Category Archives: New Releases

BLUE NOTE ALL-STARS – Our Point of View

Album: Our Point of View

Artist: Blue Note All-Stars

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: September 29, 2017

http://bluenote.com

The Upshot: A master class on how great musicians, sensitive to each other’s talents, bring strong compositions to thrilling, exuberant life.  

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The storied history of the Blue Note label speaks for itself. Throughout the company’s near 80-year history, it’s been home to jazz luminaries from Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane to Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and James Blood Ulmer, not to mention a host of musicians not normally associated with jazz, like Van Morrison, Norah Jones and even Jeff Bridges. Under the leadership of founder Alfred Lion, the label’s impact on jazz was profound, and that influence continued under the stewardship of Bruce Lundvall, who revived the company in the 80s, and Don Was, who guides it now.

Our Point of View gathers together a collection of the label’s current stars, all of whom are jazz’s present and future. Keyboardist Robert Glasper, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott pay tribute to Lundvall, who signed many of them, and offer a good representation of the current state of jazz. Every one of them is respectful of tradition but not hidebound by it, as influenced by the R&B and hip-hop they heard growing up as the work of the jazz masters. This is no awkward one-time summit – these guys play with the intimacy and telepathy of like minds.

Take Strickland’s “Meanings,” on which the saxist leads with full-throated melodic lines before yielding the stage to an electrifying Glasper solo on the Rhodes. Or Scott’s subtly funky “Cycling Through Reality,” which features infectious rhythms over which Strickland and Akinmusire range freely and Loueke contributes a surprisingly non-irritating synth guitar solo. The Cameroon guitarist leads the way on his own “Freedom Dance,” which features complimentary horn lines, a rubbery bass break from Hodge and knotty fills and solos from its writer. Glasper’s “Bayyinah” lets the composer’s busy piano set the scene before the rest of the group eases in with tight ensemble work and lush textures.

The group also pays direct tribute to Blue Note’s lineage with a pair of Wayne Shorter tunes. At nearly eighteen minutes, “Witch Hunt”  – from Shorter’s classic album Speak No Evil – allows the players to truly stretch out. The tune’s easy swing and loping melody give Akinmusire and Strickland plenty of room to move, as Glasper fills out the sound with sparkling runs, Scott rumbles all over his kit and Loueke adds delicate wah-wah guitar. Originally found on Miles Davis’ landmark Sorcerer, “Masqualero,” on which the band is joined by elders Herbie Hancock on piano and Shorter himself on soprano, brings out a playful vibe, with much looser rhythms and playing that borders on free without ever quite crossing over.

This is the work of a band, not a group of session players who found themselves in the studio together and thought, “What the hell…might as well…” At no point does anyone overblow, trample over anyone else’s work or veer into irrelevant ideas. Our Point of View is a master class on how great musicians, sensitive to each other’s talents, bring strong compositions to thrilling, exuberant life.

DOWNLOAD: “Witch Hunt,” “Freedom Dance,” “Cycling Through Reality”

 

MIRAH—Sundial

Album: Sundial

Artist: Mirah

Label: Absolute Magnitude

Release Date: October 06, 2017

https://mirah.bandcamp.com/album/sundial

The Upshot: If the brief, seven-song release signals a new direction it looks to be a fertile, productive one for both musicians.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

One of the first things you notice about Mirah’s songs is that they’re full of space, whether they are quiet and pristine or bang-on-a-big-drum raucous or even, circa 2014’s Changing Light, in full-on dance diva mode.  Elliptical dots stand between lyrical phrases. Instruments are widely spaced and floodlit. The drums have to be kept on a short-leash, so as not to overwhelm her precise architectural structures. So when with Sundial, the artist collaborates with string arranger/composer Jherek Bischoff to fill in some of the spaces, there seems a risk of over-embellishment, the musical equivalent of TBC colorization that turns classic B&W lurid with too bright tints and hues. And yet, these concerns are unwarranted, because Bischoff here is as sharply edited as Mirah’s melodies, his swoops and sweeps and twitches of violin and viola and cello fluid but contained. Far from rounding off the edges or blurring the finer points, the addition of chamber strings italicizes these songs’ strengths. Short version it works.

Sundial reimagines six older songs and adds a seventh (the title cut) within this altered frame of reference. The songs span Mirah’s career with two recent ones from Changing Light (where Bischoff also added strings), “Little Cup” from the Thao and Mirah album, “The Light” from Cmon Miracle, “The World Is Failing” from (a)spera and “Cold Cold Water” from all the way back to Advisory Committee. This latter song is so iconically Mirah’s that it seems the unwise to fuss with, but surprisingly, it becomes the disc’s clear highlight. It begins with Mirah’s soft voice, hemmed in by pizzicato plucks, and swells in the chorus to headlong, careening drama. The cascades of string sounds, the vibrating sustained tones, the urgent rhythmic bowing all support the song’s fundamental tension, rather than relieving it, adding to the impact without overweighting it. The added arrangements have the unexpected effect of making the song wilder, rather than better behaved, and as truly itself as the original, though obviously, another version of itself.

“Oxen Hope” is another stunner, with its deep, almost subliminal throbs of cello under Mirah’s untrammeled, improvisatory vocal flights. The string arrangements ground her without tying her to earth. She seems somehow freer in flight now that there’s solid earth under her.

The disc is a short one, just a taste really. If it’s a one-off, it’s an interesting tangent, but if it signals a new direction, as seems more likely, it looks to be a fertile, productive one for both Mirah and Bischoff.

DOWNLOAD: “Cold Cold Water” “Oxen Hope”

 

 

 

 

TRAVIS MEADOWS – First Cigarette

Album: First Cigarette

Artist: Travis Meadows

Label: Blaster

Release Date: October 13, 2017

www.travismeadows.com

The Upshot: With his fresh-but-familiar Americana sound and nakedly personal-yet-emotionally-universal lyrics, the Nashville songwriter won’t be a best-kept-secret much longer.

BY FRED MILLS

Hearing this album for the first time—this morning, in fact, approximately three hours and nearly four complete spins ago—was a revelation, the proverbial musical ton of bricks, like the first time I heard Jason Isbell as a solo performer, or when I got my initial astonishing dose of Chris Whitley on the Thelma & Louise soundtrack, or, yeah, that afternoon as a teenager I brought Greetings From Asbury Park home from the local five-and-dime, cracked the plastic, and cued up the LP on my battered Magnavox drop-down record player. I’d settled down with the morning coffee, NPR’s “Weekend Edition” on the radio, and suddenly this haunting, country-sounding voice with a spare, folkish backing came over the airwaves; soon enough I learned it was a Nashville songwriter named Travis Meadows, and radio host Scott Simon was talking to him about his just-released fourth record, First Cigarette, and about the highs (writing songs for stars like Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, and Jake Owen—the latter landed the Meadows-penned “What We Ain’t Got” at #14 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart a couple of years ago) and lows (among them, the cancer that took his right leg when he was 14; and the adult drinking, which at one point got so bad that would have to wake up to a couple of shots of vodka each morning just to cure the shakes) of his life to date.

Fascinated by this narrative—the seven-years-sober aspect in particular resonated with me, as Jason Isbell’s post-addiction albums remain among my favorite of this decade so far—and mesmerized by the snatches of songs that Simon played for the listeners, I immediately flicked on Spotify and found First Cigarette. And as soon as I finish this review I plan to drive directly over to the record store and buy the CD (they are already holding a copy for me; if it winds up getting released on vinyl, I will buy that as well and gift the CD to some friend who needs his or her own musical revelation).

Those three namechecks in the first sentence above weren’t stray comparisons. The song “Travelin’ Bone” sounds uncannily like Isbell in spots, from Meadows’ yearning croon that descends to an edge-of-rasp at key moments; to the low-key anthemism of the arrangement wrought by sparsely twanging guitar, staccato banjo, and spectral organ; to the narrative lyric structure itself, in which Meadows questions the motivations powering his life thus far and if he’s even worthy of being alive. Later on, “Better Boat” conjures images of the late Whitley thanks to an atmospheric, almost ambient arrangement and echoey slide guitar flourishes all giving the tune a distinctive wide-open-spaces (read: big sky country) vibe. And “Hungry” is pure latterday Springsteen, incorporating subtle blues and gospel motifs (wait for the falsetto, take-me-to-heaven, ooh-ooh-oohs near the end) and steadily building to a climax that’s not bombastic, but still feels like you’re being lifted up high. “I used to say this hunger’s killing me/ But baby, it’s what’s keeping me alive/ I’m still hungry all the time” is the kind of line that can bring you to your knees—one day Meadows will be bringing entire theaters and arenas to their collective knees with that line. (I would be remiss if I didn’t note, within this Springsteen context, that there’s a song here called “Pray for Jungleland” that directly invokes the icon’s name, and to great effect. But I won’t go any further than that with my spoiler—you’ll have to check out the tune yourself.)

Ultimately, though, Meadows isn’t so much like these other artists—Isbell is probably the one he’ll be compared to most often—as he is among them, because his sound is as fresh, in a familiar-like-a-friend’s-handshake way, and his words as unique, thanks to how nakedly personal yet emotionally universal they feel, as all the greats.

I’m finding myself obsessed after just a few hours and playing a quick round of catch-up by checking out selected tracks from 2007 debut My Life 101, 2011’s Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, and 2013 mini-album Old Ghosts & Unfinished Business, (There’s also a limited-edition live CD from 2015, Live at Natchez Hills Vinyard, and what appears to be an early gospel recording called Here I Am that Meadows apparently cut in 2001, presumably during the period when he was a preacher and a missionary.)

I’m also finding myself amazed that, to date, Meadows has essentially operated as a musical best-kept-secret, tapped here and there by more popular artists who recognized the man’s songwriting talent, but flying well below the radar of most everyone else.

This album’s gonna change all that. He’s the real goddam deal, and I will stake my reputation as an aging music critic on it. That’s a five-out-of-five-stars rating at the top of this review, too.  Watch the year-end accolades come in, and keep your eye on the awards ceremonies that follow.

DOWNLOAD: “Hungry,” “First Cigarette,” “Travelin’ Bone”

 

ANTIETAM – Intimations of Immortality

Album: Intimations of Immortality

Artist: Antietam

Label: Motorific Sounds

Release Date: September 08, 2017

http://antietamtheband.com

The Upshot: Still taking care of business on its own, the NYC guitar slingers fuse indie rock heaviosity to jazzy, folkish, and even poppy elements for an exploratory – and exhilarating – set.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

In an era where mashups and genre-fucking reign supreme, it’s always nice to hear some good old-fashioned guitar rock. Over thirty years into its career, NYC’s Antietam have more than mastered the art of six-string hooks, straightforward rhythms and no apologies – the trio practically embodies it.

Intimations of Immortality, the band’s tenth album, manages a neat trick – the songs highlight the crunchy guitar rock institution that Antietam has become over the years, while still mixing in new elements that keep the music from sounding nostalgic or hidebound. Horns punch up “Sunshine” and “Automatic,” enhancing the guitar’s attack without getting in its way, while a solo sax insinuates itself into “Sooner or Later.” Free jazz piano rollicks through “Jefferson,” never sounding out of place even as it follows its own freewheeling path. Mandolin shares complimentary space with feedback guitar on “The Fresno Drop,” a tune that starts out folk rock, moves into psychedelic jamming and ends with backporch banjo and fiddle. The horns return on instrumentals “Birdwatching” and the credits roll “And Then,” while a lone harmonica bleats during the rocking “I’m So Tired.” The band divests itself of assistance on the poppy “Right Between the Eyes” (listen to it HERE) as a reminder that Antietam can still take care of business on its own.

Three decades plus in, Antietam knows how to balance staying the course with exploratory side trips.

DOWNLOAD: “I’m So Tired,” “The Fresno Drop,” “Right Between the Eyes

 

Go way back to 2011 if you want to check out a BLURT interview with Antietam.

 

WOOLLY BUSHMEN – Arduino (LP – orange vinyl)

Album: Arduino

Artist: Woolly Bushmen

Label: Pig Baby

Release Date: October 06, 2017

www.pigbabyrecords.com

The Upshot: Guaranteed to make you put down your battered copy of Nuggets and get the house party started anew.

BY FRED MILLS

Thump. Thump again. Twang. Thump some more. Twang again. Yeah baby.

The Woolly Bushmen kick things off by kicking out the jams, “Something New” being a primordial rawk stew of troglodyte drums, surf guitars, and snarled/sneered/shouted vox; think an unholy offspring of “Wipe Out,” “All Right Now,” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” And we’re off: “Hangin’ Blue,” which sounds like Roky fronting Southern Culture On The Skids (hold that thought—six of the 11 songs here were produced by SCOTS’ Rick Miller at his Kudzu Ranch studio); “Don’t Let Him In,” with its fuzzed out axes and psych organ, is a contemporary out-nuggetsization of the Nuggets aesthetic much like the Cynics were updating same three decades ago; and “If It’s All Right With You” brings a kind of Fifties vibe to a Velvets-like choogle arrangement, along with some subtle R&B inflections.

Clearly this trio—comprising Cleveland’s Simon and Julian Palombi and West Virginia’s Jacob Miller—has been soaking in more than just a hot tub down at the RV park. (What’s that title Arduino all about? You’ll have to ask them, as our web search only unearths a company by that name: “Open-source electronic prototyping platform enabling users to create interactive electronic objects.” That said, Miller and the Palombis have a rep as quite the in-your-face live outfit—I’d call that “interactive.”) Arduino comes on the heels of 2012’s self-titled LP and 2015’s Sky Bosses and it is indeed the best batch yet, Pressed up on shockingly orange translucent wax (180-gm at that) and including a digital download card, it is an instant house party starter. Plan on purchasing supplemental homeowners or renters insurance should these guys turn up on your doorstep.

DOWNLOAD: “Something New,” “Don’t Let Him In,” “If It’s All Right With You”

KA BAIRD — Sapropelic Pycnic

Album: Sapropelic Pycnic

Artist: Ka Baird

Label: Drag City

Release Date: September 22, 2017

http://www.dragcity.com

The Upshot: Freak folk refugee devises eerie sonic landscapes and piercing art songs that split the distance between lieder and Sun Ra.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Ka Baird co-founded one of the aughts’ wilder denizens of freak folk, the all-female collective Spires that in the Sunset Rise, whose rash, raging, multi-ethnic experiments were more in line with Sun City Girls than any well-behaved 1960s distaff folk rocker. That foursome was never without its creative tensions, so it’s interesting to see her unencumbered and solo here, using flute, voice, percussion and electronics to devise eerie sonic landscapes and piercing art songs that split the distance between lieder and Sun Ra.

This solo album takes its name from a kind of protozoa that lives in mud and ooze, and indeed, Baird’s composition arise from a bed of murky improvisatory interplay that sometimes crystallizes in high lovely purity. In “Tok Tru” her flute takes pre-eminence, fuzzy overblown skitters of sound careening in and around a steady clicking beat. Sinuous and lithe, the melody takes on a Middle Eastern lilt, as the flute tones multiply, collide, contradict and join in chalky, gradiated harmonies. Baird sings a little on this one, or rather vocalizes, coming in about half way through for a ritual chant of “We are beyond the smoke and mirrors,” except the word “mirrors” is refracted into a series of shouts to seem more like an incantation than a song lyric.

The long centerpiece “Transmigration” finds a sunnier, less conflicted vibe, its massed flute tones rising in clouds like mists off the surface of a hot tropical river. Later, again, Baird sings, this time in full classical mode, high and clear and eerie. “Ka,” is one of the disc’s best, a shuffling, shape-shifting procession of flutes and whispers and hand drums, an Amazonian tapestry where flutes darting here and there like tropical birds, some shadowy and low, others brightly colored and flitting against the sky.

No question that Baird is an unconventional artist — and Sapropelic Pycnic will not be to everyone’s taste — but if you appreciate people who go all the way out there, make room for this one.

DOWNLOAD: “Transmigration,” “Ka”

 

 

 

STEFAN – End Of The Drought

Album: End Of The Drought

Artist: Stefan

Label: Innovative Strings

Release Date: September 01, 2017

https://www.stefan.us

The Upshot: The album that fans of the erstwhile La Vienta member have been waiting for, and it brings the goods track after delightful track.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Stefan Schyga finally lets things rip on his latest album. Shaking off the shadow of his former band La Vienta, Stefan has created an album that brings to the fore his assorted musical influences into a clear and cohesive package that is a thrill to listen to. And while we can’t forget his other band for the beauty they gave to the world, we can feel safe in the knowledge that Stefan has reached a new high water mark in his musical career. The album, with its 12 tracks, takes Stefan’s music into uncharted territory. Collaborating with a group of select local musicians on this outing, Stefan adds flute, pedal steel, and keyboards to the mix. The result is a summery chilled-out record recalling, in this reviewer’s mind, trips to Old Mesilla in Southern New Mexico as a child and driving past the pistachio orchards that provided a respite from the oppressive heat that could crack a dashboard.

The track “End of The Drought” is a stone cold classic that is late afternoon driving on I-10 with a thunderstorm wreaking havoc off in the distance: Head past the steel foundry and wet and wild water world—this is the aural equivalent of that glow off the Franklins at sunset. The track is tight and lets the slide guitar and deft percussion shine.

Another stunner is “Seductive Gypsy,” with some amazing flute playing and Stefan’s jazzy side coming to the fore. Then there’s “Over There,” which is Stefan’s Pat Metheny/Steely Dan moment. Jazzy and organic, the song has the feel of a star-studded jam session that someone happened to record and then release. This is definitely a direction I can see Stefan and crew pushing towards and finding much success with as they plan their next record.

No more just the German guy with a love of the Southwest and Flamenco guitar, Stefan shows, on this album that he has very much become part of the desert landscape he loves so much. It also shows that while Stefan is very much the centerpiece of this record, he lets his players shine, both with the upfront production (which actually lets us hear them), and with the focus he shines on their respective parts. The chemistry created on this album is a joy to behold. I could get on board with Stefan touring this record; these songs are just too good to be relegated to being listened to solely on one’s iPhone.

End of The Drought is the album fans of Stefan have been waiting for and it brings the goods track after delightful track. So show the guy some love and buy the damn thing!

DOWNLOAD: “Seductive Gypsy” “Zocalo” “End of the Drought” “Over There”

 

SWEET PEA ATKINSON – Get What You Deserve

Album: Get What You Deserve

Artist: Sweet Pea Atkinson

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: September 22, 2017

http://bluenote.com

The Upshot: The Detroit singer and erstwhile mic shaker of Was (Not Was) deserves to be considered as part of an ongoing soul continuum—and, indeed, one of the very best of the best.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Sweet Pea Atkinson should be a legend. The Detroit singer has a career going back to the 70s, with one prior solo album to his name (1982’s much sought-after Don’t Walk Away), a long stint as one of the lead singers for inexplicable soul/rock band Was (Not Was) and an even longer stint as a background vocalist to the stars, including an especially prominent tenure with Lyle Lovett. He also served as frontman for W(NW) guitarist Randy Jacobs’ blues rock band the Boneshakers. His instantly recognizable voice – the one that powered Was (Not Was)’s biggest single “Walk the Dinosaur” – cuts through any amount of sludge surrounding it. (Let’s not forget “Knocked Down, Made Small” and the astounding accompanying video. —Funk Ed.)

Yet he’s never truly found the fame and notoriety his talent deserves. It’s not his fault. He may have helped Was (Not Was) into the top 10, but it was with a novelty song that unfairly tarred the entire enterprise as a big joke. The Boneshakers may have had fiery guitar and Atkinson’s distinctive voice, but they didn’t have any real songs. His work as a background singer was just that – background. Ultimately, though, he may have been held back by his aesthetic – he’s an old-fashioned soul singer who came to prominence right as his style of gritty, blues-informed vocals and tasteful accompaniment was being supplanted by electrofunk and the nascent hip-hop and new jack swing scenes.

In 2017, however, the tide has turned. Hip-hop, programming and samples still rule the R&B roost on the charts, but a less slick, horn-enhanced, vocal-driven style of soul is once again in vogue, thanks to Amy Winehouse, the Daptone family and, however unintentionally parodic they may be, blue-eyed soulsters like St. Paul & the Broken Bones. That’s a style that’s perfect for a singer like Atkinson – his gritty croon and urban howl slip into the confines of 60s and 70s rhythms, chunky guitars and tasteful horn charts like sore feet into warm slippers. All this is evident on Get What You Deserve, the first Atkinson solo album in 35 years.

Working with producers Don Was and Keb’ Mo’, Atkinson sounds like a man unleashed at last. That’s not to say he goes for the histrionic jugular – years of singing backup, not to mention Was (Not Was)’s weird compositions, have given the vocalist a taste and control that should be the envy of soul throats who think over the top is better. But he sounds happy and comfortable here, finally given the chance to sing what he’s best at and bringing every ounce of talent and experience he has to the party.

Listen to the way he glides through the melody of Bobby Womack’s funky smooth “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” – it’s less seduction than plea, even as Atkinson retains his dignity in his insistence. Or how he asserts his masculinity in Freddie Scott’s sly “Am I Grooving You,” sounding manly without being macho. He takes a similar trip on Keb’ Mo’s “Just Lookin’,”’ an irresistibly danceable funk rocker that features a strong guitar solo from his Boneshakers/Was (Not Was) bandmate Randy Jacobs. He sounds right at home on “Are You Lonely For Me Baby,” another Scott tune given a timeless arrangement that could have come from the fifties, sixties or now. He leapfrogs back to his eighties heyday with the title track, an hard-grooving electrofunk track composed by Mother’s Finest bassist Jerry “Wyzard” Seay that prominently features rapper Leven Seay and backing singer Vida Simon.

Atkinson is truly at his best with a couple of songs originally associated with artists who could be his peers. “Last Two Dollars,” written by the great George Jackson and originally recorded by soul legend Johnnie Taylor, is just the kind of midtempo R&B tune that Atkinson can dig into and make his own. The most ambitious track finds Atkinson taking on Bobby Blue Bland’s immortal “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” keeping tight control over his magic larynx to deliver a riveting performance of a classic tune.

More than a comeback, Get What You Deserve confirms what longtime fans have long known: what Sweet Pea Atkinson deserves is to be part of a soul continuum as one of the very best of the best.

DOWNLOAD: “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” “You’re Welcome, Stop On By,” “Last Two Dollars”

 

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER — Hallelujah Anyhow

Album: Hallelujah Anyhow

Artist: Hiss Golden Messenger

Label: Merge

Release Date: September 22, 2017

http://www.mergerecords.com

The Upshot: It’s all quite pleasant, nicely played and sung and recorded, but as the album title itself telegraphs, perhaps a little distant.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

MC Taylor’s low-key but soulful Americana outfit hits a particularly breezy stride in this seventh full length. Song titles like “Lost in the Darkness” and “Harder Rain,” hint at darker material, but the tone is resolutely positive, uplifted by sharp uptempo guitar work and rousing choruses. The 3 a.m. disconsolate-ness of early albums like Haw and the nearly-lost Bad Debt (which after all included a song called “Jesus Shot Me in the Head”) has dissipated and Taylor sounds unworried, if not downright happy.

Taylor works with mostly the same crew as before, the two Cook brothers from Megafaun and drummer Darren Jessee, forming the main band. Fellow Dead aficionado Josh Kaufman sits in on guitar this time, instead of Ryan Gustafson. Together they find worn-in, comfortable grooves that swing and swagger modestly, with a certain amount of decorum. Taylor himself is the focus, however, with his slippery, note-bending phrases that snake around the main melody with slides and bends and flourishes.

As is often the case, the strongest stuff comes near the album’s end, with blues-rocking “Domino (Time Will Tell” channeling gospel fervor and roadhouse horn lines in a celebration (sort of) of touring life. The guitar solo here is particularly fine. Slower and more contemplative, but just as good, is “Caledonia, My Love” where Taylor’s voice flickers like a flame in the night breeze, mournfully ruminating on life and lust and love.

It’s all quite pleasant, nicely played and sung and recorded, but perhaps a little distant. These tunes flow by like sunny afternoons and when they’re done you can’t remember much.

DOWNLOAD: “Domino (Time Will Tell)”, “Caledonia, My Love”

 

 

 

JEAN CAFFEINE –Sadie Saturday Nite LP

Album: Sadie Saturday Night LP

Artist: Jean Caffeine

Label: self-released

Release Date: August 25, 2017

http://www.jeancaffeine.com/

The Upshot: Thumbing through her back pages, the songwriter offers up sweet pop alongside snarling punk for a wonderfully vivid sonic memoir.

BY FRED MILLS

Jean Caffeine is a gifted, extroverted singer/songwriter, artist, actress, and a writer, spending time in San Francisco, NYC, Austin, Durham, Ontario, and elsewhere, and along the way she’s collected plenty of memories and vivid stories to go with those memories. Sadie Saturday Nite, then, her first album since 2011’s acclaimed Geckos In the Elevator, is what I’ll describe as an aural memoir in which she thumbs through her back pages via song and spoken interludes, going all the way back to her concert-going days as a high schooler in San Francisco. It’s a vivid narrative she spins from the outset: thrumming midtempo rocker “Neon Adventure / Mission (District) Statement” offers sonic snapshots of those early days; that’s immediately followed by “High School Was A Drag,” a spoken narrative outlining her misfit status; and then by “Winterland (Talking Blues),” part-spoken and part-sung, telling how she escaped the teenage doledrums via shows by Bowie, the Stones, the Who, Patti Smith, etc. For anyone who was also on the scene at the time, regardless of the city, it all rings remarkable true.

Soon enough, Caffeine immersed herself on the burgeoning San Fran punk scene, and as detailed in the delightfully waltzing—and, musically, determinedly un-punk—title track, she “was a mere 17, when she spotted a poster for the Nuns & Crime”—and that was all it took. She would learn the drums and join a punk band herself, The Urge, later moving across-country to New York where she wound up in actress/rocker Ann Magnuson’s band Pulsallama for a stint before forming her own group, Clambake. Here, on the album, the ridiculously catchy “All Girl Band” details those band experiences: “We learned to play on the stage,” she sings, against a jangly/poppy/garagey backdrop, “one note at a time, out of tune, a beat behind.” (There’s a sneaky homage to the Go-Gos in the middle of the tune worth listening for.)

Other highlights include dreamy ballad “It’s Not Nice Without You,” the thumping, T. Rex-esque “Mad As Hell in the White Night,” a riffy number the smartly nicks a handful of Sex Pistols licks (“Winter of Hate”), and a positively brilliant cover of the Zeros’ punk anthem “Wimp.” Throughout, Caffeine adjusts her vocal style, chameleon like, to the specific tone and imagery of each song, crooning sweetly one moment in a poppy tune and sneering in the next for a punk arrangement.

Overall, Sadie Saturday Night is both poignant and fun, bringing an autobiography to vivid life. The record is, in fact, intended as a companion to a one woman/one guitar player show that Caffeine has put together about growing up punk in San Francisco during the ‘70s. Currently based in Austin, she’s doing performances here and there, with shows coming up soon in Arizona and on the West Coast. (Details at the Facebook Page the Jean Caffeine Appreciation Society.) If you get a chance to see her, don’t pass up the opportunity. It just might turn out to be a lot like thumbing through your own back pages.

It’s on vinyl, to book, wax fans. More details:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sadie-saturday-nite-the-album–2#/

https://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwmusic/article/SongwriterMusician-Jean-Caffeine-Unveils-Video-for-All-Girl-Band-20170725

DOWNLOAD: “Wimp,” “Winter of Hate,” “All Girl Band”