by: Hobert Taylor
Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble - Intergalactic Beings (FPE Records)
Inspired by the writings of African-American science fiction author Octavia Butler, this suite of music is literally other worldly. Beyond genre, this is a series of sound explorations that imaginatively connect us to states of being and beings beyond our real ken. In turns dissonant and harmonious, meditative and combative, UCI professor and renowned jazz flautist/composer Mitchell's work is overtly about transformation... and this music can be vitally transformative for the listener.
Tom Odell - Songs From Another Love EP 2012 (RCA)
I don't know if this has been laying around for awhile or if it is a promotional CD for this Brit's US emergence in the US market, but anyway it's good singer/songwriter-artrock stuff and I'm adding as new folk.
Gideon Luke - Live Free and Love (Monocentric)
Neo funk and Memphis Soul...sort of a blacker Lenny Kravitz...RIYL Sly Stone. The first five cuts are up tempo party tunes. The standout in that set is "Standing On Top Of The World". Cuts 6-11 are blusier ballads. "The Hurting Kind" is my pick and "Soul Child" has a Curtis Mayfield vibe.
Greyhounds - Accumulator (Planetary)
Like St. James and the Broken Bones, The Greyhounds have tapped so deeply into the soul vein that time collapses between the classics of the 70's and today. "What's On Your Mind" ,"Soul Navigator" ,"Amazing" are just three of the gorgeous productions that came from the band's session in Memphis' Ardent studio.
Run River North - Run River North (Nettwerk)
If you tune into KCET around 8-10 you have a 30% chance of seeing these guys live in the studio it seems. They play fast, clean, generic acoustic folk...very suburban and very tight. It all sounds good, but often as you listen carefully, the lyrics shy away from any real meaning or feeling and become lost in clichι or abstraction. Having said this when they click you really pull for them. That happens with the sensitive and earnest ballad "Growing Up", the killer arrangement of the song "Beetle" and the thoughtful imagery on the songs "In The Water" and "Foxbeard".
Stockton Helbing Quartet - Handprints (Armored Records)
Like a killer set Yoshi's in Oakland, The Catalina in Hollywood, The Green Mill in Chicago, or Iridium in New York, this CD glides perfectly through moods and changes reflecting the highest levels of composition and musicianship. Yeah, I like this. As I've indicated, this record is a mosaic of styles and influences that form a beautiful and coherent soundscape. Texas based drummer Helbing is joined by saxophonist David Lown, pianist David Braid, and bassist James Driscoll. They all have compositions here but it's mainly Helbing's music that frames the set with one composition surfacing three times to serve as connective tissue to this body of work. Optimally this CD should be listened to in it's entirety in one sitting. If you must pick and choose, the minor key broken time Coltrane influenced "Mushface", "Lele's Tune" (Part 1 and Part 2),Birth of the Cool style tune, "Try Again" and the three iterations of Helbing's root piece "Like The Blade" are my picks.
Lenny Marcus Trio - Second Set (Self Released)
Like Brubeck,pianist Marcus is primarily a melodist. He melds romantic classical elements with strongly structured jazz riffs to build a summer palace of sound. I am particularly am fond of "Appassionata Jazz Sonata", "Second Set", and the standard "What Is This Thing Called Love?".
Jose James - While You Were Sleeping (Blue Note)
I suppose we ought to be all over this like gold on a rapper's grill. It's super well produced... you know, in the moment like Lana D or some such. It also happens to be really good, and it's a way to break out of the jazz ghetto (good music unlistened to). In turns moody, sexy, and confrontational it has whispers of Al Green from time to time.
Arthur Migliazza - Laying It Down (Hobemian Records)
New Orleans style piano and barrelhouse predominate on this pleasant release from Migliazza. Covers range from Fats Domino, Albert Ammons, and Huey "Piano" Smith.
Stanley Schumacher (composer) David Taylor (trombonist) - No Technique (Musichmacher)
Arhythmic tonal explorations and breathing with moments of purity and moments of seeming confusion.
David Olney - When The Deal Goes Down (Deadbeet Records)
In the Sub Rosa world of Nashville there are songwriters who churn out well crafted and artful songs that inspire better known artists. Some of these artists attain wider recognition like Guy Clark, some do not. With over 20 records of poignant, hilarious and thoughtful songs Olney has provided material for Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, and Lina Ronstadt. "Big Blue Hole", "Servant,Job" are just two of the excellent songs on this CD.
Nickel Creek - A Dotted Line (Nonesuch)
After a seven year hiatus Nickel Creek returns with an extraordinary record. Crisp and fresh and invigorating, these songs re-affirm the trio's dedication to beautiful songs well played. The instrumental "Elsie", "Rest Of My Life", and "Elephant In The Corn" are instant picks but the whole CD is flawless by my lights.
Andy Belt and Friends - Hungry For Bread (Self Released)
A bar band with progressive politics, Belt and Friends play well but the songs are uneven.
some are a bit cliched, but when they hit the mark... I like the up tempo "Go Daddy", the anti-war "Names On The Wall' and "Hungry For Bread".
Matt Harlan - Raven Hotel (Berkalin Records)
From Austin comes this balladeer of times and places gone by. Like Gordon Lightfoot, Eric Taylor, or Tom Waits, he elicits moods via careful description. A fine effort. I particularly like "Old Allen Road", "Slow Moving Train", and "Old Spanish Moss".
Willie Nelson - Band Of Brothers (Sony Legacy)
This should be called a Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon record. They co-wrote most of the songs, and Cannon, producer of the likes of George Jones, Vern Gosdin, and Mel Tillis is a human definition of classic country. My faves on the record are written by other folks, however. "The Git Go" by by Billy Joe Shaver and Gary Nicholson, and Denis Morgan's "Crazy Like Me". OPI.# 14,"I've Got A Lot Of Travelling To Do".
Twin Forks - Twin Forks (Dine Alone Records)
Happy Canadians...that's what these folks are. Jaunty, poppy folk music with country and Irish tinges. It's a lot of fun with some poetry mixed in. "Kiss Me Darling", "Scraping Off The Pieces", "Reasoned and Roughened" and "Can't Be Broken|" are my picks.
Rosewater - Shotgun Wedding (Fragile Music)
From Portland Maine comes this hydra headed assortment of musicians who shape shift from Poco style country rock to lo-fi bluegrass-to bouncy pop, to dreamy Everly Brothers/Roy Orbison harmony laden ballads. There are eight folks on the back cover photo and this record points in several directions at once. Still they cover each genre well, and sometimes quite well. "Wedding Day", the cowpunky "On The Run" and "Last Train to Mexico" are my faves.
Blackpoint - A Family Of Tree Farmers (Self-Released)
EP from this North Carolina ensemble. Nice harmonies, sterling production, interesting if slightly poppy songs. "Struggling For The Common Good" and the cover "Day After Day" are the highlights.
Austin Plaine Austin Plaine (Wevolve Records
Minnesota based singer songwriter with a folk rock tinge. I like "Hard Days", "The Other Side Of Town","The Cost". OPI for #10, "The Hell If I Go Home". Folk.
Mandoliman - Old Tuine Dusted Down (ARC)
This is a treat. Flemish folk tunes and classical music adapted for a mandolin quartet tickle some nether corner of your cerebral cortex. At first the music seems a bit stiff and formal. I think this is primarily because we are accustomed to fluid runs and jaunty melodies from the mandolin in Irish, bluegrass, and string band music. Once we grok the tradition of some of the older Belgian tunes recorded here, our ears adjust and something unique and special emerges.
Meklit - We Are Alive (Six Degrees)
Tuneyards producer Eli Crews has taken this Ethiopian born San Franciscan to a sublime place with this admixture of cool jazz/post bop/folk/afro-pop/art song musics. With the accompaniment of trumpet virtuoso Darren Johnston who codifies her sound, Meklit Hadero is firmly helping to create the" post generic" age of modern music. Like Vijay Iyer, Robert Glasper, and Kris Bowers, she lets each song emerge as an integral unit comprised of elements that refer to genres but are not bound to them. I especially am enamored of these cuts: "Slow", the operatic "Overgrown", "A Train", "Stuck On The Moon" (includes toy piano in a Kurt Weill like setting), the tender "In Love With Love" and the hit,"Rest Now".
Meshell Ndegeocello - Comet, Come To Me (Naive)
Like Meklit, Ndegoecello is a part of the cultural diaspora that revitalizes popular music today. With African and Jamaican whispers and hip hop/post bob/and acid jazz overtones she collaborates with band mates in the writing of her songs (except for three Whodini covers). While this is poppier than Meklit, the electronic elements thrust this release into a vibrant nowness. My faves, "Tom", "And Yet It Moves", "Comet Come For Me", and "Shopping For Jazz".
Eden Brent - Jigsaw Heart (Yellow Dog Records)
From soulful '50's urban blues, (think Dinah Washington), to poignant country ballads (written like Leon Russell classics), to New Orleans classic R&B, Eden Brent has control and authority in her approach and delivery of her songs. There ain't a clunker in the bunch. I really like the ballad "The Last Time", the NOLA inspired "Everybody Already Knows", "Let's Go Ahead And Fall In Love", "Tending To A Broken Heart", and the Richard Thompson like ballad "Valentine".