting roll in the 2007 film "Across the Universe." In that movie, which plays on the mythos surrounding '60s icons such as the Beatles, Tim Leary and the Dead through thinly veiled amalgam characters based on historical figures, Fuchs plays Sadie. Sadie invokes Janis Joplin in a big way, and Fuch's subsequent touring and recording career have leveraged that association to great effect.

The comparisons to Joplin are fairly shallow however, as this album demonstrates. Fuchs is much more a straight rock sort of girl than she is a blues queen. "Love to Beg" will appeal to fans of Melissa Ethridge and Bonnie Raitt. And with only slightly different packaging it would also do well with the Nashville crowd; Fuchs' mix of rock, blues and gospel creates a classic big American sound that is unmistakably bold.

Let the Good Times Roll

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A Sound Sleep: Guided Meditations with Relaxing Music & Nature Sounds Dudley & Dean Evenson
Soundings of the Planet

Author:
KE

This is the first album I’ve listened to that contains “earth resonance frequency alpha waves plus theta and delta frequencies for deeper relaxation,” so I can honestly say this is the best album containing “earth resonance frequency alpha waves plus theta and delta frequencies” I’ve ever heard.   But seriously, here’s what it is.  It’s a gentle continual wash of flutes, harp and nature sounds (mostly the sound of waves) overlain by affirmations and meditations on rest and sleep by a soothing female voice (Dudley Evenson.)  The album starts with a half hour of audible speaking all on one track and the second half-hour track supposedly has subliminal words to the same effect.  When I listened to the second track I heard a faint whispering but couldn’t make out the words, so I guess that’s what’s meant by subliminal… really, really quiet. 

I’m not certain about the science of all of this but I can see that it would be very useful and pleasant for many people.  The album can be repeated all night and may be a nice, soothing way to detangle oneself from the worries of the day and ease into a calmer, more relaxed mood.  It does accomplish what it sets out to do, it is calm, simple, and the phrases on the first track could be useful for monkey minded insomniacs like myself: “I feel calm, serene, quiet and peaceful.”  “My body feels heavy and warm and relaxed.. warmed by the golden rays of the setting sun.”  Not exactly punk rock, but sleep is optional so whatever works, right? 

Editor's Note:  When I played it, the sounds were so special that it put me into a sound sleep halfway through. And that's the truth.

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Lonesome Whistle The Roys
Rural Rhythm

Author:
KE

You would never know it, and don’t tell, but The Roys are from Masachusettes.  Lonesome Whistle is authentically country, and you’d never guess the brother sister duo was from anywhere north of Virginia.  The album is somewhat obscure but it is of the same quality as popular tunes on new country music stations and Country Music TV.  My favorite aspect of the album is the bluegrass guitar and banjo picking, which is delicate and expressive.  Many will relate to the lyrics about simple virtues, love of husband, wife, Jesus, mom, honesty and hard work. 

Listening to this album, I found myself getting sad for the wrong reasons.  The music seems to be directed toward the hard working poor, and the cumulative message seems to be individualistic.  There are so many songs about personal responsibility, religious devotion, and none about social conditions that contribute to the tribulations of life.  Where is Woodie Guthrie when you need him?  But then, who knows how these messages are interpreted and received?  Maybe the experience of beauty and enjoyment is enough to inspire collectivity and generosity beyond my imagination.   The Roys’ harmonies are truly pretty and the musicianship is on point.  Here’s hoping that gets people fighting for their rights and not just sacrificing for God and country.

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The Second Time Around Tony Desimone
Independent

Author:
KE

Well, I would say you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to make this pleasant, straightforward rock album with jazzy touches, quotes from your favorite classic Beatles songs and lots of giddy love songs, except the guy who made it, Tony Desimone, is a rocket scientist!  So that blows my big idea for this review.  No, actually,  I’ll keep going with this rocket scientist idea, because it makes sense that Desimone has a PhD --- the album feels like the product of a meticulous mind-- every note in place, and every song tightly structured and economical, clear lyrics.

 And yet, though the album is in a sense perfect it could stand a bit more genius-- many of the songs feel like very solid versions of Bob Seeger or U2 numbers, but need a more personal signature by the musician himself.  Maybe the problem is that Desimone is a genius, the album is too clean, almost antiseptic.  Yet, you can hear in this album a passionate man whose talents will surely lead to working towards more singular, personal work.

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The County Primaries Kevin Brown
Turkey King

Author:
KE

In this lovely, quiet bluegrass album, songwriter Kevin Brown explores the simple life of rural Eastern Washington.   I’ve heard a lot of bluegrass lately that seems clichéd, lots of good times, whisky, lovers leaving, falling in love, in the most generic terms.   On the other hand I’ve heard a lot of bluegrass lately that I like quite a lot from indie punk bluegrass revival.  Still, this genre comes from a place of fantasy and amature historical ethnomusicology, not everyday experience.  The Country Primaries, like the title of the album, feels very grounded and specific. 

The windows glow from the TV sets/ The kids around the internet/ Little campfires unattended. There’s a gust of wind, a knock at the door/ The Sheriff says you’d best be out by morning/ Or it might be too late.

You can see from these lyrics the lack of concern for purity or perfect rhymes in favor of a real engagement with everyday life as one man experiences it, externally and internally.  I really enjoyed this dignified, understated document of  the way the mind meanders and meditates in the few spaces left on earth that still allow for the experience of time.

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Beautiful Dream Steve Conn
Independent

Author:
KE

Steve Conn has had a long and productive career as a Louisiana based singer, songwriter, keyboardist, winning many awards and claimed as one of the city’s most “complete artists.”  On Beautiful Dream, accompanied by the strong mucisianship of Sonny Landreth on slide guitar and Doug Belote on drums, Conn delivers ten original, searching songs that bravely explore emotional landscapes, insecurities and loss.  Many of the songs are gritty, reflecting the influence of all things Louisiana, as he lists:”Professor Longhair, Clifton Chenier, funk, Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, cypress trees, slow-moving water . . . it's magical. It has a sense of place like no other." 

Conn cites this album as his most personal, introspective work, and sees it as an earnest call to struggle and dream.  The photograph that adorns the cover is by Jack Spencer, known for his moving images of the South.   I found the most successful song to be “Things Change,” a soulful and gritty song reminiscent of Joe Cocker.  Some of the music was a little too earnest and overproduced for my taste, but all of it certainly shows Conn as a talented, searching honest.

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Live on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise Joe Louis Walker's Blues Conspiracy
Stony Plain

Author:
KE

Joe Louis Walker has had a long accomplished career as a blues guitarist.  And here he is set free on the Rhythm and Blues Cruise to jam with the best—only a few examples are Johnny Winter, Duke Robillard, Tommy Castro, Johnny Winter, Curtis Salgado, Watermelon Slim, Mike Finnigan and with the steady accompaniment of bassist Henry Oden, Drummer Jeff Minnieweather and keyboardist Kevin burton.  .Although there is a lot of improve here, the playing feels controlled and polished.  Walker is a strong leader, allowing for improved solos, but keeping the music tight through all eleven tracks. 

This represents a return to pure blues following Walker’s more rock influenced Between A Rock and A Hard Place, which won the 2009 BMA for Blues Album of the Year.  A highlight is the slow cooking, soulful “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” with Curtis Salgado and Mike Finnigan.  Another outstanding cut is “Ain’t it Cold” an original by Walker, that blew me away with its lashing, fiery guitar duel that borders on madness between Johnny Winter and Walker.  Overall, this is an exhilarating, entertaining album with a boatload of talent. 

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American Tragedy Hollywood Undead
A&M / Octone / UMG

Author:
KF

Crazy, epic rap metal and pop ballads from the masked men of Los Angeles. Sure, they're rediculous looking, and their pretentions of being hardcore anything (metal, rap, gangsters, whatever) have made them into something of a joke even among the admittedly infantile crowd that listens to Lincoln Park and such, but if you can get past all that you'll find a highly refined, shimmering hot commodity that bespeaks the industry's commitment to over produce the heck out of anything they think might sell a dozen records these days.

Hollywood Undead made a name for themselves in the crowded rap-metal genre by invoking horror-core imagry and bringing a heavy sound to bare on humorous or irreverent material. With "American Tragedy" some of that horror stuff is retained, but it takes a back seat to the pop influences and full on rock ballads that form the majority of the album. So don't let the masks fool you, these guys aren't all tuff like they pretend to be; their newest member is an American Idol alum! But rap-metal was always designed to sell records more than to be the legitimate musical expression of some thriving culture someplace. And in that register "American Tragedy" is a real winner: each and every track smacks of being ready to appear on a first person shooter video game or in the background for the next Scream movie.

If You Like Music, You'll Love This!

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The Broadside Tapes 1 Phil Ochs
Smithsonian / Folkways

Author:
KF

Though the recent Kenneth Bowser documentary “Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune,” may slightly fan the flame of interest in Ochs when it completes a limited theatrical run and begins to appear on Netflix and cable channels, the cluster of fans for this great American songwriter have always been, and will probably always remain, the relatively few souls who are both nostalgic for the '60s and willing to recall the unflinching politics of the era. That is to say that only aging leftists and young radicals listen to Phil Ochs.

That is clearly a shame, as the early recordings that appear on "The Broadside Tapes Vol. I" demonstrate as well as any of the later more famous works. Though Ochs did give voice to some of the most ardently leftist politics of the time, his sharp wit and his plaintive humanism should make him a welcome addition to any collection of folk music. Sadly, the same dynamic—of strong appeal among a small clan of zealots—plagued Ochs's career during his life time, and undoubtedly contributed to his young death at his own hands.

The tracks presented on "The Broadside Tapes" are characteristic of Ochs prolific, topical mode. Following faithfully in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie, Ochs wrote innumerable songs about the happenings of the day, and the struggles of everyday people. In this sense, the songs themselves appear as "broadsides" —those cheaply printed political tracts that were a hallmark of 19th and early 20th century labor struggles—though the record's title actually originates with Broadside Magazine, which had commissioned Ochs to record these songs between 1962 and 1964. The tapes failed to see the light of day until 1989, when they were finally released by Smithsonian Folkways, which is who has continued to issue the disc, complete with liner notes typical of that great institution.

Single of the Week: "Spanish Civil War Song"

Political Allbum of the Week

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Steady As She Goes Hot Tuna
Red House

Author:
KF

Some bands are a flash in the pan while other bands seem to live forever. Then there are those bands that seem to have more lives than an old cat: Hot Tuna is the king of such acts. Formed by Jefferson Airplane members in the late '60s to fill some gigs left empty when singer Grace Slick took time off for throat surgery, Hot Tuna has always been a hard working, hard touring group that could roll with the punches.

And despite having firm roots in the new grass and psych scene of the late '60s Bay Area counter culture, the band also proved willing to roll with new styles and new sounds. In the mid-'70s they were a hard rock band. In the late-'70s they broke up and formed new wave bands. The 80s and 90s witnessed periodic reunions and recombinations, with various success. Throughout it all the band stayed friends and retained a love for playing to a small crowd.

That is what makes "Steady As She Goes" rather remarkable: unlike most of what Hot Tuna has released ever, and everything they've released in the last 20 years, this record does not document one of the band's vibrant live sets. "Steady" is a full-fledged studio album. Chock full of bluesy favorites and jug band classics, Hot Tuna could not have picked a better moment to remind folk fans that these guys had mastered this playful sound before most of the hot players today were even born.

SO NICE GOTTA DO IT UP TWICE! (created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

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Two Sides One Story Mason Brothers
Archival

Author:
KF

The Mason Brothers are accomplished jazz performers from the UK who have made countless appearances, individually and occasionally together, as studio musicians and in the backing bands of a range of music over the last decade. Their CV includes tracks on hip-hop, blues, jazz and pop records, and together they have toured extensively in the US, the UK and across Europe.

"Two Sides One Story" marks these two brothers first sustained attempt to present themselves as a joint package, and the seemingly psychic connection displayed through their fluid, sometimes frenetic improvisational techniques makes a strong case to keep the package together.

Single of the Week: "Boots"

Debut Album of the Week

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