Codes and Keys Death Cab for Cutie
Atlantic / Warner Bros.

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Codes and Keys, the recent release from Death Cab for Cutie, makes sure to speak in waves of vibey piano and synth as well as in words. The music, often stand-alone, is given a spotlight at the forefront of the album, while the lyrics ("We won't get far / Flying circles inside a jar / 'Cause the air we breathe / Is thinning with the words we speak"), seem to add more concrete shape and form to the songs.

Indeed, most of the songs are about love, and the nostalgia that comes along with it, and the loss that comes with it. The sweet romantic guy rock comes strong through the veneer of electronic savvy. Death Cab for Cutie's clear vocal style and hypnotic rhythms and chants roll effortlessly through Codes and Keys. If you've like the band's other work, you'll certainly like this one, too. Also, for all you vegans out there: The band is known for its contributions to animal rights.

Editor's Note: They have persued experiment and extacy like no other group of any style, with the sustained passion and belief in the biggest statement and in the power of rock and roll.

Single of the Week: "Some Boys"

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

A Love Letter to New Orleans Irvin Mayfield
Basin Street

Author:
Eric Anderson

The thing that seemed to stick out most is that when Mayfield slows down, his music has a better effect. Overall, the album is pretty solid. Technically, he is a great trumpet player, but there are a couple of tracks where he seems to be going for all technique and less feel; a prime example would be “Latin Tinge II.” It’s like a director moving the camera too much when filming a movie, resulting in the listener feeling exhausted.

That being said, when he slows it down to a manageable pace, his true ability shows. He makes it evident that he knows how to play with soul and does so for most of the album. Besides the odd rapid-fire song, it’s mostly mellow listening lingering on soft sounds. Most songs are instrumental; but there are a few with vocals, the best being by "Lynch Mob," which shows that he has a social consciousness.

Editor's Note: He wails with crazed soul, finding a moment of redemption.

Single of the Week: "Blue Dawn"

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Move Like This The Cars
Starbucks

Author:
SAS

The Cars... are back??! Yes. In pure synthy-backed, shaky-British-voiced glory. The lyrics contain great word-choices arranged poetically - glockenspiel, rainbow crystal lite and a coconut all appear in the same song - but the sound is traditional '80s new wave with chanted lyrics. It almost seems like no time passed for these guys between 1987 and 2011.

Are the Cars following a formula? No indeed. They were main players in inventing this electro-rock-pop sound, so whatever they choose to do with it, they are always doing it right, and if it is created by them, it is original. Move Like This has a good solid relic of a song roll, so Cars fans who are ready to let new songs break through their nostalgic romanticism of New Wave can rejoice.

Editor's Note: The Cars are not exactly a rock band, but they were exactly my favorite band. Thank the good lord they're back. And they better never go away again, or I'll kick their ass.

SIngle of the Week: "Keep on Knocking"

BEST ALBUM OF THE WEEK!

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Indians and Clowns Miriam's Well
Buckin' Savior

Author:
Eric Anderson

For those who would enjoy a seamless blend of soul and pop-rock, this album is sure to please. Her mellow-tempoed, steady flow of twangy licks is easy on the ears. The focus of her lyrics has a wide scope. Some tracks are about romance, but “War No More” is calling for an end to senseless violence. On “Waiting on a Plane,” empty promises of aid for the poor and disaster-stricken are brought to the fore. “Big House” wonders how great it would be if capitalism and its accompanying outrages were to be tossed out.

Whether or not her music is a reflection of the radical tradition of Portland, where she had moved a few years before this album dropped, is unknown. What is known, though, is that it’s an enjoyable record to listen to if you’ve got a social conscious, but don’t want to get mad about the issues.

Editor's Note: She proves that great music will always be a force for uplifting the soul.

Single of the Week: Diamonds

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

The Secret Vieux Farka Toure
Six Degrees

Author:
SAS

The Secret is a mesh traditional music from Mali and modern flourish. Electric blues creep up, as do laid back rock rhythms and Dave Matthews. It's all a part of the wholeness of music. Locking out non-traditional influence, when you are inspired to let it in, will leave you and your audience craving something else. But Vieux Farka Toure's audiences will be craving only more.

Call and response, complex melodies and rhythms to put you into the deepest meditation, modern guitar solos and a range of special guests, including Toure's well-known father, Ali Farka Toure, make up the fabric of The Secret. You'll hear touches of jazz, a bit of howling blues, an inspiration from the Middle East and plenty of traditional-sounding pieces. This is one of those rare records that you'll reach for to relax, but find yourself dancing!

Editor's Note: Sideways harmonies, incredible crooning, dream-logic arrangement.

ARTIST TO WATCH!

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Shiver Too Slim and the Taildraggers
Underworld / Muy Delgado Music

Author:
Eric Anderson

If you feel like hearing some modern blues, you won’t be disappointed. The only thing that Too Slim is missing is a slide and a harmonica. The band clearly has some Credence Clearwater Revival influence (one track has an homage to “Bad Moon Rising”.) The album hooks you in on the first track with a solid bassline and catchy guitar riffs. From then on, it’s a fairly consistent ride along a blues/rock road.

Though they have yet to become a national sensation, they have a small, but dedicated, following in their hometown/state. Oddly enough, where they are a huge deal is in Europe, especially Belgium. There’s no reason that this should bother them, they seem to have found their musical niche and are rolling with it. The Inland Empire Blues Society gave them no less than half a dozen awards (including best guitarist, bassist, and drummer) in the late '90s.

Editor's Note: They've got a hot-blooded blues throb, that blows everyone else off the map.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Randy Travis Randy Travis
Cracker Barrel / Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

This collection of songs by Randy Travis was created as part of the Wounded Warrior Project to support soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, both physically and mentally. This old-timer produces the kind of songs that make you weep, whether or not you think you'll be touched by the country music flavor. He's over-the-top romantic. And that's just how we like him; why can't more guys be like that?

The sound brings you straight to the heart of mellow 1980s acoustic country. It's twanging, it has violins and slide guitar and mandolin-like warbles. It has explicitly religious tones at times and hormonious, barber-shop singing here and there. If he can't grab you with his highly-colorful metaphors, then at least you'll be fascinating with this snapshot of a the cultural time Travis created, a time that continues to influence modern country today.

Editor's Note: Travis brought country music back to its roots, sounding like nothing so much as a perfect blend of George Jones and Merle Haggard. He'll always be the dominand voice in country music - deeper than the deep blue sea.

Single of the Week: "1982"

LATE BUT GREAT!

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Fast Five: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Various Artists
ABKCO / Universal

Author:
Eric Anderson

The soundtrack to Fast Five is a mishmash of rap by established (Ludacris, Busta Rhymes) and relatively new (Don Omar) artists and instrumental music. It’s typical of any action movie soundtrack in this time period, readily switching gears from aggressively speeding down the highway to coolly cruising through the neighborhood.

The slower tracks all have a distinctly Latin feel; while the faster ones have a more urban one. No doubt this has much to do with the setting of the original movie: Los Angeles. All of it is good for driving, which makes complete sense considering what the Fast Five is about. The album closes with a track by Ludacris, who played a minor role in the second installment of the quintilogy.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Last Rites Pentagram
Metal Blade

Author:
SAS

You've gotta love the appropriately Satanic-sounding name of the band, Pentagram. And the reason they were able to snatch it up before anyone else was because they've been around since the beginning of metal - since 1971 to be exact. The motorcycle thrill red pointy electric guitar vibe follows the name smoothly.

Treat Me Right still shows the fervor of the original band, and the playful excitement of Bobby Liebling, still the vocalist. Their first album in seven years, they continue to show no fear and to insist on a traditional playing style that can't be beat. This is pure metal, not death metal, not stoner metal, but a metal for the ages, with uncompromising hollers and simple, essential themes throughout.

MIGHTY, MIGHTY!

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

American Tragedy Hollywood Undead
A&M / Octone / UMG

Author:
Kyle Forrest

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!

Purchase from Amazon

Dogwood Winter Steve Gully & Tim Stafford
Rural Rhythm

Author:
SAS

These two bluegrass guys might as well be brothers. They think along the same lines, whether in their rhythmical configurations or their harmonizing. A traditional, award-winning bluegrass group, Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford and the rest of their gang have come up with 14 more taut originals, reeling us in to the bluegrass mindset.

Many of the songs roll along faster than life, though the group isn't afraid to get a bit moody, or even nostalgic. Their attitude isn't particularly badass, nor are Gulley and Stafford goodie-goodies. Rather, they fall into that crowd pleasing, top-of-their-genre category. Some listers may prefer something a bit more outside the lines, something more messy. But if beautiful, detail-oriented bluegrass is what you want, then look no further than Dogwood Winter.

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Duet Jeff Coffin & Jeff Sipe
Compass

Author:
Eric Anderson

What happens when you mix Jeff Coffin, renowned saxophonist and composer, with Jeff Sipe, founder of the semi-annual Zambiland Orchestra events? You get Duet, a healthy mix of jazz and jam-band music by two Southern greats. It’s perfect when you finish up at work, come home, and want to just mellow out. It’s slow, relaxing pace doesn’t at all detract from the complexity and depth. At times, you feel like you’re in the middle of a jazz session; at others, you feel like you’re in an oasis on a moonlit night.

As the musicians intended, the album is one giant piece; and it sounds like it. Each track leads immaculately into the next, providing you with what amounts to one, long piece of music. It’s kind of a shame that this is their only collaboration; another effort like this would be worth the listen.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

The Way I Should Iris DeMent
Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

Iris DeMent plays with country more than pop on this Randy Scruggs-produced album. Her voices has a high-vibrato quality, and the piano and violin backing her interweave into a nice tapestry of old-time passion. Shall we conjure up images of Dolly and the Carter Sisters? Her main themes on the album must have made a choice of album title easy. The Way I Should centers on variation of shoulds and shouldn'ts in romance and politics. And the "I" refers not just to DeMent but to the rest of us, and sometimes to society as a whole.

The conscious lyrics, whether angry or loving, duke it out with DeMents fantastic voice for stardom on the album, but it's impossible to call a winner. This isn't your average folk album - bravo Iris, for you've risen up in a genre awash with love-dovey bordom. You refuse to live as you "should," if only by making this stand-out, rebellious, traditional country recording.

Editor's Note: This songbird pushed her spectacular, outsized voice into an array of dramas, and emerged with a bunch of tracks of ferel country rock and gorgeous folk. Why she's not a hit and Lady Gaga is a sad story of our capitalist style.

Single of the Week: "Wasteland of the Free"

POLITICAL ALBUM OF THE WEEK!

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Caribbean Rhapsody James Carter
Emarcy / Decca / Universal

Author:
Eric Anderson

Carter performs with precision, yet fluidity. Throughout each song, his own distinctive sound is heard. The composer did a great job with the pieces, but clearly left enough room for Carter to improvise and add his own creativity to the mix. One of his virtues is that at no point does he overshadow the rest of the music; he instead manages to get his place in the spotlight while still having the humility not to hog it.

The pieces themselves are all worth listening to, especially on a hot day with a cold, light ale. Some stay relaxed and soothing without becoming boring and sleep-inducing; others are peppy and have a nice bounce without being too jarring. The transitions from these two forms are also smooth, with adequate time for build-up and come-down. The album ends how it started, slow and relaxing, leaving you with a feeling that you’ve come full circle.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

To the West Coty Hogue
Cello Room / Hearth

Author:
SAS

Coty Hogue's songs strike a chord. And by "strike" I mean that they really stab you with a devastating knowledge of all you long for, all you lost, and all that is just out of reach. It's gorgeous in musically, with banjo and guitar at the forefront and guest musicians filling in here and there. But it's powerful in its message.

Family, setting, meaning, loneliness, hope. Hogue reintroduces you to all of the major players in your emotional life with the delicious, earthbound sounds of the West. Hogue's voice is strong and unadorned. It doesn't need frills. She puts on no pretenses, and you will appreciate her honesty. It's 13 good ol' reminiscent desolation country blues from a lovely new artist, so pay attention.

DEBUT ALBUM OF THE WEEK!

Purchase from Amazon

Satisfied At Last Joe Ely
Rack 'Em

Author:
Eric Anderson

There isn’t really too much to say about Mr. Ely’s new record. It’s not bad, by any means. The main problem that I have with it is that it doesn’t have anything that makes it unique. There isn’t much power in his singing and the lyrics don’t strike a nerve in any way. On top of that, the same tone of voice is used in almost every song. The music itself also seems kind of subdued, as though it’s in there as filler and not meant to, at any point, be the focus. By the time his album is over, there’s very little reaction other than “on to the next one,” as you shrug your shoulders.

The recording, though, is very clean and the sound is clear. One of his saving graces is that he doesn’t fall into the typical twang country singing trap that so many others have. When Ely manages to innovate and make his own sound, he is a great musician. As he is now, though, he has a lot to think about.

Editor's Note: An artist who was one of those outlaws, mavericks who bucked the stodgy Nashville music establishment by writing their own songs, recording with their road bands and producing their own records, Joe Ely epitomizes the form, and is another great artist who will not become as famous as he deserves.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Codename: Rondo Ghostland Observatory
Trashy Moped

Author:
Eric Anderson

This album is kind of weird, but it a very good way. The easiest way to describe it is that if you mix together psychedelic music with funk and electronic. Despite this ridiculous medley of genres, the music itself is surprisingly minimalistic. The key thing, though, is that they seem to have chosen quality over quantity; the few instruments in any given song are used to their maximum potential. The drum beats are fairly simple, but the bass comes on good and strong; you can hear the funk elements strongest there.

It’s definitely something you find yourself bobbing to. When the fat basslines get coupled with the synth and either whining or booming vocals, it makes you feel like you should be in a venue on E losing yourself in the music. What Ghostland Observatory gets is that one of the most important parts of music is that it’s enjoyable, no matter how technical or amateurish it is in composition.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

In My Right Mind Mary Beth Cross
MBC

Author:
SAS

Singing sweet-voiced country in the form of careful, heartfelt rhymes and with an obvious love for country music, Mary Beth Cross probably is in her right mind. She is in touch with not just love, but also demonstrates a lucid understanding of the mish-mash of American styles brough to this continent by wave after wave of immigration. In her music, they blend and recombine in the 10 songs written either by her or for her voice.

There's an element of pop here in the mix, of upbeat catchiness that wades to the edge of the country river, but never leaves it. There's a feeling of the home-baked album in here, with songs that reach for particularity rather than the generalization that comes along with keeping a mass-audience in mind. She writes about Georgia O'Keefe and the importance of music to African Americans takes as slaves to the U.S. Songs with subjects like that are interesting, if sometimes startling in their literal story-telling approach. Cross is charming, fun and thoughtful. Feel free to throw your support behind this underground lady.

Single of the Week: "Banjo Man"

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

Purchase from Amazon

Subiza Delorean
True Panther / Beggars Banquet

Author:
Eric Anderson

Somewhat ambient but with a distinctive dance feel sums up what this album sounds like. It could very easily be performed live outside on a warm summer night with the crowd gently swaying to the soothing melody that matches the tempo of the dance beat. Normally, electronica and ambient music represent two contrasting feels, but the band has somehow made it work in their favor.

The vocals are a combination of lyrics and semi-moaned singing to provide ambiance while the music rocks you back and forth like gentle waves on the Mediterranean. It produces an effect that can only be described as the feeling you get when you’re coming out of melancholy and into peaceful happiness. This group of Spaniards seems to have found a magic formula for some quality, trippy, enjoyable music that evades being shelved with other dance music or ordinary ambient sounds.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Come Sunday Cynthia Felton
Felton

Author:
Eric Anderson

Come Sundayis Cynthia Felton’s rendition of some classic Duke Ellington songs. The music itself is well done and stays true to Duke’s compositions. It’s as though they listened to his stuff and learned to play it precisely. The recording quality is also good and clean and should be appreciated. Cynthia is also on point with her timing and in key. She sings that music just like it was originally done.

But the fault in this album lies with how much it stays in keeping with the old music. There isn’t much of a new feel to the music; she doesn’t have the unique voice that somebody like Lauryn Hill did when she covered “Killing Me Softly.” The same thing can be said for the musicians in that you wouldn’t be able to pick the band out of a bunch of other bands that were asked to cover these songs. What makes covers great is that the new artist is putting their touch on an old favorite, thereby satisfying the desire to hear an old song as well as hear the new band.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

The (R)evolution Continues, 2 CD Set Chicago Blues: A Living History
Megaforce / Red / Aulnay All Blues / Raisin' Music

Author:
SAS

Chicago Blues: A Living History is actually the name of a band, a band made up of, you guessed it, living blues greats. On the (R)evolution Continues, this group has decided to work its way through the decades, from 1942 to 1998, in Chicago blues songwriting. Great writers, such as Chuck Berry, Robert Lockwood Jr., E. Montgomery and Lonnie Johnson are represented, with a heavy emphasis on songs from before 1970.

But the songs are performed by greats Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell and Carlos Johnson, and several special guests as well. They demonstrate, through heartfelt wailing, obsessively good playing, and punch-you-gut songs, just why Chicago blues, again and again, have been borrowed from, thieved, and fiercely loved ever since their inception. These are innovators, instigators, not imitators.

Editor's Note: Chicago's shadows sound vicious and excting again.

Single of the Week: "Ain't Enough Comin' In"

IF YOU LIKE MUSIC, YOU'RE GONNA LOVE THIS!

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes