Albums of the Week: Feb 26 - Mar 4 Widespread Panic, Midlake

JamBase Albums of the Week | February 26-March 2, 2010

Kayceman's Pick of the Week
Widespread Panic: 6/19/01 & 06/20/01 Paolo Soleri, Santa Fe, NM (LiveWidespreadPanic)

Summer Tour 2001 was a golden time for Widespread Panic. It was before anyone knew guitarist Michael Houser was sick (he would succumb to cancer the following summer) and whenever Panic took the stage, for the lucky fans in attendance, there wasn't a care in the world. The band was performing at such a peak level and with such confidence that anything was possible on any given night. Add to the equation a lightning storm in the desert at a gorgeous, intimate amphitheatre like Santa Fe, New Mexico's Paolo Soleri, and you have the makings of absolute magic. These were special shows and there's a reason they were selected as the second installment for the band's Porch Songs live archival series. In Panic lore there's talk of frontman John Bell being able to control the weather and it's shows like these that created that belief. More than just highly switched-on, psychedelic jams and dark, deep versions of favorites like "Bowlegged Women," "Guilded Splinters," "Don't Be Denied," "Hatfield," "Chilly Water" and "Arleen," what these shows capture is the band in tune with nature, their fans and most importantly the music. (Kayceman)

Dennis' Pick of the Week
Big Light: Animals In Bloom (Reapandsow)

There's a lot of talented young bands out there but few realize their potential with such succulent success as Big Light's full-length debut, Animals In Bloom (arriving March 2). The opening cut "Good Time of the Year" refers to a fine moment to get back home, but in a way it's prophetic about what's to come. Animals might just be THE good time rock slab of 2010, and if not, the competition has their work cut out for them. Serious music geeks, the quartet - Fred Torphy (lead vocals, guitar, songwriting), Bradly Bifuclo (drums), Steve Adams (bass, vocals) and Jeremy Korpas (lead guitar, vocals) – have crafted something that holds its own against the great bands that have inspired them – Dr. Dog, The Slip, Wilco – while maintaining a well-defined sense of themselves, which one picks up on right from the album's title – a curious mixture of plant life and furred things, a giraffe growing from a stamen perhaps, or maybe just humans thriving despite the great seething, stupid ontological bog the planet finds itself in today. If you don't feel a touch uplifted after just the opening trio of "Good Time," "Monster" (a hit single waiting to happen) and the curiously angled, handclap tinged "Triceratops" then I might question whether you actually like rock 'n' roll. And if those don't nail you then "Superfuzz Fine," "Heavy" or "Rainbow Eyes" should do the trick. One senses that a listener's fave song will change with each spin and the circumstances of their lives – a sign of any truly great album. The vibrancy and unforced hopefulness of Big Light shimmers on every saccharine-free track, and the combination of talents produces a sound that's easy to love but also resonates on a deeper frequency (a feat ably aided by Apollo Sunshine's Jeremy Black, who co-produced with the band). The rhythm team sways with roughhewn charm, carrying the whole enterprise from garage to stadium-ready and back again. Big Light has all the makings of a classic guitar band akin to simpatico pals the Mother Hips. The interplay, attack and keep-you-guessing creativity of Korpas and Torphy are swift catalysts to air guitar frenzy and closed-eye contemplation. The reach of this band is significant. Fully adept at poppy groovers AND cosmically charged heftiness, this band embraces stuff of larger magnitude and intimacy & introspection with equal vigor, and if the primordial seas get churned up in their wake, so be it – they winningly like things a little rough. Animals In Bloom is a phenomenal debut, easily one of the best in the past decade, which reveals a band fully loaded for a bright, bright future. (Dennis Cook)

Ron's Pick of the Week
Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain't No Grave (American)

"Ain't no grave gonna hold my body down," sings the late, great Johnny Cash on the title track for American VI, released 8 years after the Man in Black's tragic passing from respiratory failure due to complications from his diabetes on September 13, 2003, a death undoubtedly expedited by the broken heart he suffered from losing his beloved second wife and collaborator, June Carter-Cash just four months prior. It's a perfect opening for the highly anticipated final installment of his stark, career-rejuvenating American Recordings series with producer Rick Rubin, an album that features tracks recorded right up until Cash's final moments. Though clocking in at a little more than a half-hour, what American VI lacks in length it more than makes up for in longitude, as Johnny utilized his final moments in the studio to reflect on his historic life as country music's greatest outlaw and come to terms with the death knell of which he sung for well over a half century. The album, which writer Ann Powers so poignantly hails as "The Hospice Sessions" in her touching write-up in the Los Angeles Times, was recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio in Henderson, TN and backed by an ad-hoc group of Rubin's most trustworthy session players, including The Avett Brothers, Jonny Polonsky, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, Chavez/Zwan guitarist Matt Sweeney and former Tom Waits guitarist Smokey Hormel. The musicians plays with a serenity that suits Johnny's frail yet firm baritone full of the calm of a man coming to grips with the final stage of the dying process - acceptance. And on Ain't No Grave Cash sounds at peace with the finality of his days, singing songs like Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day," longtime pal Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times," the previously unheard Cash original "I Corinthians: 15:55," and Hawaiian artist Queen Lili'uokalani's touching "Aloha Oe" with a sense of calm and unshakable faith, augmented with the knowledge that he would soon be reunited with his beloved in Heaven. This is a truly dignified sendoff for one of the greatest men to sing into a microphone. (Ron Hart)

U-Melt: Perfect World (Harmonized)
Being honest, the vast majority of studio work from bands in the jam sphere are pretty weak, a pale (if totally earnest) shadow of their live mojo. But, there are happy exceptions like Perfect World (released February 23), a well executed, emotionally honest modern rock set with tendrils into jazz-fusion, electronica, pop and the early '70s art-rock of Deep Purple and Yes. Everything about this album speaks to a smiling engagement with the material and determination to make it live in a way that's different than the stage. While Perfect World has a nifty flow akin to a good gig, there's a depth to the production, particularly the pleasing vocal arrangements, bubbling synths, strongly melodic guitar lines and the way all the individual instruments stand out at key moments that honors the positive difference a studio can make. No doubt all these well- penned numbers will morph and evolve as U-Melt takes them on the road, but like kindred spirits moe., these guys understand the value of creating lasting recorded work. Perfect World is a gliding, warmly presented record that puts them some yards past many of their jam peers. (DC)

These New Puritans: Hidden (Domino)
From what I've gathered, the sound that England's bravest new post-punkers were going for on their second album was the some kind of combination of Steve Reich and Britney Spears. And you know what, there's some solo Thom Yorke in Hidden (arriving March 2) as well, and all of these disparate styles rub up against the Puritans' own post-punk sound. There's also stirring string arrangements, conducted by Robert Brauner, that accent this most impressive, daring release that touches on astrology and mythology in the same way their debut, Beat Pyramid, fed off of numerology. It is incredibly smart music, and if this is the sound of modern rock in the new decade, I'm all for it. (RH)

Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore: Dear Companion (Sub Pop)
Prompted by a desire to raise awareness about mountaintop removal coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains, this pairing of two of the most promising young singer-songwriters today with producer Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket) is a pleasant, fully folksy affair. Captured in just 11 days spread over 5 months, there's an unfussy immediacy to the proceedings, with four new Sollee tunes, five from Moore and two co-writes. "My Wealth Comes To Me" captures some Carter Family magic, "Only A Song" is quality mope, and there's nothing here that doesn't move on quick heels – these boys are really quite talented. But, given the quality of their stunning solo debuts – Moore's Stray Age and Sollee's Learning To Bend - this is a bit of a low spark, though thoroughly nice on many levels and guided by the best of intentions. Yames keeps things clear and simple – voices upfront and a nice strummy vibe - and one suspects there's more to come from this pair, with or without MMJ's impresario. (DC)

Josiah Wolf: Jet Lag (Anticon)
Quick on the heels of the critical success of the last Why? LP, 2009's Mark Nevers- produced Eskimo Snow, the band's multi-instrumentalist sets out to create his own sound. Playing everything himself, including guitar, vibes, kalimba, Hammond organ, bells, bass and drums, Yoni Wolf's big brother knits together a perfect wintertime album, balancing just the right amounts of psychedelic whimsy and folky mellow gold to provide a pleasantly organic feel to the whole of Jet Lag (arriving March 2). This is an odd and beautiful little pop album that definitely deserves your attention. (RH)

Midlake: The Courage of Others (?)
A lovely album to be sure, The Courage of Others (released February 2) is also Midlake's most unoriginal release. Where previously they've woven their openly stated influences into charming new shapes, the 60s/70s British folk-rock catalysts behind this one – Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Bert Jansch, Pentangle and their ilk – ring too loudly. Ignorance of Midlake's muses is the only way to see this as somehow innovative, and in light of Fleet Foxes' recent and better use of the same inspirations (not to mention several decades of various acolytes like Vetiver, America, Devendra Banhart, Dan Fogelberg and MANY others drawing water from this well), Midlake seems a lil' late to the game. All that said, I'm probably going to listen to this a fair amount. It's very pretty and finely etched, and the vocals seep into you pretty fast. The antiquated language feels stilted and less artfully nuanced than say Colin Meloy's handling of similar imagery. Where Courage really succeeds is as a sonic petit four – a yummy, melt- in-your-ears bon bon. There's a curious, tougher melodic bent below all the U.K. stuff that strangely recalls the quieter, power ballad-y bits on early Journey albums with Steve Perry when keyboardist Gregg Rolie shared lead vocals (just dig into Side B on Infinity, Evolution or Departure to hear what I mean). In this way, I guess, Midlake has done something new to what Steeleye, Fairport, etc. wrought more than 40 years ago. (DC)

Rob Swift: The Architec (Ipecac)
The back inlay card to The Architect, the label debut for the NYC DJ legend on Mike Patton's Ipecac Records, pays homage to Swift's longtime stage partner as part of the X- Men/X-Ecutioners crew, Grandmaster Roc Raida, who sadly died due to an unfortunate martial arts accident that fatally damaged his spine. There isn't a better testament to the ground these two broke together than this gutter album, which finds Swift flipping and rearranging old film scores and classical records into dank, late '90s street science. And with NYC underground great Breez Evahflowin guesting on two tracks, The Architect (released February 23) is easily Swift's strongest work since The Ablist. (RH)

Moreland & Arbuckle: Flood (Telarc)
Biting, not prettied up, belly hittin' blues is whatcha get on Flood (arriving February 23). The opening pair of Little Walter's "Hate To See You Go" and traditional "John Henry" will shake some paint loose, both ferocious descendents of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at their gnarled best. Things open up on several levels after that, including the rising power of "Before The Flood," the new classic murder blues of "Bound and Determined" and the haunted crawl of "18 Counties." On Flood Moreland & Arbuckle attack the blues in ways that strongly recall the youthful rediscovery of the genre that hits both sides of the Atlantic in the 1960s, where an art form sometimes given up for dead leaps up and snares you with hard, piercing eyes and a grip that don't quit. (DC)

Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me (Drag City)
Just ask The Clash, The Magnetic Fields and Prince: Releasing a triple album is a major risk that could either be a home run or a game-costing blunder. And while the harp- plinking pixie folk of Joanna Newsom works well in the single LP format, can she keep our interest across three CDs and just over two and a half hours of six-plus minute-long songs? Surprisingly enough, the answer is absolutely. While her last album, 2006's Ys, was filled with spates of excessiveness doused in orchestral washes courtesy of Van Dyke Parks and the busy production of Jim O'Rourke, Have One On Me (released February 23) is a more simplified but no less musical affair. Though her love for medieval melodies is still present, these 18 songs also harbor an earthy, soulful warmth not fully heard in Newsom's earlier work. Here she evokes a relaxing, ethereal mix of Laura Nyro and recent Kate Bush. Even if Ys or her 2004 debut The Milk Eyed Mender weren't exactly your thing, you might be surprised by how much of Have One On Me you'll actually find yourself willing to sit through - a complement of the highest order. (RH)

John Ellis & Double-Wide: Puppet Mischief (Obliqsound)
Playful only scratches the surface of this delectable jazz offering. Kicking off with "Okra & Tomatoes," a romp that suggests '50s Ellington if he really dug '70s TV themes like Sanford & Son, Ellis' latest (released February 23) works as the theoretical score to the adventures of the charmingly misbehaved Muppets hinted at in the title. Ellis is an earthy, gutsy tenor sax and bass clarinet player and an increasingly savvy composer. Surrounded by ultra empathetic compatriots – Double-Wide's Brian Coogan (organ), Matt Perrine (sousaphone) and Jason Marsalis (drums), plus guests Gregoire Maret (harmonica) and Alan Ferber (trombone) – this taps straight into the bounce and playfulness of jazz's small combo pioneers like Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller and then smears on New Orleans grease and Downtown NYC wackiness. More than anything else, Puppet Mischief is huge goddamn fun, something a lot of others jazzbos are too scared to even attempt, let alone pull off with this level of skipping aplomb. (DC)

Strange Boys: Be Brave (In The Red)
With the exception to their In The Red labelmates Reigning Sound, there isn't a better garage band in the U.S. today than Austin's Strange Boys, a group of youngsters who sound as though they crawled right out of an old crusty issue of Bomp Magazine and right into our jaded hearts. For the follow-up to their 2009 debut … And Girls Club, the Boys expand their lineup to include Seth Densham and Jenna Thornhill of the group Mika Miko and Tim Presley (Darker My Love) and take their Daniel Johnston-plays-Kinda Kinks sound to new, intriguing levels of rhythm and mood. (RH)

Tindersticks: Falling Down A Mountain (Constellation)
This comes on like a sensual fog settling upon one's landscape, moist and whispering like a breeze. The Tindersticks' second release since relaunching in 2008 refines all the articulate, smart things about the band into their most readily intoxicating and lingeringly mysterious shapes yet. Bandleader Stuart Staples' crooner-y voice has never been more liquid or captivating, and he's put to the test on an album that moves from hushed atmospherics to wide-scale pop expression. From the gum-snapping, handclap shimmy of "Harmony Around My Table" to the hypnotic title cut to the hard edged "Black Smoke" to the luminous '60s pop style of "Peanuts" with guest Mary Margaret O'Hara, Falling Down A Mountain (released February 16) is these U.K. gems in their best form. (DC)

Jack Rose: Luck In The Valley (Thrill Jockey)
Modern folk guitar great Jack Rose was taken from us too soon, lost to a heart attack last December at the age of 38. He left behind a phenomenal body of work in his brief 15-odd years in the public eye both as a solo act and with his Southern drone trio Pelt. But his posthumous Thrill Jockey debut could very well be his Sistine Chapel. With the help of such prolific pals as Cul-De-Sac's Glenn Jones, Harmonica Dan and his longtime backup group the Black Twig Pickers, Rose perfectly brought together his primary influences here - the raga of Robbie Basho and Peter Walker, the country blues of Mississippi John Hurt and the early 20th century ragtime fingerpicking of fellow Virginian William Moore - on the phenomenal Luck In The Valley (released February 23), particularly on such numbers as "Lick Mountain Ramble" and a winning cover of early blues giant WC Handy's "St. Louis Blues". It's a bittersweet listen from a massive talent snuffed out far before his time. (RH)

Was (Not Was): Pick of the Litter – 1980-2010 (MicroWerks)
When folks list off the great Detroit music innovators they often leave off Was (Not Was). Maybe it's because they arrived in the 1980s and there's a critical taint to the decade or maybe because you can dance to their shit so it's not taken as seriously as the Stooges, MC5, etc. But, hit play on this best-of anthology and you'll find a prescient, hugely intelligent, talented bunch. Don Fagenson and David Weiss changed their last names to Was and carved out groove-wise, subversive, often weird, future inflected music that picks up dangling threads from Parliament, Zappa and the Beat Generation. This assortment draws primarily from their productive first decade up to 1990 with a smattering of later tracks since the band reformed after a long break. Don Was, of course, became a go-to producer, and one hears the rudiments of his skill set forming on these rough 'n' smooth constructions. The singers, especially the great Sweet Pea Atkinson, are on point in a Steely Dan way, and the playing is intense, skillful and geared to loosen spines. Pick of the Litter makes a very good argument that Detroit's musical pantheon should include these pioneers. (DC)

Freeway & Jake One: The Stimulus Package (Rhymesayers)
Downsized by virtue of corporate re-appropriation, Philly MC extraordinaire Freeway knows a thing or two about the snakebite of the economic downturn. But as his stellar Rhymesayers debut testifies, being left behind by Jay-Z following the Jigga Man's sweetheart deal with concert world-eater Live Nation could have been the best thing to ever happen to him. The Stimulus Package (released February 16) - produced by one- time G-Unit house producer Jake One and featuring the likes of fellow Roc La Familia orphan Beanie Sigel, Raekwon and Birdman, among others - is a soulful testament to the strength of one of the '00s finest rappers and his unique delivery. The only thing missing from this set is a collaboration with Rhymesayers charge Slug, which we can only hope will happen on the follow-up. (RH)

Toumani Diabate & Ali Farka Toure: Toumani and Ali (Nonesuch)
Recorded less than a year before the passing of African guitar great Ali Farka Toure, this gorgeous session with Malian kora kingpin Toumani Diabate went down over the course of three afternoons in 2005 at London's Livingston Studios prior to the release of their first collaboration together, In The Heart of the Moon, which would go on to win a Grammy for Best Traditional World Album in 2006. Ali and Toumani (released February 23) is a far more intimate affair. Here, the duo played their respective acoustic instruments like a poetic and private conversation between two friends, radiating a sense of peaceful finality, as though they both subconsciously knew it would be their last collaboration. Simply stunning. (RH)

Eluvium: Similies (Temporary Residence)
Four years after his mid-00s masterpiece Copia, Matthew Cooper returns to his long- running ambient alter-ego Eluvium with an album that finds the Northwest-based artist making a few noticeable alterations to the project's trademark experimental tone. With Similies (released February 23), Cooper switches things up by employing percussion and verse-chorus-verse song structure, revealing this sonic auteur actually harbors quite a fine singing voice, almost a Zen-like Ian Curtis. The results come off like Brian Eno's Discreet Music had he chosen to sing over the textured keyboard hums, making this album a pleasant surprise that might throw longtime Eluvium fans off at first. But if given a chance, they will discover it to be one of the finest moments of Cooper's near- decade-long oeuvre. (RH)

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

Ruts D.C.: Rhythm Collision Re>Loaded (Echo Beach)
Originally released in 1982 following the death of their original frontman Malcolm Owen, revered UK punk band The Ruts added D.C. to their name and collaborated with the legendary Mad Professor for Rhythm Collision Vol. 1, perhaps the single greatest and most unheralded fusion of dub and punk ever recorded. Unfortunately, the album is long out-of- print and going for major bucks online, but thanks to the folks at Echo Beach, this seminal early '80s must-have is revisited in the form of Rhythm Collision Re>Loaded (released October 16, 2009), which takes some of the album's most crucial plates and sees them quixotically remixed by the likes of Greg Dread of Big Audio Dynamite, Rob Smith of the acclaimed Bristol DJ duo Smith & Mighty, Chemical Brothers programmer Steve Dub and the surviving members of the Ruts D.C., among others. All you JamBasers looking for a new kick to your reggae jones, look no further than Rhythm Collision Re>Loaded. (RH)

[Published on: 2/27/10]

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