Category Archives: New Releases

GUARDIANS OF THE INDIE GALAXY: Lo Tom

David Bazan and some old pals crank the volume without losing the narrative nuance the ex-Pedro the Lion leader is known for. Check the tour dates, below.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

Lo Tom cheekily bill themselves as an indie rock super group, featuring David Bazan and a trio of even lesser-known dudes—Trey Many (Velour 100, Starflyer 59), TW Walsh (Pedro the Lion, The Soft Drugs) and Jason Martin (Starflyer 59)—who’ve played in bands together since they were kids.

In that spirit, their eponymous debut, released on July 14 by Barsuk, was thrown together with minimal fuss—reportedly over just two weekends—using frill-free jam session instrumentation: two guitars, bass and drums. The results rocks harder than most of Bazan’s back catalog and contrasts starkly with his earlier 2017 release, the synth-and-programmed-beats Care.

The trade-off here is gut-punch immediacy for considered sonic depth, and it’s a theme Bazan acknowledges on “Lower Down.” The song opens in full Crazy Horse grinding guitar mode, and highlights Bazan’s snarled chorus, “you don’t need to chase the sound/if it comes from lower down.” Lo Tom‘s seven other songs embrace that edict and build around guitar riffage suggestive of classic rock’s hallmark licks. “Find the Shrine” even recalls the opening chords barrage of AC/DC’s “TNT.”

But this isn’t praise-the-blow and bring-on-the-groupies rock. (“Down comes the mountain with some breaking news/of what becomes of me, and what becomes of you,” Bazan warns—over those AC/DC riffs—of the dust-to-dust fate that awaits us all.)  While the publicity for Lo Tom insists “no one is in charge,” the narrative themes echo the same ones Bazan’s been exploring in fertile detail since he founded Pedro the Lion in the mid-90s. The draw of his songs has always been spiritual ambivalence, specifically re: Christianity. The pull of pride or a good time—via drugs, sex or any gluttonous combo thereof—is leavened by acknowledging the high cost of sin.

These themes still resonate for non-believers because they take their psychic toll, too. Over the years, Bazan’s uncorked some wicked lines calling out hypocrisy and the folly of pride (or the folly of just about any human endeavor). Yet the finger-pointing has always started in the mirror with Bazan—and in that tension is where his songs shine brightest, no matter the stylistic differences.

On “Bubblegum,” for instance, over another sinister riff, Bazan uses the sticky mess/rotting teeth hangover metaphor to chide the subject for their usual “day after” vows to change. Recovery is hard work, the “crooked lines just aren’t that easy to plot,” Bazan warns, and so it’s way easier to give in: “All the old fight is so quickly forgotten/So raise ’em up high to really hoping you stop…or get caught.” The lens widens over the dynamic riff of “Covered Wagon” to include our obsessive phone culture and the tribal devolution it encourages, while the three-minute rocker “Another Mistake” laments the folly of our leaders’ hubris—and the folly of pledging loyalty to them in the first place.

The buy-in with Bazan usually comes with the songs that capture human relationships at their most fraught moments. The hotel room argument between lovers in “Bad Luck Charm”—”She’s not coming out of the bathroom or texting back”—is heartbreaking, and “Overboard” only raises the emotional stakes.

Over a prominent bass line and overlapping guitar lines, Bazan recounts the aftermath of a failed relationship with a hook worthy of peak-era Lemonheads. Evan Dando, though, was an emotional piker by comparison, so the moment of implosion when Bazan “finally understood my place in that sycamore tree” carving is as devastating as when he confesses, “it just takes a while for me to un-feel a thing/and the opposite of what you think for that bell to un-ring.”

But as in “Lower Down,” the power of music—and here on Lo Tom, straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, in particular—offers a life vest. Straining at the top of his raspy range on the bridge, Bazan raises the hair on our necks when he urges us on “Overboard” to “sing that song at the top of your lungs, don’t listen to the static/just listen to the drums.” For a guy who used to draw in charcoals and now tends to favor the digital realm, it’s great to hear Bazan and his pals paint in these big splashy primary colors.

Upcoming Shows:

11 Aug

Allston MA  @ Brighton Music Hall

12 Aug

Brooklyn NY  @ Rough Trade

17 Aug

Santa Ana CA  @ Constellation Room

18 Aug

Los Angeles CA  @ Bootleg Theater

19 Aug

Seattle WA  @ Tractor Tavern

L.A. TAKEDOWN — II

Album: II

Artist: L.A. Takedown

Label: Ribbon Music

Release Date: May 12, 2017

http://ribbonmusic.com/

The Upshot: Igniting firestorms of 1970s-worth ax-ery against sleek cinematic surfaces, with every note spotlessly clean and clear.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Don’t tell Aaron Olson that guitar solos are dead. His second album in front of L.A. Takedown, a seven-person band based out of Los Angeles, ignites big firestorms of 1970s-worth ax-ery against sleek cinematic surfaces, every note spotlessly clean and clear. The screaming solo that arcs through “Blue Skies (On Mars)” is one for the lighters, both grand and grandiose, beautiful and a little embarrassing in its excess. If you ever harbored an affection for, say, Satriani’s “Surfing with the Alien” or on the higher end, John McLaughlin, this will hit that sweet spot, and let’s face it, guitar hero albums are not exactly thick on the ground lately.

Olson does some work in film, and perhaps that’s why the album feels like a soundtrack to a big summer blockbuster. Driving rhythms imply extravagantly violent car chases (“Bad Night at Black’s Beach”), and downtempo smolders that might accompany the sex sequences (“L.A. Blue”). Big blasts of synthesizer punctuate machine-drilled drum cadences to build up tension. And the sheer polished beauty of many of these tracks evokes the manicured vistas of popular film – California beaches at magic hour.

“Night Skiing” is the best track on II, but just by a nose. Its expansive krautrock-ish groove has a little more friction to it than you’ll find in the other tracks, a tiny bit less of the idealized gloss. Here, too, the guitar solo winds and howls and bays, a trapped animal rearing up against gleaming walls of synth. L.A. Takedown often errs on the side of too much perfection, but here, a little messed up, it soars.

DOWNLOAD: “Night Skiing”

LOUIS HAYES – Serenade For Horace

Album: Serenade For Horace

Artist: Louis Hayes

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: May 26, 2017

http://bluenote.com

The Upshot: One-time drummer for Horace Silver pays tribute to the relationship five decades later with a collection of Silver covers and reverent originals.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When he was only nineteen years old, drummer Louis Hayes moved to New York City and joined a band led by Horace Silver, staying with the celebrated pianist and composer for four years, five albums and future standards like “Silver’s Serenade,” “Sister Sadie” and “Señor Blues.” Five decades later, on the eve of his own 80th birthday, Hayes gives thanks to the man who gave him his start in the jazz universe with Serenade For Horace. Leading an ensemble consisting of both respected veterans like vibist Steve Nelson and up-and-comers like bassist/co-producer Dezron Douglas, Hayes highlights the music of his former employer with taste, empathy and, most importantly, love.

Silver’s swinging post bop is some of the most accessible of its era, highlighting melodies and riffs without losing the improvisational fire. Tunes like “Silver’s Serenade” and “Song For My Father” catch the ears of even the jazz-uninitiated, while their finger popping rhythms move the hips as well as the head. Hayes and his musicians stick to those values, playing the songs as he played them originally. Despite impressive playing, “Silver’s Serenade” and “Señor Blues” remain engaging outside of music nerd circles – Abraham Burton’s sax solo on the former burns while still being open and friendly. “Strollin’” and “Summer in Central Park” swing in that relaxed manner that so common in the fifties and so rare today, with a supper club ambience that’s more than just nostalgia. “Song For My Father,” perhaps Silver’s most famous composition, makes it even easier via vocals from singer Gregory Porter, whose golden pipes wrap around the occasionally mawkish lyrics like a blanket on a shivering dog. Though important to the music’s narrative due to the original composer’s instrument, pianist David Bryant doesn’t dominate the arrangements, mainly providing support. But his solos on “St. Vitus Dance,” “Juicy Luicy” and the ballad “Lonely Woman” balance impressive technique with a highly lyrical touch, traits he shares with the composer.

While the program is made up of Silver’s most famous works, one of the best tracks comes not from his pen, but from bandleader Hayes’. Derivative in the best way, “Hastings Street” perfectly emulates Silver’s swinging accessibility without sounding like nostalgia – it continues a tradition instead of bowing down to it. It’s that touch that makes Serenade For Horace into a true tribute album, and not just a set of covers.

DOWNLOAD: “Juicy Lucy,” “Hastings Street,” “Silver’s Serenade”

 

GUN CLUB – In My Room LP

Album: In My Room LP

Artist: Gun Club

Label: Bang!

Release Date: May 12, 2017

www.bangrecords.com

The Upshot: Final recordings from the legendary band, and a fitting tribute – complete with a number of sonic surprises – to their late frontman, Jeffrey Lee Pierce.

BY FRED MILLS

Quite a few of us out here in the Amerindie wilderness go way back with the Gun Club; me, I was a record store employee drafted by Slash/Ruby Records to be a Slash street-teamer (long before the term “street team” had been coined around the time of the release of the first Gun Club and Blasters LPs, and as a result I was not only in on the Jeffrey Lee Pierce story nearly from the get-go, on the Gun Club’s first U.S. tour I was able to hang out with Pierce and his bandmates for two memorable evenings in North Carolina. (Ask me about the time he “bought” drinks from everyone in the bar the band was playing but managed to skip out on the tab while still getting paid for the gig.) Years later, when The Fire Of Love saw expanded/remastered reissue in late 2004, I was privileged to do interviews with original drummer Terry Graham and the late Pierce’s sister Jacqui, both of whom pulled the veil of history back for me just a bit, allowing me some fresh insights into the man and his muse.

In My Room, then, closes the Gun Club book, representing as it does the group’s final recordings, originally cut in ’91 and ’93 in Netherlands studios, featuring the Pierce/Romi Mori/Kid Congo/Nick Sanderson lineup doing a selection of Pierce originals and covers. The latter contain their fair share of raised-eyebrows moments, because while oldie “Land of 1000 Dances” has always been part of the garage-rock and new wave vernacular, it’s safe to say that “I Can’t Explain” doesn’t come immediately to mind when one thinks of the Gun Club (it’s still a pretty satisfying-in-a-thuggish-way version), and neither Willie Nelson’s “Not Supposed to Be That Way” (here, a straight country-folk take featuring dobro and lap steel) nor Kenny Rogers & the First Edition’s “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” (ditto) are likely to be considered classic renditions. That said, as they are part of a session that also included a redone, countryish version of GC gem “Mother Earth,” they do make psychic and sonic sense if you’ve followed Pierce and his rambling muse over the years. (There’s also a quasi-cover: “Shame and Pain” nicks part of the melody and vocal chorus from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City.” It’s a jarring effect.)

The full-on electric material is the main reason to grab this vinyl album (which, we should note, comes smartly packaged in a gatefold sleeve that features lyrics plus a positively haunting portrait of a dark-eyed Pierce beside Mori). The lengthy “Sorrow Knows” has an almost Velvets-meets-The-Clean vibe, with Pierce and Powers serving up oppositional guitar textures amid a droning, psychedelic ambiance. And speaking of unexpected vibrations, “L.A. Is Always Real” lays bare an additional Pierce influence: Television, with elegantly twisted leads and crystalline pop melodies spooling forth. There’s even a kind of dissonant blues, “City in Pain,” indicative of another one of Pierce’s obsessions that certainly surfaced with regularity in the Gun Club, but here posits the band as one of the most unlikely blues mixtape mavens ever.

Posthumous compilations are always a tricky proposition, but in this instance, considering the songs’ proximate provenance, In My Room, for the most part, holds its own, and no long-time Gun Club devotee will be disappointed.

DOWNLOAD: “Sorrow Knows,” “City In Pain,” “Mother Earth”

CLARENCE BUCARO – Tableau

Album: Tableau

Artist: Clarence Bucaro

Label: Twenty Twenty

Release Date: June 23, 2017

www.clarencebucaro.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Clarence Bucaro has built a more than impressive career around an ability to craft superb songs that sound like standards even on first hearing. Having plied his craft over the course of several albums and a number of years, he clearly deserves far more recognition than he’s been accorded up until now. All of his albums are made to impress, given an ability to pen songs that boast hooks aplenty and the kind of keen melodies that never fail to leave an emphatic impressions. Back in the day when radio played songs based on melody and mastery alone, Bucaro’s music would be all over the airwaves.

Sadly, that’s not the case anymore, but the fact remains that Bucaro is nothing less than a songwriter’s songwriter, an artist with the ability and confidence to gain entry to the very top of the charts. His latest effort, Tableau, continues in that tradition, boasting songs of undeniable beauty, creativity and craft. This time around Bucaro strips down his sound, relying mostly on an acoustic set-up that brings out his intents with articulate arrangements and undiminished intent. That’s proven yet again with songs such as “Your Love’s Not Close Enough,” “Lord, Light Me a Candle” and “These Years,” all of them offerings that rank among Bucaro’s best efforts yet. In that regard, Tableau paints a clear picture of an artist that possesses both talent and tenacity.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Your Love’s Not Close Enough,” “Lord, Light Me a Candle,” “These Years”

PETER PERRETT – How the West Was Won

Album: How the West Was Won

Artist: Peter Perrett

Label: Domino

Release Date: July 07, 2017

http://www.dominorecordco.us

The Upshot: Erstwhile Only Ones mainman’s career has had plenty of ups AND downs, but his brand of doomed romanticism and lyrical wit both still run deep.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

A mere twenty-one years following his previous musical venture, 1996’s Woke Up Sticky, former Only Ones/The One leader Peter Perrett finally releases his second album. Longtime fans hoping for a return to the anthemic rock & roll of his Only Ones days may be disappointed, but that doesn’t mean How the West Was Won doesn’t have its strengths.

The 65-year-old’s songwriting seems to be at full power, his distinctive combo of doomed romanticism and lyrical wit as deep as ever. Backed by atmospheric folk rock from a band anchored by his guitarist son Jaime and bassist son Peter, Jr., the elder Perrett waxes and wanes about America (the title track), threesomes (“Troika”), addiction (“Hard to Say No,” “Something in My Brain”) and, most prominently, the ups and downs of love (“C Voyeuger,” “An Epic Story”). Despite being a well-known sufferer of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he sounds strong, his uniquely reedy vocals as comfortable with the balladry of “Ce Voyeuger” as with the loud rock of “Sweet Endeavour.”

The album ends with “Take Me Home,” a bittersweet invocation that’s as open-ended as it is elegiac. That pretty much describes Perrett’s checkered but often brilliant career, which makes it the perfect note to end this historically underrated musician’s latest renaissance.

DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Endeavour,” “Take Me Home,” “How the West Was Won”

 

RAT FANCY – Suck A Lemon LP

Album: Suck A Lemon

Artist: Rat Fancy

Label: Happy Happy Birthday To Me

Release Date: May 26, 2017

www.hhbtm.com

The Upshot: Indie trio with immense potential charms even the most curmudgeonly sort with a blend of C86 jangle, lo-fi, and shoegaze.

BY FRED MILLS

L.A.-based dream/twee-pop trio Rat Fancy has been stealthily slipping music into the indie ether all year via a trifecta of digital singles (among them, a delightful cover of Strawberry Switchblade’s “Since Yesterday”). Those are still available at the band’s Bandcamp page, but the big news is the new 12” mini-album Suck A Lemon. Featuring frontwoman/guitarist (and ex-Sweater Girl) Diana Barraza, plus Gregory Johnson (guitar / keyboard) and Gavin Glidewell (drums), the serves up fanciful (sorry) blend of C86 jangle, Velvets-y echoes ‘n’ drones, Flying Nun lo-fi quirkiness, and rollicking shoegaze.

That the gang has an abiding love for Brit-pop comes through loud and clear on the first track’s actual title: “I Can’t Dance to the Smiths Anymore” details, against the aforementioned jangles and no shortage of shambling, the gradual onset of disillusionment in the aftermath of heartbreak, and with Barraza’s wistful, yearning vox clearly stating her case, it’s hard not to feel like you, the listener, wouldn’t want to chance a dance in the future, either. The title tune, “Suck A Lemon,” is another high water moment for the band, the slightly phased drums, buzzing guitars, and keyboard squonks giving the proceedings an off-kilter feel; and there’s a second version of the song present too, this one a slowed-down, stripped-down version that omits the drums from the arrangement. And “Beyond Belief” goes for a Phil Spector-meets-Lou Reed girl-group vibe that’s simply magnificent—if performed live, it could be the kind of concert-stopping moment that leaves attendees present in varying stages of catching their breath and wiping the corners of their eyes.

Together only a year, Rat Fancy has the kind of potential we out here in indiedom live to root for, to cheer the band on as it grows and develops. Why not join the choir early on?

Consumer Note: Grab the vinyl of course. And some lucky fans may find it possible to even sleep with the band—as the photo above illustrates, Rat Fancy created pink promotional pillowcases with the logo and graphics in purple. Now that’s fancy!

DOWNLOAD: “Beyond Belief,” “Suck A Lemon (I)”

WILLIE NILE – Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan

Album: Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan

Artist: Willie Nile

Label: Rover House

Release Date: June 23, 2017

www.willienile.com

 

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

BY JOHN B. MOORE

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

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

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

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

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

Wooden Wand – Clipper Ship

Album: Clipper Ship

Artist: Wooden Wand

Label: Three Lobed

Release Date: May 19, 2017

http://threelobed.com/tlr/

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

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

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

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

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

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK, ep. 9: SIX NEW RELEASES

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Codes Drum, Ronin Jazz, Resonance, Mack Avenue, and Cuneiform. Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk. (Pictured above: Ignacio Berra Trio)

BY BILL KOPP

Ignacio Berra Trio – Straight Ahead from Havana (Codes Drum Music)

Cuba has a long, storied and proud history of jazz. But owing to the U.S. Government’s half-century-long embargo on all things Cuban, few Americans know much about it. The doors were opened less than a year ago when President Obama relaxed some – but by no means all – of the restrictions regarding travel to and in Cuba by American nationals. The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – who does not deserve the dignity of having his name printed (but oh, does he love to hear and see his name) – arbitrarily reversed those rules, citing as his justification the 1926 Cuban missile crisis. As consolation, we have this new collection by Cuban-born drummer Ignacio Berroa, who explored the many facts of Cuban jazz in highly appealing form. Until the U.S. comes to its collective senses and kicks the Orange One to the curb (or better yet, Guantanamo Bay), this set of ten immortal Cuban tunes interpreted by the former Dizzy Gillespie sideman will do quite nicely.

B.J. Jansen – Common Ground (Ronin Jazz)

It’s a neat trick to make something new while conjuring the aesthetic of something old. But (a) that’s what is expected of jazz players of a certain stripe, and happily (b) that’s what baritone saxophonist B.J. Jansen has taken on as his mission. And with Common Ground, he succeeds. Joined by five musical heavyweights, Jansen tears through a dozen tunes – mostly originals – that evoke warm memories of hard bop, West coast cool and other classic jazz styles. Recommended.

Dave Liebman / Joe Lovano – Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane (Resonance Records)

To note that NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman (tenor and soprano sax, recorder, flute) and Joe Lovano (tenor sax, clarinet, flute, etc.) are established artists is to engage in laughable understatement. But for this new set, the two men set aside their own material and focus instead on the music of Coltrane. Aided by a trio, they tear through six tracks. In the process they succeed both at making the songs their own and remaining true to Trane’s spirit. From thrilling to adventurous to soothing, Lovano, Liebman and band strike all the right notes.

Microscopic Septet – Been Up So Long it Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues (Cuneiform)

This New York outfit’s ethos is expressed by soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston’s slogan, “Break all the rules and respect all the saints.” That’s as good an aphorism as any for soul – or blues-jazz. And that’s what’s on offer here: not so much of the odd meters and such; more of the blues-based approach to jazz that keeps one foot in melodic accessibility and another stretched into adventurous territory. And – unlike some of the more “serious” jazz out there – it’s fun.

The Ed Palermo Big Band – The Great Un-American Songbook: Vol. I & II (Cuneiform)

With a style best described as big band fusion/pop, here the Ed Palermo Big Band plays big-group jazzy interpretations of songs more often associated with progressive and/or psychedelic rock. With former Frank Zappa associate Napoleon Murphy Brock fronting the nearly 20-person ensemble, the works of (to name just a few) King Crimson, the Beatles, Traffic, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Radiohead and Jethro Tull are reinvented with a varying (but generally high) degree of success. Who – beyond prog fans and those who appreciate Zappa-style weirdness – will enjoy much less even know about this release remains to be seen, but for those who take the time to discover it, The Great Un-American Songbook is rich with delights. Bring on future volumes, please.

Christian Sands – Reach (Mack Avenue)

Sands’ deft touch on the piano is a thing to behold. His lengthy melodic lines demand a good deal from the listener; his ambitious approach all but requires close attention. Backed by supremely tight and creative rhythm sections, he expresses all range of emotion in his eight original (and two cover) pieces. The covers are interesting, too: Bill Withers’ “Use Me” is reinvented to the point of being nearly unrecognizable, but Sands’ reading still conveys the original’s vibe. Some tasty (and tasteful) elective guitar crops up now and then as well.