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FEATURED RELEASES

Tuesday
Mar142017

HIGH PLAINS - Cinderland

"High Plains is the name of a collaboration between Scott Morgan (loscil) and Mark Bridges, an ambient soundscape artist and a classically trained cellist, respectively. It also describes the locale — Saratoga, Wyoming — that they drew influence from, and wrote and recorded in. There are even some field recordings from the area blended in with the cello, piano and electronic textures.
 
This sparse but dirge-like music on their latest full-length, Cinderland, evokes the desolate winters of the Midwestern plains from whence it came, seemingly reminding us of nature's indifference towards humanity. This is not cold, lifeless music, however — quite the opposite. Though subdued and melancholic, there is a personal warmth and intimacy in these soundscapes...
 
...With their sensitive instrumental playing and thoughtful arrangement of textures, High Plains perfectly capture the rugged and sprawling Midwest, but more impressively, an intangible mood and state of mind. A record like this is a rare achievement." - Exclaim

Tuesday
Mar142017

DELANEY & BONNIE - Motel Shot

"Though they never achieved the popular success enjoyed by some of their peers, Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett spearheaded the roots-rock revolution of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s along with The Allman Brothers and The Band, turning away from the exoticism of psychedelia towards music “rooted” in blues, country, and soul. Witness the fact that the “And Friends” that played with the pair included Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Leon Russell, Dave Mason and Bobby Whitlock….out of Delaney and Bonnie’s various aggregations arose Derek and the Dominoes and Joe Cocker’s band for the legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. And for Motel Shot, the duo’s fourth studio album and their third for Atco/Atlantic, the circle of “friends” included Cocker, Whitlock, and Mason, plus appearances by Duane Allman, Gram Parsons, and John Hartford among others! But for the most part, this is a largely acoustic, charmingly informal affair dipped in gospel and dominated by the Bramletts and Whitlock; the Motel Shot title refers to informal, after hours jam sessions on the road. But there’s a whole lot more to the story (and to this release!).

The project began not in a hotel room but in the living room of engineer Bruce Botnick, with November 1970 sessions as a prospective release for Elektra Records. But, after Delaney had a falling out with label head Jac Holzman, the project moved to Atco, who put the “band” into a proper studio to re-record much of the material. Those later sessions comprise the original album, which has heretofore only appeared briefly on CD in Japan; but, after hours of tape research, co-producers Bill Inglot and Pat Thomas uncovered the original “living room” sessions that yielded the eight unreleased tracks on this Expanded Edition CD release – and notably is the first American CD release of the original Motel Shot album as well. Remastered by Inglot, with an essay by Thomas that includes exclusive (and extremely candid) quotes from Bonnie Bramlett, Bobby Whitlock, Bruce Botnick, and Jac Holzman, Motel Shot finally is presented here the way it was originally conceived, and takes its rightful place as one of the great albums of the classic era of the roots rock movement." - Real Gone Music

Tuesday
Feb212017

VA - Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present English Weather

"It’s a pretty motley collection of artists trying out ideas – epic, episodic, orchestral ballads; jazzy piano-led soul-searching with abrasive guitar; ascetic acoustic pop decorated with woodwind – in a brief, directionless period when all bets were off, and before it became clear that early 70s rock would be dominated by prog, glam, West Coast singer-songwriters, and cocaine cowboys advising us to take it easy. Sometimes, the music the compilation alights on feels like a period piece; sometimes, as in the case of Camel’s Never Let Go, it feels weirdly contemporary – perhaps because a mood of pensive uncertainty has very much proved 2017’s thing thus far.

But what’s really arresting about English Weather is how unified and coherent it sounds. How the disparate elements come together and paint a remarkably vivid picture of an era. Everything here is of a really high quality: you wonder how so much of it went unnoticed, and whether it’s because the bar was set high 40-odd years ago, or because the compilers are adept at finding the one great track on otherwise unremarkable albums. Everything is shot through with the same autumnal melancholy. Everything sounds incredibly British, up to and including a minor psych-pop band called Orange Bicycle attempting to stave off the inevitable by copying the contemporary sounds emanating from LA. It takes a certain je ne sais quoi to still sound redolent of the London suburbs on a drizzly October day while singing about heading down the Oakland turnpike in the intricate harmony vocal style of Crosby, Stills and Nash, but somehow they managed it." - The Guardian

Tuesday
Feb212017

BING & RUTH - No Home Of The Mind

"For David Moore, the piano was always most important. As a student at the New School’s contemporary music department, Moore spun the measured minimalism of his solo piano pieces into grander ensemble works as his project, Bing & Ruth, slowly spread in scope. Influenced by composers like Thomas Newman and Sergei Prokofiev, the act wove Moore’s meditative piano lines into seismic spectacles of ambient maximalism, swinging between awe-striking resplendence and a softer, filmic sensitivity that delighted in near-silent echoes.

As the project continued, the group moved from an eleven-person ensemble to a tighter seven-person unit. On their latest, No Home of the Mind, the group is further reduced to five. Composed on seventeen pianos across North America and Europe and recorded in a church in upstate New York, the pieces work to leverage the bright hues and tinny contrast of each instrument into absorbing soundscapes. Leaning in on the weighty action of each piano key or the rolling motion of the sustain pedal, the tracks embrace the affective mechanics of each instrument, turning the familiar ticks of the home piano into new “Eureka!” moments from track to track..." - SPIN

Tuesday
Feb212017

THE COURTNEYS - II

"Both feel-good and charmingly gritty, the Courtneys' sophomore album is a succinct followup to their 2013 self-titled debut. Hooky riffs, brawny bass, and drummer/lead singer Jen Twynn Payne's satisfyingly sweet vocals — the band's best bits — are right at the forefront throughout the effort, starting with opener "Silver Velvet." On "Iron Deficiency" and "Mars Attacks," the group demonstrate their knack for harmony, incorporating it just enough to add a divine contrast to the pummelling percussion of the former and woozy guitar of the latter.  
 
"Tour," with its buzzy, sunny melody, is pop perfection and one of the album's standouts, with dynamic vocals that accompany sing-along lines like, "What you are and what you wanna be, takes a long, long, long, long time." Sincere lyrics, through which the girls reach inward to reflect upon topics like heartache and crushes, add substance to the album's vivid sonic exterior, as well as wonderfully tongue-in-cheek cuts like "Lost Boys" — a 2014 single that nods to the '80s vampire cult classic.
 
By polishing up their best assets and sticking them front and centre, the Courtneys demonstrate how much they've grown artistically over the last four years. Well-crafted and delightfully infectious, The Courtneys II is a sequel that surpasses their already-great original." - Exclaim

Tuesday
Feb212017

JESCA HOOP - Memories Are Now

"Jesca Hoop first attracted national attention in the early '00s, when her unusual backstory — the daughter of musical Mormons, she'd served a long stint as nanny to Tom Waits' kids — helped fuel critics' interest in songs that always seemed to be coming at you sideways. Albums like Hunting My Dress and The House That Jack Built, both of which hold up incredibly well, left Hoop constantly on the verge of a major breakthrough that never quite materialized.

Last year, though, she got a big lift in the form of Love Letter For Fire, an album-length collaboration with Iron And Wine's Sam Beam. In addition to reaching a new audience — and, in the process, finding her a new label home — that record found ways to highlight Hoop's idiosyncratic songwriting voice, as well as her gift for distinct phrasing. She keeps Love Letter For Fire's momentum alive with Memories Are Now, a nine-song collection that further showcases Hoop's enviable capacity to surprise.

Take the voices she brings to Memories Are Now's title track: The song could just as easily be the work of a sister act like Lily & Madeleine, Joseph or First Aid Kit — the kind of group where impeccable voices weave in and out, complementing each other with improbable precision — but it's just a showcase for Hoop, whose voice sounds alternately soaring, breathy, wearily assertive and, in the backing vocals, downright heavenly. (Later, at moments in "Simon Says," her layered voices conjure images of a salty/sweet country duo.) In both content and construction, Jesca Hoop's songs practically burst with ideas: They're as strange and smart and heartfelt as they are gorgeous, and that's saying something." - NPR

Friday
Feb102017

MAX RICHTER - Three Worlds: Music From Wolff Works

The mood ranges from gorgeously lush (“In the Garden”) to somber (“War anthem”) to devastatingly aching (“Tuesday”).  Once the album has been played, that final extended track looms over the entire enterprise like a cloud whose rain has already begun to fall, but has not yet hit the earth.  For those unfamiliar with her story, Woolf penned a final, crushing note to her beloved husband, then drowned herself by walking into a river, weighed down by a large stone in her coat.  As Gillian Anderson reads the note, one can’t help but protest, “No!”, to somehow stop, or even pause, what has already occurred.  And yet, and yet, and yet …

Richter’s victory is to provide a soundtrack to Woolf’s life, and even deeper, her heart.  Her moments of joy are fleeting, but identifiable.  Her moments of depression contain their own apologetic beauty.  Even her suicide note was examined as a work of art, by Woolf’s own words a paltry piece of writing.  The music struggles with thoughts of grace given to sorrow, as the act so painful to others has been remembered with forgiveness.  “Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that.” - A Closer Listen

Friday
Feb102017

VIKINGUR OLAFSSON - Philip Glass: Piano Works

"The piano etudes of Philip Glass were, like 19th century examples of the form, technical studies. Glass, in fact, wrote them over two decades as a way of improving his own piano skills. Yet they are also, like Chopin's etudes, little compositional studies that establish a set of parameters and explore it in a basic way. They offer an excellent way to come to grips with Glass' musical language, and they reveal the personalities of their performers more than do most of his other compositions. Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson emerged to acclaim as part of a joint recital of all 20 etudes in at the Barbican in London, and his work here fulfills the promise shown. After an overture from Glassworks (1981), Ólafsson launches into a sequence of 11 etudes. He doesn't follow the original ordering, but this is all to the good: the Glass etudes are self-contained pieces, and his progression is convincing. Ólafsson's touch is light, sweeping, dreamy, and evocative of the mystical side of the composer's personality. He catches the logic of each etude as it unfolds the implications of the very simple material with which it begins...This is a very fine Glass recording, beautifully engineered in an Icelandic hall." - All Music Guide

Sunday
Feb052017

THE BATS - The Deep Set

"Some bands change their sound like the planet changes seasons — whether through restlessness or to latch onto prevailing trends — whereas others choose to stay the course with their original style, dispatching new missives based on already familiar foundations.

Christchurch-bred purveyors of the fabled Dunedin Sound are firmly in the latter camp: now into their third decade with the original line-up, the four-piece have racked up nine albums characterised by chugging chords, jangly guitars and the charming, simplistic worldview of guitarist/vocalist Robert Scott (also bassist for Flying Nun staples The Clean). This shared experience has gifted the foursome a clear simpatico and inherent indie-pop smarts, and on The Deep Set Scott's songs prove as effortlessly dreamy as ever. His innate sense of melody extends to both the arrangements and his bittersweet vocal delivery, the tunes augmented by shimmering harmonies and classy string accompaniment, while guitarist Kaye Woodward's lead parts twist and meander, dripping with expression. The album opens with the melancholic Rooftops but quickly blossoms with the upbeat Looking For Sunshine and the luminous Rock And Pillars, while No Trace explores personal themes atop beautiful vocal melodies and strings carry the dreamy slice of nostalgia and longing that is lead single Antlers. Towards the back end Shut Your Eyes is darker and more foreboding, The Bats proving once again that simple, well-executed ideas and arrangements are entirely capable of triggering complex responses." - The Music

Friday
Feb032017

ALLISON CRUTCHFIELD - Tourist In This Town

The first minute of Alabama singer-songwriter Allison Crutchfield’s debut album is sung a cappella. It’s an intimate experience, hearing her multitracked voice without accompaniment, and when the band kicks in it’s quite a surprise – not least because the dominant sound is 80s analogue synthesisers, a specialty of producer Jeff Zeigler. There are cooing backing vocals, buzzsaw new-wave guitars and one-finger synth patterns. Crutchfield’s lyrics are conversational and literate, like those of Eleanor Friedberger or Courtney Barnett. But in contrast to the comfortable retrofitted backdrop and her voice, prettified by Bangles-style harmonies, Crutchfield’s lyrics are not all sweetness and light. Tourist in This Town is a break-up album: there’s a lot of getting upset in hotel rooms (Mile Away) and not being able to enjoy being in a nice place because of relationship upsets and “bodies in the basement” (Sightseeing). Still, it’s not a hard listen: songs such as Secret Lives and Deaths and I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California are uplifting pop confections. - The Guardian

Sunday
Jan292017

TIM COHEN - Luck Man

Whether he’s cranking out psych rock with The Fresh & Onlys or mellowing things out adult-contempo style in Magic Trick, Tim Cohen is a musician who follows his own path and follows it quite often. He’s determined to not let any idea or “bit of wisdom” to slip away. “I don’t possess the wisdom for longer than it takes to make a song. I inherit it momentarily, write it down, attach a melody that fits the words in rhythm, and then record it,” says Cohen about his writing process. Sounds like Twitter with musical accompaniment. Thankfully, his description of “wisdom” doesn’t come off as an exaggeration as the songs behind Cohen’s latest Luck Man are quite sharp.

It’s almost hard not to expect any solo album to recycle tired clichés that maybe its creator felt were too personal for his main projects. However, this isn’t Cohen’s first solo release, and he’s not the typical musician to get hung up on love or pain. Rather he allows Luck Man’s songs to come alive with its own characters and stories, which allows each one to stand apart in its own way. The most immediate grabber is “Meat Is Murder”, where Cohen’s sleepy (maybe defeated) growl sings over this haunting, determined riff. The music paints the idea that its character is ready to go to war over his conviction. “I Need A Wife”, disarming with its sad but sweet titular sentiment, seems to be a touching declaration before being realized in an epic burst as a desperate desire. The shift in tone makes the song remarkable. - Earbuddy

Monday
Jan232017

ERASMO CARLOS - Erasmo Carlos

Erasmo Carlos has no counterpart in the universe of Anglophone pop music that could begin to hint at his relevance, popularity and his complex relationship with the only Brazilian pop star more universally recognized than himself, Roberto Carlos. He may be a beloved pop star and household name in Brazil, but hardly because of the music found on the three albums reissued by Light In The Attic. While in retrospect they can be appreciated as some of his most creative, consistent and personal albums, they were also some of the least commercially successful and underappreciated of his long career, at least until recently. Embracing the artistic freedom of the global counterculture of the late sixties and early seventies, over the course of these three albums, Erasmo evolved from his bubblegum beginnings into a sophisticated seventies singer-songwriter. Erasmo Carlos E Os Tremendões (1970), Carlos, ERASMO . . . (1971) and Sonhos E Memórias 1941-1972 (1972) collectively find this maturing teeny-bopper delivering a mix of world class psychedelic Rock, traditional Rock ‘N’ Roll, Soul, Funk, Folk, Bossa Nova, and Samba-Rock to an unsuspecting Brazilian audience.

As a student and fan of Elvis, Little Richard, Bill Haley, and Chuck Berry, Erasmo indulged his primal rock urges on these albums, notably getting sufficiently psychedelic and fuzzy on Carlos, ERASMO . . . Arriving in 1971 while Caetano and Gil were still in exile, Rita Lee had recently quit Os Mutantes and Gal Costa was onto a new sound, Erasmo’s 1971 album was the closest thing to Tropicália around. Carlos, ERASMO . . . was co-produced by the Tropicália producer, Manoel Barenbein, including a new composition from Caetano, a few arrangements courtesy of Rogério Duprat and the musical talents of no fewer than three Mutants: lead guitarist Sergio Dias, drummer Dinho Leme and bassist Liminha, not to mention Brazil’s undisputed psychedelic axe-master, Alexander Gordin, aka “Lanny”, Carlos, ERASMO. . . is a virtual all-star team of Tropícalistas (not in exile). This album is considered a bedrock album within the Brazilian rock scene and a notable late entry in the Tropicália tradition, rocking harder than any album in his catalog, but also including wispy love songs, soul and funk moves, brassy pop tunes and a marimba-driven ode to marijuana. - Light In The Attic

Saturday
Jan212017

SUN RA - The Space Age Is Here To Stay

Not many jazz acts can be confused with Sun Ra and His Arkestra. From his Egyptian-style African garb to his obsession with space, Sun Ra managed to define Afrofuturism both culturally and musically. Tribal rhythms hid behind lyrics dealing with space, science, and the future; ancient mythologies merged with dystopian literary references; lyrics dealing with nuclear explosions and Mutually Assured Destruction are sung over jazz bass lines and horns. Taken individually, these topics have been discussed before, but no one other than Sun Ra has managed to combine jazz, science fiction, and ancient civilizations together, and made it all sound so good in the process.

This, in essence, is what The Space Age Is Here To Stay offers its audience. From the very first song, “Along Came Ra/The Living Myth”, Sun Ra utilizes religious lyricism and imagery to create a mythos around the album and him. It sounds ostentatious and pretentious at first, but the stripped back percussion and tribal chants ground the song in a way that makes the abstract concrete, the general more intimate. In this way, he delivers unto his listeners more than mere music; he’s giving them an opportunity for a musical and spiritual journey through the cosmos of sound. - Popmatters

Tuesday
Jan172017

DAN PENN - Nobody's Fool

Dan Penn is one of the great songwriters. His work and his life are what legends are made of, and so is this recording. Penn wrote or co-wrote such '60s classics as "Dark End Of The Street", "Do Right Woman" and "I'm Your Puppet"; Nobody's Fool, released in 1972, was his first solo record. His voice and demo recordings had been spoken about with great reverence, and he had written hits, so Bell records might have expected such a record from him. The sad truth was that it wasn't very successful saleswise and didn't stay in print very long.

Penn had a hand in writing all the material here, with the exception of John Fogerty's "Lodi". Penn's reading of the Creedence classic is a natural; his incredibly soulful voice and a great arrangement make this an ideal cover choice. The title track, which opens the disc, is a loner's anthem that sounds like a standard the first time your hear it. The great country-soul of "I Hate You" is also a stunner, with Penn's warm voice lamenting in the first degree...This is an essential recording by an essential artist. They just don't make records like this anymore, and it's a shame. - No Depression

Friday
Dec162016

OXFORD AMERICAN 2016 Music Issue 

"Across the 160-page magazine and 23-song CD compilation, we’re celebrating one of the South’s greatest cultural exports: blues music. The issue comes in multiple covers, showcasing three generations of blues artists: John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, and Adia Victoria.

The CD features classic blues (Charley Patton, Allen Toussaint, Big Mama Thornton) alongside contemporary artists reinterpreting the genre (Alabama Shakes, Bassekou Kouyaté, Regina Carter), plus rare recordings (including a never-before-released vintage CeDell Davis track). The magazine contains new work by some of the best music writers of our time (Greil Marcus, Daphne A. Brooks, Elijah Wald, John Jeremiah Sullivan) and essays by first-time Oxford American contributors (Jeffery Renard Allen, Rashod Ollison, Sarah Bryan, Zandria F. Robinson), as well as stories from OA regulars (Amanda Petrusich, Jewly Hight, Cynthia Shearer, David Ramsey)." - Oxford American

Friday
Dec162016

DANIEL TAYLOR & TRINITY CHOIR - Tree Of Life

"When Daniel Taylor's Trinity Choir released its 2015 Christmas album Four Thousand Winter, it impressed even the committed scrooges here at CBC Music. And now, a year later, the choir has returned with a record in a very similar mould. Like its predecessor, The Tree of Lifefeatures music spanning two millenia: from chants dating back to the earliest days of Christmas celebrations, to contemporary works by Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. But this new album has a concept and a goal of its own.

The album is structured around Pärt's Seven Magnificat-Antiphons, a collection of gloriously straightforward settings of sixth-century sacred texts. Around the scaffolding of these seven short pieces, Taylor and his choir build a meditative musical experience that's a far cry from the standards-and-sleigh-bells approach to Christmas music. Tavener's setting of William Blake's "The Lamb" is so static, you might find yourself slipping into a trance by the end of its brief running time. Robert Parsons's placid "Ave Maria" will immediately purge your mind of more familiar settings by Schubert and Gounod. And Benjamin Britten's "Hymn to the Virgin" (written when Britten was only 16) cuts straight to the part of you that recognises beauty — regardless of what sort of spiritual journey you may personally be on." - CBC

Wednesday
Dec072016

DAMIEN JURADO & RICHARD SWIFT - Other People's Songs: Volume One

"It shouldn't be a surprise that Other People's Songs is an album composed entirely of covers, or that Damien Jurado and Richard Swift are working together — Swift has produced several of Jurado's previous releases. What's surprising is that Jurado and Swift manage to strip down these nine songs and reinvent them as something entirely original.
 
The songs chosen by Jurado and Swift is what makes Other People's Songs stand out. It's representative of the duo as aficionados of their trade, and reflects the gamut of their musical taste. Through mastery of their craft, Jurado and Swift pay homage to cult icons like Bill Fay and John Denver, and also more popular acts such as Yes, Chubby Checker and even Kraftwerk. The motif in these choices is definitely demonstrative of a passion for '50s, '60s and (mostly) '70s-era rock'n'roll, soul and pop that's catchy, upbeat and, mostly, groovy." - Exclaim

Wednesday
Dec072016

GILLIAN WELCH - Boots Vol.1

"Gillian Welch’s 1996 debut, Revival, is one of the era’s most influential albums, its retro stylings and bleak evocations of the dust bowl era marking the transition from alt-country to Americana. Welch’s revivalism was no Carter Family copyism; here was a startlingly good songwriter who could put you in the place of a barroom girl or mountain moonshiner with a few piercing images. David Rawlings’s impeccable picking and harmonies sealed the deal. This 20th-anniversary set fills a bootlegger’s jug with 21 outtakes and demos of Orphan Girl, Annabelle and the rest. The pick of its eight previously unreleased songs are the caustic I Don’t Want to Go Downtown and the homely Wichita, but every drop is delicious." - Guardian

Wednesday
Dec072016

VA - New Orleans Funk Vol.4

"Soul Jazz Records‘ New Orleans Funk series is one that should need no introduction. Vol. 1 came out in 2000 and established a benchmark for funk compilations both in terms of killer content, scrupulously researched liner notes and audio quality that no other label has thus far equalled. It was subsequently followed by three sequels – the ‘real’ second volume (entitled Saturday Night Fish Fry) and then two official sequels – Vol. 2 and 3. If there was any grumble at all, it might have been that the latter of these contained fewer dancefloor-oriented cuts than the others. Not so Vol. 4, subtitled Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77which arrives sixteen years after the first in the series and decisively re-establishes the series as a go-to for rare floor-filler material, despite possessing the same relative brevity (‘only’ eighteen tracks instead of more than twenty) as its immediate predecessor." - Monkeyboxing 

Wednesday
Dec072016

VA - Punk 45: Les Punks: The French Connection

"In an effort to set the record straight about the French contribution to '70s punk, Soul Jazz Records has delivered an installment in the PUNK 45 series titled PUNK 45: Les Punks: The French Connection: The First Wave of Punk 1977-80. The album collects 19 tracks from 17 bands that were recording during the first wave of European punk rock, and if this doesn't connect as hard as the typical American or British punk comp from the same period, it does confirm France had a lively scene that left behind some admirably tough and effective sides. 

Les Fantômes and Angel Face confirm the level of Stooges worship in France; Metal Urbain's fusion of distorted guitars and drum machines anticipated Big Black by six years; Guilty Razors suggest a unique fusion of the Heartbreakers and noise rock; Gazoline offer a malignant take on Bowie's Spiders from Mars period; Charles de Goal, Kas Product, and A3 dans le WC confirm there were plenty of angular and arty new wave acts on the scene; and 84 Flesh and the Dogs navigate the border between punk and hard rock. Not everything on this collection sounds stellar in the 21st century, but even the weakest tracks here are smart and muscular rock & roll, and while most first-era punk rock from the U.S. and U.K. has been compiled to death, most of these tracks have been little heard outside their native land, making this relatively fresh listening. Les Punks isn't likely to change the prejudice against French rock, but it's hard evidence that punk rock gave their scene a welcome kick in the butt just as it did all around the world." - All Music