As a friend who owned a record store liked to say, “so much music, so little time.” And, since managing this blog isn’t my main gig, I have even less time to devote to half-baked musings on new (or at least new to me) releases.
I often find comfort in knowing that even the best baseball players fail in at least two out of every three trips to the plate. By this standard, I’m the goddam Max Alvis of music journalism.
Let’s start swinging with Invisible Joy by The Polyversal Souls – a loose, global collective (from NYC to Ghana) led by multi-instrumentalist Max Weissenfeldt, who makes his home in Berlin. If you’re a fan of hip hop, reggae, Afro-pop, Sun Ra, Mulatu Astatke, even Duke Ellington, you’ll find something on this wildly eclectic album that’ll satisfy your soul. I met Max in Nashville, where he played drums on Dr. John’s Grammy-winning album Locked Down. Sweet guy… amazing musician and arranger… but more important, his ears are wide open (which is what you’d expect for someone who cut his teeth on Art Blakey). Max plays vibes and keyboards on this one: Starlet Road Filling Station Romance
The Brooklyn-based Daptone label released a 22-song comp in 2009 that generated more heat than a small army of soul, funk and world music DJs. Now they’re back with Daptone Gold, Vol. 2 – another first-rate overview of the label’s deep talent and even deeper grooves. Much like Gold I, the second comp leans heavily on Daptone star Sharon Jones, but wisely leaves plenty of room for the great Charles Bradley, Menahan Street Band, Antibalas, The Budos Band, The Sugarman 3… in other words, prime ass-shakin’ stuff from folks who do it right. Better Things to Do
I’ve also been groovin’ on nephew Dan’s new project The Arcs, which probably has taken more than a few Black Keys fans well outside of their comfort zone. Me? I must’ve listened to the wrong stuff back in the Seventies (at least during my Blue Oyster Cult phase), because now I’m looking for more of that weed-fueled, slow-jam soul the band mines so well on tunes like Searching the Blue. Actually, my favorite song (next to Chains of Love) didn’t even make the cut on Yours, Dreamily. It’s the stunning and cinematic Tomato Can – the boxing-inspired B-side to a 7” single only released to independent record stores. Crank it up (this sample needs a little help). Tomato Can
I’m a little late to the party with Alabama Shakes’ new release Sound & Color, but I just can’t get this next song out of my head. The band’s 2012 debut Boys & Girls won me over with the hard-grinding soul of Hold On and other solid originals, but this new record is something altogether different. Trippier, grittier… every bit as adventurous as The Arcs (check the dreamy title song) and, in this case, a lot nastier than most of their alt-rock peers: Don’t Wanna Fight
Hard to find a more unusual pop song than Salvatore. I’d call it The Unbearable Ennui of the Leisure Class, but that would be as clunky as the following lyric: “Salvatore can wait… now it’s time to eat soft ice cream.” I don’t care if Lana Del Rey is singing Dr. Seuss – the damn thing is completely mesmerizing, which of course makes her an artist of the highest order. The song from her latest album Honeymoon seems to exist in a different era, when torch singers with jazz chops could make the hoariest material sound memorable and profound. Salvatore
Former Rubber City bluesburner Patrick Sweany now lives in Nashville, and those Music City influences are especially strong on his new release, Daytime Turned to Nighttime. “I chose to spend the earliest part of my musical life as an acoustic finger-style guitar player,” he told American Songwriter magazine, noting that the new album is “the first time I feel that those early elements are featured and celebrated in the songwriting and execution.” With his fearsome fretwork playing a more supportive role, Sweany covers a lot of musical and emotional turf without straying too far from the blues that brung him. The focus is squarely on the songs and his perfectly weathered voice – and that makes for his most satisfying album to date. Here’s a taste: First of the Week
Just watched the Keith Richards documentary Under the Influence on Netflix. Nothing terribly surprising here, other than he seems a little less dissipated than you’d imagine (I also found it interesting that he honed his chops playing Flamenco guitar!). Whatever you think about Keef, you have to appreciate his deep respect and knowledge of American roots music – from Robert Johnson and Little Walter to Hank Williams and Chuck Berry. And he’s got the right band to dig into those roots, as evidenced by his new solo outing Crosseyed Heart. The songs are sketchy at best, but co-producer/drummer Steve Jordan uses an intimate, live-in-the-studio sound to capture the essence of rock’s greatest sideman in the twilight of his career. Blues in the Morning
NYC’s Spanglish Fly is back with another non-stop Latin soul party, so of course I’m hangin’ on it like a cheap suit. Highlights include the band’s signature song, Brooklyn Boogaloo (produced by Fania label legend Harvey Averne), and Esta Tierra – a boogaloo-flavored take on an old Woody Guthrie favorite… in three parts no less. Wouldn’t sound out of place on a Daptone Gold collection. If you’re visiting one of the boroughs during the holidays, do yourself a favor and run this band down (check here for upcoming shows and more samples of the new album, New York Boogaloo). Esta Tierra
Hard to believe, but the Rubber City’s favorite dance band, Mo’ Mojo, just released their fourth long player – We All Got The Same. I was damn proud when Jen Maurer (vocals, accordion and guitar) and band were selected last year to represent Akron and the Zydeco tradition in an American Music Abroad tour of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and a few other points far south of here. That must’ve given them added inspiration in the studio, because their new album offers a generous serving of that red-hot gumbo they cook up live – Cajun, Zydeco, reggae & southern rock (the tasty Oh Oh My My), a touch of blues (Love Lorna) and a few other spices that are harder to pin down. But no need to get too academic here… It’s all about that infectious groove – and getting asses on the dancefloor. (Stream We All Got The Same and check for shows here.)
There’s Americana, and then there’s The Wood Brothers. Yeah, they’re semi-acoustic, steeped in backwoods blues & country and filled with brotherly harmonies… but they take those elements to a whole different level than your standard act at the Bluebird Cafe. I’m just starting to dig into their new CD, Paradise, which was self-produced and recorded at Dan’s Easy Eye studio in Nashville (I’ll need more time to process, but right now I’m getting my ears pinned back by the opening song, Singin’ to Strangers). In the meantime, let’s revisit a standout cut from their previous album, The Muse: