Category Archives: CD

WILLIE NILE – Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan

Album: Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan

Artist: Willie Nile

Label: Rover House

Release Date: June 23, 2017


The Upshot: It takes a lot to laugh, a lot to cry, and a whole lotta balls and talent to attempt a Dylan covers project.


It takes balls or whole lot of talent to attempt a covers album of all Bob Dylan songs. Thankfully, Willie Nile has both.

It certainly helps that Nile didn’t fall into one of two traps that usually mar cover songs: trying to sound too much like the original or trying to sound completely different than the original. Instead, Nile, a brilliant songwriter in his own right, simply put a little distance between Dylan’s style without trying to destroy the bones of each song. The result manages to be a refreshing take on comfortable songs.

His take on “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “I Want You” are a little closer to the traditional versions and while still great, are not nearly as stellar as some of the other offerings here. The biggest differences can be heard on a song like “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” which comes across as a bar band singalong, much faster and with a sturdier backbeat and a glorious backing chorus. Nile also takes a more rock-focus to the folkie go-to “Blowin’ In The Wind,” for equally impressive results

McCartney and Lennon are probably the only other musicians who have had their songs covered as often as Dylan and rarely does it elicit more than a curious single listen. With Positively Bob, Nile manages to make one of the few cover albums worth owning.

DOWNLOAD: “The Times They Are A-Changin.’” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

Wooden Wand – Clipper Ship

Album: Clipper Ship

Artist: Wooden Wand

Label: Three Lobed

Release Date: May 19, 2017


The nom de plum for singer-songwriter James Jackson Toth, Wooden Wand has been variously labelled nu-folk, freak folk, psychedelic and a variety of other similarly descriptive phrases, but with their their latest album, Clipper Ship, the sound they make is best described as simply sublime.

Mostly a series of acoustic interludes of the vastly mellower variety, the album moves at a languid pace, and if songs like “School’s Out,” “Sacrificial,” “Mexican Coke” and the title track (a dead ringer for CSN when Crosby takes control) don’t exactly move at an, ummm, actual clip, then all the better to reflect on these sedate sounds. The gentler aspects of the music offers pause for reflection, a kind of twilight repose that makes these melodies sweet relief for tumultuous times. Toth takes the lion share of the instrumental duties here, but the subtle touch of cello, tabla, harmonium, and a cameo appearance by Wilco’s Glen Kotche infuse the atmospheric ambiance that’s so essential to the Wooden Wand’s mesmerizing melange.

Though only seven songs long, at least two — “Mallow T’Ward the River” and “One Can Only Love” — offer multiple movements that provide opportunity to explore more exotic environs. When, with the final droning reprise of “Mood Indica,” Toth and company set their sites on the cosmos, it’s obvious that this dreamy journey has been well worthwhile.

DOWNLOAD: “Mallow T’Ward the River,” “School’s Out,” “Sacrificial”


Album: Thrust

Artist: Black Asteroid

Label: Last Gang

Release Date: July 14, 2017

The Upshot: Futuristic sonic spaces, paced by adrenaline-surging rhythms, undergirded by rumbling bass-y synths and twitching with alienation.


Bryan Black, who records as Black Asteroid, constructs vast futuristic sonic spaces, paced by adrenaline-surging rhythms, undergirded by rumbling bass-y synths and twitching with alienation. The distance between a nearly subliminal throb and the treble-y, staccato upbeats is cathedral-sized and underpopulated, an ominous void that makes scattered sonic elements pop like neon. And yet, it is an ideal sized sonic canvas on which to place vocal melodies — performed by Cold Cave’s Wesley Eisold, Zola Jesus and fashion icon Michele Lamy — whose warmer, less mechanical tones fill up gigantic midrange areas in roughly half of these cuts.

Black got his start engineering and doing keyboard tech for Prince, and he is also one half of the techno duo MOTOR. As Black Asteroid, he’s recorded a raft of singles and Eps, but #Thrust# is his first full-length album. Though the diversity of singers gives it a somewhat episodic feel, at least on the surface, the album has a foundational consistency – rhythmic tension, deep chill, gleaming surfaces. Imagine a disused airline hanger or redundant factory floor, dark, ominous, empty, technological.

Wesley Eisold is the most frequent collaborator, contributing to three of ten tracks, in his cool, uninflected voice, a throwback to the stylish anomie of artists like Depeche Mode’s David Gahan. His last outing, “Sun Explodes” leaves a lasting mark, his wavery talk-sing merged with a woman’s voice over pounding four-on-the-floor, a chilled dystopia whose main lyric seems to be “too many cunts.”  Zola Jesus’ track, “Howl” is another highlight with its subterranean thunder, its shiny dark surfaces. It’s an austere landscape, vaguely threatening, yet the singer fills it with lush-ness, with multi-syllabic “oh-oh-ohs” that spill over the hard foundation luxuriantly, like a kudzu growing over polished glass. But it’s Michele Lamy, who is in her 70s and sounds it, who scores the deepest impression. Her smoky, smouldery voice might remind you a little of Laurie Anderson, deep and flexible, French accented and utterly human in the context of Black’s minimalist beats.

About half the tracks are instrumental only, allowing listeners to glimpse the architecture underneath. “Chromosphere,” the closer, looms and skitters, its weight carried by deep-toned synths, its heights defined by pinging, zooming synths. The space in between is empty here, so that no matter how loud you turn it up, there’s a cold, silent presence inside the music, which is intriguing on its own and also an empty stage for whoever might be coaxed to enter.

DOWNLOAD: “Tangiers (with Michele Lamy)”, “Howl (with Zola Jesus”


Album: Hudson

Artist: Dejohnette/Grenadier/Medeski/Scofield

Label: Motéma

Release Date: June 09, 2017

The Upshot: More than just a fusion supergroup, the musicians pull from the songs that excited them when they were young.


In celebration of his 75th birthday, iconoclastic jazz drummer/composer Jack DeJohnette pulled together some of his Hudson Valley neighbors to have a party in the recording studio. Since those neighbors include guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Larry Grenadier, that’s a guaranteed good time. But Hudson is more than just a fusion supergroup. There’s a theme underlying the good vibes, as the musicians pull from the songs that excited them when they were young, especially if there is some connection to upstate New York. Thus interspersed with the band’s original compositions sit covers from the catalogs of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell and The Band.

Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” becomes a reggae-inflected groove led by Scofield’s biting guitar and Medeski’s noodling organ, while “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” transforms into a psychedelic jam that borders on free jazz. Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” slides into a soul jazz vibe, like an organ trio plus bass, while Mitchell’s “Woodstock” becomes a smoky, almost unrecognizable mood piece. The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” retains its signature melody, but ups the funk quotient, letting Scofield and Medeski rip on guitar and piano. None of these tunes come to mind when we think of future jazz standards, but this quartet massages them into pieces that fit the jazz repertoire.

The band’s self-penned compositions fit more in line with what one might expect from this particular grouping. Scofield’s “El Swing” and “Tony Then Jack” (in which the guitarist turns over responsibility of the main riffs over to organist Medeski) swing hard, as might be expected from a songwriter who leans so heavily on groove. DeJohnette’s “Song For World Forgiveness” shimmers through a languorous melody that lets Scofield work his magic. The drummer’s “Great Spirit Peach Chant” is just that, while “Dirty Ground” adds something really unusual: words, written by Bruce Hornsby and sung by DeJohnette in a gruff, plainspoken burr. The title track finds the foursome indulging in friendly jamming, as if they were introducing themselves to each other as well as to us.

In a way, the originals almost feel like afterthoughts. They don’t necessarily fit the theme, nor do they expand on the musicians’ prior work in any significant way – anyone familiar with DeJohnette and Scofield’s writing styles would know what to expect. Of course, these are also musicians who’ve been at the top of their game for decades and have no need to reinvent the wheel. Still, it would’ve been nice for these colleagues to push each other out of their comfort zones on their own tunes as they do on the covers.

DOWNLOAD: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Woodstock,” “Hudson”


VARIOUS ARTISTS — Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984

Album: Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Analog Africa

Release Date: June 16, 2017

The Upshot: Like the best kind of disco, but warmer and funkier and rougher around the edges.


If you know one song in the bass-heavy, disco-evoking makossa style of Cameroon, it is likely Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa,” the source of Michael Jackson’s “mama say mama san mamakossan” refrain in “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.”  Analog Africa’s crate-digging excursion tends towards a rougher, grittier groove, found somewhere in the crease between high life and Chic with rubbery low-end booty-bumping foundations that pulse with vibrant life.

Of these 12 tracks, “Yaounde Girls” by Mystic Djim & the Spirits is maybe the most satisfying, with its timbale-rattling percussion, its slinky girl-group chorus (“Yaounde Girls…all they need is loving”) and its agitated, superbly physical bass line, which blurts and bloops and bumps with three-dimensional heft. Yet it’s far from the only winner. For instance, though you might not have heard of Bill Loko’s synth-writhing “Nen Lambo” (like the Thompson Twins in glitter-splotched platform heels) — I hadn’t — it was a big enough hit in Cameroon that its teenage super-star had to flee the country, and this exuberant version gives you a good idea of why. Pasteur Lappé’s “Sekele Movement” with its bright blasts of brass and again, sorry to be repetitive, that wonderful pushing, seething bass, is enough to make you reconsider your allegiances in the punk vs. disco battle lines. And the long, multi-drummed, multi-rhythmed “Africa” by Clément Djimogne engages the body while letting the mind float free, stuffed to the margins with positive energy.

It all sounds like the best kind of disco, but warmer and funkier and rougher around the edges. Even the slickest variety of makossa turned into the best part of a Michael Jackson song — the good stuff is immeasurably better.

DOWNLOAD: “Yaounde Girls” “Sekele Movement”


GLENN MORROW – Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help

Album: Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help

Artist: Glenn Morrow

Label: Bar/None/Rhyme & Reason

Release Date: June 23, 2017

The Upshot: Hooks galore and an artistic shout-out that’s well worth heeding.


Glenn Morrow knows a little something about what it takes to make a good record. As the owner/proprietor of indie label Bar/None, he helped further the careers of such distinguished artists and ensembles as the Feelies, Freedy Johnson, the dB’s, R. Stevie Moore and Jason Faulkner, among others. And as a musician, he’s taken his turn in the spotlight, courtesy of his tenure as a member of the Individuals and Rage to Live.

He reflects that certain savvy with Cry For Help, an album boasting hooks galore and the kind of melodic prowess that makes it a record worth return listens prior to confining it to a permanent berth on the shelf. Morrow’s assertive stance is dominant throughout, but even the most driving delivery he can muster — as evidenced in songs such as “Return of the Wild One” (a co-write between Morroa and his band), “Bleeker and Third” and “Pony Express” — doesn’t overwhelm the listener with either pomp or pretension.  Likewise, when he opts for a more celebratory sound, as in “Third Act” and “Let the Kid Come Out,” the optimum engagement is all but assured.

Suffice it to say that Morrow’s Cry For Help is a shout-out that’s well worth heeding.

DOWNLOAD: “Third Act,” “Return of the Wild One,” “Bleeker and Third”

JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE – Kids in The Street

Album: Kids in The Street

Artist: Justin Townes Earle

Label: New West

Release Date: May 26, 2017

The Upshot: Never one to shy away from excising his personal demons via song, Earle is just as honest and confessional here as he’s ever been.


Capping off his trilogy of albums about family (2014’s Single Mothers and 2015’s Absent Fathers), Kids in The Streets is just as charming and powerful as its predecessors.

A soon-to-be-father, Earle – never one to shy away from excising his personal demons via song – is just as honest and confessional here as he’s ever been. And surprisingly, despite songs like “What She’s Crying For” and the prison bound ditty “15-25,” the album is surprisingly positive. The nostalgic title track and the upbeat “What’s Going Wrong,” find Earle almost singing through a smile.

There are a lot of firsts on this album: It’s his first for New West Records; He traveled to Omaha to record, rather than sticking with his regular turf in Nashville; and despite this being his seventh record, it’s the first one where Earle looked outside his regular crew for a producer. While this is very much an Earle affair the extra help from Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis) brings added depth to the music here.

The record closes with the beautiful, “There Go a Fool,” complete with soft horns and a pessimist’s take on optimism, which is exactly what you’d expect from Earle – cautious hopefulness.

 DOWNLOAD: “What She’s Crying For,” “15-25” and “There Go a Fool”


PAINT FUMES – If It Ain’t Paint Fumes It Ain’t Worth a Huff

Album: If It Ain’t Paint Fumes It Ain’t Worth a Huff

Artist: Paint Fumes

Label: Get Hip

Release Date: September 16, 2016

The Upshot: Scuzzy garage, classic punk, and blazing surf that’s drenched in more echo than you can shake a distortion pedal at.


Better late than never: Though the latest album from Charlotte, NC, scuzz/garage-core appeared last fall, yours truly must admit to being rather late to the table—something hereby rectified.

A no-nonsense guitar/bass/drums outfit, Paint Fumes describe themselves as “panic attack punk,” and that’s pretty apt, as one hears plenty of Sympathy, In the Red, Goner, Burger, and Get Hip panic scattered throughout these tidy ten songs. (That they currently call Get Hip home is no accident; they also previously recorded for the Slovenly label, if you’re sifting for additional clues as to what makes ‘em tick.) The set kicks off with “Bad Rituals,” a kind of Dead Boys-revving-into-overdrive number, and that’s quickly followed by “Brick Wall,” which is cut from vintage Nuggets cloth (think The Litter’s “Action Woman” rammed through a bank of distortion boxes). Things really get moving, however, a few tracks later on “Puddle of Blood”: following a twangy Latin-guitar intro, the band erects a massive wall of sound, equal parts surf-rock and punk-blooze and drenched in so much echo you’d swear that the aforementioned sonic structure was constructed with the express purpose of permanently walling Phil Spector and Martin Hannett into the crawlspace behind the living room.

Elsewhere there are nods to the Ramones (the rifftastic “Weird Walking”) and classic hardcore (thrash along with “Tunnel Vision”), plus more Nuggets worship (on “Planetary Plans” vocalist Elijah von Cramon perfects his punk-‘tude sneer, additionally channeling the late Stiv Bators once again). All in all, If It Ain’t Paint Fumes It Ain’t Worth a Huff is the best party-starter – and stopper, because the neighbors will definitely be calling the cops – I’ve heard all year. Bonus points for the awesome Stiff Records logo and title homage.

Consumer Note: It’s also available in “puke swirl” colored vinyl. You know you want it.

DOWNLOAD: “Puddle of Blood,” “Brick Wall,” “Planetary Plans”

DESERTSHORE – Arc of An Arrow Blind

Album: Arc of An Arrow Blind

Artist: Desertshore

Label: Darkan

Release Date: June 02, 2017

The Upshot: A set of wordless tunes from the Bay Area jazzers that emphasize mood and melody, rather than improvisation or firepower.


Recording instrumental music live in the studio is usually the province of jazz musicians, but don’t tell that to Desertshore. For the San Francisco band’s fifth LP Arc of An Arrow Blind, guitarist Phil Carney, keyboardist Chris Connolly and drummer Mike Wells partner with violinist Benjamin Powell and bassist Erik Kertes for a set of wordless tunes that emphasize mood and melody, rather than improvisation or firepower.

Carney favors a pedal steel-like tone, letting his carefully chosen notes resonate like a vibraphone. The classically-trained Connolly’s piano provides the tracks’ foundation, setting the tone and mood. Wells and Kertes make their presence known almost subliminally, while Powell contributes textures, rather than flowing single-note lines. “Floating,” “Sky Drifter” and “To Cross This Great Expanse” come across like ethereal soundtrack music to a film about an inner journey, remaining just compelling enough to be more than background sound.

It almost sounds like new age music, and a track like “Afterimages (Behind Your Eyes)” might well appeal to that crowd. But there’s something more substantial going on that makes Desertshore more than mere aural wallpaper.

DOWNLOAD: “Sky Drifter,” “To Cross This Great Expanse,” “Floating”



JAMIE & STEVE – Sub Textural EP

Album: Sub Textural

Artist: Jamie & Steve

Label: Loaded Goat

Release Date: July 01, 2017 /

The Upshot: Pure pop for ‘tones people: intricate, compelling rock and psych as pioneered by the masters.


Andy Partridge and Paul McCartney walk into a bar, and… Hey, it could happen. But why await a report on that fantasy summit when we have the real-life equivalent, the fifth Jamie & Steve record (and followup to 2014’s Circling). Anyone who’s followed the two North Carolina rockers will already know that the Partridge and McCartney nods aren’t random, for as one-half of the Spongetones, Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel have been responsible for some of the best Brit-flavored pop and rock to come of of The States for nearly four decades.

The XTC vibe kicks off the record, in fact, with the cinematic psychedelia of “Sword of Love,” a swirling, kaleidoscopic, nigh-on immersive cornucopia of sounds and textures. That’s followed by “It’s All Because of You” which, with its peppy ukulele (possibly mandolin) riff and sweetly-textured vocal crooning, could be a long-lost outtake from Sir Paul’s second studio album, Ram (unless I miss my guess, there’s a direct nod to that record’s “Ram On” that pops up in “IABOY”). The stomping, raucous “In a Little Tango” aims to catch the listener off-guard via a succession of stylistic twists, one moment a Bonham-type thump, then a sizzling guitar solo, and then a neo-baroque flourish. And finally, “Cry” cues up, an utterly infectious contemporary take on multi-part doo-wop as filtered through the pair’s signature Merseybeat lens—the Spongetones caught in joyous reverie down on the corner under a streetlight’s glow.

All six numbers are immaculately-crafted tunes, all, bringing together influences both disparate and expected while demonstrating an uncommon mastery of the arrangement process. Sub Textural amounts to an aural feast that reveals its intricacies and mysteries over multiple spins, the kind of record destined to intrigue and inspire fans and musicians alike. Perhaps in a record review at some unspecified point in the future, a writer will be inspired to pen the phrase, “Jamie and Steve walk into a bar….” Hmmm?

DOWNLOAD: “Cry,” “Sword of Love”