Category Archives: CD

MARCUS ROBERTS TRIO – Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane

Album: Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane

Artist: Marcus Roberts Trio

Label: J-Master

Release Date: November 17, 2017


While it’s not unusual for jazz musicians to make albums paying tribute to a formative influence, they tend to cast a wide net on that influence’s catalog, creating their own personal best-ofs. It’s highly unusual for an entire album to be covered back to front. Pianist Marcus Roberts does just this with Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane, taking on Coltrane’s 1964 LP Crescent. Though that record has nowhere near the reputation of A Love Supreme or Giant Steps, it’s an important brick in Coltrane’s wall, showcasing the saxophonist at his most melodic and soulful. Roberts knows a thing or two about soul and melody, so he and his trio (bassist Rodney Jordan, drummer Jason Marsalis) sound perfectly at home with Coltrane’s suite. The rhythm section steps forward more prominently here, with Marsalis’s subtle cymbal work and Jordan’s swinging grooves as important to the atmosphere as the leader’s keyboard work. Speaking of which, Roberts channels a century of ivory tickling styles, from classical to stride to hard bop, filtering it all down to his own unique, virtuoso playing. From his lush chord work on “Crescent” and “Lonnie’s Lament” to his swinging solos on “Bessie’s Blues” and “Wise One,” Roberts demonstrates why he’s been quietly but insistently celebrated as a jazz titan for thirty years.

The band closes the record with a bonus performance of Coltrane’s “Traneing In,” Roberts prancing across the 88s like a man who just rediscovered his own skill. Reinterpreting a horn player’s work without having a horn is always a challenge, but one for which the Roberts Trio is clearly built.

DOWNLOAD: “Bessie’s Blues,” “Lonnie’s Lament,” “Traneing In”


JOHNNY RAWLS – Waiting For The Train

Album: Waiting For The Train

Artist: Johnny Rawls

Label: Catfood Records

Release Date: September 15, 2017

The Upshot: Seemingly on a tear, Rawls’ latest follows closely on the acclaim of his last release, Tiger In A Cage – revealing an artist who lives for the raucous groove, blending equal parts southern soul to Mississippi blues with a healthy reverence for Stax and Motown.


Those of us having any difficulty getting out of bed in the morning might take some inspiration from 67-year old Johnny Rawls. His seventeenth release, Waiting For The Train, proves that he clearly starts his day with more than orange juice, assaulting originals and covers alike as if half his age. And if he’s finally realizing the success he’s due, it’s because he’s following a formula that brings out his absolute best. With another production helmed by the gifted and precise mastery of Jim Gaines, Rawls matches smart covers (from the catalogues of Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Tyrone Davis and Syl Johnson), laying them out seamlessly amidst strong songs of his own (5 co-written with longtime bassist Bob Trenchard; another penned with Trenchard and James Armstrong). Blend in the turn-on-a-dime playing skills of his long-time band, The Rays: Johnny McGhee (guitar), Trenchard (bass), Richy Puga (drums) and Dan Ferguson (keyboards). Insert the high-end kick of their flawless horn section in Andy Roman (alto/tenor sax), Mike Middleton (trumpet), Nick Flood – baritone/tenor sax and Joel Chavarria (trombone). Mix in Jon Olazabal’s (The Dirty Heads) heady percussion and the dynamic impact of his brilliant backup singers – Janelle Thompson and Shakara Weston (1/2 of El Paso’s Somethin’ 4 The Fellas/S4TF) – and Rawls’ recipe comes to a full boil.

Behind this full head of steam, the train leaves the station briskly, driven by the powerful, horn-driven “Rain Keep Falling (‘Til I’m Free)”. This one song is a master class in what Rawls does best, he and his Rays delivering a powerful shot of modern soul, its roots buried deeply in the past. Special attention is due Dan Ferguson on this opening track for his keyboard flourishes as this tight outfit keeps things slightly restrained, allowing Rawls’ presence to stay out front where it belongs. The rollicking “Las Vegas” could go a long way towards turning around the city’s tourism numbers single-handedly, its energetic tempo serving to camouflage the downside of sin and a life lived doing what you know you shouldn’t be doing. But isn’t that what Vegas is for? Come to think of it, consider this the funkiest anthem against gambling and losing one’s way that ever there was.

Based on these two performances, alone, the spunky Rawls seems a million miles away from ruminating on the sunset of his life, yet “Waiting for the Train” meets mortality head-on. Dan Ferguson’s light touch on keyboards marries to McGhee’s Benson-like touch as Rawls and his sensual backup singers soulfully signal the approach of the ultimate station stop. When Wilson “Wicked” Pickett put his singular stamp on Bobby Womack’s “I’m In Love” back in ’68, he helped ease R&B firmly into the Soul camp. Rawls’ treatment of this untouchable classic hit actually kicks it up a notch – given Gaines’ astute production, the chemistry of this band and the molten connection between Rawls’ vocals and his simpatico backup singers. Rawls’ confidence is obvious here, unintimidated by this hit’s rich legacy. The funky “California Shake” conjures the unstoppable groove of the late James Brown, driven forward with tight horns, frenetic percussion and McGhee’s grasp of the songs’ key hook – the groove all the tighter for his studied economy. “Blackjack Was A Gambler” is a story-song with legs of its own ­– a cautionary tale that, despite its prominent sax solo and Richy Puga’s locked-down drumming finesse, waxes on about a minute longer than it might have.

However, Rawls’ reinvention of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” is, in a word, stunning. More celebratory than it is church-like, Rawls never overplays it, the honeyed harmonies of his singers melding with Ferguson’s reverent B3 and piano. Brilliant. Tyrone Davis’ “Turning Point” retains its funky groove yet, given this album’s lofty standard, seems a little light on energy. Syl Johnson’s “We Did It”, too, feels down a notch on Rawls’ Richter-like energy scale yet the arrangements are so skintight on this undeniable groove as to only be shaving hairs, the band getting a little more time to shine. Laying back a little, “Stay With Me” ends the album on a lovely note. The band tones things down ever so slightly, enabling Rawls, Thompson & Weston an opportunity to achieve a sublime vocal fluidity that flows along as if they were siblings.

Waiting For The Train is an even stronger release than the last – which seems an impossible achievement. Yet Johnny Rawls, if he sticks to his recipe, seems destined for greater and greater recognition in his seemingly effortless quest for blues-soul domination. There can be nobody more suitable to assume the crown.

SALAD BOYS —This Is Glue

Album: This Is Glue

Artist: Salad Boys

Label: Trouble In Mind

Release Date: January 19, 2018


Salad Boys’ second full length is noisier and more emphatic than 2015’s Metalmania, drawing sharper outline around its fuzz-crusted pop songs, kicking them harder and finding a vein of anarchic joy in its classic Flying Nun sound.

During the interim, there’s been a change in line-up for the Christchurch-based outfit –Joe Sampson, the singer and guitar player, is now flanked by Ben Dodd on bass and Ben Woods on drums. That shift in players may account for the programmed drums in lead-off cut, “Blown Up,” whose tense, monotone chants, give way to clanging guitar. The cut tugs hard at the leash all the way through its blatting, bleating, robot-krautish introduction, its whispered verse barely rising above the hard beat, and then a minute in, guitars crash in head-first, heedless and hedonistic, full of joy and distortion.

“Psych Slasher” is even better, with real drums and slashing, slanting guitar right from the beginning, and fist-in-the-air defiance in the shouty, hooky chorus. A viscous, rubber-oozing bass line pushes the song onward, the drummer slaps the beat hard on the twos and fours, and the whole thing is an adrenaline coursing racket, but not without its melancholy. Salad Boys have a way of infusing even the hard-charging songs with melancholy; the minor key twists in their bright melodies are like shadows in sunlight.

As before, Salad Boys intersperse rockers with blissful acoustic jangles, where whispery wistfulness threads through the tunefulness. “Dogged Out” is maybe the best of these rain-through-windows songs, embellished with ribbons of string sound for a fuller sound. Yet the best cuts have a bit more bite to them – the early R.E.M.-ish anthem “Exhaltation,” the punk-ish, friction-y “Scenic Route to Nowhere.”

This Is Glue is several orders of magnitude better than the already quite enjoyable Metalmania. Without changing the formula much, Sampson has somehow increased the impact of his ramshackle, ear-wormy songs and made them matter more. Where the earlier album made you nod in recognition and, later, reach for your old 1980s Flying Nun LPs, this one seems entirely sufficient on its own terms. Here comes the new century of 21st century NZ lo-fi; on the strength of This Is Glue it’ll be just as good as the last one.

Download: “Psych Slasher” “Exhaltation”




Mudhoney by Vincent Vannes

As a new live album recorded on tour in 2016 demonstrates, the Seattle band is always morphing, and always, always, always is a monster live band.


The set starts in a monstrous wall of feedback, a fuzzed out roar that parts, like primordial swamp for the fuzz-clustered, two guitar crocodilian riff of “Fuzz Gun,” a form of guitar mayhem first plotted before Nirvana broke, before grunge became a fashion statement, when it seemed like the primitive stomp and psychedelia skree of Mudhoney might become, if not the next big thing, something bigger and more lucrative than the journeyman hard rock outfit they eventually turned into. That cut, and the one that follows is “Get into Yours,” from the 1989 S-T, are a quarter-century old when we hear them now, somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they sound just as relevant, just as hard and blunt and distended with volume as they must have when Mark Arm and Steve Turner first thought of them.

Mudhoney’s new live set, L.i.E. (Sub Pop), a/k/a Live in Europe, collected from a 2016 tour, is bluntly, ferociously coherent, though it spans three decades, seven albums and one Roxy Music cover.

The set list leans a bit on 2013’s Vanishing Point, then and now, the band’s most recent full-length (though a new one is coming in 2018), with an extended, pedal-fucked, guitar-spiraling, through-the-rabbit-hole treatment of “The Final Course,” followed by the slyer, more compact boogie of “What to Do with the Neutral” (“What to do with the neutral/It’s not an easy problem,” sings Arm, who has demonstrably spent more time on extremes). The post-millennial Mudhoney albums have an air of comfortable free-ness, of settling in with what the band has, of getting over undue expectations, and their loose, humorous bluster colors this live performance. But they make perfect sense in conjunction with older material — the explosive vamp of “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme” from 1995’s My Brother the Cow, the viscous chug of 2009’s Piece of Cake’s “Suck You Dry.”

You might think that covering Roxy Music is an odd choice, but “Editions of You,” is one of Ferry’s rougher, more rocking outings. Mudhoney gets at the twisted, clanging guitar line, pumping it up with pummeling drums, and obliterating any vestigial crooning in a barrage of Arm’s frantic shout-ranting. It sounds, in the end, like Mudhoney. It’s followed by the best cut on the disc, the long, fever-blistered rampage of “Broken Hands,” which encapsulates blues-like dirge and psychedelic freakery in its slow-moving, drum-rattling procession.

Which sounds completely different but also like Mudhoney, always what it is, always morphing, and always, always, always a monster live band.

Incidentally, Mudhoney and Sub Pop made an intriguing move with the album by not releasing it on CD, just vinyl and digital. And then they paid further tribute to vinyl collectors (Such as moi. — Blurt Wax Ed.) by also pressing up a special European-only, limited-to-500-copies version pressed on clear vinyl and boasting different gatefold artwork from the standard US pressing, it’s on 180gm CLEAR VINYL. And initial copies came with a 7” Bonus single. (“Touch Me I’m Sick” b/w “Where the Flavor Is”). Nice touch, gents.


Album: Invitation

Artist: Filthy Friends

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Release Date: August 25, 2017



They don’t make super groups like they used to, at least when it comes to touting the names of the big stars and running the hype up the proverbial flagpole. Still, that doesn’t mean they ought to pass without a mention. Consequently, the debut of Filthy Friends via the overtly titled Invitation does deserve notice. The list of participants is impressive enough — R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck, multi-tasker extraordinaire Scott McCaughey, the ever omnipresent Kurt Bloch, King Crimson (and former R.E.M.) percussionist Bill Rieflin and singer/songwriter Corin Tucker, front person for the band Sleater-Kinney — but the sound that they summon forth is solidly of the rock and resolute variety. It’s driving, deliberate and void of any pandering or pretence.

In truth, Invitation would be a noteworthy offering regardless of the names that appear on the marquee. Songs such as “Depierta,” “Faded Afternoon” and “Any Kind of Crowd” could easily catch the ears of an arena-packed audience straight from the get-go, while others — “Second Life,” “Come Back Shelley,” “You and Your King,” and “No Forgotten Son” in particular — provide an undercurrent of prime punk petulance. While the tone and temperament lacks the verbosity normally associated with an otherwise insurgent sound, Buck’s relentless guitar wail and Bloch’s virulent vocals ensure a tempestuous touch stays intact throughout.

The result is an album of uncommon strength, not necessarily due to the individuals involved, but rather because of the sheer force and fury of the unified thrust. Filthy Friends never waver from this mission, making this one Invitation well worth heeding.

DOWNLOAD: “Second Life,” “Come Back Shelley,” “No Forgotten Son”


BRAD SAN MARTIN – Shoot Tomorrow/Learn Tonight

Album: Shoot Tomorrow/Learn Tonight

Artist: Brad San Martin

Label: Jigsaw

Release Date: November 10, 2017

The Upshot: Staying power for a 10-song collection of indie pop gems.


Erstwhile One Happy Island songwriter Brad San Martin dropped his first solo album, Tell Someone, a home-recorded affair, but for his sophomore effort the multiinstrumentalist availed himself of Mitch Easter’s famed Fidelitorium studio and, along with his friend and OHI producer Pete Weiss, he ultimately exited the studio doors with an indie-pop winner. Shoot Tomorrow/Learn Tonight still finds San Martin handling a huge chunk of the duties, but he’s also joined by some estimable talent – guitarists Kevin Dunn and Mitch Easter (you may have heard of him).

The transition from lo-fi, low-key musings to full-on studio bliss yields such affable gems as “The First Few,” a McCartney-esque piano popper; the jangly, optimistic “Hey Everyone”; “Song About ‘Soul Finger’” which does indeed betray a deep love of soul on San Martin’s part, but with a peppy indie-rock/anthemic edge; and a cinematic, neo-orchestral, take-your-breath-away study in dynamics and texture called “Headstrong.” With introspective, probing lyrics, arrangements that swing between lush and intimate, and a general sense of slotting effortlessly into the pure pop pantheon—the Beatles and Brian Wilson figure strongly in San Martin’s presumed influences—Shoot Tomorrow/Learn Tonight is one of the just-closed year’s sleepers that yields rewards with each successive spin. Don’t let it be relegated to “last year’s stuff,” because it’s got staying power.

DOWNLOAD: “Song About ‘Soul Finger’”; “Hey Everyone”; “Headstrong”


Album: Doors of Perception

Artist: Raoul Björkenheim/eCsTaSy

Label: Cuneiform

Release Date: October 06, 2017


Finnish-American guitarist Raoul Björkenheim has wielded his axe in a variety of contexts, from the free jazz of Scorch Trio to the long-running prog/jazz hybrid Krakatau. Doors of Perception, his third album with eCsTaSy, showcases the jazz side of his personality. Joined by saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, bassist Jori Huhtala and drummer Markku Ounaskari, Björkenheim confidently blends expansive composition and loose improvisation, like a blend of Miles Davis fusion and Ornette Coleman free playing. Though highly skilled and no stranger to effects, especially distortion, Björkenheim doesn’t overload his space with sound and fury, staying close to the pocket and comping as often as riffing and soloing. The liquid “Ecstasy Dance,” frenetic “Answer It!” and noisy title track use aggression for intensity, rather than flamboyance, showing off his talents without making a fuss about it. Lyytinen proves himself the leader’s match, spiraling through the swinging “Elemental” and honking across the jerking “Jitterfug.” Huhtala sticks with acoustic bass, giving the bottom a proper shading of lightness as well as anchor, while Ounaskari keeps the rhythms percolating, even under a fever dream like “Sunflower.” Fusion without cliché, Doors of Perception provides a freaky good time for jazz fans with a sense of adventure.

DOWNLOAD: “Elemental,” “Doors of Perception,” “Ecstasy Dance”


Album: Flow

Artist: Paul Giallorenzo Trio

Label: Delmark

Release Date: October 20, 2017


Jazz musicians in the 21st century have over 100 years of work to use for inspiration, education and/or theft – long gone for the most part, are the days when an instrumentalist would be a disciple of just one mentor. Pianist Paul Giallorenzo is a good example. On Flow, his second album for the venerable Delmark label, the Chicago improviser pulls bits from a variety of keyboard titans, from Erroll Garner and Bud Powell to Dave Brubeck and Cecil Taylor, taking what he likes and blending it into his own streamlined approach.

Minimalist chords set up rippling melodic lines, as dissonance creeps in, then gleefully waltzes back out again. Bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Mikel Patrick Avery play perfect support, keeping the groove going with little fuss, stepping out only at the most appropriate points. The back-to-back pairing of “Rolling” and “Interstice” shows off Gialllorenzo’s vision nicely, the relative melodicism of the former contrasting with the dissonance of the latter, though it’s to the leader’s credit that each song features elements of the other. The on-the-nose duo “Darkness” and “Lightness” also highlights Giallorenzo’s dual interest in lush melody and angular performance. The exploratory epic “Flipd Scrip,” meanwhile, brings a playfulness to the Trio’s aesthetic, and also give Abrams room for a lengthy arco solo.

None of this is to say, though, that Giallorenzo has a split personality. Far from it – his ability to mesh his various interests into an integrated whole makes the aptly-titled Flow a beautifully crafted showcase for a singular talent.

DOWNLOAD: “Interstice,” “Rolling,” “Darkness”



Album: White Noise

Artist: Noah Gunderson

Label: Cooking Vinyl

Release Date: September 22, 2017


After nearly a dozen recordings released over the span of the past ten years, Noah Gunderson still remains a somewhat elusive individual. His albums and EPs have reaped numerous accolades and critical commentary, although the ability to nail him down to any one particular motif remains a daunting challenge at best. Indeed, Gunderson is one of those artists who doesn’t seem interested in bowing to expectations or committing to a particular muse. His music is intriguing, uncommon and unexpectedly alluring in every regard.

Consequently, it’s little wonder that his music has worked so well when woven into the soundtrack of two TV shows, Sons of Anarchy and Vampire Diaries. Those particular programs have always been receptive to music of a particularly melodramatic nature, but Gunderson’s hazy inclinations seem particularly well-suited to his stance.

Naturally then, his new effort White Noise follows suit, and while the title alludes to some sort of atonal upheaval, the music contained within is, at its core, unceasingly melodic. The hushed and ominous tones of such songs as “Bad Actors” and the especially expressive “Cocaine Sex & Alcohol (From a Basement in Los Angeles)” contrast mightily with the extraordinary, anthemic roar of  “Fear & Loathing” and the driving and determined “Number One Hit of the Summer (Fade Out).” Listen to those songs, and the rest of this mighty opus as well, and see if you don’t agree that White Noise is a wonderful sound to behold.

DOWNLOAD: “Cocaine Sex & Alcohol (From a Basement in Los Angeles),” “Fear & Loathing,” “Number One Hit of the Summer (Fade Out)”


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”