Category Archives: New Releases

THE NELS CLINE 4 – Currents, Constellations

Album: Currents, Constellations

Artist: Nels Cline 4

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: April 13, 2018

http://www.bluenote.com

The Upshot: A masterstroke solo project from the Wilco (and Geraldine Fibber, and Mike Watt) guitar maestro.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Though Nels Cline has long been an indie/alt.rock guitar star (mainly with Wilco, but before that with the Geraldine Fibbers and Mike Watt), he had at least a decade’s worth of work in a jazz frame before that. That’s hardly news, but it seems like it’s been only lately that his ongoing work in that realm has gotten the attention his rock work has. Cue Currents, Constellations, his first album (and second for jazz powerhouse Blue Note) with the Nels Cline 4. Joined by bassist Scott Colley, drummer Tom Rainey and guitarist Julian Lage, Cline sublimates (not eliminates) his rockist tendencies, leaving the distortion and piles of effects he wields with his jazz/rock power trio the Nels Cline Singers in the closet for now.

That doesn’t mean the tracks on this record are easy listening, however. “Furtive” opens with a jittery rhythm and nervous lines that well illustrate the title. “Imperfect 10” gives the two six-stringers a spiraling, sharp-edged melody to play off, letting them circle around each other like a pair of lions who never pounce on their prey. “Amenette” uses bebop as a springboard for some dueling lines that exploit discord without crossing over into noise. “Temporarily” flits about the melody, sometimes landing on it directly, sometimes swirling about like butterflies around flowers. “Swing Ghost ‘59” does indeed swing, but within the context of a fractured tune that’s more thorny than danceable. On the other hand, the lovely ballad “As Close As That” offers a breath-catching moment, and the atmospheric epic “River Mouth (Parts 1 & 2)” really takes advantage of Cline and Lage’s abilities to mold an appealing theme into new shapes without affecting accessibility.

Cline and Lage work well together (not unexpectedly, given their duo album from a couple of years ago), with Cline both reigning himself in to keep from overwhelming his colleague and pushing Lage to color outside the lines more often than the young guitarist does in his solo work. Colley and Rainey provide a solid foundation, but also add their own accents to the rhythms without losing time. Constructed of the right tunes performed by the right players and led by the right(eous) guy, Currents, Constellations is a masterstroke.

DOWNLOAD: “Imperfect 10,” “Furtive,” “River Mouth (Parts 1 & 2)”

 

HENRY THREADGILL 14 OR 15 KESTRA: AGG – Dirt…and More Dirt

Album: Dirt...and More Dirt

Artist: Henry Threadgill 14 Or 15 Kestra: Agg

Label: Pi

Release Date: May 18, 2018

http://www.pirecordings.com

The Upshot: As fine an example of the alto saxophonist/flautist/composer’s art as he’s ever recorded.   

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

It’s not quite accurate to say the prolific, Pulitzer Prize-winning Henry Threadgill has been at the forefront of jazz since the 1970s and his days leading Air (the jazz trio, not the French soundscapers). More factual to say that the alto saxophonist/flautist/composer has simply always been traveling his own musical roads, pilfering bits of postbop, free jazz, fusion, Third Stream, funk, classical and anything else that strikes his fancy, putting it all together and filtering it all through his distinctive vision.

Dirt…and More Dirt, the first album from his latest oddly-monikered collection of players, was inspired by Walter de Maria’s Earth Room exhibition and Stephen De Staebler’s sculptures, which might explain why lines and notes swoop up and down like strokes of a brush on canvas. Brass figures heavily here, with double trumpets and trombones and a tuba providing many of the main riffs, while guitarist Liberty Ellman (a mainstay of Threadgill’s ensembles for the past several years), dueling pianists David Virelles and David Bryant, cellist Christopher Hoffman and three altoists (including Threadgill himself) swirl around the metal horn line. Anchored by bassist Thomas Morgan, double drummers keep time just enough to prevent the music from derailing like a toy train hitting a curve too fast.

Threadgill music often sounds less like melody than multiple harmonies clashing at once, letting the sparks substitute for easy accessibility, and that’s certainly the case here. With pieces ranging anywhere from eight minutes to less than sixty seconds, the group gets just enough time to execute Threadgill’s complex charts and improvise. The longer pieces work the best, letting the musicians stretch out when given the chance – check “Part I” of the “And More Dirt” half, as Hoffman, Ellman and the pianists in particular distinguish themselves with some stellar solos.

It can often be challenging to figure out what Threadgill is doing – to the uninitiated, it may sound like there’s a lot of dicking around going on. But there’s definitely a method to Threadgill’s alleged madness, and once you’ve locked into it, his unique sense of music becomes mesmerizing. Dirt…and More Dirt is as fine an example of Threadgill’s art as he’s ever recorded.

 DOWNLOAD: “And More Dirt: Part 1,” “Dirt: Part IV,” “Dirt: Part 1”

 

THE RAMEY MEMO – The Name of this Album is Self-titled

Album: The Name of this Album is Self-titled

Artist: The Ramey Memo

Label: Descent Records

Release Date: January 08, 2018

 

St. Joseph’s favorite sons and daughter of the absurd, the wonderfully weird, The Ramey Memo have given us their best record to date with the self-recorded, independently released The Name of this Album is Self-Titled. Name is beautiful in a profoundly imperfect way; it’s balanced between humor and serious musicianship, it’s at times shockingly melodic tripped out rock n roll like The Meat Puppets, My Bloody Valentine and Hum used to make.  Recorded in the band’s attic practice space, Name has a warm, intimate feel that shows a band at the height of its powers musically.

The opening track “Cabinets and Open Boxes” starts the album with, what could be the band’s most flushed out song to date.  Tyson Bottoroff’s guitar work drifts from the sadness of The Cure’s Robert Smith’s playing, through James Iha inspired dreaminess and the sometimes shy aggression of the late great Kurt Cobain. The track and Self-Titled as a whole shows Bottoroff for what he truly is: one of the St. Joe music scene’s best, most entertaining guitarists and The Ramey Memo one of the city’s most interesting groups.

Though the core of the Memo (guitar/vocals Tyson Bottoroff, guitar/ vocals Raye Lynn and drummer/ vocalist Garner Quillon) has remained intact for the life of the band, a very welcome addition for Name is the arrival of Bryce Bottoroff to take over bass duties from Lynn, freeing her up to bring another guitar to the band’s already substantial wall of sound.  His vocals and understated bass melodies come together to form what could be the best track on Name with “This Car Crash Never Happened,” a song of introspection, of near mediation, of loss and triumph.

There is a seriousness at the heart of Self-Titled that has always been somewhat absent from the Memo’s previous records (300 Voices from the King Hill Pub and the follow-up Forget It); while blending the one and done splendor of For Squirrels, the criminally underrated power pop stickiness of Superdrag, the strangeness of Ween (especially the track “Crash Test Dummies”) and the drowned in distortion guitar heroics of Kevin Shields and the jangly oneness of Teenage Fanclub, The Ramey Memo create a sound that is familiar while being their own.

The Name of this Album is Self-Titled is a record packed with songs that show a band in The Ramey Memo that is pushing itself as writers and musicians, a record of influences coming together to make something truly unique.

 DOWNLOAD: “This Car Crash Never Happened,” “Electron Echo,” “As the Water Fills the Hull”

 

 

 

 

 

CALEXICO – The Thread That Keeps Us (2LP)

Album: The Thread That Keeps Us (2LP)

Artist: Calexico

Label: City Slang

Release Date: January 26, 2018

www.cityslang.com

The Upshot: A bonafide Southwestern ambassador deftly integrating folk, rock, pedal-steel-powered country, reggae, psychedelia, and Mexican pop while also showcasing a newfound anthemic side.

BY FRED MILLS

By way of full disclosure, I’m hardly objective where it comes to Calexico, having known founding members Joey Burns (guitar, vocals) and John Convertino (drums) for years and additionally authoring the liners to their 2011 vinyl box set, Road Atlas. That caveat aside, I’ve long marveled at the group’s musical evolution, from a folkish desert rock duo with occasional Latin influences to a bonafide Southwestern ambassador deftly integrating folk, rock, pedal-steel-powered country, reggae, psychedelia, and Mexican pop. The single-LP or double-LP set (take your pick; it’s also available on CD) The Thread That Keeps Us maintains this sense of place, particularly on gorgeous, windswept numbers like the Morricone-esque cinematic psych of “Voices in the Field” and the Spanish-language Mariachi rock of “Flores y Tamales.”

The group also has perfected the art of the anthem—fittingly enough, as this is an overtly political album in places, its lyrics detailing and decrying the “age of extremes” we’re living in—with songs like the soaring, U2-like “End of the World With You” and heavy-twang stomper “Dead in the Water” leading the way.

Throw in a bonus LP with the deluxe edition, its seven tracks showing off a more understated, trancey side to the band, and Calexico emerges as one of the most diverse, free-ranging outfits operating.

Incidentally, fans who contributed the band’s pre-release PledgeMusic campaign were able to select an autographed LP or CD among various premiums, making for an instant collectible. (Calexico has long been prone to offering limited editions and collectebles, going all the way back to their annual calendars and tour-only CDs; the aforementioned box set collected those tour-only discs as a massive 12LP artifact.)

Sonically speaking, a forum thread at Discogs.com drew some lively debate over the quality of the mastering and mixing. For my part, I don’t detect any “pointlessly muffled” passages, but I did indeed have to turn the volume up on side A, which clocked in at 25 minutes. Calexico is also a large group, with 7-9 people performing at any given moment, so a bit more volume helps spread that density across the soundstage and allows their dynamic nuances to emerge. Other commenters speculated on it being a poor pressing, the 180-gm. European pressing reviewed here presumably being superior to the U.S. edition (single LP, 15 songs) on the Anti- label. Inconclusive, but still worth noting.

DOWNLOAD: “Voices in the Field,” “Flores y Tamales,” “Dead In the Water”

 

A version of this review originally appeared in Stereophile magazine. Also note that BLURT’s Lee Zimmerman has also reviewed the CD version of the album for us.

PARQUET COURTS – Wide Awake

Album: Wide Awake

Artist: Parquet Courts

Label: Rough Trade

Release Date: May 11, 2018

www.roughtraderecords.com

BY BARRY ST. VITUS

America’s most changeable punk outfit has dropped their fifth release, again, pushing out in new directions on several of the 13 tracks. Long-time fans will find a lot to like here, while others will be tantalized by their pivoting from mostly punk driven, to a funk driven mode for a few tracks. There was a concerted effort to branch out and incorporate some previously unexplored sounds. For Austin Brown, it was digging into old faves like Parliament, Grace Jones and The Upsetters and, the decision to bring in producer Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton to punch things up. E.g., the title track, “Wide Awake,” a repetition of the same lines, heavy Afro beats, whistle blasts and all-around rumpus, as performed live on Ellen (!) recently, and a big hit for her and the audience.

Oddly enough, it was Burton, a PC fan, who approached the band, wanting to work with them. It was a peculiar notion to Andrew Savage, who thought that perhaps the juxtaposition might just goose things up in a different way for them, which to the band, is always a desirable course. Andrew notes, “I liked the idea that it didn’t make sense to work with him, which to me makes perfect sense as to why we should work with him.”

Andrew, in the meanwhile, dug through his records for punk classics like Flipper, the Minutemen, Big Boys, etc. noting that he always like the playfulness of Minutemen and Big Boys, and how the latter mixed funk into their sound. The band has long been trotting out songs that are influenced by everyone they grew up listening to.

“Violence” is another number that jumps the tracks, with Andrew’s adenoidal vocals doing a declamatory rap/rant, a’ la the Last Poets, against the violence that our society is forced to live with every damn day.

Opening with some firm power chords, “Total Football” then shifts smoothly into a Buzzcockian stride with shouted lyrics regarding the faux fury raised against players who dare to kneel at games:  “It is dishonest, nay, a sin to stand for any anthem that attempts to drown out the roar of oppression.” And, if you still don’t get it, see the last line, please: “Fuck Tom Brady.”

The verbiage in “Before the Water Gets Too High” is thick, as Savage is wont to do, wagging a finger of warning, that I don’t fully grasp, but the song has their familiar flavor and sound as it slinks along. “Extinction” and “Tenderness” also sound like something familiar from their past albums.

The muted but nostalgic tone of “Mardi Gras Beads” takes a sentimental, shoegazing turn that is reminiscent of their “Dear Ramona” from the superb Sunbathing Animal album. And, as “Raw Milk” slides into “Into the Garden” on that album, so does the head-banging “Almost Had to Start A Fight” melt into the head-bobbing franticness of “In And Out Of Patience.”

An organ adds extra sweetness to the embraceable ”Freebird II,” a melodic tune with a sing-a-long quality.

“Normalization” returns to an in-your-face approach, and speculates that…

”Nothing is normal,

Manipulated into believing,

I’m exercising skepticism,

Honesty is everything.”

What the fuck does ‘normal’ even mean anymore, in this ‘fake news’ bullshit world?

Andrew, interestingly, shifts into Morrison mode on “Back To Earth,” with its wisps of “Strange Days” swirling around.

“NYC Observation” is a pithy look at the pissy streets of the city, trod by it’s wary, ‘keep your eyes down, don’t engage,’ residents.

Brown’s elegiac, darkly tinged, world weary “Death Will Bring Change,” is supported nicely with a 15-member boys chorus, which will immediately remind you of something.

“Tenderness” lopes along at a slow pace, with a piano peppering the rhythm, and more choice lyrics by Andrew, and his sharp observations about life and the people that surround us…

“Well, I can’t count how many times I’ve been undone by nihilism,

Joined the march that splits an open heart into a schism,

I cower at the thought of other people’s expectations,

And yet still hand over mine to them.”

Andrew points out that it was important to him to steer away of being too ballad-y, like 2016’s Human Performance, and aiming more at just making people dance. They deliver on that goal, as well as presenting a lot of well-written and well-played songs on Wide Awake. The album is garnering a lot of well-deserved praise from all quarters. I’m admittedly on the fence that this is the best thing they’ve ever done. There are really no stunners like Light Up Gold’s mind-blowing “Stoned and Starving,” or Sunbathing Animal’s Flaming Lips-y sludge of “She’s Rollin’,” with its Beefheart-skronk bridge.

For me at least, Wide Awake will have to respectfully play 3rd place behind Sunbathing Animal and Light Up Gold, as those are the ones to beat. When you constantly push for more diversity on each new album, you end up being unable to honestly compare because of the small differences on each one, or, ending up with something like 2015’s wtf? Monastic Living exercise. It’s like comparing three holiday feasts like Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving dinner and a big Independence Day picnic. They are all what they are. You can have a favorite, but who can say which is truly The Best? I have the utter-most confidence that they probably will surpass those 3 albums someday, as they have a ‘fire in their belly,’ are wide awake, and very conscious guys.

DOWNLOAD: “Mardi Gras Beads,“ “Freebird II,” “Almost Had To Start A Fight / In And Out Of Patience,” and “Total Football.“

 

 

MARY HALVORSON – Code Girl

Album: Code Girl

Artist: Mary Halvorson

Label: Firehouse 12

Release Date: March 30, 2018

http://www.firehouse12records.com

The Upshot: Impressive talent comes to bear on a set of songs that straddle the line between forbidding and accessible.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Guitarist Mary Halvorson has been quietly reimagining jazz guitar for fifteen-odd years now, with a distinctive playing style that is to the six-string what Henry Threadgill’s angular harmonics are to the saxophone. Her melodies rarely follow conventional paths, and she often circles around the arrangement like a jazz approximation of Afrobeat guitar lines. She’s been rightly celebrated as one of jazz’s most interesting and innovative voices, with a string of albums in various modes, from the improvisational trio dynamics of Thumbscrew and the avant-pop of duo People to her various trios/quartets/octets/etc. and ongoing work with John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Stephan Crump.

For her latest album Code Girl, Halvorson assembles a crack band, including her Thumbscrew bandmates Tomas Fujiwara and Michael Formanek, rising trumpet star Ambrose Akinmusire and singer Amirtha Kidambi, for a set of jazz tunes with vocals. Akinmusire is a strong melodic foil for Halvorson, as the young lion has never been averse to playing his lines in a manner similar this date’s boss, leading to some strange unison lines and fascinating counterpoint. Kidambi uses her soprano as an instrument as often as a means of communicating the words, sometimes sounding like she’s borrowing from opera via wordless singing and swooping scales. The rhythm section goes for subtlety over fireworks, taking positions as accompaniment more than drivers. As mastermind, Halvorson wields her bandmates’ skills with utmost sensitivity, clear in her vision but letting her sidepersons interpret her ideas in their own ways.

All of this talent comes to bear on a set of songs that straddle the line between forbidding and accessible. Halvorson isn’t afraid of a catchy tune, but she’d rather allude to it than play it straight, making the audience work for what they want. The sedate “Accurate Hit” is simple to absorb (despite Halvorson’s whammy bar accents that disorient any notions of easy listening), while “My Mind I Fight in Time” quickly rides off the rails, keeping the track in sight but veering off into the brush often. “Thunderhead,” “Drop the Needles” and “Possibility of Lightning” come off as mostly accessible, though each has its spiky bits. The epic “Storm Cloud” gathers multiple threads of dissonance and euphony, sometimes alternating them, sometimes pitting them against each other, often letting Kidambi’s croon-to-shriek theatrics determine when to build and when to burn. Indeed, Halvorson’s intentions become most clear on this and “The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon,” the other longform cut here – in extended play the ensemble can develop Halvorson’s ideas without being rushed, creating primers in the way her musical mind works.

Halvorson has always been dedicated to pushing the envelope of her own artistry, let alone that of jazz itself. Code Girl is no exception, bending its inherent musicality to the will of its creator. But the goal is never disharmony for its own sake, and anyone willing to meet Halvorson’s challenge, especially over multiple spins, will be amply rewarded.

DOWNLOAD: “Storm Cloud,” “The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon,” “Drop the Needle”

HAWK – Bomb Pop

Album: Bomb Pop

Artist: Hawk

Label: New Garden Music & Arts

Release Date: May 04, 2018

https://www.facebook.com/hawkrockband

The Upshot: A fun, almost nostalgic power pop jam spread across 10 tracks.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

When it came time to pull together their fourth record, Hawk’s David Hawkins and longtime guitarist Aaron Bakker called in some big names to help fill out the band. Bassist/keyboardists/singer Ken Stringfellow (Posies, Big Star), vocalist Gary Louris (Jayhawks, Ray Davies, Golden Smog) and drummer Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Elliott Smith) were all corralled to join Hawk in the studio and the result is a fun, almost nostalgic power pop jam spread across 10 tracks.

There are some moments of modern Americana – the harmonies and backing vocals on a song like “Take My Time” sound like it could have come off of a Wilco record – but for the most part, the band draws inspiration form a wide range of ‘70s artists to flesh out the sound here. You can hear it everywhere from the organ-drenched “Lay Me Down Easy” to The Raspberries-esque “Allison’s Gone.”

The band’s strongest moment, however is on the one song that sounds like an anomaly on this record, the melancholy country track “Dry Your Eyes,” that closes Bomb Pop. You can’t help but wonder how much stronger this already solid album would be if they offered a few more original takes like this one.

DOWNLOAD: “Not Just Lonely,” “Take My Time” and “Dry Your Eyes”

TY SEGALL Freedom’s Goblin / MIKE DONOVAN How To Get Your Record Played in Shops

Album: Freedom's Goblin / How To Get Your Record Played in Shops

Artist: TY SEGALL / MIKE DONOVAN

Label: Drag City

Release Date: April 20, 2018

www.dragcity.com

 

The Upshot: A double shot of boogie chillin’ tunes for chill people who like to boogie.

BY BRIAN MOCK

First up, the “boogie” end of the pendulum. If you’ve lost count of how many albums Mr. Ty Segall has released in the last decade, you’d be forgiven. Under his own name, the number is now 11, at the very least. But counting the collaborations he’s done with pals like Tim Presley (White Fence) and Mikal Cronin, plus his own singles, compilations, and EPs, let alone albums with his other bands Fuzz and the Goggs, it’s more like three times that number. Easy. The man is nothing if not prolific.

Ty seems to be compulsively obsessed with tapping into the energy, hooks, and swing of the Kinks, Bowie, and T. Rex, and could be lumped in with other psychedelic garage bands. But Ty’s no follower or tribute artist (however great his Ty Rex cover EPs are); he’s the real deal. Freedom’s Goblin, his latest LP (released January 26), is another excellent addition to anyone’s Ty Segall collection. Essentially his “White Album”, it may also be the perfect record for novices and veteran fans, alike. This is album that showcases a little of everything the man does well. One of the most important things Segall has done to set himself apart from his peers, is to continually take risks. Yes, the aesthetic and instrumentational approach to his records can be casually lumped in under the “psych-garage” umbrella; but that ultimately sells him short. On every record since 2011’s Goodbye Bread, Segall has been slowly but surely expanding out in various directions, exploring the possibilities of sounds and approaches to his songs and songwriting craft. Freedom’s Goblin makes the dividends of his exploration that have paid off all too evident.

Now on the “chill” end, where we find one Mike Donovan. He’s been quietly building up quite the discography since 2004 with Sic Alps, then Peacers, and two solo LPs as plain ol’ Mike Donovan. Contrary to the Ty Segall approach, Mr. Donovan has essentially one approach: that of the lo-fi dreamy semi-acoustic psych-pop ditty. Through his tenure with Sic Alps (a band he fronted, which occasionally included Mr. Segall—man, this is getting incestuous, right?) this approach worked quite well and fresh over several LPs. With new band Peacers, and now his two solo—mostly acoustic, mostly unaccompanied—LPs (the most recent being How To Get Your Record Played in Shops, released April 20), the returns are decidedly diminished, as one would expect. We can only assume that Donovan just digs the foggy haze of his chilled-out sound—two exceptions being the decidedly Beatles-y “Spiral Tee Shirt” and album closer “Fox News Coverage ’68”—but it’s only natural at some point to ask the question “Why not expand out and experiment with different approaches, players, sounds, instruments, etc.?”. Only Mr. Donovan knows the answer to that. In the meantime, pick up his new LP (or any of his previous records) and decide for yourself if you’re chill enough for the Donovan vibe.

Ty Segall and Mike Donovan are rooted in the garage, psych aesthetic of so many bands from the Bay Area, many of which have jumped on the bandwagon in recent years, and which is celebrated by labels such as Burger and others. While Segall has clearly blasted out of that pigeon hole and transcended the aesthetic in search of more substance, Donovan seems content to continue cranking out his own brand of lo-fi foggy fuzz. Boogie and chillin’, indeed!

DOWNLOAD: Ty Segall’s “Fanny Dog” and “Every 1’s A Winner”; Mike Donovan’s “Spiral Tee Shirt

 

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers

Album: Years

Artist: Sarah Shook & The Disarmers

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: April 06, 2018

www.bloodshotrecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

With their unapologetic debut Sidelong, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers established themselves as rowdy, forthright rebels who made it clear they wouldn’t be intimidated by the fact that they were competing for attention with artists who were far better known and possessed a far more substantive pedigree when it came to petulance and tenacity.

Nevertheless, Shook and company showed no remorse in executing their reckless and rebellious sound. Naming a song “Fuck Up” was clear indication that regret wasn’t a word that fit well into her vocabulary. On the other hand, titling a song after Dwight Yoakum did show a certain reverence regardless. Indeed, the fact that the music sticks to a well-worn template — all rootsy, rocking, upbeat shuffles that underscore their barroom bravado — suggests a certain devotion to a timeless template. Consequently, Years, the band’s able follow-up, shows the same grit and sass that they bowed with on their debut. “I didn’t meant to stay out drinking…believe me it just happens this way,” Shook concedes on the tellingly titled “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down.” Likewise, songs named “New Ways to Fail,” “Damned if I do, Damned If I Don’t” and “Heartache in Hell” suggest Shook’s more or less committed to the fact she’ll remain an outlaw and an outcast as long as it serves her songs.

Granted, Waylon and Willie, Kris, Cash and Bobby Bare have all ploughed this path before. Nevertheless, Shook’s unerring insurgence and commitment to the cause are admirable traits, proof that edge and attitude never go out of style.

DOWNLOAD: “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down,” “New Ways to Fail,” “Damned if I do, Damned if I Don’t”

Lloyd Green and Jay Dee Maness – Journey to the Beginning: A Steel Guitar Tribute to the Byrds

Album: Journey to the Beginning: A Steel Guitar Tribute to the Byrds

Artist: Lloyd Green and Jay Dee Maness

Label: Coastal Bend Music

Release Date: April 20, 2018

(www.coastalbendmusic.com)

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Any attempt to pay tribute to a significant album that helped alter the course of modern music comes with risk. For one thing, it’s never going to be as great as the original masterpiece. For another, it’s forced to measure up to a higher bar, that is, that set by the seminal effort in the first place. While the cover artists involved may have the best of intentions, the fact remains that their best chance for success is to evoke the feel and aura that was shared early on.

That said, there can be additional justification for the attempt when the artists charged with the re-imagining had some connection to the album initially. Happily, that’s the case here, as venerable pedal steel players Lloyd Green and Jay Dee Maness revisit the Byrds’ often unappreciated classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the album that provided the elusive link between country and rock and roll 50 years ago. While recreating the songs sung by Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons is a formidable task at best, one that will never supersede the Byrds accomplishment, Green and Maness can claim some share of the glory in that their contributions on pedal steel, as well as that of another of the current participants, piano player Earle Pool Ball, provided some of the essential elements in helping to bridge the stylistic divide.

Consequently, there’s an unerring feeling of familiarity in these instrumental renditions, based largely on the fact that the arrangements stay so true to the template. There’s instant recognition on first hearing, particularly when it comes to songs such as “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “You’re Still On My Mind,” “I Am a Pilgrim, “Hickory Wind,” and the like, but inevitably, without the distinctive vocals that graced the songs early on, it becomes akin to hearing the demos or backing tracks sans the complete package. The final reprise, a new vocal version of You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” featuring an all star ensemble that includes Richie Furay, Jim Lauderdale, Herb Peterson, and Jeff Hanna,constitutes a remarkable read, but also leaves one wishing that their vocal talents had been utilized throughout. A credible remake, the album’s  biggest accomplishment will likely be to drive listeners to the original album in order to hear more.

DOWNLOAD: “I Am a Pilgrim,” “Hickory Wind,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Reprise)”