Albums of the Week: February 5-11

JamBase Albums of the Week | February 5-February 11, 2010

Dennis’ Pick of the Week
Galactic: Ya-Ka-May (Anti)

These sons of New Orleans have done their city proud by honoring Armstrong, Prof. Longhair, and other innovators and crafting a distinct, resolutely modern collection that successfully incorporates ancestral elements. Less hip-hop oriented than its predecessor, 2007’s From the Corner to the Block, this announces with authority that music continues to evolve in the Big Easy, absorbing the crispness and edge prevalent on today’s charts and folding it into the city’s irresistible tub-thumping, primal swing. Ya-Ka-May (arriving February 9) differentiates itself from most other modern soul/funk by retaining a human feel, often felt in the crackling rawness of guest vocalists like Allen Toussaint, Big Chief Bo Dollis and Irma Thomas and big band largess of drum stud Stanton Moore. In these settings, the old hands school today’s chart toppers and Galactic themselves reveal what a sham the bloodless, Pro-Tools, Auto-Tuned mainstream really is. Bangers like “Liquor Pang,” “Dark Water” and “Double It” are ripe to go toe-to-toe with anything Timbaland or Lil’ Wayne serve up, except these sweat and grunt in a way that sidesteps the factory produced sterility of most mass consumption singles. One longs to see this entire assemblage tour as a massive revue that would showcase the interlocking nature of New Orleans music throughout several generations. Ya-Ka-May is a juggernaut of fat grooves and slinky sensibilities that announces that New Orleans is alive and well, at least when Galactic is the custodian of its traditions. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week
Peter Gabriel: Scratch My Back (EMI)

If there is anything to be learned about Peter Gabriel in the 40-plus years he has been in the pop eye, it’s the fact that he is definitely one advanced-minded Englishman. Whether it be pushing the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll theatre as the Fox-headed, flute playing frontman of Genesis, with his music videos in the 1980s as a solo act, or the art of the film score with his stunning soundtracks to such critically acclaimed films as The Last Temptation of Christ and Rabbit Proof Fence over the last 20 years, the man hasn’t seen a glass ceiling he didn’t want to throw a bowling ball through. So, leave it up to PG to reinvent the concept of the covers album as well, which is exactly what he’s done with the haunting Scratch My Back (arriving February 16 in the U.K. and March 2 in the U.S.), his first proper solo album since 2002’s Up. With nothing more than a piano and a string section, Gabriel handpicks a dozen songs – six from like-minded contemporaries David Bowie, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Randy Newman and David Byrne, and six from some of the newer acts he admires like Radiohead, Bon Iver, Elbow, Regina Spektor, The Magnetic Fields and Arcade Fire – and by the power of his unmistakable rasp, makes every one of them entirely his own. Most of his choices fit swimmingly with the stripped down format, most notably Bon Iver’s haunting “Flume,” Young’s “Philadelphia,” Reed’s “The Power of the Heart” and surprisingly, “Listening Wind,” a deep cut from Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. But it’s his take on Simon’s Graceland hit “The Boy in the Bubble,” substituting the song’s quasi-Zydeco buoyancy with a downright somber arrangement that really brings out the paranoia in the song’s Orwellian message that seems more fitting now than it did in 1987. Following Scratch My Back is I’ll Scratch Yours, where the artists featured here have their way with the Peter Gabriel catalog. Thom Yorke is allegedly already on board and planning to record “Wallflower” from Gabriel’s 1982 album Security. And one could only hope Randy Newman comes through with a full-on Basin Street run through “Sledgehammer.” (Ron Hart)

Salvador Santana: Keyboard City (Quannum)
The label that brought us Blackalicious, Lyrics Born and other bright lights in today’s funk/hip-hop scene scores again with Santana’s solo debut, a swirling analog hot tub of muddled Latinismo (a la War), lilting disco, ’70s Herbie Hancock-isms, the brighter side of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson and video game bloops. Nuggets like “Don’t Even Care” and “This Day (Belongs To You)” are sonic sunshine and ooh, don’t it feel good. Helped out by Money Mark, Gza and Del the Funky Homosapien, Keyboard City (released February 2) is a lovingly stirred concoction that goes down as sweetly as home brewed lemonade on a thermometer poppin’ afternoon. (DC)

King Crimson: Lizard: 40th Anniversary Edition (Panegyric/Discipline Global Mobile)
The 40th anniversary remaster campaign of British progressive rock titans King Crimson, helmed with great detail by group founder and resident guitar genius Robert Fripp and self-anointed über-fan Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, with the deluxe edition of Crimson’s third and most challenging album, Lizard (released January 12). In his scholarly liner notes, Fripp derides his group’s 1970 work as “unsatisfactory” and “joyless”. But thanks to the skillful care of Wilson’s loving revamp, which features bonus material and a DVD-A containing the album in lossless 5.1 surround sound stereo, he renewed the doubtful author’s faith in its unprecedented fusion of classical, free jazz and experimental rock. And if you never quite took to the most misunderstood monster of the King Crimson canon like you did with, say Red or Discipline, allow this definitive version to school you on the brilliance of this legendary band’s transitional classic. (RH)

The Wishing Tree: Ostara (Eagle)
“It’s time for eyes to open now/ It’s time to raise the dead.” Uttered by the honeyed, effervescent voice of Hannah Stobart and given further lift by Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery (who also produced and engineered), these lines are indicative of the big ideas and striking beauty of this prog-pop outing, which begs comparisons to All About Eve, Jane Siberry and frothier Peter Gabriel. Unabashedly romantic and sweetly melodic, Ostara resonates with Rothery’s Fish-era Marillion work infused with female energies. A fine, lovingly sculpted second outing by this pair (released January 19). (DC)

Pierced Arrows: Descending Shadows (VICE)
Garage punk fans the world over were rightfully shocked when Fred and Toody Cole unexpectedly put their longtime group Dead Moon out to pasture in 2006, just six months after the release of Sub Pop’s stellar two-disc anthology, Echoes of the Past (JamBase review) chronicling the Oregon mainstays’ two-decade-strong run. But as quick as they were to shoot the Moon, they returned just as quickly in the form of Pierced Arrows, whose only significant change was the replacement of longtime drummer Andrew Loomis with Portland punker Kelly Hallliburton, whose father played with Fred in the ’60s. Descending Shadows (released February 2) is the Coles’ second album under the new moniker, and finds them as visceral in their AARP years as they were when they first started rattling cages in the Pacific Northwest 20-odd years ago. (RH)

Big Smith: Roots, Shoots & Wings (Mayapple)
It’d be very easy for a group with song titles like “Toted A Load” and “My Overalls (Don’t Fit Me Anymore)” to be jokey, just another tongue-in-cheek country act like Nashville pumps out with alarming regularity. Happily, Big Smith is rootsy as hell and slathered in hot jazz technique, pinches of dissonance, an earthy vocal mix that’s part bluegrass & part The Band, and a good sense of bittersweet humor. If anything, they remind one of early killer Jimmy Buffett and the ’70s Outlaw Country gang, right down to Willy’s penchant for swing. Damn fine band, sweet lil’ album (arriving February 9). (DC)

Black Cobra: Chronomega (Southern Lord)
Though only two players deep, San Francisco’s Black Cobra play their unique brand of sludgy punk-metal with the precision and fury of the four-to-five man Bay Area thrash bands that preceded them 25 years ago. Their fourth album and Southern Lord debut shows ex-Cavity guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian and one-time Acid King drummer Rafael Martinez can throw down their trademark Death Angel-cum-Melvins style riff attacks. Chronomega also shows how well these guys can space out a la Sunn 0))) and Earth as well. (RH)

Field Music: (Measure) (Memphis Industries)
Following a short three-year break that saw the Brothers Brewis record a pair of respective solo albums that barely held up to their work as a group, Field Music makes a momentous return to the world stage in 2010 with a magnificent double LP that explores the darker edges of the English duo’s Steely Dan-gone-indie-rock sound. (Measure) (arriving February 16) finds the Brewis boys challenging themselves by adding prog-jazz phrasing, rhythm-defying time signatures and embellishments of guitar fuzz to their effortless harmonies, all married perfectly across this 20 song thread about the human condition. Few newer bands could pull off a double album with such panache, and Field Music stay in line with the age-old tradition of making theirs a masterpiece. (RH)

Lionel Loueke: Mwaliko (Blue Note)
Following up on his 2007 star-making Herbie Hancock-produced debut Karibu, West African guitar lion Lionel Loueke pays homage to his motherland on his second Blue Note offering. Here, Loueke tests his dazzling fusion of playing, rooted in the fretwork rulebooks of Jim Hall and King Sunny Ade, against a series of intimate duets with the likes of vocalist Angelique Kidjo (who hails from the guitarist’s home nation of Benin), singer/bassists Esperanza Spalding and Richard Bona, as well as promising young jazz drummer Marcus Gilmore, the grandson of the immortal Roy Haynes. However, Mwaliko‘s true gems are three new tracks featuring his longtime trio rounded out by Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, whose seamless interplay is unmatched in 21st century jazz. (RH)

Various Artists: Psych Bites: Australian Acid Freak Rock -1967-1974 (Vol. 1) (Past & Present)
If there is anything we learned from AC/DC, The Birthday Party and Lubricated Goat, it’s that the Australian continent shows no fear in displaying its collective ability to get loud. So it should come to no surprise that Oz’s surprisingly little-known late ’60s/early ’70s psychedelic rock scene was equally as brain melting. Compiled by master freak rock archivist Psychomania for Bevis Frond frontman Nick Salomon’s Past & Present imprint, Psych Bites (released February 2) compiles 20 super heavy, mega-rare artifacts from Australia and New Zealand’s second and third wave freak rock movements, a true collector’s bin of bands you’ve probably never heard of but should like Pirana, Long Grass, Flake, Chook, Freshwater and The Dave Miller Set, to name a few. Dig it! (RH)