Category Archives: New Releases

JIM JONES & THE RIGHTEOUS MIND – Super Natural

Album: Super Natural

Artist: Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind

Label: Hound Gawd!

Release Date: May 12, 2017

http://houndgawd.com

The Upshot: Former Thee Hypnotics/Black Moses/Jim Jones Revue frontbeast strips things down to the brutal, firebreathing bone.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When singer/guitarist Jim Jones brought his Revue to a close with 2012’s The Savage Heart, it seemed premature, especially as that album saw the former Thee Hypnotics/Black Moses frontbeast pushing his full-throttle rock & roll in different, often more sophisticated directions. Unsurprisingly, that record pointed the way to his future, which finally arrives in full-length form on Super Natural, the debut by his latest band the Righteous Mind. As Jones has evolved over the years, he’s added different strains of rock to his arsenal, from the high energy Detroit sounds of Thee Hypnotics and Moses to the Free nods at the end of the former’s career to the Little Richard/Jerry Lee Lewis mania of the Revue.

For the Righteous Mind, Jones is digging further into rock’s past, adding bluesier riffs and swampy grooves. “Something’s Gonna Get Its Hands On You” combines Bo Diddley and Tony Joe White licks in the verses before opening up into anthemic pop on the chorus. The pounding “Boil Yer Blood” takes the teethgnashing rockabilly of the Cramps and the Scientists, beats it within an inch of its life, then uses the Mind’s own brutal surgery to bring it back to its senses. “Aldecide” mashes up grinding riffs with roiling piano trills, while “Till It’s All Gone” brings another pop melody into the Mind’s roughhewn fold. The quintessential “Base is Loaded” keeps up a raging attack for over six minutes, never becoming numbing or tiresome.

“Shallow Grave” slows the pace for the closest thing to a ballad Jones has yet done, while the LP-closing “Everybody But Me” strips it down even further, as gentle electric guitar, pedal steel swells and jazzy piano set up a near ambient background over which Jones croons his love. It’s a startling but effective new path for Jones to explore, and he should do more of it. It’s a good sign that Jones is open to anything on Super Natural, and that he can easily enhance his usual firebreathing rock & roll passion without diluting it.
DOWNLOAD: “Base is Loaded,” “Aldecide,” “Everybody But Me”

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Songs, Bond Songs

Album: Songs, Bond Songs

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Curry Cuts

Release Date: May 12, 2017

www.currycuts.bandcamp.com

The Upshot: An assortment of indie rockers (and poppers) tackle the James Bond songbook; at their best, the results are thrilling, occasionally besting the originals.

BY BILL KOPP

Andrew Curry‘s label has released an impressive clutch of tribute-type albums, including ones focusing on 80s pop, “lite rock” and so on. For the most part, the artists involved tend to fall at least loosely into the power pop subgenre. Curry Cuts’ latest project is Songs, Bond Songs. And as the title (and wonderfully clever cover art and packaging) telegraphs, this new 2CD set is a collection of themes from James Bond films.

For starters, what that means is that the songwriting is of a generally high standard, with a particular underlying style. But there’s a wide stylistic variance among those tunes, and in the hands of modern-day musical interpreters, there at least exists potential for the styles to move in even wider directions.

Most of the songs, then, will be familiar to many listeners (or at least ones of a certain age). 26 tunes from as many artists provides a lot of opportunity for variety, and on that score, Songs, Bond Songs certainly delivers. There’s much less of a power pop nature to the set overall than one might expect, especially considering the artists involved.

There are several real gems among the tracks on this set. Right out of the gate, Lannie Flowers turns in a splendid reading of the “James Bond Theme,” one that knowingly (and briefly) quotes from the Beatles’ Help! soundtrack (which, of course, quoted from the Bond films). He also slips in references to Goldfinger and Live and Let Die. Flowers sets up an incredibly high standard for the album, one that is inevitably met with varying degrees of success.

Jason Berk‘s “Goldfinger” is superb as well. Bringing the lead vocal down an octave from Shirley Bassey’s original, he delivers a dramatic reading that has just the right amount of retro feel. The arrangement is note-perfect as well.

Bratty pop-punk might not seem to be a good stylistic fit for “Thunderball,” but in the hands of Bowling for Soup’s Jaret Reddick, it does work; the result is a bit like the Ramones’ cover of “Spider Man” from the 1995 various artists Saturday Morning album.

Dramatic and sultry trip-hop is the chosen style of Jeff Litman and Andi Rae Healy for an inventive remake of “You Only Live Twice.” Like a select few tracks on this set, this tune could have easily worked in the respective film as well – or possibly better – than the original version.

A strong contender for the best track on the collection, the Corner Laughers‘ brilliant cover of “Diamonds are Forever” features Khoi Huynh’s wonderfully busy bass line and some irresistible lead vocals courtesy of lead ukulele player Karla Kane.

A stomping rocker with loads of sexy, brassy attitude is Lisa Mychols’ “The Man With the Golden Gun.” It’s easily among the most exciting arrangements on the set. The song’s bridge adopts a completely different feel, which makes the song’s return to its rocking mode even more effective. It’s a stunner.

It’s Gary Frenay, however, who earns the highest praise for his work on Songs, Bond Songs. Imagine if you will that in 1979, the Broccoli/Saltzman group had not chosen Shirley Bassey to sing the theme for “Moonraker.” No, instead they entered some kind of time portal that took them forward to the mid-1980s, where they found themselves with George Harrison, produced by his pal Jeff Lynne. The result of that imaginary scenario can be heard in Frenay’s reading. Harrison’s trademark slide guitar, the rock-steady drumming of Jim Keltner, and the smooth as honey massed vocal harmonies of Lynne are all explicitly evoked in Frenay’s reading. Of course it’s nearly all Frenay himself. Bonus points for a lovely and expressive lead vocal in which the former Flashcube sets aside the pastiche approach and focuses on his own individuality.

The first disc wraps up with a deceptively simple acoustic guitar and vocal reading of “For Your Eyes Only” courtesy of Freedy Johnston. He wrings out a level of emotion only hinted at in the original, and shows that less can indeed be more.

Zach Jones‘ “All Time High” doesn’t stray far from the original Octopussy theme featuring Rita Coolidge’s lead vocal. But while it’s far from groundbreaking, here the arrangement has an early ’70s pop feel that works exceedingly well. Jones’ lead vocal is stellar, too.

Minky Starshine‘s “Never Say Never Again” (the theme from the non-canonical Bond film of the same name) suffers from relatively weak source material, but he band improves the song vastly by excellent playing, arrangement and vocals, and subtle use of synthesizers.

Duran Duran‘s “A View to A Kill” was somewhat over-the-top; wisely, pop auteur Jay Gonzalez takes the song in a very different direction, reinventing the song with a feel that’s halfway between Brazilian pop and Parisian jazz. Gonzales’ approach brings the subtlety in the song’s melody out in ways the original never could.

Phil Ajjarapu‘s “You Know My Name” gives the Chris Cornell original (from the second Casino Royale) a dramatic feel that’s more melodic than might be expected. An echoey production vibe adds just the right amount of sinister mystery.

(Speaking of Casino Royale, here’s my only real disappointment with Songs, Bond Songs: nobody chose to cover the Herb Alpert-led instrumental theme from the – also non-canonical – late 1960s film of the same name. It could have been fun, but then topping the original wouldn’t have been easy).

Whether one on the whole likes the work of Adele or not, her theme from Skyfall is fairly weak stuff. Lindsay Murray (Gretchen’s Wheel), however, does an admirable job of improving upon the original, both vocally and instrumentally.

None of the remaining tracks on Songs, Bond Songs is a complete disaster; some – especially the ones that simply copy the originals rather than swinging for the fences – are wholly unnecessary, but they’re inoffensive and do no serious damage to the originals, the reputation of artists involved, or the project as a whole. A few tracks are problematic owing to the fact that the original songs are pretty dire. Yet some are still pretty good. And there’s always the skip button.

By my math, the above means that more than half of the tracks on Songs, Bond Songs rise to the level of remarkable; for a project of this type, that’s impressive indeed. Highly recommended.

DOWNLOAD:

Lannie Flowers – “James Bond Theme”

The Corner Laughers – “Diamonds are Forever”

Gary Frenay – “Moonraker”

 

DISTRACTIONS: Kindly Leave the Stage

Album: Kindly Leave the Stage

Artist: Distractions

Label: Occultation Recordings UK

Release Date: May 26, 2017

http://www.occultation.co.uk/

The Upshot: Beloved UK outfit serves up an understated but elegant swansong.

BY DAVE STEINFELD

Four and a half years between albums may seem like a lot. But for The Distractions — Manchester’s finest, the great lost band of the New Wave era, etc. — it almost feels like they rushed it out! After all, Nobody’s Perfect, the band’s debut full-length, was released at the dawn of the ‘80s. But their sophomore set, The End of the Pier, didn’t arrive until more than three decades later, in 2012. Now, less than five years on, the quintet’s third and final album is here.  The appropriately titled Kindly Leave the Stage is the perfect swan song for The Distractions: concise (10 songs), understated and brimming with a sense of finality.

The Distractions’ story is the stuff of postpunk legend (as we outlined in a 2013 feature). Signed to Island Records around the same time as U2, they released few singles and EPs and, of course, Nobody’s Perfect.  But while critically adored, The Distractions never scored a hit and the original band splintered shortly thereafter. Their two key members remain lead singer Mike Finney, and guitarist and main songwriter Steve Perrin. Back in the day, Adrian Wright — also a guitarist and songwriter — was a key part of the band, even penning their best known song, “Time Goes By So Slow.” But Wright disappeared from the music business many years ago. These days, The Distractions are rounded out by second guitarist/songwriter Nick Halliwell (who also owns Occultation Recordings), bassist Arash Torabi and drummer Ian Henderson.

Perrin has said that the key word for Kindly Leave the Stage is “resignation” — and listening to these songs, it’s clear that he isn’t kidding. The sadness that has always been part of The Distractions’ lyrical content has never been more apparent than it is now. While it’s not always clear whether the goodbye that’s being said is to the band, a romantic partner or someone else, that goodbye itself is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt. Indeed, look at the titles of the five songs that comprise the disc’s second half: “Wake Up and Kiss Me Goodbye,” “Nowhere,” “The Connection’s Dropped Again,” “Tell Them I’m Not Here” and “The End of the Pier” (which, in Led Zeppelin-esque fashion, did not appear on the previous album despite its title!). That would be about the only thing The Distractions’ music has in common with Zeppelin though, apart from the fact that it was made in England. The songs here barely qualify as rock; though the pace does pick up on tracks like “Last to Leave” and the aforementioned, baroque-pop “Wake Up and Kiss Me Goodbye,” the vast majority of these songs are ballads. Simple, haunting melodies couch lyrics about sleepless nights and aborted conversations. Even more than on The End of the Pier, there’s a tangible sense of time running out here. On “Nowhere,” The Distractions even reference their own past: “I know we used to think that time went by so slow/But now there’s nothing left to do and there’s nowhere left to go.”

The album’s opener, “A Few Miles More,” is one of the band’s best songs ever — a gently propulsive track that sounds familiar the first time you hear it. The prettiest moment is probably “What the Night Does,” a lovely song on which Halliwell proves that Perrin isn’t the only adept songwriter in the band.  While I initially wished they would rock a bit more (the Nobody’s Perfect-era Distractions could show off their punk roots when they wanted to, as on songs like “Paracetamol Paralysis” and “Untitled”), the more you listen to this album, the more it makes sense that it doesn’t. With Finney’s distinct voice and the band’s ghostly harmonies, this still sounds like The Distractions — but they’ve evolved and they intended Kindly Leave the Stage to be an epitaph of sorts. And in the end, it succeeds. Its songs are of one piece and best listened to at night. Well done, guys; thanks for the memories.

DOWNLOAD: “A Few Miles More,” “What the Night Does,” “The End of the Pier”

THE FRANKY VALENTYN PROJECT – All In a Dream

Album: All In a Dream

Artist: Franky Valentyn Project

Label: SongTraks

Release Date: March 06, 2017

www.tpg.com.au / www.thefrankyvalentynproject.com.au

The Upshot: Operatic Prog-rock epic guaranteed to inspire your personal mental cinema.

BY FRED MILLS

The name Franky Valentyn might not ring all that many Stateside bells, but in his native Australia he’s a well-known veteran showman with a CV that stretches back several decades via the bands Mad Gorilla, The Beatnix, The Generation, Le Club Nerd, and his own Franky Valentyn Duo/Trio (take your pick) and The Franky Valentyn All-Stars. Along the way he’s notched numerous ACE (Australian Club Entertainment) Award nominations, and he also put together a children’s show called “Fun With Franky.” All this may or may not make him the proverbial Renaissance Man—real name: Frank Seckold—with his signature flair for flamboyance, he specializes in cabaret-style productions and covers performances (think Queen, Elvis, ABBA, Beatles, and Sinatra, plus Phantom of the Opera). But his press clips consistently paint him as a tireless entertainer with a huge fanbase.

All In a Dream, then, under the nom du rawk The Franky Valentyn Project, marks a new chapter in Valentyn’s book. Keep those above-namechecked artists close at hand, for this lengthy musical treatise is the proverbial full production, a Prog-inclined, Broadway-musical-in-the-making for lapsed Lloyd-Webber fans, with no shortage of Kate Bush pomp and Trans-Siberian Orchestra circumstance. The overture-styled opening cut, “Gothic Horror,” more than lives up to its title as a neoclassical, operatic scene-setter that ultimately gives way to a darkly surreal narrative. Later, the regal “Sara”—vocals by Nikki Bennett and guitar by Stephen Layton—simultaneously raises the blood pressure and chills to the bone, as if the aforementioned Bush and Queen’s Brian May had joined forces in a quest to seduce and imprison. And the tellingly-titled “Paul Isn’t Dead,” which features Valentyn himself handling lead vocals (in places he sounds like Ian Gillan during his Jesus Christ Superstar period), is a quirky Prog-rock take on the Macca urban legend.

The nearly 15-minute “The Jovian Moon Suite” closes the record out, its elaborate, and elegant, orchestral arrangement the stuff of pure cinema soundtracking. In fact, if you think of All In a Dream as just that, a soundtrack, rather than a “mere” rock album, the sonic possibilities turn endless. Coming to a mental theater near you, friends.

DOWNLOAD: “Gothic Horror,” “All In A Dream,” “Paul Isn’t Dead”

JOHN MORELAND – Big Bad Luv

Album: Big Bad Luv

Artist: John Moreland

Label: 4AD

Release Date: May 05, 2017

www.4ad.com

The Upshot: Erstwhile punk switches, unsurprisingly, to Americana and displays stunning songcraft.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Oklahoma native John Moreland is just the latest in a longline of wildly talented songwriters chasing the ghost of fellow Okie Leon Russell. Like many of his equally talented peers (Scott H. Biram, Cory Branan, Chuck Ragan, etc.) Moreland started out playing in punk rock and hardcore bands, before eventually unplugging and helping redefine folk and Americana.

On Big Bad Luv, his fourth solo effort, Moreland continues his knack for writing impeccably perfect lyrics (“They got silver spoons for American gods/I wanna be stoned, thrown American rods”) on some of the best heartbreak songs since John Prine. Acoustic guitars are at the forefront of most of the tracks here, but it’s the piano and organ on songs like “Amen, So Be It” and “Ain’t We Gold” that really serve the album well. That sentiment aside, however, “No Glory in Regret,” which features just Moreland’s vocals over a lone guitar, just rips your heart apart.

I love punk rock, but let’s raise a glass to the punks out there that have taken their genius to Americana.

DOWNLOAD: “Sallisaw Blue,” “Love Is Not An Answer” and “Amen, So Be It”

 

KNOWN PLEASURES: Peter Hook & the Light

Though more questions are raised than answered, the erstwhile Joy Division/New Order bassist clearly knows his material, and your reaction to it will depend upon where you fall on the purist scale. The albums: Unknown Pleasures Tour 2012: Live at Leeds; Closer Live Tour 2011: Live in Manchester; Movement Tour 2013: Live in Dublin; Power Corruption & Lies Tour 2013: Live in Dublin

 BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When a prominent member leaves a famous and still-active band and forms a rival outfit, it’s always something of a conundrum. What’s the line between a continuation of the original group’s vision and a cover act that happens to feature an original member? It’s made especially complicated when said rival concentrates on classic material, rather than creating new stuff. One might well ask: what’s the point beyond the initial rush of nostalgia? Especially if that bandmember is the bass player. Unless we’re talking about Geddy Lee, that’s hardly the member most fans want to see spin off into his own thing – after all, it’s usually the singer or perhaps the guitarist who draw the most attention.

For Peter Hook, however, it’s not so simple. After a famously acrimonious parting from New Order, he formed a group called the Light in order to play the Joy Division and New Order songs he loved. An original member of both groups, Hook was a driving musical force in both. His distinctive tone and penchant for playing high on the neck gives each band a unique bottom end – just try to imagine “Love Will Tear Us Apart” without that iconic bass riff. As co-writer and riff-generator, rather than just simply anchor, Hook has as much right to play these songs as anybody, and he’s made a comfortable career for himself performing them for audiences either old enough to miss the good ol’ days or too young to have experienced them live.

But both bands are identified by their lead singers – the flat, emotionally drained insistence of JD’s Ian Curtis and the light, poppy croon of NO’s Bernard Sumner. And the latter continues to tour with New Order, who are also still in the business of making new albums, rather than peddling nostalgia. (Though, let’s face it, NO concerts probably consist of a small handful of new tracks and an endless parade of hits.) Hook is strictly delivering reminiscence. Which begs the question: Does the Light need to make albums when the original albums he’s covering are still readily available?

Hook has decided to find out with a barrage of new releases via Westworld, all live, each devoted to a particular item from his prior acts’ catalogs. Live in Leeds takes on Joy Division’s iconic debut Unknown Pleasures, adding enough JD singles and B-sides to expand into a second disk. Live in Manchester, performed for a hometown crowd, addresses JD’s second and final LP Closer, adding many of the same non-album tracks as bonuses for a two-disk set. The Light proves itself to be a crack band, particularly drummer Paul Kehoe and guitarist Nat Wason, boasting enough reverence to do the material justice and enough energy to give the more aggressive songs a kick in the arse. With a gruff voice in the same range as Ian Curtis’, Hook slips into the late frontman’s role surprisingly well, though he doesn’t have his predecessor’s lived-in gloom. Like the band, Hook seems most comfortable with the pounding end of the JD songbook – “Warsaw,” “Transmission” and “Dead Souls” genuinely smoke. The occasional deep dive turns up songs like the punky “The Drawback,” from the scrapped version of JD’s debut album, or the instrumental “Incubation,” which appears only a posthumous JD live record and opens Manchester. Ending Leeds with “Ceremony,” the first New Order single that was intended to be a Joy Division song, is a nice touch.

The two volumes of Live in Dublin present Hook and co. doing New Order’s Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies in their entirety. (Released, for some reason, in separate volumes, even though they were recorded at the same show and practically beg for another double disk set.) As the albums NO made before dancefloor dominance became paramount, they’re well-suited to the Light’s less synth-heavy, more rocking approach. The band plays up a storm, attacking these songs like they’re brand new. New six-stringer David Potts’ power chords gives every track balls, while Hook’s bass-playing son Jack Bates holds down the bottom so Hook can essay his usual high-neck plinks. Kehoe keeps the rhythms burning like a line of ash leading to dynamite. The aggression powering “Denial,” “Senses” and “Ultraviolence” may take longtime fans aback, though it’s not so much a radical shift as an aesthetic one. The Light is particularly potent on the non-album tracks – “Everything’s Gone Green” and “Procession” practically leap out of the speakers and at your throat.

The real contrast is in the vocals. Hook’s bluff baritone isn’t remotely close to NO guitarist Bernard Sumner’s choirboy croon, and the former’s frank struggle to keep with the same key as the originals can be a little, shall we say, disconcerting. (“Dreams Never End” and “Doubts Even Here” are excepted, since they were originally sung by Hook in the first place.) The brooding balladry of “Your Silent Face,” grooving dance pop of “True Faith” and unabashed sugar of “Age of Consent” and “Temptation” practically beg for a voice less prone to flatness and grit. It doesn’t help that the first half of the Movement release consists of Joy Division tunes, which suit Hook far better.

No one, including Hook, would ever claim these records are superior to the originals. So once again the question arises: What’s the point? Are they mere souvenirs for diehard fans to take home from concert tours? Considering how hard the band cooks and the obvious love and effort put into the performances, it’s difficult to dismiss these records as just items to take up space on the merch table. And goodness knows it may be the only chance to hear the Joy Division songs played live by someone who was there. In the end, of course, it’s up to the individual listener. For some, no takes on these songs without Ian Curtis or the rest of New Order serves any point. For others, the might of the band and the live energy may be enough to justify the spins. Pick your poison.

Consumer Note: The albums were originally released as limited edition vinyl for this year’s Record Store Day.

MATTHEW EDWARDS & THE UNFORTUNATES – Folklore

Album: Folklore

Artist: Matthew Edwards & the Unfortunates

Label: Gare dui Nord

Release Date: June 02, 2017

http://garedunordrecords.bandcamp.com

The Upshot: Creating empyrean beauty from personal emotions is as difficult a task as indulging in sonic experimentation while maintaining the traits people loved in the first place. But Edwards and the Unfortunates do it.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The four previous platters by Matthew Edwards  – three with his former band The Music Lovers and one with his current group the Unfortunates – essayed a distinctive blend of British pop, French chanson and classic singer/songwriter craft that proved irresistibly beguiling to those lucky enough to come across them. For his fifth LP Folklore, Edwards keeps the faith with his proficient songsmithery, but gives his work a sonic makeover.

Rather than stick with his usual folky chamber pop – which would’ve worked well enough, as it always has – Edwards, the band and engineer John A. Rivers (who worked closely with Edwards’ pal Nikki Sudden throughout his career) open up the sound, taking the menacing “Ghost,” from the previous Unfortunates album The Fates, as a jumping-off point. The electric guitars are louder and grungier, the drums more insistent and polyrhythmic, the atmospheres murkier. Storm clouds haunt “Birmingham” and “I Can Move the Moon,” while an ill wind blows through “Song of Songs” and “When We Arrived at the Mountain.” “Lazy” simply rocks harder than anything Edwards has attempted before now. Guitarist Fred Frith and keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman – both veterans of The Fates – contribute heavily to the tone, imprinting their own distinctive personalities even as they serve Edwards’ vision. There’s mystery here, a sense that nothing is quite what it seems – even as, oddly enough, the emotions get more direct.

Inspired by his move from San Francisco back to his native Birmingham, England after twenty years, Edwards opens up as never before. The thrill and melancholy of moving from one home to another, interspersed with trips to the hospital to visit a sick relative, swirls through “Birmingham,” while the tenderness of love never wavers during “The Willow Girl.” Uncertainty flirts with confidence in “I Can Move the Moon,” while yearning for grace powers “Home.” The subject of “When We Arrive at the Mountain” remains secretive, but with lines like “I can’t believe I’m still bleeding” it can’t be good. “Young Man” takes a sardonic look at aging, acknowledging an increasing collection of flaws without even nodding toward self-pity. This isn’t solipsism, however – no matter how many times Edwards uses the word “I,” he really means “we.” Few artists are so adept at taking introspection and making it universal.

Creating empyrean beauty from personal emotions is as difficult a task as indulging in sonic experimentation while maintaining the traits people loved in the first place. But Edwards and the Unfortunates do it, spectacularly, making Folklore another piece of brilliance.

DOWNLOAD: “Birmingham,” “The Willow Girl,” “I Can Move the Moon”

 

TARA JANE O’NEIL—Tara Jane O’Neil

Album: Tara Jane O’Neil

Artist: Tara Jane O’Neil

Label: Gnomonsong

Release Date: April 21, 2017

http://www.tarajaneoneil.com/

The Upshot: Songs that brush up against you softly, swirl up around you like a sweet smelling breeze and leave you wistful for things you can’t quite put into words. 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

The songs on this self-titled album drift by like puffs of rainbow colored fog, soft, edgeless, hard to pin down and rather lovely. Just brushes on snare and plunks of acoustic bass set gorgeous “Sand” into motion, Tara Jane O’Neil’s voice drifting airily over slow moving melodies, a trumpet blows, just at the beginning, languidly and as if from a far off place. O’Neil has played in so many bands and in so many guises that it’s odd that this album, coming about a quarter century into her career as an artist, carries her name. Yet it does feel like a personal statement, lush and welcoming, yet fundamentally pared down. Her voice never lifts above a murmur, her songs waft by at the same medium pace, and yet they are wholly enveloping.

O’Neil recorded this self-titled album in two sessions – one in Chicago with Mark Greenberg at Jeff Tweedy’s Loft Studio, the other at home in California. James Elkington (who plays with Tweedy and Richard Thompson’s band, in duets with Nathan Salsburg and about 100 other projects) sits in on a couple of the Chicago tracks, alongside free jazz bassist Nick Macri (who once played with Elkington in Zincs) and Gerald Dowd, a Chicago drummer best known for his work with Robbie Fulks. In California, the cast of characters included bassist Devin Hoff, Wilder Zoby (who collaborates with Run the Jewels), string arranger Jim James and Walt McClements of the one-man Lonesome Leash. A four-person choir of soft pretty voices — Chris Cohen, Joan Shelley, Carolyn Pennypacker-Riggs and Gerald Dowd — fills out the sound in musing, dreamy ways.

And yet, despite an able and diverse group of collaborators who differ from track to track, there’s a strong continuity of mood of tone in this album; it is very much O’Neil’s voice and vision that drives the whole. For this reason, the album makes most sense when you play it end to end. It’s also hard to pick a favorite track, because they all blend together in a seamless, extremely pleasant whole that winds by while you’re staring out the window. Still, if pressed, I’d nominate “Cali” with its pure fluting vocal melody that reminds me a little of Linda Perhacs, or the late album smolder of “Purple,” with its plaintive blues guitar and shuffling late night beat. These are songs that brush up against you softly, swirl up around you like a sweet smelling breeze and leave you wistful for things you can’t quite put into words.

Download: “Cali” “Purple” “Sand”

NATHAN OLIVER – Head in the Sand EP

Album: Head in the Sand EP

Artist: Nathan Oliver

Label: Potluck Foundation

Release Date: June 09, 2017

www.potluckfoundation.com

The Upshot: A cause for celebration among fans of quirky, charming indie pop.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

In the span of just 20-minutes, Chapel Hill’s Nathan Oliver (aka Nathan White) manages to remind fans that his lo-frills solo project is still very much alive after a nearly decade-long hiatus.

His re-emergence is cause for celebration among fans of quirky, charming indie pop, but also a little puzzlement that he only pulled together six songs with this long-time-coming offering. Bringing to mind everyone from early Ben Folds to Pavement’s more mellower stuff, Head in the Sand is a welcome addition his two previous efforts.

Some are the songs here are downright great, like the EP opener “Marbles” and “The Exquisite Wait.” But the addition of the droning “Little Belle” drags the record down a bit.

It may not be a flawless comeback, but it’s a solid start.

DOWNLOAD: “Marbles” and “The Exquisite Wait”

RUSS TOLMAN – Compass & Map

Album: Compass & Map

Artist: Russ Tolman

Label: Lost

Release Date: May 26, 2017

www.russtolmanmusic.com

The Upshot: Erstwhile True West guitarist serves up a 20-song career overview that demonstrates stellar songwriting, singing, and playing.

BY FRED MILLS

Russ Tolman is part of an ‘80s collective of musicians, deejays, journalists, and just plain dedicated fans that continues to thrive over three decades later. We were the so-called College Rock Generation, caught between the ’70s stoners and ‘90s alt-rockers, and we valued community over commerce—not that the occasional ‘mersh breakthrough by a band wasn’t cheered, it’s just that it wouldn’t be until the post-Nirvana gold rush that artists could genuinely claim to having the proverbial “career” that might allow them to work, thrive, and provide for their families. Luckily, most of us were young enough in the ‘80s to also value the fact that we were having a whale of a lot of fun, too, even if we still often struggled to pay the rent.

Tolman, with his early ‘80s band True West, was one of yours truly’s faves, alongside other heroes like the Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, Long Ryders, Three O’Clock, Rain Parade et al, aka The Paisley Underground. (How big a fave? A 1984 North Carolina gig the band had graciously allowed me to tape got turned into a European bootleg LP without my knowledge, so a number of years later Tolman and I put our heads together and decided to beat the boots by releasing it in its entirety as The Big Boot CD. Things do come full circle sometimes.) Upon going solo in 1985, he would release seven solo albums, commencing with 1986’s Totem Poles and Glory Holes, and along the way he would collaborate with numerous other alumni of the aforementioned Generation. With Compass & Map, Tolman takes a look back at that solo career to date, and the songs collected here are more than just impressive—according to liner notes by fellow alumnus Pat Thomas (Absolute Grey and archivist/label dude supreme), it heralds Tolman’s newfound urge to recommence touring and recording after a lengthy hiatus from the spotlight.

Highlights? Early Totem Poles track “Looking For an Angel” has that telltale Paisley Underground vibe, part punk, part Nuggets, part Velvet Underground, and it nicely demonstrates that Tolman’s initial reluctance to be the vocalist was misguided. “Blame It On the Girl,” from 1988’s Goodbye Joe, reaffirms same, additionally benefiting from a heady, catharsis-inducing guitar/keyboards arrangement. “Monterey” was a standout track on 1998’s City Lights, a jovial, upbeat shuffle featuring harmony vocals by Wendy Bird. And the relatively recent “Los Angeles,” released as a single in 2013, is strummy, twangy Americana as sweet—and, lyrically speaking, perfectly lovelorn—as it comes.

There’s a lot more here to bask in, 20 songs to be exact, and not a bum note among ‘em. If this is a way of reintroducing Tolman to the music-loving public, and also of introducing him to a new audience, then it more than handles the task. Welcome back, Russ. For me, it’s just gratifying to know that after all these years, one of my gang is still going strong and making terrific music. We’ve lost a few folks along the way (R.I.P. Scott Miller and Gil Ray, from Game Theory), and it’s more important now than ever to come together and celebrate those we still have. As I wrote in my liner notes to that True West bootleg-of-a-bootleg, “there was a communal, us-against-the-mainstream-world feeling” back then. In many ways, that feeling persists. So it all comes down to supporting the home team, y’know?

DOWNLOAD: “Blame It On the Girl,” “Los Angeles,” “Dry Your Pretty Eyes,” “The Best Is Yet To Come”