Category Archives: CD

CARNIVALEROS – Tallsome Tales

Album: Tallsome Tales

Artist: Carnivaleros

Label: self-released

Release Date: March 23, 2018

The Upshot: A guaranteed party starter that hails from Tucson but extends its sonic tendrils to New Orleans and beyond.


First couple of tunes in, Tallsome Tales, by Tucson group the Carnivaleros, immediately set my Spidey sense (tarantula, natch) tingling. It’s a damned delightful desert disc, part-Tex-mex, part-N’awlins, part folk- and indie-rock, all quality stuff. Who are these guys? For starters, they are fronted by accordionist/vocalist Gary Mackender (well, he also plays drums, percussion, and additional keyboards), and featuring bassist Karl Hoffman, drummer Les Merrihew, and guitarist/fretmaster Joe Fanning, plus a slew of Tucson kith and kin pitching in (backing vocalist Bjorgvin Benediktsson is also now listed as being an additional guitarist). Together, the stir up a giant melting pot of sonic chorizo gumbo that will leave you demanding encores. Or second helpings, take your pick.

Indeed, from the noirish polka pop of “The Die Was Cast” and the surreal, Tom Waitsian hectic blues of “Liquor, Vice, and Sin” to the sensual spaghetti western romance that is “Belinda Bonita” and the outrageous Los Lobos-meets-Little Feat “Justified Fitting End” (which should be turned into a crime novel – check out the lyrics here), Tallsome Tales is a guaranteed party starter. This group effortlessly bridges genres and thwarts preconceptions, period.

Incidentally, it occurs to me that timing can be everything: I left Tucson in the summer of 2001, having spent 10 wonderful years in the city (family business called me back home), but if I’d stuck around just a few more years I might have been privy to the early stirrings of the Carnivaleros—Tallsome Tales marks the band’s sixth album; and if it’s a reliable indicator of Mackender and company’s sonic mastery, I can state without any reservation that I would have been sorely tempted to stick around the Old Pueblo. Tucson is one of the planet’s richest musical centers, and the Carnivaleros are nothing less than proud ambassadors.

DOWNLOAD: “Justified Fitting End,” “Belinda Bonita,” “The Purple Door” (instrumental)

RY COODER – The Prodigal Son

Album: The Prodigal Son

Artist: Ry Cooder

Label: Fantasy

Release Date: May 11, 2018


Ry Cooder is, by any and every definition, an American icon. Revered as much for the indelible  impression he’s made on modern music — he’s performed with everyone from Taj Mahal, with whom he co-helmed the legendary band the Rising Sons, to such notables as the Rolling Stones, Captain Beefheart, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, the Doobie Brothers and dozens more for whom he’s offered his support — he’s consistently made a point of stretching his musical boundaries without regard as to where he’s been either before or since. Granted, his music is based in the blues and other vintage variations of purely American music, but he’s never hesitated to venture out in new and different directions when it befits his muse.

In a very real sense then, The Prodigal Son lives up to its title, a return to his earliest archival sounds. “Gentrification” retraces the jaunty whimsy of his work with Taj Mahal (although the carefree rhythms and well-heeled brass also bring to mind the multicultural excursions of Paul Simon as well), while the age old blues standards “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Straight Street” provide apt reminders of just how adept Cooder always is when indulging in traditional standards. Mostly though, these are songs that reflect reverence and reflection, and so it’s not surprising that “The Prodigal Son,” “Harbor of Love” “You Must Unload” and “I’ll Be Rested When the Roll is Called” temper their sentiments with a sincere sense of revival, making them songs that are celebratory even in the subtlest sense. Indeed, the faith and fervor are contagious.

That then is why Cooder is so much more than a master musician. He’s an artist who takes pride in furthering the sounds that are so essential to the broader scope of American music. (Simply listen to his stirring original “Jesus and Woody” for all the evidence neededThat in itself is well enough reason to welcome the prodigal son home.

DOWNLOAD: “Straight Street,” :Gentrification,” “I’ll Be Rested When the Roll Is Called”

JOHN CRAIGIE – Live Opening for Steinbeck

Album: Live Opening for Steinbeck

Artist: John Craigie

Label: Zabriskie Point Records

Release Date: March 16, 2018

The Upshot: Live record is a perfect introduction to the uninitiated and a reminder to longtime fans of why you keep coming back.


The Seattle alt weekly The Stranger, years ago referred to John Craigie as the “Lovechild of John Prine and Mitch Hedberg.” I’ve just spent 25 minutes in front of my keyboard trying to come up with a more apt – or clever – descriptor and realize I simply can’t. They’ve nailed it and that becomes even more apparent after listening to Craigie’s latest (and second, if you’re counting) live record, Opening for Steinbeck.

Recorded over two nights in Portland late last year, the album gives a perfect introduction to the uninitiated and a reminder to longtime fans of why you keep coming back. Much like fellow folk troubadour Todd Snider, whose stories and one-liners between songs are almost as crucial as the music itself, this live record is crammed with a slew of hilarious asides introing many of the songs. His monologue before “Presidential Lining” is sadly extremely relatable, and “Pants in England” is funny enough to steal as your own story. Meanwhile “Talkin’ Leviticus Blues,” one of his newest songs, is a fantastic fuck off to homophobia.

Constantly on the road, Craigie has toured and played with everyone from the aforementioned Snider to Jack Johnson, Trampled By Turtles and just about every festival with “folk” or “Americana” in the title. Until you get a chance to catch him live, Opening for Steinbeck will tide you over nicely.

DOWNLOAD: “Presidential Silver Lining,” “When We’re Sober” and “Talkin’ Leviticus Blues”


LAURA VEIRS—The Lookout (Raven Marching Band)

Album: The Lookout (Raven Marching Band)

Artist: Laura Veirs

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 13, 2018

The Upshot: For beautifully turned melodies, set in soft, enveloping arrangements that keep every instrument clear, here’s your album.


Laura Veirs’ songs have an eerie clarity, a precision in the pitch and the playing that sharpens the contours of her often dream-like scenarios. Her background as a scientist, as well as an artist, enables her to describe natural elements with an exactitude that doesn’t dispel their mysteries, but rather puts them into focus. Cuts like “Margaret Sands” and “Seven Falls” invoke ocean and forest life in luminous colors, soft criss-crossing vocals and tremulous arcs of pedal steel creating a serene and meditative space. The Lookout, her 10th album, threads the needle between folk rock and dream pop, the folk elements coming to the fore in lattices of acoustic picking and lilting melodies, the dream pop ones enveloping these tunes in a soft glowing light.

Veirs has said in interviews that this album celebrates protection, both the giving and the receiving of safe harbor and shelter. “Everybody Needs You,” with its syncopated rhythms and restless motion touches on the varied and continual demands on a young mom and songwriter, the expectations of listeners just as insistent as those of her young child. She is supported in both endeavors by husband Tucker Martine, her producer on this and other albums, who brings in a diverse array of percussive and orchestral textures to underline her ideas. Here and in “The Meadow,” the string arrangements are particularly fine.  Sufjan Stevens makes a cameo in “Watch Fire,” whispering counterpoints to Veirs’ argument against a (relatively) rowdy background of big punchy beats and swinging, skipping melody.

Veirs has a very recognizable aesthetic now, after 20 years of making music, and The Lookout doesn’t make any waves or upset any expectations. If you want to be surprised, look elsewhere, but if you like beautifully turned melodies, set in soft, enveloping arrangements that keep every instrument clear, this is another good one.

DOWNLOAD: “Everybody Needs You,” “Watchfire”


Album: Bellowing Sun

Artist: Mind Over Mirrors

Label: Paradise of Bachelors

Release Date: April 06, 2018

The Upshot: One of sonic auteur Jaime Fennelly’s best and most brightly colored albums yet, with familiar collaborators plus a Freakwater assist – and from one of the best indie labels on the planet.


Mind Over Mirrors’ Jaime Fennelly wrote this seventh full-length for a full band and also to be performed under a revolving cloth, metal and light sculpture called a zoetrope hung seven feet above the stage. The band is the same one, more or less, that he convened for last year’s Undying Color, that is drummer Jon Mueller and violinist Jim Becker again, but with Janet Beveridge Bean of Freakwater swapped in for Circuit Des Yeux singer Haley Fohr. This time, however, they sound more monolithic and in tune with one another, especially in the longer pieces, puzzle-box intoxicating “Matchstick Grip” and dream-kraut “Vermillion Sands” with wild loops and slashes of violin. Fennelly himself downplays the Indian harmonium that dominated his earlier recordings in favor of the otherworldly precision of a brace of Oberheim synths. This work this time around is in constant motion, antic animation rather than spiritual solace its main flavor.

And yet, the spiritual does enter in, in the blur-edged deliriums of Beveridge Bean’s unearthly vocals, in the overwhelming interlocking profusion of details that coalesce into transporting unities. Working and reworking themes of light and color, Fennelly and his cohorts find a balance between the organic and the mechanical. “Zeitgebers,” for instance, is named after natural (though chemical processes) that regulate time in living organisms, circadian rhythms and such.  The cut itself pulses with friction-y mechanical sounds, a boxy rhythmic enclosure that opens into clear natural tones of keyboard, a factory’s repetitive process that churns out glowing living tones.

Late in the album, in “Oculate Beings,” Jim Becker (who has worked in Califone and Iron & Wine) slips a reeling country fiddle into the mix while Mueller wallops the twos and fours. It’s a surprising moment where the Can-like haze of motorik precision clears and a bit of Americana slips in.

It’s hard to say exactly how the visual elements of this multidisciplinary project influenced the music, or vice versa, but undeniable that Bellowing Sun is one of Fennelly’s best and most brightly colored albums yet. Let the great drum spin, let the harmonium roar and the synthesizer dance in an ecstatic mesh of mind and matter and sensation.

DOWNLOAD: “Matchstick Grip,” “Zeitgebers,” “Oculate Beings”



Album: Green

Artist: Echo Bloom

Label: self-released

Release Date: March 09, 2018


Kyle Evans and his band Echo Bloom, on their latest release, Green, have created an album that is like a summer drive through Tennessee. And even though he now calls New York City home, there won’t be any moments where you yell out, “This stuff is made in New York City…get a rope”. The album—which for me, has tinges of Doug Hoekstra and Golden Smog, as well as the Judybats—is simply fantastic.

“Fire In Your Eyes” is a tune bursting with passion as singer/songwriter Evans sings, “You’ve got a fire in your eyes that I will follow through the night.” I get a sense of a relationship that’s hit some bumps that he’s trying to put in the rearview mirror, especially when he sings the line, “Baby we will be all right.” This is a sentiment we can all relate to. The PR firm marked off a few songs on the press release, that I guess are the focus tracks, but interestingly, it was numbers like “The Swimmer,” where Evans sounds like a countrified Stuart Staples from The Tindersticks, and the closing track “Unchanged,” that I found the most compelling. In fact, “Unchanged” is a track in search of a film; I can see it in my mind’s eye, it would either be the closing credits, or a transitional sequence of shots as the protagonist makes his way down the road towards an unknown destination. It’s a beautiful, contemplative number, where the guitar work really shines. Much like the beautiful cover art that covers the CD, this album is a well-wrought piece of art, with its amazing musicianship and production. I look forward to exploring more of their music.

DOWNLOAD: “Unchanged” “The Swimmer” “Fire In Your Eyes”


BORN RUFFIANS – Uncle, Duke & the Chief

Album: Uncle, Duke & the Chief

Artist: Born Ruffians

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: February 16, 2018


From their modern-rock, kinetic beginnings on their 2008 debut LP, Red, Yellow & Blue  to their current fifth album, Uncle, Duke & the Chief, Canadian group Born Ruffians has morphed their rock stylings over the years. They exit the proverbial time warp tunnel with a sophisticated release that beckons recollections of classic rock groups while forging their own sound. Influences from Buddy Holly to Beach Boys to even The Beatles are felt on Uncle, Duke & the Chief and Born Ruffians rightfully stand in good company.

Born Ruffians, Luke Lalonde (guitar/vocals), Mitch Derosier (bass), and Steve Hamelin (drums)—now joined by Andy Lloyd (guitar/keyboard)—created not just an album but an experience with Chief that feels like a narrative from beginning to end. Love is the crux of each tale, or song, and titles like “Forget Me,” “Miss You,” and “Love Too Soon” preemptively tell the end of each story before it begins.

Much of Uncle, Duke & the Chief  leaves listeners with a genteel and bittersweet impression as songs like “Forget Me,” and “Love Too Soon” dance on your ears. The latter is a short and beautiful ballad that doesn’t breach 3 minutes; the soft song includes the quiet strums of an electric guitar, bass, the occasional tambourine and wistful whistles that add to the emptiness of the track. Lalonde’s vocals swim between mellow, cool like on the laid-back track “Side Tracked” and sharp trills, shouts on the more upbeat and bubbly tracks. The cheerful songs holster a juxtaposition as tales of heartbreak are unveiled; Lalonde asks the question “when are you gonna come home” on “Tricky,” and “do you miss me the way I miss you, baby” on “Miss You.”

Uncle, Duke & the Chief’s story is then lifted from the auricular realm to the visual as the sentiments are translated into the music videos that accompany Chief’s three singles: “Love Too Soon,” “Forget Me,” and “Miss You.” The videos, in this order, illustrates the three stages of a relationship from first smitten, to the building and the unraveling, to the pain of remorse then joy of reconciliation. Since each video was directed by the same artists, Leah Fay Goldstein and Peter Dreimanis, a similar visual style is weaved in all three and paints a beautifully and uniquely weird, but relative, story.

Closing track “Working Together” has a Beatles-esque vibe as the acoustic guitar strums over piano and drums as the track sways side-to-side. The “come together” moment is sealed as the track closes with multiple voices joining Lalonde to repeatedly sing the chorus: “We’re working together/Love comes to whoever wants it/All good things are free/Wave to nobody.”

DOWNLOAD: “Love Too Soon,” “Tricky,” “Side Tracked”

NORMA WINSTONE – Descansado (Songs For Film)

Album: Descansado

Artist: Norma Winstone

Label: ECM

Release Date: February 16, 2018


British singer Norma Winstone’s career stretches back to the seventies, with solo albums, but also the well-regarded trio Azimuth with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor and collaborations with Eberhard Weber and Wheeler’s solo ensembles to her name. A collection of songs taken from film soundtracks, Descansado features Winstone with her working band pianist Glauco Venier and woodwindist Klaus Gesing, joined by percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken and cellist Mario Brunello. Though famous for her wordless vocalizations (well represented here by “Meryton Townhall,” from 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, and Vivra Sa Vie,” from the 1962 film of the same name), Winstone is also a lyricist, adding new words to traditionally instrumental pieces like “Touch Her Soft Lips and Part,” from 1944’s Henry V, and the title track, from 1963’s Ieri, Oggi, Domani. Putting unintended words to pre-existing, often classic, tunes seems like a bad idea on the face of it, but Winstone gets away with it. Whether a natural talent or gained through her decades of experience, she’s a tasteful lyricist, sensitive to the melody’s needs, and conscious of adding to the song’s already extant legacy, rather than detract from it. This ability allows her to put words to Bernard Hermann’s “Theme From Taxi Driver,” giving the tune a melancholy spin that adds extra depth without dissolving the menace. Descansado is reinterpretation at its best, respectful of the source but unafraid to add the artist’s own aesthetic to the vision.

DOWNLOAD: “Vivra Sa Vie,” “Theme From Taxi Driver,” “Descansado”


HÅVARD WIIK TRIO – This is Not a Waltz

Album: This is Not a Waltz

Artist: Håvard Wiik Trio

Label: Moserobie

Release Date: November 24, 2017


While inspired by and taking its building blocks from American jazz, European jazz has evolved into its own animal. Not particularly concerned with the concept of swing, musicians from the old country focus more on melody and/or improvisation. The Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark – seem to have a special affinity for jazz, giving rise to a few decades’ worth of remarkable players and composers. Pianist Håvard Wiik is a good example. As well as holding down the keyboard chair in veteran group Atomic (whose most recent album Six Easy Pieces comes highly recommended), the Norwegian has his own trio. Wiik likes to lead his troops into a realm somewhere between free improvisation and avant-garde composition, with angular melodies and dissonance as practical tools.

As a player, Wiik straddles a similar line, fingering the keyboard with a classical player’s finesse but a Thelonious Monk devotee’s attack – cf. the dazzling display of “Tear Conveyor.” He maintains not only serious skills, but also a sense of humor – his trilling on “Bought & Muzzled” imitates a sugared-up toddler running rings around her parents (AKA the rhythm section), while his work on“Calligrams” practically dares bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen to try and follow. (Vagan gets his own back with the squealing arco bass that introduces the circus frenzy of “Pneumatiques,” while Johansen has his payback with his clattering “solo” on “Mnemonic functions.”)

But Wiik also knows how to work within more structured pieces. “Neidbau” features a melody that’s almost traditional, though just askew enough to be unbalanced. “Ceci n’est pas une valse” (the French translation of the album’s title) is almost classical in the way it reveals its latticework, and the players somehow manage to treat it with respect and irreverence at the same time. That’s Wiik in a nutshell, technically advanced enough to handle difficult pieces, but only if he can let an impish sense of whimsy poke through.

 DOWNLOAD: “Ceci n’est pas une valse,” “Bought & Muzzled,” “Neidbau”


Album: After the Fall

Artist: Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette

Label: ECM

Release Date: March 02, 2018


Sometimes it feels like whenever he feels the need to release new music, Keith Jarrett simply digs up a concert tape of his “Standards” trio (his long-running band with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette) and sticks it out there. But After the Fall is a bit different. In the mid-’90s, the pianist was afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome and had been unable to play, much less perform, in nearly two years. When he began to improve, he called his pals Peacock and DeJohnette and decided, after one rehearsal, to jump back into the pool with both feet. Recorded in 1998, this double disk set documents Jarrett’s first public performance after a couple of years of silence.

Jarrett chose a mostly be-bop program as a way to play it safe. But for a man who wasn’t sure if the concert would go well, he plays with confidence. His riffs on Willard Robison’s “Old Folks” and Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy” ripple with an expert precision and his usual minute attention to melody, while his solos on Wrubel/Magidson’s “The Masquerade is Over” and Paul Desmond’s “Late Lament” hit affecting levels of expression. As usual, Peacock and DeJohnette provide perfect accompaniment, locked into each other like two hands on one body, the bassist’s rubbery tone perfectly complemented by the drummer’s propulsive cymbal and snare work. Listen to the way the musicians come together on Bud Powell’s “Bouncin’ With Bud” as a hive mind that gracefully trades licks, comps and solos as it was planned out in advance. A dynamic take on John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” has the three feeding off each other’s energy and returning it tenfold. The band even takes on the hoary Xmas chestnut “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” giving it new, swinging life.

Johnny Mercer’s much-recorded “Autumn Leaves” shows the trio at its best, taking a standard approaching oversaturationn and injecting it with new life: DeJohnette uses a Latin percussion style to keep the rhythm unpredictable, Peacock grooves hard and solos with abandon and Jarrett surpasses his lead breaks with some beautifully off-kilter comping. It’s a bravura performance that proves Jarrett made the correct decision to get back in the game.

DOWNLOAD: “Autumn Leaves,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Moment’s Notice”