Albums of the Week: Jan 29-Feb 4

JamBase Albums of the Week | January 29-February 4, 2010

Dennis' Pick of the Week
Retribution Gospel Choir: 2 (Sub Pop)

There's something indestructibly right about a trio, a configuration full of dialog and individual distinctness where each element is essential. No one can lay off or phone it in with music so exposed, and that's just how Retribution Gospel Choir likes it. If you're only familiar with Alan Sparhawk from his work with Low, then you're in for a powerful revelation. RGC is a gnarlier, rangier creature evolved from classic power trios like Grand Funk Railroad and James Gang. But like one of the last great rock threesomes, Nirvana, there's nothing retro about RGC, who engage with modern discontent in ways both anthemic and subtle. This sophomore effort refines the approach of their charged debut (JamBase review), taking Sparhawk (guitar, vocals), Eric Pollard (drums) and new bassist Steve Garrington into both poppier and murkier spaces. Not unlike Butch Vig's polish of Cobain & Co., Avril Lavigne/Britney Spears vet Matt Beckley's mixing focuses their sound, giving it serious presence but with all the wonderful rough edges still intact. Only 33-minutes long, 2 (released January 26) moves in a very idiosyncratic way, where fuzzy roar gives way to ghostly Tin Pan Alley which cedes to sing-along catharsis. Along the way RGC proves adept at Crazy Horse elongation ("Poor Man's Daughter," "Electric Guitar") and tight, breathy power pop ("Hide It Away"). When one arrives at "Bless Us All," the bruised hymn that closes 2, one feels slightly pulverized, in a good way. The inky black edge on even the brightest moments bestows a reality on the proceedings that sticks, making 2 one of the first standouts of 2010. (Dennis Cook)

Ron's Pick of the Week
Frank Zappa: Philly '76 (Vaulternative)

Gail Zappa's ongoing battle to "Beat the Boots" might not make her a beloved entity amongst the legion of obsessives scouring the blogosphere for Rapidshare links to Frank Zappa's music (studio, live or otherwise), with FZ community sites shut down faster than you can say Waka/Jawaka. But at least she counterbalances her "zero tolerance" policy towards the distribution of her late husband's music by offering some of Frank's most sought-after soundboards as official releases via the Zappa Family Trust's Vaulternative imprint. The widow Zappa's latest offering is Philly '76, a two-CD set documenting a classic Halloween Eve's performance at the recently departed Philadelphia Spectrum during the bicentennial. Touring in support of the soon-to-be- released guitar rock monolith Zoot Allures, this collection serves as a rare jewel in the Zappa universe on account of it being one of the only known full concert recordings to feature keyboardist/singer Bianca Odin's brief tenure with the Mothers in the Napoleon Brock Murphy/Ike Willis seat alongside guitarist Ray White, violinist Eddie Jobson, bassist Patrick O'Hearn and longtime FZ drummer Terry Bozzio (there is another boot of this tour's Boston show featuring the same line-up out there as well, but good luck finding it). Odin (who now goes by Lady Bianca) only lasted for one tour with the band, quitting because of the constant harassment coming from Zappa's audience, who clamored for her to take her top off onstage. But during her brief tenure, she added a heaping pile of soul to such classic ditties as "Dinah Moe Humm," "Chrissy Puked Twice" (aka "Titties ‘N Beer"), and "What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are," which was performed on this tour by Flo and Eddie of the Turtles, but who couldn't be there due to the unexpected death of their guitarist. And although Philly '76 does focus more on the pop end of Zappa's catalog, prog heads can relish in the extended versions of such Zoot Allures treasures as "The Torture Never Stops" (featuring some pretty sexy pleasure/pain moans from Bianca) and a face-melting version of "Black Napkins," which Zappa admits to playing with talk show great Mike Douglas's studio orchestra the day before. Any fan of mid-70s FZ will definitely want to add Philly '76 to their collection, as it stands as one of the more unique shows to be officially released by the Zappa Family Trust to date. (Ron Hart)

Crazy Heart – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (New West)
T-Bone Burnett and recently departed Texas singer-songwriter-producer Stephen Bruton present a superb Americana cross-section for the much feted Jeff Bridges film, including Bridges' own fine, burly voice plumbing the soul of several great Burnett/Bruton compositions. Hard to sound bad with a "house band" of Ryan Bingham, Greg Leisz, Jay Bellerose, Dennis Crouch and Buddy Miller though, and it's heartening to have classics like Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" and Lightnin' Hopkins' "Once A Gambler" pushed into greater public consciousness. As fine an encapsulation of the post-70s Texas country aesthetic as ever assembled (released January 19). (DC)

Pat Metheny: Orchestrion (Nonesuch)
With Trent Reznor retiring Nine Inch Nails and all, leave it up to jazz music's premier guitar hero to reinvent the concept of the one-man band. Building upon the idea of the Orchestrion, a large mechanical device from the Industrial Age devised to play various orchestral instruments on its own, Metheny, with the help of a behind-the-scenes team of scientists and engineers, gives the antiquated concept a 21st century makeover by rigging an arsenal of pianos, drums, marimbas and even a cabinet of bottles to a series of solenoid switches and pneumatics, thus creating his most inventive and inspired solo recording since 1979's New Chautauqua. (RH)

The Very Best: Warm Heart of Africa (Green Owl)
"You listen/ Get your ear ready for the word/ Think like a human being." There is something stirringly humanizing about this marvelous collaboration between two European DJ/producers and Esau Mwamwaya, one of the finest singers to emerge from Africa in decades. Warmth is the operative vibe, though the crackling machine hum is thoroughly modern and a killer counterpoint to the heartbeat percussion and Mwamwaya's gliding voice. Guest shots from Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig and M.I.A. add further flava, but the core of this trio is a deep vibration full of real soul that stirs up light and loveliness. (DC)

Various Artists: Mavis (Strut-K7!)
British DJ/music impresario Ashley Beedle's Mavis project is not so much a direct tribute to the celebrated sounds of album namesake and soul legend Mavis Staples and her family band, The Staples Singers, as it is an homage to their iconic, innovative fusion of gospel, funk and R&B. Based upon an instrumental Beedle and music partner Dareen Morris conspired after listening to Burt Bacharach's cover of Mavis' hit "A House is Not A Home," this unique collection offers 11 different variations of the song and employing the likes of Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, Candi Staton, Ed Harcourt, Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice and Catatonia's Cerys Matthews, among others, to add their vocal spins to their creations, resulting in a thoroughly unique set that does the music of Ms. Staples great justice. (RH)

The Wingdale Community Singers: Spirit Duplicator (Scarlet Shame)
Rich in texture and imagery, Spirit Duplicator has the nearly impossible to capture feel of vintage Fairport Convention, a gorgeous, instantly appealing conglomeration of sounds. Folk-rock doesn't often live up to its best ancestors but Wingdale nails it on every cut, doing Crosby-era Byrds, Pentangle, etc. proud and even modernizing things a bit. Though captured at Seaside Lounge in Brooklyn, it feels gloriously homemade, something brought back to the city from some retreat. Barbs lurk in the thicket of their lyrics – crashing comets and strange hours given shape – but, like the gentler passages, they just make one feel things in an achingly acute way. The Singers include novelist Rick Moody, who proves the ultra-rare writer-turned-musician who's utterly comfortable in his second skin, especially on such a truly special album. (DC)

Blockhead: The Music Scene (Ninja Tune)
After a questionable venture into shiny, happy territory with his last solo endeavor, 2007's Uncle Tony's Coloring Book, NYC underground hip-hop producer Tony "Blockhead" Simon makes a most welcome return to the dusty, ominous instrumentals he is known and loved for creating, both as Aesop Rock's go-to beatsmith and as his own act on The Music Scene (released January 12). Easily his best instrumental album since his 2004 solo debut, Music By Cavelight, Blockhead's fourth is foreboding, psychedelic and layered with samples of jazz piano, classical guitar and strange bits of dialogue from what sounds like old school children's theater available in the public domain. It also features quite arguably the best album cover art you will see all year. (RH)

Scout Niblett: The Calcination of Scout Niblett (Drag City)
A grungy buzz worthy of Sabbath launches this jagged, holy rolling hot mess – wholly a compliment given the poetic snarl and emotional testifying of Emma Louise "Scout" Niblett. Producer Steve Albini keeps things exposed and spare, and the atmosphere is akin to an intense staring contest with someone likely to devour or destroy you. "Welcome to my self-made sweatbox," she purr/growls on the title cut, and you just want to lick the perspiration off her, knowing full well that moving in close may mean the end of you. Haunting and heavy, The Calcination… (released January 26) has the off-putting yet irresistible genius of vintage Patti Smith given an intimate, highly personal reinvention. (DC)

The Album Leaf: A Chorus of Storytellers (Sub Pop)
Critics seem to unfairly slag on Jimmy LaValle and his decade-old electronically-minded post-rock project The Album Leaf for cutting too close to the MOR/Easy Listening cloth, tossing it off as "yacht rock" or whatever. But you know something, every generation needs their Christopher Cross, and few men in the 21st century can juggle the balance between the experimental and the conventional quite like LaValle. And on A Chorus of Storytellers (arriving February 2), he strikes the most leveled parity of this duality of his career, further enhanced by the fact that this the first Album Leaf record to employ the use of a full live band. The haters will surely keep on hating, but the appreciators will see this as LaValle's most realized work to date. (RH)

Citay: Dream Get Together (Dead Oceans)
Good lord, this is ruthlessly catchy! This enduring S.F. ensemble has finally harnessed their considerable psychedelic-yet-substantive live energy into a studio corker that makes one wiggle with newly unleashed freedom. They capture the moment before the alarm clock hits and scatters our sleepy reveries, and they hitch that vibe to beautiful fucking guitars with the shreddy, tube amp warmth of prime Thin Lizzy, sweet siren harmonies, slippery lyrics, awesomely pretty stretches and a positively indestructible rhythm section. What makes this their best yet is the quality songwriting, general group cohesion and the pitch perfect production of Tim Green, who also plays a mean guitar here. A welcome ray of sunshine in the heart of winter. (released January 26). (DC)

Massive Attack: Heligoland (Virgin-EMI)
Following a seven-year hiatus, UK trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack finally release their long-in-the-works follow-up to 2003's 100th Window. Originally titled Weather Underground, Heligoland (arriving February 9) is a dark, downtempo masterpiece featuring production from the DFA's Tim Goldsworthy (alongside Massive bassist Neil Davidge) and teeming with a respectable array of guest vocalists including Tunde from TV On The Radio, Martina Topley-Bird, Blur/Gorillaz chief Damon Albarn, Elbow's Guy Garvey, Mazzy Star chanteuse Hope Sandoval and longtime Massive Attack collaborator Horace Andy. If this becomes viewed as 3D and Daddy G's finest hour by music historians in the near future, do not be surprised 'cause it sure sounds that way to me. (RH)

RL Heyer Trio: Turn Me Upside-Down (Death-Rail)
Offering up "songs about life, love, and the effects of extreme drug use on the human psyche," this is a pleasant reminder of what three dudes with raw talent, a yen to tickle fancies and a pile of well-crafted tunes can do. Heyer (guitar, lead vocals), Scott Goodwin (drums, vocals) and Eric Bryson (bass) all play together in Flowmotion but dig into leaner, rootsier grooves here, generating a healthy density regardless of tempo or style dabbling in what is essentially great meat 'n' potatoes rock. Heyer's voice is full of exposed feelings and he's got one of the illest guitar tones around. Much to like, nothing not to, and they got the goods live, too. (DC)

[Published on: 1/29/10]

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