Monthly Archives: August 2014


Album: Family Crimes

Artist: Skygreen Leopards

Label: Woodsist

Release Date: July 08, 2014

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Back again after five years of other projects, the Skygreen Leopards bring the laid back, jangly, ever-so-slightly electrified folk rock in Family Crimes, expanding the whispery tuneful-ness of their basic formula with drums (Jasmyn Wong), bass (Nick Marcantonio) and a variety of keyboards (producer Jason Quever of the similarly temperate Paper Cuts). Donovan Quinn has been off making drunken folk tunes with Ben Chasny in the interim. Donaldson, for his part, made an excellent C86-ish album as the Art Museums during the hiatus. But here, together again, they pick up more or less where they left off, slipping subdued hooks into strummy reveries and spiking easy breezy tunes with jarring, occasional violent lyrics.

Consider, for instance, “Leave the Family” with its scratchy drums and home-made, unassumingly tuneful vibe. The vocals barely rise above a murmur as they describe a sort of mayhem, “You say I’m sorry and you set the house on fire, you leave the family, hear them scream and cry.” Er,yeah, tra la la, tra la la.

Donaldson and Quinn take sly pleasure in upending boy-girl clichés and sunny musical forms, carving out a pleasant, unhurried space and then waiting to see if you notice as it fills up with gore. “Is It Love, Love Love,” they ask in a jangle of euphoria, mid-way through the album, only to answer, a couple of songs later, “It’s Not Love,” and in fact, there’s too much blood on the sheets for it to be much of anything good.

Most of the songs proceed in a lulling haze, but “Reno Wedding” drives a little harder, with its slashing, surf-style guitar licks and its bumping bass figures. But it, too, turns a bit surreal if you listen closely, as the narrator dreams of cut-rate nuptial fixings like waterbeds and smoke ring halos, when the relationships has already, evidently, gone south.

Honestly, you could listen to this album without paying attention to the lyrics, and it would slide by in a mid-1960s fog of Byrdsian good feeling. And that, judging by the reviews, is how most people are hearing it. But there’s a shadow in these sunny songs, a chill in their warm, hand-crafted corners. It’s not love, love, love, all the time, even if it seems like it ought to be, and the darkness makes it interesting.

DOWNLOAD: “Reno Wedding” “Leave the Family”



Album: Refuse to Lose

Artist: Jarekus Singleton

Label: Alligator

Release Date: May 06, 2014

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About once a decade, the Great Blues Hope seems to come along and is proclaimed the person who can keep this vital American musical form alive despite the passing of its first and second generation greats. Well, Jarekus Singleton, along with his Alligator Records label mate, Selwyn Birchwood, are the real deal. Listen to the first track of Singlton’s debut Alligator record– “Refuse to Lose”—and you will hear a defiant song of hope in an often hopeless world. You might just be hearing the future of the blues.

Both Singleton and Birchwood are young: born in 1984 and 1985 respectively. Both are southern; Birchwood from Florida and Singleton from the birthplace of the blues, Mississippi. Both are unique in that they both honor the blues tradition—it influences their work but does not dominate it. You are not going to hear from them the 15th million arrangement of “Dust My Broom.” I love that Elmore James and Robert Johnson riff, which helped create rock and roll. But both the young Alligators are not just repeating the blues tradition but reworking it in way unimaginable 20 years ago.

Take Singleton, for example, who bend strings like a bluesman, sings like a soul singer and writes lyrics like a rapper. Born into a family of church musicians and vocalist, he grew up not just with traditional blues around him but with the hip hop of Jay Z and Twista. A top ranked college basketball player, he had tryouts with Indianapolis and Cleveland in the NBA before an injury derailed his career. And he worked for a while as a rapper. On Refuse to Lose he joints together hip hop wordplay, rock and roll energy, R&B grooves and both contemporary and traditional blues into something so unique as to be visionary.

“Refuse to Lose” is a high energy rocker. “Hell” is a slow blues with excellent lyrics and soulful vocals and guitar work reminiscent of one of the Kings, Albert King. The early bluesmen and women were singing about their lives and telling stories about their hopes, dreams and heartaches. That reflected a rural, southern environment. Decades later, rap would do the same thing in an inner city urban America during a time of hopelessness for the young. Singleton borrows from that rap tradition on a great infectious, positive song like “Keep Pushing.” But instead of the driving beat, Singleton’s song is driven by his rollicking guitar work on both rhythm and lead. If blues is to survive it must reflect the world the music is made in.

In baseball, you call somebody the “next Willie Mays” and it is like the curse of death. There could only be one Willie Mays. So you have to be careful with calling somebody the “future of the blues.” Singleton hopefully has a long career ahead of him. But with Refuse to Lose the shows tremendous promise. With both Singleton and Birchwood, the future of the blues is in good hands. Kudos to Alligator boss Bruce Iglauer for having the vision to sign them both.

 DOWNLOAD: “Refuse to Lose,” Keep Pushin’ “Hell”



The Pleasures Of Being Out Of Step: Notes On The Life Of Nat Hentoff

Title: The Pleasures Of Being Out Of Step: Notes On The Life Of Nat Hentoff

Director: David L. Lewis

Release Date: July 04, 2014


Flawed but fascinating, the recently released The Pleasures Of Being Out Of Step: Notes On The Life Of Nat Hentoff profiles the legendary jazz critic, dipping into both his music and his politics.


The name Nat Hentoff resonates with music aficionados. The 89-year-old Hentoff, who looks a bit like the late film director John Huston, sits among the pantheon of influential music critics, particularly for his writing on jazz. The new documentary The Pleasure of Being Out Of Step looks Hentoff’s long career writing about music as well as political issues. Filmmaker David L. Lewis follows a rather standard documentary style – mixing archival footage with interviews of Hentoff, his colleagues, his friends and his former friends – although he structures the film more around ideas than chronologically, which seems appropriate for a man of ideas like Hentoff. The actor Andre Braugher serves as narrator and does a marvelous job reciting Hentoff’s eloquent prose (often from liner notes) about jazz giants like Miles Davis and Max Roach.

The documentary certainly makes a strong case about Hentoff’s importance in the jazz world. Early on, historian John Gennari proclaims that Hentoff ranks “among the handful of non-musicians you need to reckon with if you are [interested in] the history of jazz,” while musician Phil Woods more plainly states that Hentoff “was part of the family… a friend of music.” Musicians, it is said, especially liked him because he wasn’t a “moldy fig” – someone who thought jazz stopped with Louie Armstrong.

Out of Step chronicles Hentoff’s work as he goes from writing for Down Beat in the ‘50s before he started Jazz Review (a more scholarly but shorter lived journal) and later moving on the Village Voice, where he served as a columnist for 50 years. The film points out how Hentoff arrived at an opportune time for writing liner notes. Just as he was becoming a well-known jazz critic in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, the music business was switching from the 78 to the 33 1/3, which allowed for more liner note space.

Many non-jazz fans associate Hentoff with his early coverage of Bob Dylan, whom he profiled in the New Yorker and Playboy. In the film, Hentoff admits that he didn’t really like Dylan’s guitar playing but admired his lyrics. He recalls how, for the Playboy article, he played the straight man while Dylan hilariously regaled with his fictional life story. Hentoff also wrote about, and become close with, Lenny Bruce, and the film includes several funny, but eventually sad, clips of Bruce.

Out of Step also spotlights several of Hentoff’s non-journalism career moves. He served as a main consultant for the landmark 1957 TV show The Sound of Jazz, which brought together a diverse and talented lineup of jazz stars, from Count Basie to Thelonious Monk. Hentoff fought successfully to keep the Billie Holliday on the program although sponsors didn’t want the scandal-shrouded singer to perform.

One of the film’s interesting revelations is that Hentoff actually ran a label for a short time. As head of Candid Records in 1960-61, he put out records by a number of cutting edge jazz players – Charles Mingus, Coleman Hawkins, Cecil Taylor to name a few – but Hentoff is most proud of his civil right-themed We Insist that Max Roach created in 1960.

In the documentary, Hentoff asserts that he follows the idea that “if music is to be free, it has to be done by people who feel free.” This statement, along with his interest in people like Lenny Bruce and projects like We Insist, weaves into Hentoff’s profound belief in the First Amendment, civil liberties and personal freedom. During his Voice years, he had a column where he could write about a range of topics, especially politically ones. While his support of African American jazz musicians put him on the liberal side of the civil rights movement, his stances on issues like abortion, women’s rights and AIDS (which, to simplify an explanation, he didn’t support) put him in conflict with liberals and others who sided him on music and other matters.

Among the political controversies that the film focuses on is his assertion, in 1977, that the Nazi Party should be allowed to march in the predominately Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois. He explained, in vintage news clips, that they should have the freedom of expression. His beliefs caused him to lose several longtime friendships and created animosity amongst his Voice colleagues.

While Out of Step is on solid ground when examining the music side of Hentoff’s life, it is less steady when dealing with his political beliefs and personal life. The film’s director Lewis doesn’t really come back to Hentoff to see how he feels, for example, about how one-time ACLU president Aryeh Neier severed his friendship after Hentoff came out against a woman leading the ACLU’s New York branch. Somewhat like Hentoff did with Dylan, Lewis lets Hentoff tell his story with really asking him the tough questions. The closest the viewer gets to an explanation of Hentoff’s often extreme Libertarian points of view comes from his current wife Margot, who says that Hentoff likes to back the underdog and likes to debate people on issues.

The documentary also contains some obvious holes regarding Hentoff’s life. The film does a decent job talking about his growing up in Boston, which he describes as a horribly anti-Semitic city, and how he discovered the joy of jazz by hearing Artie Shaw being played in a music store. Although his wife and his sister talk about family tragedies, Hentoff isn’t asked about them. Furthermore, there are passing references to his children, but they have no presence in the film (his pro-life stance doesn’t seem to extend to being pro-child).

Out of Step winds up offering an intriguing but incomplete examination of Nat Hentoff’s work and life. It is a little too anecdotal and not analytical enough to provide a full portrait of this complex man. Music fans, particularly jazz lovers, will really dig the wonderful music-related sections of the film; however, the more muddied look at Hentoff’s politics touches on interesting points without delivering enough information or answers.

Read an interview with director Lewis HERE at Encore Magazine.


RODDY FRAME – Seven Dials

Album: Seven Dials

Artist: Roddy Frame

Label: AED

Release Date: May 06, 2014

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Roddy Frame quiets things down a bit on Seven Dials, his fourth and strongest solo efforts to date. It’s right up there with some of his decades-old work fronting Aztec Camera. It should be noted, however, that the record is a slow built; one that will likely take a few listens to finally grab the listener. But when it does take hold, these songs are hard to shake loose.

The slower tempo tracks like “Rear View Mirror” and “English Garden” are more difficult to warm up to, but Frame’s knack for writing beautiful and perfectly succinct lyrics keep the album from dragging down. Songs like the album opener, “White Pony” (which sounds like a long-forgotten Harry Nilsson tune) or the infectious title track, which could have come straight off of Aztec Camera’s brilliant debut, help make Seven Dials a truly compelling record.

The only thing missing from Frame’s latest is a sticker on front asking for the listener’s patience. Those who stick with it will be glad they did.

 DOWNLOAD: “White Pony,” Into the Sun” and “Forty Days of Rain”

IAN ANDERSON — Homo Erraticus

Album: Homo Erraticus

Artist: Ian Anderson

Label: K Scope

Release Date: April 15, 2014

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Rebooting Thick As A Brick offered the initial indications that Ian Anderson has opted to shelve Jethro Tull, at least for the time being. If that’s the case, then indeed Homo Erraticus seals the deal. Anderson’s most ambitious solo project thus far — at least in terms of an album that doesn’t build entirely from a Tull template — it resembles the group in all but name only, the strongest indication so far that he doesn’t feel inclined to operate under the band banner whatsoever.

That said, Homo Erraticus boasts all the typical elements that defined the classic Tull albums of the past — Aqualung, War Child, Minstrel in the Gallery, Too Old To Rockand Roll, and Thick As A Brick among them. The flute flourishes, shifting time signatures, blistering guitar riffs, and Anderson’s vocal swagger make this a Tull album in all but name only. Likewise, as if to carry on convention, Anderson has again borrowed a key element from the ongoing Thick As A Brick saga by crediting the lyrical contributions to the fictional boy poet Gerald Bostock. Indeed, the premise is equally intense, given that song titles like “Puer Ferox Adventus,” “The Pax Brtannico,” “Trpudium Ad Bellum and “Per Errationes Ad Astra” provide a similarly high quotient of ambition and pretension in equal measure.

As if that’s not enough to ensure high-mindedness, the themes that combine to create this opus are also suitably sprawling, with subjects that touch upon key events and cultural touchstones essential to British history. They fall under a succession of prophecies that stretch from past to the future, linking a nomadic Neolithic settler, an iron Age blacksmith, a Christian monk, a turnpike innkeeper and Prince Albert in one continuous sweep. Appropriately then, a limited edition deluxe four disc set, complete with a 60 page hardback book, a bonus DVD of interviews and behind the scenes footage, and a second CD filled with commentary and demos provides an additional option. It’s fortunate, then, that the music makes these additives worthwhile, because while Jethro Tull may have plowed its final foray, Ian Anderson is as inventive as ever.

DOWNLOAD: “Puer Ferox Adventus,” “The Pax Brtannico,” “Trpudium Ad Bellum


Album: Easy Pain

Artist: Young Widows

Label: Temporary Residence Ltd.

Release Date: May 13, 2014


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When Young Widows debuted in 2006 with Settle Down City, they awoke a sleeping giant that was the Louisville, Kentucky post-hardcore movement–a scene that spawned such groundbreaking underground acts of the 1990s as Slint and Squirrel Bait. And with each successive full-length, they take in the sound of their city’s sub terrain through a wormhole of dark, gothic blues. But with Easy Pain, the trio go full fang on this fourth LP, harkening back to the most extreme aspects of Louisville loudness.

Having toured with the likes of Boris, Baroness and Thursday in the three years since the release of 2011’s subdued In and Out of Youth and Lightness certainly seemed to have reminded Evan Patterson (guitar and vocals), Nick Thieneman (bass and vocals) and Jeremy McMonigle (drums) of their potential to pummel the listener into submission. And numbers like the opening screed “Godman”, the damaging “Doomed Man” and the tempestuous “King Sol” serve as the perfect median between the atmospheric overtones of Youth and Lightness with the unbridled urgency of their halcyon days to create their most definitive statement yet. Young Widows truly bring the Pain in 2014.

DOWNLOAD: “Godman,” “King Sol”

SHOVELS & ROPE – Swimmin’ Time

Album: Swimmin' Time

Artist: Shovels & Rope

Label: Dualtone Music Group

Release Date: August 26, 2014

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Having taken the Americana universe by storm via O’ Be Joyful, Shovels & Rope finds itself in the unenviable position of having to follow up a record that will always stand as a signpost on the road of their career. Not that singers/songwriters/instrumentalists Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent seem particularly worried about the pressure on Swimmin’ Time, the pair’s third LP together. Indeed, there’s a confidence here, even a swagger, that denotes a band that knows what it likes and how to make it happen.

Whether it’s the ‘50s rock of “Coping Mechanism,” the stately folk-rock of “Bridge On Fire” or the hillbilly update of “Pinned,” the duo revels in its multi-instrumental facility, expansive song-authoring and homespun harmonies with the easy assurance of veteran road dogs. The band’s storytelling skills have sharpened as well – check the snappy folk of “Mary Ann and One-Eyed Dan,” the elegiac country rock of “Thresher” or the grungy blues rock of “Evil.”

The sense of discovery, that sound of two musicians really coming into their own as collaborators, is gone, naturally. But Shovels & Rope displays a firm grip on its craft on Swimmin’ Time, and a willingness to use it in service of any stylistic boulevard it chooses to walk.
DOWNLOAD: “Evil,” “Pinned,” “Thresher”

TY SEGALL – Manipulator

Album: Manipulator

Artist: Ty Segall

Label: Drag City

Release Date: August 26, 2014

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The über-prolific San Fran savant known as Ty Segall has been multitasking like a motherfucker over the past few years, releasing records at a clip that’d make Bob Pollard or Ryan Adams green with envy. Yet on last year’s Sleeper, a woozy/folky/droney lo-fi excursion he seemed to be taking a musical deep breath, and now we know why: batteries duly recharged, he’s back in all his messy, glammy, garagey glory, with what just may turn out to be one of 2014’s finest full-on rawk excursions.

How does yours truly count thee ways? Stones, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy and, er, Bay City Rollers fans can only fall to their knees, gnash their teeth and rend their clothes in the face of such godlike genius. With more guitars per capita here than a barrelful of cheap-ass Sears Silvertones, Saint Ty blasts out the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am boogie (“The Faker”), sweetly serenades in waltz-time, strings-laden reverie (“The Singer”), goes all faux-funk for the Nuggets set (“It’s Over”) and out-teenybops pretty much every pop combo on the planet with the insanely—that’s pop, with power,regardless of whether that means vintage British Invasion or contemporary boy-band to you—catchy “Who’s Producing You?” And in stark contrast to much of his previous output, Segall and studio co-conspirator Chris Woodhouse aim for, and achieve across 17 wildly diverse yet remarkably cohesive tracks that suggest the artist is moving well past his garage roots into a more mature, baroquely psychedelic phase.

Call it “genuflection rock.” Segall has long been tagged as one of indiedom’s brightest lights, but the sheer quantity of music he’s released over the past five years or so may have diluted his overall impact. No more—in 2014, when a slew of indie artists (among them, Warpaint, Angel Olsen, War On Drugs, and Sylvan Esso have already issued genuine, consensus-building masterpieces, Manipulator represents a defining statement from a musician that should enjoy a long, healthy career to come.

DOWNLOAD: “It’s Over,” “The Faker”


LAURA REED – The Awakening

Album: The Awakening

Artist: Laura Reed

Label: Five Foot Giant

Release Date: August 19, 2014

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In an earlier incarnation, songstress Laura Reed was a diminutive-and-dreadlocked dynamo fronting the much-loved Deep Pocket, a funk & soul, reggae-informed jam band that wowed audience throughout the Carolinas region and beyond. Yours truly saw ‘em perform a number of times in Asheville during the ‘00s and can testify to Reed’s huge-lunged, foot-poundin’, dreadlocks-shakin’ prowess on stage. After disbanding the group she took some time off, eventually landing a publishing deal and then accepting an invitation to come to Nashville to work with producer Shannon Sanders (Indie.Arie, Robert Randolph, John Legend).

That soulful connection becomes an action verb on her new album. Awash in luscious textures and ablaze with emotional passion, The Awakening showcases Reed’s astonishing pipes throughout a melange of stylistic twists and turns, effectively reinventing the artist from the ground up. (You can take that notion literally too: immediately prior to taking the album sleeve photo, Reed cut off her dreads; she told me recently about how, in the shower after the shearing, she was able to massage her scalp for the first time in years.) From the finger-snapping, sassysexycool opening track “Naturally” and the bouncy, Motown-esque “Wake Up” to the dancing strings, fresh beats and jabbing horns of “Voodoo” (which finds the vocalist very nearly dipping into scat-singing territory) and the bluesy/jazzy neo-soul of “Wolves,” Reed oozes charisma and confidence, her voice nothing less than an instrument of seduction. Fans of Amy Winehouse and Adele will no doubt embrace her alongside hip-hop aficionados and collectors of ‘60s girl-group and Motown.

The record certainly won’t be a shock to the system for longtime fans of Reed and Deep Pocket, however, for while a sleek, radio-friendly affair (as befits producer Sanders’ modus), it’s rife with grooves to die for. And as evidenced by a recent performance in which Reed stomped and strutted her way through a set of funk, soul and straight-up blues (the latter via a Muddy Waters cover that found her blowing a mean harp), she hasn’t sacrificed a whit of her hi-nrg stage presence, either. She strikes the perfect balance between studio polish and raw power.

DOWNLOAD: “Wolves,” “Wake Up,” “Voodoo”

THE FRESH & ONLYS – House of Spirits

Album: House of Spirits

Artist: Fresh & Onlys

Label: Mexican Summer

Release Date: June 10, 2014

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On their first records since 2012’s Long Slow Dance San Francisco pop psychers Fresh & Onlys continue on their path of a moodier sort of pop music that they began on said record. Oh sure their first two full-lengths, 2009’s Grey-Eyed Girls and 2010’s Play It Strange (both very good as well) hinted at this more otherworldly, laid-back sound, but those records had gobs more energy, too.

Which isn’t to say that less energy is a bad thing. It’s not. Leader Tim Cohen and his unkempt cohorts seem to have found this perfect groove where fuzz, jangle and eerie kind airiness all come together and make love (and scare away the ghosts). Apparently Cohen wrote the record while hanging out in the desert in Arizona and that’s not surprising when you hear the songs.

Right from the start, “Home Is Where?” wakes up halfway through with its first shot of coffee while the more straightforward “Who Let the Devil” offers some of Cohen’s weirdest lyrics ever (saying a lot). They kick it up a notch on the rockin’ “Hummingbird” and bring the reverb on “April Fools.” Also, don’t miss the gorgeous “Candy” tucked near the end.

Cohen and company (including underrated guitarist Wymond Miles) seem to be in a spot where the focus is perfect (despite the haze) and they know exactly what they want and how to achieve it. These 12 songs can work individually or as a whole, depending on your mood and in the end they’ve done it again, one of 2014’s best.

DOWNLOAD: “Home Is Where?,” “Who Let the Devil,” “”Bells of Paonia,” “Hummingbird,” “Candy”