Category Archives: New Releases

MONK PARKER — Crown of Sparrows

Album: Crown of Sparrows

Artist: Monk Parker

Label: Grand Jury

Release Date: August 11, 2017

The Upshot: Six-song mini-album charts country soul introspection and virtuoso musicianship.


The desolate and the uplifting jostle elbows in Monk Parker’s Crown of Sparrows, a clutch of six songs written in roughly the same time frame as his last solo album, How the Spark Loves the Tinder. Parker made these songs at home, while recovering from a serious illness, and you can certainly trace elements of that experience — feverish unreality, fluttering uncertainty and longing and the gradual gathering of strength and hope — in these shadowy compositions. Parker’s voice rises like a flicker amid sweeping spectral washes, as he considers love, memory, mortality and forgiveness in these tunes; he is sheathed in echoey insubstantiality, but bolstered, often, towards the end, by a swell of brass that buoys him to conclusion.

A plurality of these songs move in molasses tempo’d waltz time, their pulse more of a lilting caress than any invitation to dance. “Crown of Sparrows,” the opener, worries at the ephemerality of existence with a lament in pedal steel, “This crown of sparrows was never going to stay…every sweet thing flowed away.” And yet though pensive, the song takes on muscle and bone at its midpoint with a giant crash of feedback, big battering drums, slow, swaggering wallops of horns, all erupting in a woozy glory.

Parker’s work here has the same haunted, inward-peering reverberation as his songs with the ought’s gothic Low Lows and before that Parker & Lily, but it is augmented with a cast of roughly 30 musicians, a rough country orchestra of guitars, brass, keyboards and reeds that lifts these introspective tunes into grand, exultant crescendos. The culmination comes in “Drowned Men,” whose mournful textures take on the density and joy of certain classic soul tunes (I’m thinking O.V. Wright’s “Drowning on Dry Land”), as a swaying, rollicking, band of ruffians fills in the anguished spaces with something like triumph.

DOWNLOAD: “Crown of Sparrows” “Drowned Men”


DIEALPS! – Our City

Album: Our City

Artist: DieAlps!

Label: New Granada

Release Date: August 04, 2017

The Upshot: Florida baroque pop—imagine that from the Sunshine State!—on a stunningly beautiful debut.


 For decades now, Florida has been churning out bands that owe their careers to distorted guitars and loud amp stacks. It’s spawned a slew of great punk bands and a mess of not-so-great Nü-metal groups. So, it seems surprising then that the Sunshine State could have also nurtured a thoughtful baroque pop group like DieAlps!.

 Comprising Cornelia Calcaterra and husband/guitarist, Frank, the Tampa-based band made an at times stunningly beautiful debut album with Our City. Spread across a dozen tracks, there is a strong ‘90s alt/college rock influence felt throughout, recalling everyone from The Sundays to Buffalo Tom.

The record certainly has its quietter moments on songs like “Dwight” and the swooning “Mayfly,” but the band is also just as willing to crank up the volume on songs like “Our City.”  The duo trade off vocals throughout, making for a compelling sound.

Tampa may have given the world an unnaturally large number of death metal bands (including Morbid Angel and Assuck), but the city has also offered up the stunningly great DieAlps!, so let’s call it even.


DOWNLOAD: “Mayfly,” “Trust Me” and “In the Country”


EMILY DUFF – Maybe in the Morning LP

Album: Maybe in the Morning LP

Artist: Emily Duff

Label: Mod Prom

Release Date: March 24, 2017

The Upshot: The “S” word gets a thorough workout, FAME-style, on what just may be the most perfect platter of 2017 so far. Worth noting: In addition to CD, it’s available on 180-gm vinyl, and an informal A-B comparison clearly suggests that the wax is sonically superior.


Everything—and I do mean everything—on the third record from NYC-based country soul songstress Emily Duff clicks, from the wise-beyond-her-years lyrics and charisma-draped, Melissa Etheridge-meets-Lucinda Williams-meets-Bobbie Gentry vocals, to the easy-going virtuoso musicianship of her band and assorted guests and the rare-air recording vibe that comes with cutting an album at the legendary FAME studios. Even the album cover—a painting by Chalet Comellas-Baker that depicts a shot glass, an ashtray, and a vintage turntable with a record spinning on it—carries a whiff of intimacy that augments the larger picture (no pun intended).

Duff, who grew up listening to classic roots (Kris, Willie, Janis) and soul (Al, Marvin, Aretha), worked with guitarist Gary Lucas in Gods & Monsters in the ‘90s, replacing Jeff Buckley when he embarked upon a solo career. Soon enough, she felt the irresistible tug of Americana, releasing Pass It On and Go Tell Your Friends and laying the stylistic and emotional groundwork for what would become Maybe in the Morning. Fortuitously, an opportunity arose to record in Muscle Shoals, and she jumped at the chance. Aptly enough, country soul/swamp pop as immortalized at FAME has, according to Duff, “a sexiness to it that almost feels forbidden. It’s rock ’n’ roll, but there’s also a bit of it that sounds sanctified, that’s protecting from the devil. It’s almost got a church quality to it, that you can step to the edge but then you’ll step back.”

No shit. The dozen tracks on Maybe in the Morning embody those very qualities, and then some.

Opening track “Hypmotizing Chickenz” [sic] is funky and funny, with her core band—guitarist Scott Aldredge, bassist Skip Ward, and drummer Kenny Soule—conjuring up a groove that’d make the original FAME Swampers proud, as an actual FAME alumnus, session keyboardsman Clayton Ivey, contributes crucial organ textures to underscore Duff’s vocal swagger. (Duff’s lyrics have a delightful “Polk Salad Annie”-esque quality to them here, in lines like “Backwards walkin’ Granny/ She fell off the front porch again/ Made it all the way to Nashville/ She’s still lookin’ for big brother Ken.”) A few songs later, the title track goes for full immersion via a thickly-pulsing arrangement and choirlike backing vocals. Amid the gently waltzing “I’d Rather Go Blind” vibe of “Don’t,” things get taken down a notch or two, smokily, sweetly, and sexily, Duff’s subtle vocal rasp imbuing the song with an uncommon earthiness; that contrasts perfectly with jaunty upbeat twanger “Daddy’s Drunk Again,” in which Duff details a family that’s holding on but is at risk of disintegrating and, as the narrator, she’s just about had her fill (“Daddy when you gonna put that bottle down/ Looks like you’re tryin’ awful hard to drown/The same damn thing goes down every day/ $50 and a dream on the scratch ‘n’ play/ But nobody wins when Daddy’s drunk again…”).

One unimpeachable standout, among many, is “Diamonds,” which, with its “Ode to Billie Joe”-tilting, country-swamp arrangement, finds Duff training her lens on marriage, Loretta Lynn style—which is to say, the good parts alongside the bad. And with closing track “Somebody on Sunday,” she goes straight-up country gospel soul (there’s that “S” word again)—complete with call-and-response choruses and righteous chants of “Amen!”—to bring a universality to the fore wherein everybody, on Sunday morning, is equal (equally culpable, and therefore equally capable of redemption) in the eyes of you-know-who.

It’s risky to assign a 5-out-of-5 stars to a review of a new release, as the wise rock critic will typically wait at least a year (or ten) to see if a record can hold its own against the passage of time. But Maybe in the Morning has an essential timelessness that can’t be denied. It’s the kind of album that deserves to be framed and hung on the walls of FAME studios—just like its progenitors from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Believe it.

DOWNLOAD: “Somebody on Sunday,” “Maybe in the Morning,” “Don’t,” “Needledrop Blues” (The latter is, you guessed it, an ode to the joys of spinning wax that doubles as a relationship metaphor. —Vinyl Ed.)



ROSCOE MITCHELL – Bells For the South Side

Album: Bells For the South Side

Artist: Roscoe Mitchell

Label: ECM

Release Date: June 16, 2017

The Upshot: To ears unaccustomed to madness, this may all sound like unstructured falderal. But listen close, and you’ll find a master and his musicians at their best.


As co-founder of both the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, reedsman and composer Roscoe Mitchell has a long history of leading jazz into the bushes of the avant garde – and back. In celebration of his long career and the work of the AACM, he was invited to create a new work for his hometown’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Gathering up a gang of likeminded souls, including maverick pianist Craig Taborn, that make up his various trios, Mitchell recorded Bells For the South Side in both the museum’s theater and in the exhibition space itself.

The Art Ensemble was known for its extensive use of percussion, so “Spatial Aspects of the Sound,” the first track on Bells, serves as a reminder. Chimes, bells and atonal piano rattle about like ambient music made by bees, before Mitchell’s flute rises up from the clatter for a quiet but compelling theme. “EP 7849” bashes away on cymbals and blocks before introducing Jaribu Shahid’s bowel-loosening bass tones.“Six Gongs and Two Woodblocks” isn’t what’s advertised, but certainly bangs the cans frequently under James Fei’s clarinet honks and Mitchell’s soprano squeals. The sonorous title track is basically a duet between Mitchell’s piercing sax work and the group’s forest of rattles and clangs. As with the original band, whose set-ups get used here, percussion is the through line for these pieces, and most of them are introduced, interrupted or accompanied by various jangles, tinkles, clatters and clunks.

That’s the easy part, however – once the ensemble gets to “Prelude to a Rose,” the horns take over, playfully hopping, skipping and jumping around the minimal melody, as trumpeter Hugh Ragin and trombonist Tyshawn Sorey dance giddily around Mitchell’s rumbling bass sax. “Dancing in the Canyon” switches out the bass for alto, and brings in Taborn’s battering keyboard runs and Kikanju Baku’s furious drumming for a ten-minute storm of improvisation. “The Last Chord” conjures a sense of play with giddy kit bashing, aggressive piano ripples and squonking horns. But Mitchell’s visions truly comes together on a pair of epics in the second half of the program. “Prelude to the Card Game, Cards for Drums, and The Final Hand” swirls around percussion and honking saxophone, while the massive “Red Moon in the Sky/Odwalla” moves from ambient to agitated, placid to pissed off, through a near half-hour of squeaks, squonks, clashes, rattles and actual melody, bent into more than just cacophony by sheer force of Mitchell’s will. It’s probably the most challenging piece in an album full of them. To ears unaccustomed to madness, this may all sound like unstructured falderal. But few have the experience in shaping art out of chaos that Mitchell does, and Bells For the South Side finds a master and his musicians at their best.

DOWNLOAD: “Red Moon in the Sky/Odwalla,” “Dancing in the Canyon,” “Prelude to a Rose”


MARK MULCAHY- The Possum in the Driveway

Album: The Possum in the Driveway

Artist: Mark Mulcahy

Label: Mezzotint

Release Date: April 16, 2017


Mark Mulcahy’s resume might not have qualified him for entry into the big leagues — not yet anyway — but his work with the band Miracle Legion, along with his side project, Polaris (essentially the house band for an obscure television series called “The Adventures of Peter & Pete”) do affirm the fact that he is indeed a credible pop pro whose artistic indulgence has reaped some remarkable results. That skill has also been ably demonstrated on a series of solo albums, of which Smilesunset (2001), In Pursuit of Your Happiness (2005) and Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You offer the most shining examples of his remarkable wit and mesmerizing melodic prowess. It was a sound celebrated on an unlikely tribute album in 2009, Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy, an homage that was well deserved.

Happily then, The Possum in the Driveway lives up to those singularly high standards. A slightly sardonic set, it starts out with a measured amount of reserve but quickly picks up the pace three songs in. “Catching Mice” and “Hollywood Never Forgives” are unabashedly perky and the considered pace of “Catching Mice” finds Mulcahy’s tongue planted firmly in cheek. “Jimmy” is the brightest of the bunch, and if the sound is kaleidoscopic at times, it adds enough edge and spontaneity to keep listeners enthralled. As always, Mulcahy’s pastoral pop stirs up a delightful brew, both easily accessible and undeniably irrepressible all at the same time.

DOWNLOAD: “Jimmy,” “Catching Mice,” “Hollywood Never Forgives”


Album: Passin’ Thru

Artist: Charles Lloyd New Quartet

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: July 14, 2017


The Upshot: Masterful stylistic survey of the saxman’s history from the beginning to the present, as a reminder not only of how long he has served the cause of jazz, but also how well he does it now and will continue to do in the future.


Legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd has explored his distinctive vision of jazz as spiritual sacrament in a variety of contexts over the decades, but none more masterfully than in the format of the classic quartet. Though the 79-year-old hasn’t worked in that context in a while, he reconvened his New Quartet (pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Eric Harland) in 2015 for its first tour in several years – the results of which are documented on Passin’ Thru.

Appropriately, Lloyd opens the album with the first song of the first performance on the tour. “Dream Weaver,” first recorded fifty years ago with his first quartet, was the opening number for the band’s reunion show at the 2016 Montreux Jazz Festival. Upbeat, melodic and full of improvisatory fire, the tune zooms forward for nearly eighteen minutes, making its postbop sound fresh for a new century. The rest of the songs come from a 2016 show in Santa Fe, but are no less notable for not being taped at a major music festival. “Nu Blues” buzzes through traditional changes with a finger-popping rhythm and standout solos from Rogers and Harland, while “Tagore On the Delta” refreshes the form as Moran strums the strings inside his piano, Lloyd winds through the chords with earthy flute and Rogers grooves like a motherfucker. “How Can I Tell You” floats on a cloud of romantic balladry, fueled by the dreamy interplay between Lloyd and Moran. “Part 5 Ruminations,” an unused tune from the suite documented on 2015’s Wild Man’s Dance, connects Lloyd’s postbop foundation with the avant-garde leanings of his late 60s work.

Lloyd ends the album contrasting the old and the new. The title track first appeared on the same-titled 1962 album from drummer Chico Hamilton, for whom Lloyd served not only as saxist but also chief composer. The song’s insistent, danceable rhythm drives Moran to new heights of fleet-fingered keyboard runs, while Rogers and Harland once again prove why they’re the most vital rhythm section in jazz. Closing number “Shiva Prayer” is a brand new piece that pays tribute to a recently passed family friend, gently but passionately exploring a zone between meditative ballad and free jazz exploration. That one-two punch at the end summarizes the album’s purpose: to survey Lloyd’s history from the beginning to the present, as a reminder not only of how long Lloyd has served the cause of jazz, but also how well he does it now and will continue to do in the future.

DOWNLOAD: “Passin’ Thru,” “Tagore On the Delta,” “Dream Weaver”

THE PINEAPPLES – Twice On the Pipe

Album: Twice On the Pipe

Artist: The Pineapples

Label: Wicked Ape

Release Date: July 14, 2017

The Upshot: Downtown NYC heaviosity like they useta make in the early ‘90s. Guess what? They still do.


“… after which they took a long hiatus.” Talk about a band bio understatement—we’re talking nearly a quarter-century’s layoff between releases for this downtown Big Apple outfit, last heard from on 1993’s Kramer-produced She Brings Me Down EP. And, admittedly, you’d be forgiven for not having clamored for a reunion—or, hell, even remembering the name, unless you were either on the Amerindie ‘zine scene back in those admittedly pre-goldrush alt-rock daze, or a regular consumer of the UK weeklies, which momentarily championed the Pineapples. And not without cause, either—this was a heavy, Prog/punk noize as cool as it got, deservingly aligned by the critics with the likes of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. But alas, things have a way of coming to abrupt endings.

Now, though, Sirs Howard Rappaport (gtr, vox), Kevin Neenan (gtr), Michael Delanni (bs) and Thomas Dwyer (dr) have decided to pen a coda that promises to open an entire new volume. Amazingly, there’s still an enticingly familiar early ‘90s vibe here, with angular leads bolstered by brutal power chords, vocals that slip easily between yearning reverie, loutish growls, and heavenly harmonies, and a rhythmic assault that could power its way through any stylistic decade you’d care to name. From the post-grunge glissandos of “Red King” and part-dreamscape/part-overdrive alt-pop that is “Summergreen,” to the anthemic, immeasurably hookish power pop of “Reason to Live” and shuddery, wah-wah-powered, psychedelic anthem “Please Don’t Kill Doctor Strange” (yes, there are at least a few unapologetic comics fans in the band), there’s a lot going on with this slab o’ heaviness.

Did someone mention “slab”? We’ve got a shiny black 180-gram piece o’ 12” wax in hand, with a neon-tinted inner sleeve and a nude pineapple-bearer gracing the outer sleeve, so really, what are you waiting for, a goddam jpeg or something?

DOWNLOAD: “Reason to Live,” “Summergreen”


Album: Bad Girl

Artist: Reese McHenry w/Spider Bags

Label: Sophomoe Lounge

Release Date: July 14, 2017

The Upshot: Vinyl alert! Twangy garage and off-kilter country as wielded by an utterly original voice who’s backed by a fearless group of musicians.


An album that gets better and more riotously fun with each successive spin, Bad Girl teams Chapel Hill singer-songwriter Reese McHenry (formerly of Dirty Little Heaters) with Tarheel garage-skronksters the Spider Bags for a sonic summit that not only plays to the respective strengths of all the players, it also finds them pushing one another outside their comfort zones and discovering new skills. It’s a collaboration in the truest sense of the word, too, with some songs written by McHenry, some by the Bags’ Dan McGee, some jointly by the pair, and some by other writers. (McGee also acts as the project’s producer, and the ever-talented Wesley Wolfe handles engineering duties.)

Opening track “Bad Girl” is explosive enough and sets the stage perfectly. Penned by Lee Moses, it serves as a personal manifesto for McHenry, who croons, moans, and wails her titular self-assessment with enough vim ‘n’ vigor that you quickly learn to believe her. The band, abetted by Clarque Blomquist on piano and Ben Riseling on sax, initially conjures a vintage ‘50s vibe that gradually turns rowdy, like a libation-fueled gathering that progresses well into the wee hours. Twangy garageabilly raveup “On the 45” follows, boasting a kind of Panther Burns-meets-Southern Culture on the Skids ambiance. And the hits just keep coming—the careening romp that is “Mexico City”; the pedal steel-powered, straight-up country-tonk ballad “Painter Man’s Blues” (one of four tunes featuring Caitlin Cary on backing vocals); a sassy shuffle, “Bomb,” that revs and roars until you can practically see the stage collapsing from the collective impact of all the stomping feet; and closing number “The Rose of Monmouth County” that lets all assembled let loose in a noise orgy that somehow manages to retain a tender edge—testimony, no doubt, to McHenry’s utterly convincing skills at the mic.

She’s one part Lucinda Williams (in her unusual phrasing-drawl), one part Frazey Ford (in her signature high-range warble), and several parts tent revival preacher in the throes of a laying-on-of-hands possession. And Bad Girl just might be the most unique musical artifact you’ll hear out of North Carolina all year.

DOWNLOAD: “Mexico City,” “On the 45,” “The Rose of Monmouth County”

SAINT ETIENNE — Home Counties

Album: Home Counties

Artist: Saint Etienne

Label: Heavenly

Release Date: June 02, 2017

The Upshot: Dance-pop turns Franco-pop via well-honed and played arrangements – synth pop, girl group, northern soul, dream pop, every variety of comfort food music. Pressed on 2LP heavy black vinyl, of course.


Very little remains of Saint Etienne’s dance pop origins in this ninth full-length, which celebrates suburbia in radiant Franco-pop terms. You could flash a strobe to disco-ish “Dive” or plot diva-esque personal empowerment to “Out of My Mind,” but the most arresting tracks on this 19-track album are more ruminative. The very best, indeed, may be “Sweet Arcadia,” a limpidly beautiful seven-minute epic whose lyrics consist almost entirely of place names and whose music is a banked glow of slow keyboard tones mixed with birdsong.

The home counties are London’s equivalent to Westchester and Bergen County and certain verdant quarters of Long Island, places that are pleasant enough from a train window, but stultifying over long periods, especially during adolescence. (So close and yet so far!)  So, perhaps, the hemmed in prettiness of the songs matches the manicured green-ness of these environs, the sly sense of humor matches a thinking person’s impatience with the non-eventfulness of village life. Saint Etienne interleaves a gem-like succession of pop songs with odd little radio recordings — a sports score broadcast, a pop quiz — to reinforce the sense of stodgy place.  And yet, perhaps the best, most vivid daydreams occur in straight-laced neighborhoods, like “Train Drivers in Eyeliner” with its sly, subversive advocacy for gender equity in public transportation or tinkly “Whyteleafe”’s dreams of Paris in the 1960s, Berlin in 1970s.

None of this would matter if the music weren’t so good, elevating wispy whimsies into bright, infectious clarity. Throughout, the warm honey velvet of Sarah Cracknell’s voice flows over well-honed and played arrangements – synth pop, girl group, northern soul, dream pop, every variety of comfort food music. The basslines are consistently superior, giving spine and urgency to spun sugar ephemera, and extended instrumentation – a harpsichord-ish synth, a brass band — mix things up. It is very good, as vanilla ice cream or macaroni and cheese can be very good, any lingering embarrassment about the blandness you’re enjoying offset by how delicious it is.

DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Arcadia,” “Train Drivers in Eyeliner”


Album: Sapphire

Artist: Riff Diamond

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 23, 2017

The Upshot: Hard rock like they useta make in the seminal ‘70s, featuring a fiery femme of a lead singer.


They may be born of the millennial generation, but the four young rockers of Northern Ireland’s Riff Diamond are unabashed children of the ‘70s. And I should know: I came of age during that era, and whether we’re talking the hard-edged, psychedelic-tinged blues rock of Free, Robin Trower, and Humble Pie, or its more distaff iterations such as Fanny, Heart, and Mother’s Finest, I have an instinctive appreciation for latter-day acolytes—and Riff Diamond, fronted by one Becky Baxter, knows its stuff.

For their long-playing, 2LP vinyl/gatefold-sleeved debut, the band—Baxter, bassist Shauna McGarrity, drummer John McNulty, and guitarist/sonic-wizard Conal O’Donoghue—serves up a solid set that includes a pair of choice, classic, covers. Highlights among the originals include the sinewy, sassy “Love Hate,” which pumps and throbs with erotic glee; first single “Diamond Heart,” a moody, soulful showcase for Baxter’s passionate, yearning vocals; and the funky, dirty, downright stanky “Kick In the Teeth” which will, indeed, summon sonic images of both the aforementioned Free and Mother’s Finest. And it takes a whole lotta huevos—I’m not sure what they would call that in Ireland—to tackle “Whole Lotta Love” and “Hey Joe” on a debut album, but against all odds, the band pulls both songs off. The former track is relatively straightforward, relying on sheer delivery oomph rather than any gimmicky midsong effects, while the Billy Roberts classic (best known via the Hendrix version) provides Baxter with another remarkable vocal showcase against which O’Donoghue serves up a smorgasbord of tonal and textural nuances; there’s also a guest blues harpist, one Dan O’Donoghue (Conal’s relative, maybe?), weighing in nicely.

Good stuff all the way through—in the able hands of Riff Diamond, let us head back to the future.

DOWNLOAD: “Kick In the Teeth,” “Diamond Heart,” “Hey Joe”