sábado, 11 de novembro de 2017

The Rural Alberta Advantage - Departing 2011

The snow squall cover art for Canadian indie rock trio the Rural Alberta Advantage's sophomore effort, while skillfully echoing the opening scene of Fargo, perfectly sums up the spirited, shiftless, and heartfelt ten tracks contained within. It’s like they took 2009’s Hometowns, stuffed it in a snow globe, and shook it mercilessly. More confident, explosive, and produced than their lovable but ultimately flat-sounding debut, the aptly named Departing finds the trio ditching the living room scene for the road, carving out a solid collection of fiery, understated, nostalgia-laced indie pop gems that fly by like mile-markers. Singer/guitarist Nils Edenloff's throaty, conversational vocals, laced with lyrics drenched in lovelorn, small-town sociology, bring to mind a less cosmopolitan Hold Steady, and the punchy, unfussy production gives standout cuts like “Under the Knife” and “Stamp” an earthy and visceral inclusiveness that’s often absent from the current glut of anthem-heavy, stadium-primed indie rockers. AMG.

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The Dukes of Stratosphear - 25 O'Clock 1985

XTC spent the first half of the '80s dropping out of the new wave rat race in favor of cultivating an eccentric English garden. It was a move that mirrored the Kinks ignoring psychedelia for songs about subdivisions and afternoon tea, but when XTC decided to cut loose, they did so by adopting alter egos to create a riotous tribute to the very psychedelia the Kinks shunned. They turned into the Dukes of Stratosphear and cut the EP 25 O'Clock, a brilliant, clever distillation of the sounds of 1967, filled with knowing allusions and outright thievery from psychedelic classics both popular and well-known. For those well-versed in '60s rock, it's irresistible to draw parallels to the Beatlesthe Yardbirdsthe Move, and Pink Floyd, but 25 O'Clock practically begs listeners to connect the dots through its swirling kaleidoscope of phased tapes, fuzz guitars, murmured voices, and burbling Mellotrons -- and that's not even taking into account lyrical allusions, like how "Bike Ride to the Moon" twists around Tomorrow's "My White Bicycle." All this makes 25 O'Clock something closer to pop art than mere homage, but what makes it enduring -- even strangely timeless -- pop music is how XTC's reinvigorated creativity extends far beyond the mere form to the songs themselves. The six songs on the EP are XTC at their very best, their braininess tempered by the discipline of writing six songs that could have been legitimately seen as forgotten gems from the late '60s (which indeed this EP was initially presented as upon its April Fools Day release in 1985). Although there is certainly considerable pleasure in peeling back the layers of the production to puzzle out the references or simply revel in its sound, what is striking about 25 O'Clock is how joyous and immediate it feels, a trait it shares with the very best pop music -- which it certainly is. AMG.

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Van der Graaf Generator - Real Time (Live) 2007

Van der Graaf Generator went through a number of lineups in its eventful life, most of which went by undocumented as live units, at least officially (and even on the bootleg front, VDGG fans have few quality recordings to fall back on). There has been one official live album, Vital, but, as necessary as it was in chronicling the group's transformation into a ferocious stage beast, it features a short-lived incarnation of the band. All in all, what is largely considered the "classic quartet" lineup was never decently recorded on-stage, and would never be. At least, that was the story up until May 6, 2005, when Hugh BantonDavid JacksonGuy Evans and Peter Hammill walked on-stage together for the first time in almost 30 years. Recently re-formed, VDGG had released a new studio album (the more-than-decent Present) and a European tour had been booked. The quartet would get better, meaner and wilder with every show (as bootlegs testify), but the one show that mattered, the one that had to be recorded for posterity (righting the aforementioned wrong in the process) was that historical first reunion at London's Royal Festival Hall, in front of a sold-out and very international house. Nostalgia was in the air, of course, and it soon became clear that this first reunion tour would be about giving old neglected fans what they wanted and letting younger unsuspecting fans catch up with VDGG as a live force. The set list almost picks up where this particular lineup had left off in early 1977, with the exception of two tracks off Present, here given the typical VDGG live treatment: louder, heavier, grittier. The concert opens with the first two pieces off the group's magnum opus Godbluff, performed with lots of gusto. If "Refugees" suffers from Hammill's less-than-delicate vocals, several other songs are rightfully treated, including "Darkness," "Childlike Faith in Childhood's End," "Lemmings" (with improvised introduction), and probably the definitive live version of "(In The) Black Room," a song written for and first performed by VDGG, even though it ended up on one of Hammill's solo records. After the encore, "Killer," has burned the house down, the guys come back for a second encore, a lovely rendition of "Wondering," which not only seems to question the reality of the whole experience ("Wondering if it's all been true"), but brings the concert full circle as Jacksonconcludes with a single repeated flute note, just like the beginning of "The Undercover Man" played a little over two hours earlier. Yes, this is nostalgia, but unlike most reunion shows, this one features four men still in full possession of their talent and eager to push onward. Real Time (so titled because nothing has been edited out or added) is a must for the fan and, with such a stellar cross-section of material, an excellent starting place for the newcomer. AMG.

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Blurt - Pagan Strings 1992

Blurt is a new wave band originally consisting of Ted Milton(saxophone, vocals), Pete Creese (guitar), and Jake Milton(drums). Herman Martin (keyboards) replaced Creese after the release of Bullets for You (1984). Steve Eagles (guitar) replaced Martin after Six Views in Black (1985). Paul Wigens (drums, violin) replaced Jake Milton as of Poppycock (1986). Nick Murcott replaced Wigens on Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hit (Take 2) (1989). AMG.

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The Del-Lords - Frontier Days 1984

It's hard to say what anyone should have expected from a band fronted by the former rhythm guitarist for the Dictators and featuring Joan Jett's ex-lead guitar player, but it probably wasn't the tough, populist roots rock of the Del-Lords. The group's debut album, Frontier Days, proved that Scott Kempner knew enough to hold on to several of the Dictators' key virtues (quick wit and hard rock passion) while adding a few touches of his own (left-leaning politics with a strong blue-collar stripe, a sound that blended the best of blues, country, and no-frills barroom rock), while Eric "Roscoe" Ambel hadn't lost touch with the streamlined kick-ass rock & roll that was the hallmark of his former boss, Ms. Jett. The Del-Lords were smart without losing touch of their streetwise instincts, and rocked hard without sacrificing melodies that would stick in your ear long after the songs were over; however, while Frontier Days is a reasonably accurate document of the Del-Lords' blazing live show, the overly tidy and oddly hollow-sounding production by Lou Whitney robs this band of a goodly share of its full power, especially in Kempner and Ambel's guitars and Frank Funaro's drums. Frontier Days has some great songs and spirited performances, but one senses this band wanted to rock a lot harder than the circumstances permitted -- a presumption that was confirmed on the group's next album.
In 2009, Frontier Days made its belated CD debut in a new edition from American Beat Records. For the reissue, Frontier Days was expanded with five bonus tracks, featuring demos of "Shame on You" and "Heaven" -- the latter appeared on the group's second album, Johnny Comes Marching Home -- and rough takes of "Wastin' Time Talkin'," "Love Among the Ruins," and "Love on Fire." "Love Among the Ruins" is a bit too melodramatic for its own good, but the other two tunes are great rockers that would have kicked up the album's pace. The new version also includes liner notes from Scott Kempner on how the band came together and the recording of Frontier Days; it's great reading for fans of the band, and folks who've been carefully protecting their aging vinyl copies of the album will definitely want to pick up the CD release. AMG.


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Leon Ware - Leon Ware 1982

This is the follow-up to 1981's much loved Rockin' You Eternally. While that effort had Ware engaged and willing to do rich and melodic work with no commercial consideration, Leon Ware more often than not seems to be overly concerned with making a big hit. Leon Ware was co-produced by Ware and the legendary Marty Paich. Although Paich had everyone from young Ella Fitzgerald to Boz Scaggs on his resumé, there wasn't much he could do with Ware. Paich also arranged the rhythm here, which is undoubtedly Ware's forte. That's not to say Leon Ware is a dismal failure -- far from it. The first track "Slippin' Away" is Ware's best track here but it's reminiscent of a so-so track from Earth, Wind & Fire's Faces. In fact, Leon Ware employs some of the same players and writers from that effort. The oddly peppy "Lost in Love With You" was no doubt aiming for the charts but it possesses little or nothing of what makes Ware musically special. The track that comes closest to Ware's style is "Deeper Than Love" despite its smoldering sax solos from Gato Barbieri; the song is a little overdone. Perhaps the most telling is the duet with Flora Purim, "Somewhere." The track's promise seems to evaporate with the intro. If Purim wasn't going to light a fire under the proceedings, no one could. Throughout this effort, Ware's sounds wan and hemmed in. Given the fact that this didn't include many great songs, Leon Wareisn't the best way to get acquainted with the artist. AMG.

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Tom Waits - Bad as me 2011

Bad as Me is Tom Waits' first collection of new material in seven years. He and Kathleen Brennan -- wife, co-songwriter, and production partner -- have, at the latter's insistence, come up with a tight-knit collection of short tunes, the longest is just over four minutes. This is a quick, insistent, and woolly aural road trip full of compelling stops and starts. While he's kept his sonic experimentation -- especially with percussion tracks -- Waits has returned to blues, rockabilly, rhythm & blues, and jazz as source material. Instead of sprawl and squall, we get chug and choogle. For "Chicago" -- via Clint Maedgen's saxes, Keith Richards' (who appears sporadically here) and Marc Ribot's guitars, son Casey Waits' drums, dad's banjo, percussion and piano, and Charlie Musselwhite's harmonica (he appears numerous times here, too) -- we get a 21st century take on vintage R&B. Indeed, one can picture Big Joe Turner fronting this clattering rush of grit and groove, and this album is all about groove. Augie Meyers appears on Vox organ and Flea on bass to guide Waits' tablas and vocals on "Raised Right Men," a 12-bar stagger filled with delightful lyrical clichés from an America that has passed on into myth -- Waits does nothing to de-mystify this; he just makes it greasy and danceable.  The slow, spooky "Talking at the Same Time" is still in blues form albeit with ska-styled horns to make things more exotic, as Waits waxes about the current state of economic affairs. He showcases history's circular nature as he bridges our national narrative from 1929-1941, and up to the present day: "Well it’s hard times for some/For others it’s sweet/Someone makes money when there’s blood in the street...Well we bailed out all the millionaires/They got the fruit/We got the rind..." Rockabilly rears its head on "Get Lost," with David Hidalgo strutting a solid '50s guitar snarl above the horns. Dawn Harms' violin and Patrick Warren's keyboards add textural dimension to Hidalgo's and Ribot's arid guitars on the apocalyptic blues of "Face to the Highway," with Waits offering startling, contrasting images in gorgeous rhymes. This track, and the two proceeding ones -- the forlorn carny ballad "Pay Me" and the wasted lover's plea in the West Texas mariachi of "Back in the Crowd" -- set up the latter half of the record, where there are more hard-edged blues and rockers, such as the spiky stomping title track, the cracked guitar ramble in "Satisfied," and the clattering, percussive anti-war rant "Hell Broke Luce" (sic). Between each of these songs are ballads. In the jazzy nightclub blues of "Kiss Me" and the country-ish folk of "Last Leaf" lie lineage traces to Waits' earliest material: the latter features Richards in a delightfully ruined vocal duet. Indeed, even the set-closer "New Year's Eve," with Hidalgo's guitars and accordion in one of Waits' signature saloon songs, quotes from "Auld Lang Syne" in the song's waning moments to send the platter off on a bittersweet, nostalgic note, reminding the listener of Waits' use of "Waltzing Matilda" in "Tom Traubert's Blues" all those years ago. Brennan's instincts were dead-on: it was time for a set of brief, tightly written and arranged songs -- something we haven't actually heard from WaitsBad as Me is an aural portrait of all the places he's traveled as a recording artist, which is, in and of itself, illuminating and thoroughly enjoyable. AMG.

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Virgil Caine - Virgil Caine 2012

Take a Texas-style blues guitar, a Chicago-blues-influenced harp and a tough-as-nails rhythm section and you’ll have all the makings for the Virgil Caine Band.
With 30 years of experience and three albums under their belts, Tommy Wotruba (guitar), Mark Hawley (vocals and harmonica), Keith Fredrickson (vocals and drums), and
Dave Prudhomme (bass), have begun to expand their gig horizons by booking shows in Chicago, Minneapolis and Las Vegas.
The Virgil Caine Band is currently finishing up a fourth album of original music.

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Zakir Hussain & Tabla Beat Science - Tala Matrix 2000

With their debut CD Tala Matrix, the project known as Tabla Beat Science has essentially taken the rich and time-honored tradition of the tabla (a pair of North Indian hand drums) and fused it with contemporary electronica studio wizardry. Tala Matrix is dedicated to the memory of the late, great, and innovative tabla virtuoso Ustad Alla Rakha (1919-2000). The Tabla Beat Science project is comprised of one of Ustad Alla Rakha's sons, the tabla superman Zakir Hussain. Additional members include the venerated sarangi player Ustad Sultan Khan; Indian and jazz percussion innovator Trilok Gurtu; New York drummer Karsh Kale; bass, drum, and tabla visionary Talvin Singh; and music programmer Brad Somatik. Producer/bassist Bill Laswell, who "conceived and constructed" the CD, acts as the catalyst for the outfit, adding the bottom end with his dub basslines and the overall aesthetic with his studio prowess. More of a consortium than a full-blown collaboration, not one of the songs on Tabla Matrix features all members of the group. Zakir Hussain's many tracks are among the best on the album, though Trilok Gurtu's funky Big Brother and Talvin Singh's Don't Worry.Com are both extremely compelling. The often zombie-ridden doldrums of electronica should benefit immensely from this experimental union with tabla. An excellent CD that deserves to be heard many times by many people, Tala Matrix manages to be innovative without loosing sight of tradition. AMG.

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GiGi with Material - Mesgana Ethiopia 2010

To say that modern African pop is amazingly diverse would be an understatement. Musicologists could spend hours and hours discussing the many different types of pop that exist on the African continent, where one finds everything from music that is really upbeat, festive, and exuberant (soukous and zouk, for example) to the moodier, duskier sounds coming out of Ethiopia, Mali, and the Sudan. Mesgana Ethiopia, a live recording that unites Ethiopian star Ejigayehu Shibabaw, aka Gigi, with bassist/producer Bill Laswell's outfit Material, definitely falls into the latter category. Gigi thrives on moody, haunting grooves, and the big-voiced singer is quite expressive on hypnotic offerings such as "Shemum Mune," "Gudfela," "Mata Mata," and "Baty." One of the interesting things about these performances is the way that Gigi manages to sound contemporary and rootsy at the same time. While Gigi's original material is modern African pop (though she also performs some traditional songs), there is never any doubt that she gets a lot of inspiration from traditional Ethiopian music as well as from traditional Arabic music. But Gigi (who sings in Ethiopia's Amaharic language) also gets a great deal of inspiration from American jazz, soul, and funk (jazz musician Peter Apfelbaum is heard on tenor sax and flute). In fact, the strong jazz influence that is impossible to miss on Mesgana Ethiopiademonstrates that Gigi and Material are well aware of the innovations of the late Nigerian star Fela Kuti, who was influenced by the modal breakthroughs of John Coltrane and other post-bop greats (Coltranewas greatly influenced by world music, and ironically, Kuti ended up being greatly influenced by Coltrane). Gigi's live encounter with Material yields nonstop excellence on Mesgana Ethiopia. AMG.

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The Barr Brothers - Sleeping Operator 2014

Built around the evocative vocals and songwriting of Brad Barr and the sturdy and studious drumming of his brother Andrew, Montreal-based Americana/folk-rock quartet the Barr Brothers were formed in 2006 after the dissolution of the siblings' avant-rock trio the Slip. Originally based out of Boston, Massachusetts, the Barrs spent the bulk of the '90s touring with the Slip before calling it quits in 2004. Upon relocating to Montreal, the duo hooked up with classically trained harpist Sarah Page and multi-instrumentalist Andres Vial and began operating under the Barr Brothers moniker. The newly minted quartet's eponymous debut album was issued in 2011 via Secret City Records, and elicited positive reviews which helped land the group some television work, including an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. The band's sophomore long-player, Sleeping Operator, arrived in October 2014 to critical accolades eventually earning them a Juno nomination for Adult Alternative Album of the Year. While touring North America and Europe, the Barr Brothers recorded a handful of tracks in Iceland with producer Valgeir Sigurösson (BjörkSigur Rós) which were released in 2015 as the Alta Falls EP. The band's third full-length, Queens of the Breakers, arrived in October 2017 via Secret City Records. AMG.

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quarta-feira, 25 de outubro de 2017

Wildbirds & Peacedrums - Rivers 2010

A study in contrasts, Rivers finds Wildbirds & Peacedrums exploring the conceptual possibilities of their approach. Once again, Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin limit themselves to voice and percussion, but this album -- which combines the limited-edition EPs Retina and Iris -- features some of the duo’s most ambitious and fullest-sounding music. Wallentin and Werliin ventured to Iceland to record these songs, recording the expansive Retina in Guðríðarkirkja church with cellist and arranger Hildur Guðnadóttir and the Schola Cantorum Reykjavík Chamber Choir. Trading the fiery outbursts of Heartcore and The Snake for a deeper dive into Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ wintry, introspective side, Retina feels at once sacred and avant-garde. The choir underscores Wallentin’s expressive vocals, adding to her ethereality on “Bleed Like There Was No Other Flood,” shadowing her like a battle cry on “Fight for Me” and echoing her joy on “Tiny Holes in This World.” The dark, meditative feel of these songs recalls Björk’s later work -- not a surprise, since the Schola Cantorum Reykjavík Chamber Choir worked with her on Medúlla. What is somewhat surprising is the amount of restraint the duo shows not just on Retina, but Iris as well. Recorded in Reykjavík’s Greenhouse Studios, Iris focuses on Wallentin’s voice and the watery tones of the steel pan. Though “The Wave” suggests that these songs will be more like the band’s previous work, a calmer, softer Wildbirds & Peacedrums presents itself on songs like “The Drop” and “The Lake.” While the duo’s more explosive side is missed -- they don’t really cut loose until Iris’ final track “The Well” -- a more sophisticated and soulful aspect of their music surfaces on “The Course,” where Wallentin sings, “I need a prayer to hold my course/To get a god to give me the force.” That Werliin and Wallentin recorded all of these songs within a week is impressive enough, but the new directions they hint at for Wildbirds & Peacedrums are even more exciting. Rivers isn’t as immediate as either Heartcore or The Snake, but fans should find it satisfying once they’ve had time to let it soak into their ears, brains and hearts. AMG.

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