Albums of the Week: February 12-18

JamBase Albums of the Week | February 12-February 18, 2010

Dennis' Pick of the Week
Redwater: Time Is A Lie (Redwater Music)

At first it seems one has stumbled across a really good hard rock band, crusty as '70s Robert Plant's jeans after a fortnight on tour and unruly as sweaty old Sabbath. And this would be just swell on its own measure but Redwater starts throwing serious curves four tracks in with country tinged corker "Off To War" and from there they roam off the leash, jamming and prodding things with puppy-like energy. The stellar hard rockers return in the tail section and taken together with everything in between – including a real facility with slow burns -Redwater's full-length debut (released February 12) is reminiscent of what Pearl Jam and The Black Crowes did in the 1990s (i.e. taking classic rock and building compelling new shapes atop that foundation). Though many ape Zeppelin and Hendrix, Redwater sweats their musk. They are young and there are definitely some rough edges, but they bear the markings of a band that could one day be really special. They've already offered up a frothing elixir against the Nickelbacks of the world with this highly enjoyable first salvo. (Dennis Cook)

Ron's Pick of the Week
Kenny Rankin: Catalog Reissues (Sly Dog-Mack Avenue)

"Yacht rock" is a term levied by the hipper-than-hip denizens of Generation Y in reference to the silky soft AM sounds of such 1970s acts as Christopher Cross, Loggins & Messina, Michael McDonald, Bread, Gordon Lightfoot, et al. The term also served as the title to a funny 2005 online video series spoofing the lives of these aforementioned soft rock superstars. Now upon listening to the late Kenny Rankin, who sadly died of lung cancer in June 2009 at the age of 69, it's totally understandable if your initial reaction is, "Oh man, this is EXACTLY what Ted Knight would be listening to on The Flying WASP in Caddyshack (had, of course, Rappin' Rodney not dropped anchor on it)." However, to pass off Rankin's music as mere "yacht rock" would be a disservice to the ground broken by this most underrated New York-born performer, who grew up in the same neighborhood in the Bronx as Dion and played guitar on Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home, with his calming, natural fusion of soul, bossa nova, folk and jazz, utilizing the same panache as Steely Dan did for their Brooklyn-brewed blend of bop and rock. "He's a fine musician with an original style and unquestionable taste," gushed Johnny Carson, who invited Kenny onto The Tonight Show several times during his long run as host, in a quote on the inside cover of Rankin's 1967 debut, Mind-Dusters. When you dig into this sextet of digitally mastered reissues of his sextet of seventies releases, curated by the Rankin family, you can't help but agree with the late night legend's sentiments. Though all six of these albums are gems in their own right, heads will want to start off with 1970's Family, which proves Rankin was the only cat who could properly pull off back-to-back covers of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence," Bert Jansch's "Needle of Death" and Otis Redding's "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" without a hitch. 1972's Like A Seed serves as the finest showcase for Rankin's magnificent fretwork, especially his rare electric moment, "Bad Times Make You Strong," written by both Kenny and his then-wife Yvonne, and 1974's Silver Morning contains a version of "Blackbird" that so impressed Paul McCartney he asked Rankin to perform the song during Macca and John Lennon's induction into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Do yourself and your constitution a solid and introduce yourself to the artistry of Kenny Rankin and his thinking man's sooth if you haven't already. Yacht rock this most certainly is not. (Ron Hart)

Hot Chip: One Life Stand (Astralwerks)
Well, this is pretty freakin' romantic, even downright syrupy in places ("Take It In" and the unavoidably homoerotic "Brothers" will test the patience of even the most stalwart New Romantic). Hot Chip's fourth offering (released February 9) picks up the laced gauntlet of Spandau Ballet, OMD, and more obscurely the Blue Nile and Prefab Sprout – all wet-eyed, swooning English pop models. What's absent are the crunching, saucy dance floor bombs they made their bones on. There's a lil' shimmy to "We Have Love" and the title cut but mainly this simmers low and REALLY sincere. It's quite artfully put together, and in a way it's a perfect Valentine, if one has the patience and appetite for such soft serve. (DC)

Excepter: Presidence (Paw-Tracks)
Long-running New York City noise collective Excepter release their eighth album in their eight years and go for broke doing it. Presidence (arriving February 16) is a two-disc goliath of transmission and atmosphere, mostly recorded live in the studio, including a 27-minute-long drone recorded on Election Day (hence the album title) that sounds like early Tangerine Dream, and "The Open Well," another 20-odd minute jam that could be Can had they replaced Malcolm Mooney with Lee "Scratch" Perry instead of Damo Suzuki. (RH)

Glossary: Feral Fire (Liberty & Lament)
Folks with a serious yen for The Jayhawks and similar everything-in-its-right-place Americana should immediately check out Glossary. With just the right measures of twang and rawk, Feral Fire slides along invitingly, the sort of slab that grows more beloved with each spin. "Bend With The Breeze" vibes with It Still Moves-era My Morning Jacket, though the general feel is more rough 'n' tumble than those Kentucky boys. Led by Lucero's Todd Beene and produced by Centro-matic's Matt Pence, Glossary's sixth outing (released February 2) is a winner full of tattered hearts and souls ready for another round. (DC)

Jaga Jazzist: One-Armed Bandit (Ninja Tune)
Norwegian electro-jazz rockers Jaga Jazzist continue to master their craft with One-Armed Bandit (arriving February 23). But if you are expecting the laptop modality of 2003's The Stix, you might be in for a bit of a surprise. The feel of this nine-track set suggests someone has been on a serious Frank Zappa kick in this band, given the heavy Grand Wazoo/Hot Rats vibe of the album's title cut and the epic-sounding freak-out "Prognissekogen." Elsewhere, "Music! Dance! Drama!" institutes a vintage Lalo Schifrin soundtrack resonance while the gentleman haze of American post-rock lingers long over most of the other material here. A brave new direction for a most incredible band; it's good to see them back. (RH)

Hot Day At The Zoo: Zoograss (INTA Records)
One always got the sense from their lively, impressive studio work that Massachusetts-based HDATZ was a murderously good string band in concert, and Zoograss offers empirical proof. There's a delightful, slightly breathless roll to this 14-track cross section of newer tunes and satisfying live versions of older material that shows things are evolving really nicely. Swept up by Zoograss one wonders why these cats aren't as well known as Greensky Bluegrass, Hot Buttered Rum, Cornmeal and other festival/club circuit comers. What's so appealing about HDATZ is how they make no nevermind about mixing up sea shanties, boxcar blues, fiddle numbers, rock classics and much else. This is simply the music they love to play, and their great skill, knack for cool fusions and potent personal energy is likely to make you love it, too. (DC)

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Kollaps Tradixionales (Constellation)
After seeing its lineup expand to unreasonable numbers as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band with Choir, SMZ thankfully pares down their personnel to a final five and make some of the best music of their careers on their latest, Kollaps Tradixionales (arriving February 16). It's a fiery, psychedelic phoenix of an album that has more in common with the classical dirge of the Canadian group's root band Godspeed You! Black Emperor than just about anything else they have ever done. Listen to this album and you will understand why the late, great Vic Chesnutt recruited some of these guys to be part of his last band. (RH)

Karnivool: Sound Awake (Sony)
This is some seriously tasty prog-metal. Australia's Karnivool has a decent presence at home and is quickly building a strong audience internationally. Not hard to understand given the stormy, Mars Volta-esque vocals of Ian Kenny laid atop the exploratory heaviness of a band with a broad sonic imagination. Sound Awake (arriving February 16 in the U.S.) is perfect bong hit, low light music nerd fodder that also sounds like it'd be deeply satisfying played monstrously loud live. Those feeling Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater have a new band to discover, and while some of Karnivool's moves here seem vaguely re-Tool-ed, it's unlikely Maynard or any of the other touchstones would have produced the snarling, catchy head-charge of "Set Fire To The Hive," just one of several promising signs here. (DC)

Nneka: Concrete Jungle (DECON-Epic)
With Lauryn Hill in self-imposed exile and no set date for an album she has been working on for most of the 00s, there's a strong chance she's pulling a serious JD Salinger on us for the long term. Don't fret, however, as Nigeria's NNeka Egbuna picks up right where Ms. Hill left off with Miseducation on her U.S. debut, Concrete Jungle (released February 2). This becoming warrior princess of African and German heritage keeps it real with her acoustic-driven fusion of soul and hip-hop, coming off on some Dead Prez type shit, though her music could fit in alongside Corinne Bailey-Rae and Erykah Badu as well as it could Black Uhuru and The Fugees' Blunted On Reality. (RH)

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Kicking Against The Pricks: Collector's Edition (Mute)
Nick Cave found his voice on this album. That's his literal voice as a singer/stylist; as far as his rangy, evocative, often confrontational songwriting, well, that's still evolving nicely. 1986's Pricks finds the man and his coconspirators tackling meaty material from John Lee Hooker, Lou Reed, Jimmy Webb, Leadbelly and more. The results are a mixture of alluring and distressing, with all involved rattling the ghost chains inside the iconic tunes. As a singer, Cave discovered his sweet spot mouthing other's words, and has only refined what's present here since. You'd be hard pressed to find better takes on "Hey Joe" and "Long Black Veil," and the fine remastering job does wonders over the original's slightly murky haze. The sharp edges, well placed strings and conscious space shine through the speakers now, further adding to Pricks' considerable heft. And the informative, interview rich liner notes by Amy Hanson further situate this gem in the Cave-nology. Mute continues the Bad Seeds reissue series on March 30 with audio retools plus video and 5.1 Surround mix bolstered editions of Tender Prey (1988), The Good Son (1990) and Henry's Dream (1992) arriving March 30. (DC)

Various Artists: Black Man's Cry: The Inspiration of Fela Kuti (Stones Throw)
Coinciding with the Jigga-produced Broadway play and the newly revitalized Knitting Factory Records rolling out the same reissue campaign MCA did 11 years ago for Nigerian funk god Fela Kuti (with a much better campaign, in my opinion), leave it to Stones Throw to deliver a Fela set you should definitely look out for. Studiously compiled by Stones Throw czar Egon, this a collection of music inspired by the Afrobeat style developed by Fela and the international scene that evolved around the genre's fruition, featuring music from the early '70s scenes in Ghana, Colombia and Trinidad, alongside modern Afro-centric acts as The Daktaris, the Whitfield Brothers and Karl Hector and the Malcouns. Great stuff (arriving February 23). (RH)

Oops, We Missed It!
Killer Releases From 2009 That Somehow Slipped By Us

Monahans: Dim The Aurora (Misra)
Ever wonder what happened to Milton Mapes? If you, like JamBase, were totally smitten with 2005's The Blacklight Trap and hankered for more, well, here it is…sort of. MM's Greg Vanderpool and Roberto Sánchez, formed Monahans, which offers a bolder, grittier, all-together more ready-to-leap into your arms sound. From unpredictable, liquid instrumentals to a simmering boldness reminiscent of early U2 to soothing calls to connection to hooky rockers, Monahans holds up a crackling torch to guide us through the gathering shadows. Positivity or genuine sensitivity are tough to wrangle into song form without sounding trite or cliché, but Dim The Aurora (released May 19, 2009) manages this feat repeatedly, gathering heartening sentiments inside musically robust settings. Can't wait for album number two. (DC)

Guano Padano: Guano Padano (Important)
Free jazz, surf guitar and classic film music punctuate the amazing debut album of Italy's Guano Padano, a late 2009 release on the ever-crucial experimental imprint Important Records. "If there ever was a soundtrack waiting to find its mate in the cinematic world, this album by Guano Padano would surely find good company with the likes of Fellini, Leone, Jarmusch and Sofia Coppola," raved Calexico's Joey Burns of this multi-faceted trio, who count Italian singing great Bobby Solo, Captain Beefheart/Jeff Buckley guitarist Gary Lucas and Alessandro Alessandroni, the legendary whistler from Ennio Morricone's Spaghetti Western scores, amongst the guests on this 11-track journey, which is a must hear for any Tarantino fan out there. (RH)

[Published on: 2/14/10]

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