Monthly Archives: March 2015

LIGHTNING BOLT — Fantasy Empire

Album: Fantasy Empire

Artist: Lightning Bolt

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: March 24, 2015

Lightning Bold 3-24


Brutal clarity sets off the fractured, splatter-paint drums, the sawed off buzzing riffs on this sixth Lightning Bolt album. Recorded at Pawtucket’s Machines with Magnets studio, this latest effort from the long-running noise rockers encases chaos with brilliant white space. Fantasy Empire is as viscerally overwhelming as any Lightning Bolt recording but this time, you can hear everything at once.

“The Metal East” electro-shocks itself to life with Brian Gibson’s bass, caterwauling a rapid repetitive riff, answered almost immediately by Brian Chippendale’s clattering rhythm. The vocals are muffled but anthemic, threading a strident sort of melody through pulverizing cadences. It feels like both Brians are playing as fast and hard as they can, near the break point, but nothing blurs. Even when the song fractures into a multiplicity of altered vocals, the drums are crisp and separated. The house is still on fire, but its architecture is precise and visible.

 Fantasy Empire seems like the album where Lightning Bolt transcends the sweaty, which-way-is-up fracas of the club floor and begins to play to the back rows. “Myth Master,” with its house-rocking, syncopated beat, is as massive as anything the duo has ever played, every thwack slamming the place in the cortex that causes the body to move. “Runaway Train” posits a twisting, serpentine, classic metal riff then punches it to a bloody pulp with hurtling, humping drums. “Green Genie” is abrasive with static, and yet the bass line pops lucidly; the negative space around its sawed off riff turn it even more lacerating. There are a couple of songs where you can damned near make out the words.

Some long-time fans may object to Lightning Bolts new legibility, missing the communal chaos and staticky buzz that made listening to previous outings like opening a box of bees. But the maelstrom still looms, the intensity remains, it’s just a bigger, more focused sound.

DOWNLOAD: “The Metal East” “Myth Master”

JACK DEJOHNETTE – Made in Chicago

Album: Made In Chicago

Artist: Jack DeJohnette

Label: ECM

Release Date: March 10, 2015

Jack D


Though issued under organizer Jack DeJohnette’s name, #Made in Chicago# is actually a reunion of some of the most important names in the pioneering AACM. Founded in Chicago in 1965 by pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music pushed jazz in new, vibrant and aggressively improvisatory directions, putting a spotlight on emerging and influential talent like DeJohnette and hornmen Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill. The three were also veterans of Abrams’ Experimental Band, as well as classmates at the Southside institution Wilson Junior College, and the trio comes back together with their old mentor and bassist/cellist Larry Gray for a program of fiercely energetic jazz recorded live at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2013.

The opening salvo “Chant” sets the scene. DeJohnette rattles over his toms, keeping time while seemingly bashing away with abandon. Abrams provides massive blocks of chords, constructing a thick edifice over which Mitchell and Threadgill’s winding saxophones lock horns. Gray acts as the anchor keeping the ship upright in the roiling storm. It’s nearly free jazz but not quite, with just enough structure imposed to keep the piece from descending into anarchy. “Jack 5” brings the boil back down to a simmer, as DeJohnette concentrates on shimmering cymbal work, Abrams lays back except for a few precisely placed runs, Mitchell and Threadgill add playful bleats at regular intervals and Gray brings it home with a short but poignant solo.

“This,” with Mitchell and Threadgill swirling around each other on flute and recorder, continues the tonal theme for another slice of itchy ambience. “Museum of Time” energizes the rhythms while keeping the freneticism toned down, as flute and sax duet over skittering cymbals and Abrams’ melodic comping. Bringing the main program to a close, “Leave Don’t Go Away” revs up the motor once again, driven in the direction of post-bop by Abrams and DeJohnette, though the saxists do their best to upend the apple cart.

The cart shatters and fruit scatters everywhere on the final selection “Ten Minutes,” a collective free improvisation that lasts a mere three and a half and brings the show full circle. To say this performance by musicians who are influential headliners in their own right is powerful is an understatement. That it’s far more than just avant-garde elder statesmen blowing for kicks is the true delight.

DOWNLOAD: “Chant,” “Leave Don’t Go Away,” “Jack 5”


COLIN HAY – Next Year People (Deluxe Edition)

Album: Next Year People

Artist: Colin Hay

Label: Compass

Release Date: February 17, 2015

Colin Hay 2-17


 The march of time has not been kind to many pop and new wave stars of the ‘80s. For every Bruce Springsteen and Madonna there’s a Flock of Seagulls or Loverboy, breaking out the hairspray or squeezing into the leather pants and getting ready to hit the state fair circuit or Chili Cook Off for another round of “Remember this one?”

 Former Men at Work front man Colin Hay, though not quite living at Springsteen-like status, has managed to pull off a difficult move, remaining relevant in the music world as a solo artist, churning out one solid album after another of introspective music to critical praise and building a small, but devoted following across the globe.

 Next Year People, his 12th solo album since 1987, is not drastically different than the last few, but it doesn’t need to be. He has carved out a niche playing comfortable, mellow, but ultimately satisfying pop songs that manage to charm with their simplicity. Next Year People is no different; though the album drags a bit in the middle, there are more than enough good songs here to make up for that.

    The deluxe edition comes with two additional tracks, the instrumental “Lament for Whisky McManus” and “Are We There Yet?,” probably the strongest track of this entire collection, which begs the question was this was a bonus track and not part of the original album.

 DOWNLOAD: “Trying to Get to You,” “If I Had Been a Better Man,” and “Are We There Yet?”



THE STAPLE SINGERS – Freedom Highway Complete

Album: Freedom Highway Complete—Recorded Live at Chicago's New Nazareth Church, April 9, 1965

Artist: The Staple Singers

Label: Legacy

Release Date: March 03, 2015



Five songs into their set at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church, the Staple Singers get down to the real, and the reason, they called their gospel meeting on April 9, 1965.

“A few days ago freedom marchers marched on Selma to Montgomery, Alabama,” says Roebuck “Pops” Staples. “And from that march, words were revealed and a song was composed. And we wrote a song about the freedom marchers and we call it the ‘Freedom Highway.’ And we dedicate this number to all the freedom marchers, and it goes something like this.”

Tearing into their new song as if it was a longtime traditional favorite, the Staples evoke the energy and resistance of the historic freedom trail for voting rights, right there at their South Side parish. Though few could’ve predicted or believed that the messages of the Martin Luther King, Jr.-led movement would still be necessary or relevant 50 years on, this timeless performance at the height of the fight has been mercifully preserved, restored and reissued on Legacy’s new Freedom Highway Complete—Recorded Live at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church, April 9, 1965, for all the world to once again bear witness and hear the beauty in a song.

The whole world is wondering what’s wrong with the United States

Yes, we want peace if it can be found

Marching freedom’s highway, 

I’m not gonna turn around…

Stay on freedom’s highway until the day is done

Following an introduction from Pops encouraging folks to sing, clap, and shout amen, the group (accompanied by Al Duncan on drums and Phil Upchurch on bass) eases in parishioners with the familiar invocation, “When The Saints Go Marching In.”  But they waste no time getting to the darker stuff, slipping in the Hank Williams tale of “The Funeral,” concerning the closing of the casket on a little curly-headed boy. The secular movement standard, “We Shall Overcome” is delivered easily enough, serving as the crowd-participatory number it was built to be, though in the Staples’ hands, all is holy. Their originals like “Freedom Highway” and “Tell Heaven,” and the arrangements of spirituals like “He’s All Right” strive to tear the roof off the chapel and touch greener pastures, delivering the listener from all earthly distraction. For gospel singers like the Staples family, “Jesus Is All” (one of the set’s previously unreleased tracks) and “Help Me Jesus” are not just proud declarations of their savior’s name, they are a way of life, a deep faith that does not ask its adherents to acquiesce in God’s presence; it puts the holy spirit in charge, so that the faithful may take action on the streets and in all matters of the everyday, fearlessly and free.

Church was where the gospel group first practiced its faith as family singers—Roebuck, Pervis, Cleotha, Yvonne and Mavis—in the late forties and early fifties, developing an acoustic folk-gospel style with a bluesy feeling, distinguished by soul-solid lead vocals by Mavis and piercing, bending guitar by “Pops.” They recorded for a number of labels including Vee-Jay (famous for releasing blues acts and later, the Beatles) where they had some early success with “Uncloudy Day,” (a song Bob Dylan recently called the “most mysterious thing” he’d ever heard). In later years they joined the Stax label where during the apex of soul music, they enjoyed Top 40 success with funk-based, gospel-powered hits like “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There.”  In between these distinct eras, the Staples were signed to Epic where their A&R man and producer Billy Sherrill (remembered mostly for his Nashville productions) assisted in the development of merging their sacred and soul sides. For the Freedom Highway session, he arranged the necessary equipment be brought to the church and recorded the service/rally. Mobile units were in their infancy at the time, but the project was not conceived as a “field” recording. Before release, the tracks were edited, telescoped, and worked to conform to studio and broadcast standards, purposefully leaving behind the churchy and ambient parts, though even with the tweaking, the set was a revelation. Becoming one of the era’s most beloved recordings, it was also long left out-of-print, only to become highly sought after (a 1991 Legacy reissue titled Freedom Highway is not the original recording, but rather a compilation).

Bolstered by the anticipation of the tracks becoming once again available digitally and on vinyl, the new and expanded edition produced by Steve Berkowitz and Nedra Olds-Neal stands to surpass the original’s already relic-like status. By daring to return the tapes to their original form and to recreate the evening from front to back, Freedom Highway becomes all at once a historical document, a spirit-lifting gospel session, and a fist-raising call for freedom now. Accompanied by rock and soul historian Robert Gordon’s liner notes which ascertain the place of race in music and in the country then and now, the Staples brand of “message music” is spelled out for non-believers and anyone else in need of a nudge.

Leaping into faith-based music in times of uncertainty is natural; gospel survives on rock solid melodies and timeless messages of liberation which by design were created to subvert slavery and oppression. And while the marchers in Ferguson, New York and Oakland in recent months may not have exactly had the notes of “Freedom Highway” on their minds when they shut down roadways, its words were already written on their souls.  Built to travel the distance, and as necessary as in the hour they were recorded, these songs performed 50 years ago (and some scored a hundred years before) are available to accompany movement, anytime, anywhere, there is a fight for voting rights, civil rights and human need. These songs’ messages are as urgent now as they were then, as is faith in the idea that the march will ultimately be won, mile by mile, hand in hand.

“Let’s say amen again,” says Pops Staples on the restored set’s recovered audio tracks. “Let’s keep on marchin’…Keep on marchin’ up freedom highway.”

DOWNLOAD: The entire performance.

ERIC BURDON & THE ANIMALS – Winds of Change + The Twain Shall Meet

Album: Winds of Change / The Twain Shall Meet

Artist: Eric Burdon & the Animals

Label: Sundazed

Release Date: February 17, 2015

Winds of Change


It’s no secret that during the Sixties, LSD rearranged many a musician’s perspective—sonically, aesthetically, culturally, politically; even literally, for some artists, sadly, took trips from which they never returned. Eric Burdon, frontman for British Invasion hitmakers The Animals, even let it shift him geographically, having found “enlightenment” circa 1966 and, with his band splintering in the wake of extreme mismanagement and infighting, decided to put together a fresh ensemble, eventually relocating to California. At the time it may have seemed folly, given that the group probably could’ve continued to reap commercial rewards on the back of such mega-smashes as “The House of the Rising Sun” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” but at that point the lineup was already in flux (keyboardist Alan Price, a core member, had left a year prior). And Burdon himself was plotting a solo album (Eric Is Here), and as suggested above, and the seeds of transition had been planted.

Eric Is Here spawned a modest hit, “Help Me Girl,” although since the album was billed as “Eric Burdon & The Animals” the general public was probably unware that the, er, “winds of change” were blowing for the singer. Indeed, the fresh group, sometimes referred to as Eric Burdon & the New Animals, commenced operations in December of ’66 and went on to record the album Winds of Change the following March (the same month Eric Is Here was released) for the MGM label under the tutelage of house producer Tom Wilson, who also worked with the Velvet Underground.

Burdon published a manifesto on the front sleeve of Winds of Change, one which might also be characterized as a call to arms (or even a chemically-inspired confession):

“I love you all and want you to gain something from these new sounds as I gain from listening to my saints in past years. If you feel alone and confused and unhappy discontented, just know that I (and there are many like me) love you, and maybe you’ll know why I am happy contented and un-confused. The games I play are mostly games of children (not all) happy games, games of love, games of mystery, games of wonder…”

Games indeed. The album was released in September 1967, by which time Burdon was living in the States and had had his mind additionally blown by the Monterey Pop Festival that summer (more on that later). The WoC lineup featured Burdon, bassist Danny McCulloch, drummer Barry Jenkins, Vic Briggs on guitar and piano, and future Family member John Weider on guitar and violin; the record was dedicated to a host of fellow musicians (among them, original Animals Price, Hilton Valentine and Chas Chandler, along with Mick Jagger and George Harrison) and cultural notables (Ho Chi Minh, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Ray Charles, Roland Kirk, etc.), which gives you a sense of the way in which Burdon was trying to expand his personal parameters beyond merely hard-rocking R&B.

“Expand parameters” is exactly what Winds of Change did. Right from the get-go, in fact: the opening title track’s a mélange of droning sitar, Weider’s eerie peals of violin, a hypnotic, almost dub-like bassline and whooshing “wind” sound effects all summoning mental impressions of exotic newness as Burdon’s recited vocals, double-tracked and overlapping, tick off a roster of musical icons who’d inspired the singer. A couple of songs later we’re in the middle of a psychedelic cover of “Paint It Black” that only intermittently recalls the Stones original, followed by yet another recitation, this one a cheery little number titled “The Black Plague.” Also included is a kind of answer song to Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” called “Yes I Am Experienced”; a pair of more-or-less “hits” from the album, the folk-rocking “San Franciscan Nights” and baroque popster “Good Times”; yet another spoken word piece, the proto-rap “Man-Woman”; and closing track “It’s All Meat” which could pass for a vintage Nuggets gem (or a long-lost B-side from the later punk era, take your pick).

Winds of Change is, quite frankly, the most bizarre entry in Eric Burdon’s entire catalog. Yes, it’s “psychedelic” as fug, and with its multiple nods in the direction of the Beats and their ilk, it’s also fuggin’ literary. But it also lacks focus and makes for an extremely difficult listen, the kind of record one respects but doesn’t necessarily pull down off the shelf to entertain the guests at a dinner party. Just the same, it’s still a meaningful piece of the Burdon puzzle, a transitional recording of note, and even a reasonable period-piece for students of the hippie era (keyword: acid). The Sundazed label has dutifully reissued it in its original monophonic glory, additionally reproducing the handsome gatefold sleeve. So while not “essential” in the usual musical sense, WoC remains a key artifact.

Twain Shall Meet

Take all that and multiply by a factor of at least “10” for 1968’s The Twain Shall Meet which, like WoC, was helmed by producer Tom Wilson. Sundazed goes stereophonic for this one, while Burdon & Co. go fully widescreen. Recorded in December of ’67, the Monterey Pop Festival afterglow still in full effect for Burdon, it’s got everything its predecessor had—the celebration and the moodiness, the psychedelia and the folk-rock, the recitations and the exhortations, the politics and the personalities—and it is also everything its predecessor was not, namely, it’s focused and it’s powerful.

From the rocking, almost boogie-esque “Closer to the Truth,” which hews close to vintage Animals electric R&B; to the baroque, orchestrally-inclined mini-symphony “Orange and Red Beams”; to the bagpipes, sitar and violin-fueled “All Is One” (itself a credible rock symphony with not-untoward prog ambitions); to the soaring, psychedelic anthem “Sky Pilot,” a masterpiece of atmosphere, composition and arrangement; The Twain Shall Meet succeeds on multiple levels. The latter track, in fact, ranks among the greatest anti-war songs ever, telling the tale of a Vietnam War chaplain counseling his charges prior to their departures into battle where death surely awaits many of them. It’s a complex number comprising three neo-operatic movements (read a good Wikipedia breakdown HERE), one of which contains a remarkably moving segment for strings and flute that, to this day, can bring tears to my eyes for the strong emotions it summons. Controversial in its time here in America, the 7 ½-minute tune nevertheless became a staple of the underground FM airwaves and even enjoyed a bit of notoriety as a Top 20 single, with the 7” uncharacteristically (for US record labels at least) split into a “Part 1” and “Part 2” for the “A” and “B” sides rather than getting edited down into a more deejay-friendly 3-minute 45.

Speaking of singles, we have album opening track, “Monterey.” Also hitting the Top 20 in America, this literal and musical chronical of the iconic rock festival remains as emblematic of the era as “California Dreaming” or “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” I’d even rate it higher than CSN&Y’s signature version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” if we’re talking “emblematic,” given how it not only posterboards many of the Monterey Pop fest’s iconic performers (Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Hugh Masekela…) and at least one equally iconic attendee (the Stones’ Brian Jones, or, in Burdon’s lyrics, “His Majesty, Prince Jones”) but also recreates, sonically, aspects of the actual performances, from Shankar’s sitar twang to Hendrix’s searing leads to Masekela’s jabbing trumpet. “I think that maybe I’m dreaming,” Burdon confesses, his mind summarily rearranged, and as much out of exhilaration as exhaustion, quoting the Byrds while summarizing the entire hippie ethos of the time.

Of which the same might be said of The Twain Shall Meet. The album only briefly made it into the Top 100 Albums chart, buoyed by “Monterey” and “Sky Pilot” but ultimately garnering only middling reviews from the critics and soon disappearing from view. Don’t let it be overlooked a second time—it’s an understated masterpiece that deserves a closer look. Kudos to Sundazed for making that possible.

The acid’s optional, by the way.

DOWNLOAD: Winds of Change: “Good Times,” “Paint It Black,” “It’s All Meat”; The Twain Shall Meet: “Monterey,” “Sky Pilot,” “We Love You Lil”

SCOTT MORGAN – Revolutionary Action

Album: Revolutionary Action

Artist: Scott Morgan

Label: Easy Action

Release Date: November 18, 2014



Scott Morgan has been undergoing a renaissance in the past decade. Between reissues of his seminal work with blue-eyed soul rockers the Rationals from the ‘60s and power rock pioneer Sonic’s Rendezvous Band from the ‘70s and his rediscovery by an enthusiastic generation of Scandinavian rock diehards in the ‘90s, the Detroit rock ‘n’ soul man with the perfect voice for each has a higher profile than ever before. But there was a time when obscurity threatened to engulf his work. After the demise of SRB, Morgan and the rhythm section stayed together, recruiting singer Kathy Deschaine and various guitarists for recording and concert purposes. As the Scott Morgan Band, this lineup produced the 1989 album Rock Action for the French label Revenge. Renaming itself Scots Pirates, the band released a self-titled LP (AKA Action Now in Europe) on Motor City label Schoolkids in 1993 and the follow-up Revolutionary Means in 1995 before splintering.

Revolutionary Action collects the tracks from all three records in their entirety, blending them together on two disks rather than presenting them in chronological order. Since production differences are minor – the Means material has a rawer sound, but not so much as to be jarring – the tracks flow nicely, as if they were all recorded for one project. Though known for having a foot in two different camps (Detroit hard rock and blue-eyed soul), on Disc 1 Morgan explores what was at the time a more mainstream rock direction. Less bombastic than Bruce Springsteen, more soulful than John Mellencamp, but not a million miles away from either, songs like “Heaven and Earth” (from the SRB repertoire), “Josie’s Well” and “Detroit” wouldn’t sound out of place on classic rock stations in the late ‘80s. “Heartland” takes its title to, um, heart with a shining cut that could’ve come from Brian Setzer’s similarly honed The Knife Feels Like Justice. That’s not to say Morgan doesn’t exploit his R&B roots from time to time – cf. “Misery,” sung by Deschaine, and a cover of Johnnie Taylor’s “Hijackin’ Love.” He even goes pop (or as close to it as he’d ever go) with “Running Away.”

Disc 2 reintroduces the harder rock element most associated with Detroit. To be honest, there’s nothing here with the skronky fury of SRB, the unhinged mania of the Stooges or the sheer power of the MC5. Morgan is more of a craftsperson than his contemporaries, putting the right dollop of rock & roll force into his carefully-hewn compositions, like putting the proper amount of compression on a distorted guitar. “Stick to Your Guns,” “Lovers Leap” and “Bringin’ It All Back Home” rock righteously, with memorable melodies and plenty of energy, while “You Got What You Wanted” and “Flawed Diamonds” dig deeper into the scene’s blues rock bag. Elsewhere the band attaches “Dear Dream Diary” and the explicitly political “Fuck the Violence” to funky soul spines, floats “The Wind Blows the Name of Tazmemert” over jazzy atmospherics before slamming it into power rock anthemry, and indulges in more rootsy heartland rock with “The Road Home,” “Marijuana Wine” and a Chuck Berry-styled cover of the Dynamics’ “I’m the Man.”  From the heartland to the mean streets, Morgan and his Pirates take on the guitar rock of the day and yesterday and make it their own.

Following these records, Morgan began working in Europe with the Hellacopters’ Nicke Andersson in the Hydromatics (Detroitian hard rock) and the Solution (Detroitian soul), formed Powertrane at home for a pair or LPs (including the excellent and sadly overlooked Beyond the Sound) and restarted his solo career with a self-titled album of hard soul and R&B. Illness may have recently knocked the wind out of his sails, but it didn’t kick him out of the game for good, and the welcome reissue of the music on Revolutionary Action keeps the faith until Morgan starts the next chapter of his long, extraordinary career.

DOWNLOAD: “Heaven and Earth,” “Josie’s Well,” “Heartland,” “The Road Home,” “Bringin’ It All Back Home,” “Lovers Leap”



TINARIWEN – The Radio Tisdas Sessions/Amassakoul (vinyl reissues)

Album: The Radio Tisdas Sessions/Amassakoul (vinyl reissues)

Artist: Tinariwen

Label: Modern Classics Recordings/Light In The Attic

Release Date: January 06, 2015

Tinariwen LP 2


I hail from Tucson, ground zero for an amorphous, dubiously extant genre known as ‘desert rock.’ But everyone with any global musical vision knows by now that the true desert rock is from North Africa and the most famous of all deserts, the Sahara, and that Tinariwen is one of the acts that first clued in the rest of the planet that something new was happening musically in that volatile part of the world.


Formed in the 1980s in Libyan camps for Tuareg (or Kel Tamashek) refugees from Mali, the millennium+ old desert nomads laid down their weapons for guitars and drums and birthed a musical revolution that has since become an essential stop on the global musical tour for adventurous armchair travelers. They also helped found the now famous Festival in the Desert, held every year (security allowing) in the desert in northern Mali. And like most revolutions, they have encountered resistance and persecution from various powers-that-be; it’s an on-going struggle, with many twists and turns, that will most likely keep playing itself out indefinitely.


The group’s most recent albums are the acclaimed Tassili, from 2011, and last year’s Emmaar, both released on the Anti- label. Now, Modern Classics Recordings and Light In The Attic have done us all a huge service by releasing remastered versions of their first two CD releases (following several cassette-only releases) on high-end vinyl, The Radio Tisdas Sessions from 2001 and Amassakoul (originally titled  World Village) from 2004. This is the first time either of these stupendous records have been released on LP, and Light In The Attic stepped up to the task with obvious relish: they feature the best album covers money can buy, fat, juicy vinyl, tremendous graphics and liner notes and superb remastering. It’s literally impossible to see how they could have done anything better.

Tinariwen LP 1

The Radio Tisdas Sessions, recorded in the radio station of the same name in Kidal, Mali, features ten tracks of deeply hypnotic, mid-to-down tempo, guitar, percussion and chant driven music that beautifully manifests Tinariwen’s less-is-more approach. Led by the quietly charismatic front man and principal songwriter Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Tinariwen have a collective approach that features four of the five guitar player/vocalists stepping up to take the lead at some point, fleshed out by a percussionist and 3 female back up vocalists. Produced by Jah Wobble and Sinead O’Conner guitar player Justin Adams and ‘French global troubadour band Lo’Jo,’ The Radio Tisdas Sessions was a game changing introduction to Tinariwen and a landmark, essential release for anyone interested in music of the world.


Their second international release, Amassakoul, was a huge step forward in every way. Featuring several new members, and more prominent female participation, the eleven tracks on Amassakoul are more intricate, more diverse and wider ranging, while retaining the essential, hypnotic approach of the previous record. The production really steps up, introducing all sorts of new flavors and textures, with a harder, more rock edge. Most tracks feature multiple, intertwined guitar parts, bass, percussion and lead and chorus vocals, with flute, handclaps and native instruments like the derbouka and calebass added in. Close your eyes and you could hear the hypno-drone of Junior Kimbrough’s hill country blues on any number of songs; others like “Aldhechen Manin” and “Chet Boghassa” add in a funky edge to the drone, while “Arawan” sounds like a long lost desert psychedelic template.


While it’s impossible to separate the music of Tinariwen and several other like minded regional acts from the complex, continuously evolving politics of the region that they come from, none of that matters in any tangible way when swept way in music as manifestly profound and transformative as this. I saw Tinarawin play a couple of mesmerizing shows in the last few years that were ecstatic, spirit enhancing collective experiences that also sort of made much other music seem irrelevant and shallow. This is not entertainment in the conventional sense; it’s a tap into the well of universal aural energy that opens portals into…well, that’s up to you.


More Tinariwen at BLURT:


AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE – Tinariwen: Live In London film

TINARIWEN 3/27/14 live in Northampton, MA




DOWNLOAD: Drop the needle anywhere across eight sides and be prepared to be blown away.


The Sloths 3/10/15, Denver

Dates: March 10, 2015

Location: The Hi-Dive, Denver CO



Ok, I’ve got to be honest here, I hadn’t even heard of the The Sloths before a few days ago, but checking in with some of my music-loving pals they hadn’t either so yeah, they were very obscure. The story goes that in the mid 60’s some 15-17 year old high school students in the L.A. area formed a band and began playing most of the dives in LA at the time: The Whiskey, Bito Lidos, The Galaxy, Pandora’s Box and many others and opened for many bigger names like Love, The Doors, The Seeds and plenty of others. They released one 7”, “Makin’ Love” b/w “You Mean Everything to Me” (Impression Records) and then vanished (they were done by 1966)………………until now (in 1984 Crypt Records Tim Warren included “Makin’ Love” on one of his Back from the Grave comps).

The Sloths circa 2015 include original bassist Michael Rummans (original guitarist Jeff Riskin who got the band back together a few years ago, played some shows but went back to his law practice), as well as Tommy McLaughlin on vocals, Ray Herron on drums and Mr. Patrick “Pooch” Dipuccio (from Flipside magazine fame) on guitar and let me tell you, they put on one hell of a show (McLouglin and Ray Herron had originally been part of a Sloths offshoot called The May Whines…but that’s another story). What did they have to draw on aside from that single? Well, they have a record coming out any day now as a co-released between Burger and Lolipop Records and cranked up some oldies, too.

sloths lp

During the set, while the band nailed down the tunes, McLouglin was a master of entertaining the crowd (hey, he’s directed some Hollywood movies) using props, changing into different costumes and the like. They played a Jerry McCain cover called “A Cutie Named Judy” as well as a Holly Beth Vincent song called “Never Enough Girls” (apparently written for Joey Ramone). They also blasted out other cuts like “Fired,” “Haunted” “Everybody’s Trying to Be Somebody” and the smokin’ “One Way Out.” They ended the set with “Makin’ Love” and the crowd did not let them leave without an encore which, of course, was Love’s “7 & & Is” (which they nailed!). As I mentioned in my Facebook post about these guys, this isn’t some old-fart, rockin’ chair crap this is the real deal, howling, raw and fun. Go see them.


THE MINUS FIVE – Dungeon Gold

Album: Dungeon Gold

Artist: Minus 5

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: March 10, 2015

Minus 5 3-10


What began some 20 or so years ago as an all-star power pop conglomerate that allowed members to participate on their time off from their day jobs with other outfits, The Minus Five has now evolved into a formal collaboration with an extensive resume of its own. Numerous esteemed stars have participated in the making of each of their ten previous albums — Jeff Tweedy, the late Ian McLagan, Billy Bragg and The Decemberists, among them – but these days Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck remain the dedicated constants.

Consequently, Dungeon Gold is more about what the band boasts itself, as opposed to the glittering lights on the marquee. And that’s the way it should be. Named for McCaughey’s basement recording studio, it gleans much of its material from the group’s exclusive Record Store Day release, Scott the Hoople in the Dungeon of Horror, a limited five album box set that’s currently out of circulation. Nevertheless, Dungeon Gold represents that content well, a vigorous, emphatic outing that offers little let up in terms of its energy and intensity.

Opening anthem “My Generation” differs from the song of the same name by the Who, but its massed vocals and clarion call to arms is equally emphatic. That’s generally in keeping with the rest of the album, much of which is comprised of persistent buzz saw rockers along the lines of “Zero Clowns,” “It’s Magneta, Man!,” “In the Ground,” and “Hold Down the Fort.” There is some respite of course, in the harmonies and jangle heard in “Chinese Saucer Magnolia” and the steel guitar and country caress of “The Unforeseen.”

So while the song titles may seem somewhat vague in terms of intent the music tied to them is anything but.

DOWNLOAD: “Zero Clowns,” “”It’s Magneta Man!,” “The Unforeseen”



THE AIRBORNE TOXIC EVENT – Dope Machine, Songs Of God And Whiskey

Album: Dope Machine / Songs Of God And Whiskey

Artist: Airborne Toxic Event

Label: Epic

Release Date: February 24, 2015

Airborne 2-24


Experimentation is often the hallmark of an exemplary group of musicians. The Airborne Toxic Event’s surprise double release of two new albums, Dope Machines, and Songs Of God and Whiskey, is a complex mirror-sided affair. Dope Machines is a largely electronic affair, eschewing Event’s more acoustic background, in favor of a litany of synth and electric sounds that harkens back to the glory days of Joy Division and New Order. Songs Of God And Whiskey is more in keeping with the band’s acoustic feel that was prevalent in their first album, the self titled The Airborne Toxic Event.

Lead vocalist and front man Mikel Jollett produced the two new LP’s, making sure to instill a new direction for The Event, although Dope Machines and Songs Of God And Whiskey share many of the same themes, at least lyrically, as past records.

The heartache of Dope Machines’ “Wrong” and “Time To Be A Man” make the anguish of “My Childish Bride” (which in and of itself is a beautiful track, both lyrically and instrumentally) fall flat. This is because there is an overwhelmingly brilliant collection of music soaked in synth that is purely focused on the pessimistic struggles of an unlucky male protagonist. Jollett may have sensed this problem, because “Hell And Back” which carries a delicious pop beat and sensibility, makes the lyrical composition (“I must have walked a thousand miles or more trying to keep you off my mind/ I’ve knocked on a thousand doors I’m sure, just to see what I might find/ I slept in the arms of a fallen angel crying next to me, and I knew her well”) whimsical and tongue in cheek.

A contradiction does arise when implying the problems of the dark tone to Songs Of God And Whiskey. That dark lyrical composition fits Songs Of God And Whiskey; one feels that the tracks should continue on the same theme, and it doesn’t get old like on Dope Machines. Songs Of God And Whiskey certainly feels slower than Dope Machines, and this decline in overall momentum works wonders. “April Is The Cruelest Month” and “The Fall Of Rome” are excellent examples of this slow down, and Jollet’s slow coarse vocals allow the songs to pour out tragically and beautifully. Underneath Jollet’s lyrical melancholy are some fantastic tracks that come to life with spectacular horn sections: “Cocaine and Abel,” and “Change and Change and Change and Change” most notably.

Dope Machines and Songs Of God And Whiskey implement an exciting change in sound, while staying true to the emotional underbelly that rides through The Event. Songs Of God And Whiskey is perhaps the better of the two records, simply because the tone and theme of The Event fit best with an acoustic stripped down drawl. Dope Machines’ focus on electric sounds great, amazing even, but it becomes dried out with the same heartbroken theme (and this maybe simply because it starts to wade into a region that was conquered once and for all in the ‘80s). Despite the faults that can sometimes creep up in both records, it is a remarkable, fun, and brave fourth foray for The Event. Hopefully Jollet can keep the momentum going for future efforts.

DOWNLOAD: “One Time Thing,” “Hell And Back,” “Poor Isaac,” “A Certain Type Of Girl,” “The Thing About Dreams”