Category Archives: CD

ROYAL THUNDER – WICK

Album: Wick

Artist: Royal Thunder

Label: Spinefarm

Release Date: April 07, 2017

http://www.spinefarmrecords.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Following the triumph of 2015’s Crooked Doors, Royal Thunder continues its movement beyond being merely a hard rock band into something special. The Atlanta quartet’s third full-length WICK rocks as powerfully as the band always has, but folds in elements that elevate it above just headbanging and lighter waving. Evolving rhythms and tense chord sequences give “April Showers,” “Plush” and “Burning Tree” a psychedelic, even progressive mood. “Anchor” uses subtly shifting dynamics and plangent rhythm guitars to build a shimmering anthem that sounds likely to be a fan favorite, while “We Slipped” puts folk rock through the RT filter. None of this is to say the band doesn’t rock as hard as it always has. “The Sinking Chair” provides supercharged thrills, while the title track nods appreciatively to the band’s doom-heavy roots. “We Never Fell Asleep” puts Parsonz’s intimate lyrics and tortured howl, which burns hotter than a ghost pepper curry throughout, on a bed of swirling heavy guitar and loping drums that mainlines everything the foursome tries elsewhere into one memorable number. Though still unquestionably a powerhouse, Royal Thunder proves itself too versatile on WICK to be slipped into an easily labeled box.

DOWNLOAD: “Anchor,” “We Never Fell Asleep,” “We Slipped”

 

WILLIE NELSON – God’s Problem Child

Album: God's Problem Child

Artist: Willie Nelson

Label: Legacy Recordings

Release Date: April 28, 2017

www.LegacyRecordings.com

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Even at 84, Willie Nelson shows no signs of slowing down, but it’s clear he’s cognizant that everyone else is likely wondering just how much longer he has. The long since grayed, Red Headed Stranger makes a point of saying he’s not through yet throughout God’s Problem Child, his 70th or so album (yes, 70-plus records). “You had your run/It’s been a good one/Seems like the world is passing you by… Still got a lot of life and a song to sing,” Nelson says on “Old Timer,” one of the record’s early tracks. And if the point isn’t clear enough, he brings it back up on the addictively twangy “Not Dead Yet” (“I run up and down the road making music as I go/They say my pace would kill a normal man/But I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway”).

With God’s Problem Child, Nelson proves yet again that it is in fact possible, though unusual, to be both wildly prolific and consistently great. Seven decades after he started writing for others, he shows yet again that there is still plenty of poetry left inside him. Take a song like, “True Love,” you’d have to go back to “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” or “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” to find a more lyrically beautiful Nelson love song.

There is also plenty of his tongue-in-check humor though out as well, like on the previously-mentioned “Not Dead Yet,” and lots of swagger, like on the title track, a slow-burn song that is all attitude featuring the late Leon Russell, Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White. There is also a sweet song about the late Merle Haggard, a constant Nelson collaborator and longtime friend, “He Won’t Ever Be Gone.”

From start to finish, God’s Problem Child is a quintessential Willie Nelson record and there are few things in the world better than that.

DOWNLOAD: “True Love,” “Not Dead Yet” and “I Made a Mistake”

 

 

AVISHAI COHEN – Cross My Palm With Silver

Album: Cross My Palm With Silver

Artist: Avishai Cohen

Label: ECM

Release Date: May 05, 2017

www.ecmrecords.com

The Upshot: Israeli trumpeter taking inspiration from political turmoil still excels in pure tones and atmospheric arrangements.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Into the Silence, the ECM debut by trumpeter Avishai Cohen, was a gorgeous rumination on life and death following the death of the composer’s father. Cross My Palm With Silver, the Tel Aviv native’s quick follow-up, doesn’t stint on the pure tones and atmospheric arrangements of its elder sibling, but the record has a more restless, energized flavor. Perhaps that’s due to the inspiration of political turmoil – you can’t be from Israel and not have social and political conflict on your mind more often than not.

That’s not to say Cohen ever gets preachy – this is instrumental jazz, after all. But it’s hard not to miss the uncertainty of “Will I Die, Miss, Will I Die,” or the agitation of “Shoot Me in the Leg,” even if you don’t know to what specific situations they refer. Those tracks, the LP’s longest, also feature some of Cohen’s most aggressive playing – he’s not Dizzy Gillespie, but he knows when it’s time to belt instead of croon. Of course, as he proved on Silence, he’s exceptional at the latter, and he reiterates that here via the mournful “340 Down” and the lovely “Theme For Jimmy Greene” (presumably about the jazz saxophonist). “50 Years and Counting” contrasts a fairly traditional sense of swing with discordant trumpet licks, feeling at once comfortable and disturbed.

In general, Cohen displays richer, more varied writing chops on Cross My Palm With Silver, and the use of his road band (kudos especially to the exceptional comping of pianist Yonathan Avishai) helps the tunes keep to a singular identity, regardless of tempo or style.

DOWNLOAD: “Shoot Me in the Leg,” “Will I Die, Miss, Will I Die,” “50 Years and Counting”

GUY DARRELL – I’ve Been Hurt: The Complete 1960s Recordings

Album: I’ve Been Hurt: The Complete 1960s Recordings

Artist: Guy Darrell

Label: Cherry Red

Release Date: March 24, 2017

www.cherryred.co.uk

The Upshot: British popster gets the anthology treatment.

TIM HINELY

Wow, I can’t even call this guy a blast from that past as that would imply that I’d heard of him before, which I hadn’t (sorry, had to come clean). Shame for me too, ‘cos he’s really good and this 28-song collection goes through all of his bands: Guy Darrell & the Midniters, GD and the Winds of Change, but most of the songs are under just his own name, plus a few as the Guy Darrell Syndicate.

His biggest hit was 1966’s “I’ve Been Hurt,” which was a cover of American beach music avatars Bill Deal and The Rondels; reissued in 1973, Darrell’s version struck gold a second time. But no matter the incarnation, the guy’s stuff is all solid, and most of it isn’t just solid but very good. Just nice rock/pop songs and if he reminded me a bit of anyone on our shores maybe a touch o’ Del Shannon, especially on dreamier cuts like “Blessed” and “My Way of Thinking.” Later on you’ll hear covers of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” plus a few numbers written by the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupen (you might have heard of them), Paul Simon and even a cover of  Dylan song (“It Take a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry”).

If you’ve yet to hear this guy check him out, an underground gem to be sure and of course longtime fans need this one as well. Go!

DOWNLOAD: “I’ve Been Hirt,” “Blessed,” “My Way of Thinking”

CAIT BRENNAN – Third

Album: Third

Artist: Cait Brennan

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: April 21, 2017

www.omnivorerecordings.com

The Upshot: Soulful power pop and glammy soul, spawned from Ardent Studios.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Judging from her latest album, Cait Brennan must have one hell of a record collection.

Third takes the best of bands like Squeeze, Cheap Trick, Big Star, The Beach Boys and Harry Nilsson and then layers on the confidence and delivery of Freddy Mercury for a collection of songs that transcends genres. There’s the expansive love song “At the End of the World” that paints every inch of the room with sound, a straight up tongue-in-cheek rocker like “He Knows Too Much,” strong Prince vibes from the funk-spiked, falsetto slow jam “Caitiebots Don’t Cry” and a nod to glam bands like T. Rex and early ’70s Bowie on the song “Benedict Cumberbatch.”

Brennan and her collaborator Fernando Perdomo don’t hold anything back and as a result turn in a nearly flawless LP.

Recorded at the famed Ardent Studios in Memphis, home court of Big Star, listening to Third you can’t help but get a sense that this is the type of album that could have the staying power of those Alex Chilton-led recordings. There is a timelessness here that is just not found in most records coming out today.

DOWNLOAD: “He Knows Too Much,” “At the End of the World” and “Benedict Cumberbatch”

 

CINEMA CINEMA – Man Bites Dog

Album: Man Bites Dog

Artist: Cinema Cinema

Label: Dullest/Labelship

Release Date: April 28, 2017

https://dullestrecords.bandcamp.com/ /  http://labelship.com/

The Upshot: Every track vibrates with the energy of too many cups of coffee, leading to a series of bash-and-crash hits uncoiling like a pissed-off cobra.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Some bands have a special talent for turning temper tantrums into music. Brooklyn duo Cinema Cinema have it down, with nearly every song being a controlled explosion of vitriol powered by drummer Paul Claro’s relentless kit thwack and guitarist Ev Gold’s unsmiling screech.

On the band’s fourth LP Man Bites Dog, “Taxi Driver” and “Bomb Plot” rip through the air like a three-year-old’s reaction to being denied candy in the grocery store. “Exotic Blood” and “Mask of the Red Death” double that latter song’s length and shifting dynamics without letting up in intensity. “Digital Clockwork Orange” and the massive “Shiner Number Five” add saxist Matt Darriau and spacey vibes, growing out of the duo’s work with the hornman in improvisational act CCMD.

Every track vibrates with the energy of too many cups of coffee on top of too much time spent reading message board commentary, leading to a series of bash-and-crash hits uncoiling like a pissed-off cobra. Produced by Martin Bisi, who knows just what to do with postpunk rage-a-holics, Man Bites Dog snaps, snarls and sizzles.

DOWNLOAD: “Mask of the Red Death,” “Exotic Blood,” “Shiner Number Five”

 

 

PRIMATE FIASCO – Massachusetts Winter Self-released

Album: Massachusetts Winter

Artist: Primate Fiasco

Label: Self-released

Release Date: April 28, 2017

www.primatefiasco.com

The Upshot: Massachusetts garage-cum-polka rockers who get down with tha funk.

BY FRED MILLS

Funk-soul—with accordion and sousaphone, no less—blowout par excellence, and despite the name of the band, there’s no monkeying around with this Northeast outfit. You want roots? Let’s dig deep, then blast off with opening track “Astronauts,” a swinging anthem that will make any Prince/The Time fans stand up and take notice, and which takes the aforementioned instruments to the max, ultimately concluding, “If everybody gets what everyone wants/ And everybody gets to be astronauts/ Space would be crowded and we couldn’t call it ‘space” anymore.” Methinks His Purpleness would approve.

He might momentarily scratch his head over the improv dreams that this tuba, accordion, drums, and, er, banjo quartet display, but there’s no doubt he’d salute such sonic sojourns as the hectic garage-rockin’ “Because Summer” (they throw in some sinewy lead guitar for good measure here) and singalong-worthy anthem “Little Arrow,” which finds the ensemble cruising happily through the polkasphere. For a Massachusetts band, Primate Fiasco certainly seems to get the Minnesota connection.

Dance, everyone.

DOWNLOAD: “Little Arrow,” “Astronauts,” “Steam Funk”

NOTHINGTON -In The End

Album: In The End

Artist: Nothington

Label: Red Scare

Release Date: February 10, 2017

www.redscare.net

The Upshot: Bay Area punks continue to carry the torch!

BY JOHN B. MOORE

A little over a decade since forming from the ashes of Tsunami Bomb, San Francisco’s Nothington continue to add to the Bay Area’s reputation as being a breeding ground for great punk rock.

Led by Jay Nothington’s gruff vocals, the band churns out gritty, but catchy pop punk in the vein of everyone from Social Distortion to Leatherface. It’s easy to sound like a carbon copy in a genre like punk rock – with a somewhat obvious formula of loud drums, and fast, distorted power chords – but Jay and his bandmates go out of their way to put their distinctive stamp on the music. They don’t shy away from hooks, but manage to still keep an eye on their classic street punk influences.

Lyrically, the band has also shown some growth over the past few albums putting them light years ahead of many of Warped Tour upstarts who are still writing about high school crushes. Not every track is a soon-to-be classic, but there are enough great songs here to make this one of their most consistently solid records to date.

It’s been five years since Nothington last put out a proper studio album, but In The End shows the rust never settled in.

DOWNLOAD: “The Lies I Need,” “Burn After Reading” and “Things We Used to Say”

 

Go HERE to read John Moore’s 2013 interview with the band.

RED BARAAT – Bhangra Pirates

Album: Bhangra Pirates

Artist: Red Baraat

Label: Rhyme & Reason/Sini

Release Date: March 24, 2017

http://www.rhyme-reason.com/

The Upshhot: A cross-cultural musical statement as well as an album of non-stop party vibes.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Dhol player/drummer Sunny Jain has an impressive resumé, including stints with everyone from Martha Wainwright and Peter Gabriel to Kenny Barron and Grupo Fantasma. Red Baraat, however, is his baby, a bhangra/jazz/rock explosion of horns and percussion. The ensemble’s fourth album, Bhangra Pirates, rarely lets up on its Punjabi groove, Jain and his fellow bangers keeping the rhythms percolating under the multiple horn players.

The blowers solo with jazzy abandon when they’re not riffing like a swing band from Pakistan, while Jain and company beat every surface of their instruments to keep the groove dominant. That makes “Horizon Line,” “Bhangale” and a dizzying cover of Daler Mehndi’s already delirious “Tunak Tunak Tun” good for both irresistible dancing and chin-scratching contemplation of the musicians’ obvious skills. Rock asserts itself on “Gaadi of Truth,” Jonathan Goldberger’s burning guitar solo and power chords adding a Western element without taking anything away from the Bhangra dominance, while the appropriately-titled “Layers” incorporates big band-like arrangements for interweaving horn lines. Best of all may be “Rang Barse,” which features soprano saxist Jonathon Haffner killing it over a hip-shaking rhythm that would make James Brown proud.

Whether you hear it as a cross-cultural musical statement or an album of non-stop party vibes, Bhangra Pirates deserves repeat spins.

DOWNLOAD: “Rang Barse,” “Bhangale,” “Gaadi of Truth”

 

 

ANDRE CYMONE – 1969

Album: 1969

Artist: Andre Cymone

Label: Self-released

Release Date: April 07, 2017

www.andrecymone.com

The Upshot: Sharper melodies and more potent singing than in the past, the Twin Cities rocker reaffirms his bonafides.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The surprise return of ‘80s R&B wunderkind Andre Cymone in 2014 with the rock record The Stone is no blip in the radar of his career. 1969 continues the Minneapolis singer/multi-instrumentalist/producer’s re-imagining as Lenny Kravitz’s cooler, less derivative cousin with a set of songs loosely inspired by the titular year, often seen as a turning point in American history.

The folky “Black Lives Matter” and funky “Black in America” allude to the new political realities of so-called post-racist America, while the title track tracks personal history through acid folk. The hard-rocking “Money” and the ‘60s soul-inflected “We All Need Something” offer more general social commentary in the grand inclusive tradition. Alternately, Cymone concerns himself with the usual affairs of the heart (and groin) on “Already There” and the blues-heavy “Point and Click.” “It’s Rock N Roll” adds an acoustic Stones vibe as it celebrates its titular musical form.

Driven by his gritty singing and sizzling lead guitar, the album is a step forward from The Stone, with sharper melodies, more potent singing and a sense that Cymone has really settled into his role as a born again rock & roller.

DOWNLOAD: “We All Need Something,” “Black in America,” “Already There”