Category Archives: CD


Album: Now

Artist: Sonia Tetlow

Label: Tetlow Music

Release Date: November 03, 2017

The Upshot: With a big, bold, Eightiesish vibe and insightful, incisive lyrics, the artist crafts a winner that’s solid from start to finish.


Southern chanteuse Sonia Tetlow is remembered in some quarters from her woodshedding days as bassist for Cowboy Mouth, banjo picker for Roxie Watson, and guitar/mandolin player for Paul Sanchez. But she’s also proven her mettle on her own, releasing albums as the Sonia Tetlow Band in 2000 and 2002 and three as a solo artist proper in 2006, 2012, and 2014. With Now she convincingly stakes her claim as a major songwriter and performer who’s destined for acclaim well beyond her regional stronghold of dedicated fans. (I count myself among those fans, having written about her early on.)

It’s a unique approach she takes here, deliberately conjuring sonic images from the ‘80s via prominent synth lines, propulsive rhythms, and arena-worthy arrangements. Trendy indie rock or by-the-numbers Americana, this is not, and it’s utterly inspiring to hear someone painting well outside the lines. From the classic rock dynamics that fuel the irresistible title track and the sinewy Latin lilt of “Slow Burning,” to the luminous anthemism of ballad “Tripline” (which features guest vocalist Amy Ray) and the defiant, swaggering “Don’t Hold Me To It” (in which the aforementioned synth, courtesy Matt Henderson, engages in a duel of competing solos with guitarist Jimmy “Bones” McAlpin), Now is a sexy, urgent album from start to finish.

Now is also a manifesto worth engaging: In “Hard Fought Year,” which also boasts the presence of the aforementioned Indigo Girl, the songwriter reflects—in her rich, warm, part-purr/part-warble—upon all that has gone down in the annum that’s about to close. In truth, even considering the possibility that the song may have been written some time ago, it’s impossible not to take note of the biting lyrics’ contemporary relevance:

“It’s been a hard fought year just getting by
Trying to decide where to go from here
And that old constant change, it sure takes its toll
On battle-weary souls that got lost along the way…
So come on now
Lay down your arms
Your words as weapons (down)
Your hate-filled blaming (now)
Open your eyes
Your hearts and minds
Cuz this great divide
Is just illusion.”

Amen. We need more artists like Sonia Tetlow who’ll call things like they see ‘em. Believe.

DOWNLOAD: “Now,” “Hard Fought Year,” “Don’t Hold Me To It”

CARMAIG DE FOREST – I Shall Be Re-Released

Album: I Shall Be Re-Released

Artist: Carmaig De Forest

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Release Date: November 10, 2017


Carmaig De Forest was something of an eccentric back in the day, off even by the standards of someone who lived in San Francisco and openly laid claim to the city’s insurgent roots. A ukelele-playing troubadour who sprouted songs dealing with all sorts of weird wonderment, he managed to attract the attention of none other than Alex Chilton, something of a renegade himself and an artist who was decidedly oblique when it came to expressing his own doleful designs.

In 1987, the two teamed up to record De Forest’s first — and to date, only — full length album, I Shall Be Released, a collection of absurdist songs that not only missed out on the mainstream, but generally avoided notice entirely. Originally intended for a major label release, it was unceremoniously neglected and ultimately relegated to a small local label that confined it to obscurity. A live EP followed, but by then it was too late. De Forest’s destiny was doomed, and he remained known only to a handful of devotees and fellow musicians.

I Shall Be Re-Released captures De Forest’s entire output — the original album, the live EP and several outtakes from the original sessions — and although it remains a curiosity, it should also enhance his notoriety. Then again, having Chilton at the helm didn’t do much in terms of expanding his accessibility option, and if anything, the quirkiness quotient was given full prominence. A tune titled “Crack’s No Worse Than the Fascist Threat” and the likeminded “Hey Judas,” a song about an encounter in hell with Judas, Hitler and then-president Ronald Reagan, didn’t have any chance of hitting the hit parade any time soon. While De Forest’s kinetic conceits and loopy, loping power plod were charming on occasion, the music is clearly far too wacky to be taken seriously for any sustained amount of time.

Still, with a generous 26 tracks included on this expansive set, I Shall Be Re-Released offers the listener plenty of opportunity to get in the groove. And with questionable covers of “Secret Agent Man,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “One For My Baby (And One For The Road),” it offers at least some hint of a familiarity factor. A curious snapshot of labored  looniness from thirty years past, I Shall Be Re-Released proves at very least, to be a liberating libation.

DOWNLOAD: “Crack’s No Worse Than the Fascist Threat,” “Hey Judas,” “Secret Agent Man”

VARIOUS ARTISTS — Africa Airways Four: Disco Funk Touchdown 1976-1983

Album: Africa Airways Four: Disco Funk Touchdown 1976-1983

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Africa Seven

Release Date: November 28, 2017

The Upshot: A smooth ride through faintly exoticized dance floor forms, enjoyable but clearly a commercial flight.


This fourth in a series of compilations heads towards the dance floor, with sleek, densely orchestrated cuts that reflect a late-1970s migration of West African musicians into contact with the slicker surroundings of Paris and London. Most of the artists represented here are from Cameroon, though Jake Sollo (ex. of the Monkees) hails from nearby Niger, and most spent at least some time in Europe. The tracks are tight, polished and gleeful, riding booty bumping basslines through big pile-ups of jazz band brass lines, come-hither vocal choruses and synthesized strings.

Here for instance is Makossa master Manu Dibango twitching and grooving for eight-plus minutes, against a thumping, xylophone plinking, sax-wailing motorized vision called “Sun Explosion,” which, like long nights at a Paris disco, goes on and on without losing speed or intensity. Jake Sollo’s “Tinini Yan” is rougher and funkier, a bumptious burping bass swaggering, a vocal chorus taunting sing-song-ily, guitar twitching in the margins. Eko’s “Bowa a Mba Ngebe” swings wide into expansive, communal good feelings with its swelling vocals, its uplifting blasts of sax and trumpet. Throughout, African musicians conjure the pixelated funky pointillism, the siren sexuality of American disco icons like Chic and Donna Summer, though with a warm African positivity.

As in the West, the lines between funk and disco blur, but these tracks are glossy and well-groomed rather than raw. Africa Airways is a smooth ride through faintly exoticized dance floor forms, enjoyable but clearly a commercial flight.

DOWNLOAD: “Sun Explosion” “Tinini Yan”




Album: Unloved

Artist: Maciej Obara Quartet

Label: ECM

Release Date: November 03, 2017

The Upshot: Mastering the art of making a lovely noise.


Not all jazz need be fiery improvisational interplay. Alongside pianist Dominik Wania, bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen, Polish saxophonist Maciej Obara clearly prefers the more sedate, sensual side of jazz on the first half of his ECM debut Unloved. With Wania as his closest ally, Obara caresses each melody with his horn, striking a lush pose on the title tune and “Joli Bord.” The second half of the record kicks up its heels, however. The rhythm section brings “Sleepwalker” and “Echoes” to a boil, allowing the scene-stealing Wania to wander around his keyboard with McCoy Tyner-like exuberance and Obara to generate some real heat. The album ends with the dreamy “Storyteller,” soothing the energy like a cool down after a yoga session. Obara’s quartet doesn’t push any boundaries with Unloved, but they don’t need to, since they’ve mastered the art of making a lovely noise.

DOWNLOAD: “Echoes,” “Storyteller,” “Joli Bord”


BROTHER ROY – Last Man Standing

Album: Last Man Standing

Artist: Brother Roy

Label: self-released

Release Date: November 10, 2017


The Upshot: Wonderful laid-back late ‘70s-styled pop with smart lyrics, horns, and keys.


The spirit of Harry Nilsson is alive and well in Brother Roy. And so is Randy Newman, Marshall Crenshaw and George Harrison, for that matter.

On his debut, Last Man Standing, Roy and crew play a satisfying blend of laid-back pop, with smart lyrics, punctuated by horns, organ and piano that has been sorely missing from music since the late ‘70s. The 11 songs here vacillate between wistful (“Sunshine Lady,” “Carolina”) jubilant (“Crazy Bill”) and just plain funky (“Heartbreaker”).

Recorded on the cheap – the entire project was paid for with $50 gigs at the local bar, according to Roy – you’d be hard pressed to find anything low-budget about this self-release. The music is tight and the songwriting even tighter. A stellar debut that hopefully means more is on the way from Brother Roy.

 DOWNLOAD: “Heartbreaker,” “Crazy Bill” and “Brother Sam”


Jerry Yester – Pass Your Light Around

Album: Pass Your Light Around

Artist: Jerry Yester

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Release Date: October 06, 2017


In retrospect, it seems remarkable that the recordings that make up this compilation remained unreleased for so long. Jerry Yester was, and is, an important player in America’s seminal folk scene and his list of credits — The New Christy Minstrels, The Modern Folk Quartet, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Association, his band Rosebud and various roles behind the boards for the likes of Tim Buckley and Tom Waits — make him one of the unsung heroes who helped transition traditional folk to unabashed rock ‘n’ roll. Nevertheless, it’s the music he recorded on his own and with collaborator Larry Beckett that deserves discovery. Yester and Beckett drew from a remarkably wide array of styles — folk (of course), cabaret, psych, chamber pop and numerous motifs in-between. The result is an impressive set of fifteen disparate songs, mostly recorded throughout the ‘70s while Yester was taking time to contemplate his next move.

Listening to these tracks now becomes something of a revelation. Given their imaginative arrangements, one gets the sense that these great lost treasures have stood the test of time. Like Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Yester is unafraid to bend the boundaries and borrow influences that range from classical to cabaret. The songs that result — a jaunty “Pass Your Light Around,” the celebratory “My Dusty Darling,” the cooing Beach Boys-like “Brooklyn Girl,” the expressive ballad “With a Hickory Pole” — are all simply stunning, and they not only beg an initial listen but repeated hearings as well. In the end, one can only marvel at the fact that Yester is indeed an unsung hero. To call this an exceptional offering doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

DOWNLOAD: “Pass Your Light Around,” “My Dusty Darling,” “Brooklyn Girl”

The Orphan Brigade – Heart of the Cave

Album: Heart of the Cave

Artist: Orphan Brigade

Label: At The Helm

Release Date: September 29, 2017


A communal combo as well as a supergroup of sorts, The Orphan Brigade more than measure up to the sum of its parts. Despite its sprawling line-up, rotating regulars Neilson Hubbard, Joshua Britt, Gretchen Peters, Ben Glover, Barry Walsh, Kris Donegan, Heather Donegan, Danny Mitchell, Will Kimbrough, Natalie  Schlabs, Eamon Mcloughlin, Audrey Spillman and Kira Small find common ground in songs of resolution and resolve, music that absolutely soars with genuine passion and purpose. “Flying Joe” and “Pile of Bones” suggest vintage circumstance via folky sing-alongs, but the tracks that fall in-between — “Town of A Hundred Churches,” “Bells Are Ringing” and “Osimo (Come To Life)” in particular, look towards the heavens, sweeping the listener along with impassioned hymns of promise and praise. Every song is massively moving in its own way and there’s not a single offering that doesn’t stir up the sentiment, whether it’s the heartfelt balladry that echoes through “V.I.T.R.I.O.L” or the breathless beauty of the solemn yet reassuring “Pain Is Gone.” Two albums on, The Orphan Brigade find inspiration with hushed deliberation and dramatic rallying cries that consistently stir the senses and resonate with every majestic refrain. As 2017 comes to a close, this remarkably moving masterpiece clearly qualifies as one of the year’s best. It should not be ignored.

DOWNLOAD: “Town of A Hundred Churches,” “Flying Joe,” “Osimo (Come To Life)”

Bjorn Meyer – Provenance

Album: Provenance

Artist: Bjorn Meyer

Label: ECM

Release Date: September 29, 2017

The Upshot: Former member of Ronin and a bass maestro submits a showcase for instrumental melodicism.


Solo bass guitar albums tend to preach to the converted, appealing mainly to megafans of the instrumentalist involved. Provenance, the debut solo album from Bjorn Meyer, may change that. The former bottom-thumper for Nik Bartsch’s Ronin, the Sweden-born/Switzerland-based Meyer has experience bending improvisation to melody’s will, and takes full advantage of his skills here. Lovely, sedate pieces like “Traces of a Song,” “Trails Crossing” and “Banyan Waltz” find melody lines and stick to them, with Meyer using the round thrum of his instrument to carry the tunes, rather than pummel them. “Pulse” lives up to its title with a more insistent groove, but the melodic appeal still reigns. “Dance” and “Squizzle,” the latter performed on an acoustic bass guitar, get busier and funkier, as one might more typically expect from a bass-oriented project, but still sing. Most of the songs bring to mind solo acoustic six-string players from the American Primitive school, where melodic repetition meets subtle skill and a certain sweetness holds technical Onanism at bay. Provenance isn’t a technique-oriented shred-a-thon, but a showcase for instrumental melodicism that just happens to use the bass as its medium.

DOWNLOAD: “Traces of a Song,” “Pulse,” “Banyan Waltz”


Album: Blue Maqams

Artist: Anouar Brahem

Label: ECM

Release Date: October 13, 2017

The Upshot: Masterfully performed and arranged, and a world/jazz record of great beauty and fire. 


For Blue Maqams, his tenth LP on the venerable ECM label, Tunesian oudist Anouar Brahem shifts away from the grand concepts that drove his previous album Souvenance, instead convening a jazz trio. And what an ensemble it is, too. Veteran British pianist Django Bates (Bill Bruford, Tim Berne) takes the chordal helm, with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland – perhaps the greatest living rhythm section in jazz – providing supple support. Melody rules here; Brahem’s ability to blend jazz changes with the Middle Eastern tonalities of his homeland gives each song a distinctive tone, accessible yet challenging. “La Nuit” illustrates this well, as Bates provides lush comping and countermelodies, allowing Brahem to quietly soar. “Persepolis’s Mirage” layers Brahem’s smoky twang over subtle cymbals and Holland’s insistently bluesy bass, while “Unexpected Outcome” puts Bates in the driver’s seat for some rippling solos. The rhythm-driven “Bahia” finds common ground between Middle Eastern dance music and Brazilian bossa nova. “Bom Dia Rio” puts it all together for a veritable explosion of intricate melody and telepathic improvisation. Masterfully performed and arranged, Blue Maqams is a record of great beauty and fire.

DOWNLOAD: “Bom Dia Rio,” “Bahia,” “Persepolis’s Mirage”


DJANGO BATES’ BELOVÉD – The Study of Touch

Album: The Study of Touch

Artist: Django Bates’ Belovéd

Label: ECM

Release Date: November 03, 2017

The Upshot: Bandleader and jazz pianist skillfully pushed against his own self-imposed boundaries.


Pianist Django Bates has been a mainstay of the European jazz scene since the seventies. The Englishman co-founded the British groups Human Chain and Loose Tubes, has done session and sideperson work with everyone from Bill Bruford, Tim Berne and Wynton Marsalis to the Brodsky Quartet, the Dutch Metropole Orchestra and even the Royal Shakespeare Company, and taught jazz and music at various European universities. Oddly enough, however, the ivory-tickler didn’t start working in the trio format until about ten years ago, forming Belovéd with Swedish bassist Petter Eldh and Danish drummer Peter Bruun in order to celebrate Charlie Parker.

The Study of Touch, Bates’ third album with Belovéd and fifteenth as a leader, includes one Bird tune – the gently swinging “Passport” – but otherwise concentrates on the pianist’s own compositions. While capable of coloring outside the lines (cf. the bookends “Sadness All the Way Down” and “Happiness All the Way Up”), Bates prefers to stay inside the borders of melody he imposes. “Giorgiantics” and the title track attain a certain mellifluousness even as he dances across the 88s, letting the listener know that the tune is still king. “This World,” composed by his on-and-off again bandmate Iain Bellamy, becomes positively lush, even with only three people filling out the sound. That’s not to say he can’t bring the improvisational hammer down – “Slippage Street” and “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” both feature him pushing playfully but insistently against his self-imposed boundaries. Eldh and Bruun play perfect support, staying out the leader’s way at all times while giving him the right foundation on which to stand.

Bates and company don’t rewrite the rules of the piano trio, but the leader’s accessible compositions and deft playing make one wonder why he spent nearly three decades denying an obvious strength. Fortunately, The Study of Touch makes up for his previous blind spot.

DOWNLOAD: “Slippage Street,” “Giorgiantics,” “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way”