Monthly Archives: November 2017

IKEBE SHAKEDOWN – The Way Home LP

Album: The Way Home LP

Artist: Ikebe Shakedown

Label: Colemine

Release Date: October 20, 2017

www.coleminerecords.com

The Upshot: One of the year’s best albums, near-flawless in fact, simultaneously hypnotic and danceable raw funk, sinewy soul, and steamy Afro-beat.

BY FRED MILLS

Brooklyn funkateers Ikebe Shakedown first pinged the national radar in 2009 with the Hard Steppin’ mini album, a sinewy, sultry Afro-beat dance party that also featured some of the like-minded Budos Band gang. As an introductory statement, it was as revelatory as similarly-positioned arrivals, including debuts by the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, and the aforementioned Budos. Since then, the instrumental outfit has released two more albums (Ikebe Shakedown, in 2011, and Stone By Stone, in 2014) and a number of 7” singles, now arriving with The Way Home. It marks a reunion of sorts between the band and the Midwest funk/soul devotees at Colemine Records, which had released the debut (and, last year, reissued it as a numbered/colored vinyl limited edition); for albums two and three, the Ubiquity label did the honors.

The alliance is apt, for Colemine has been knocking ‘em out of the park this past year with amazing albums from Orgone, the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Soul Scratch, and Durand Jones & the Indications. The Way Home finds Ikebe Shakedown having not so much shed, as simply dialed back, some of the West African influences in favor of a more broadly defined funk and soul aesthetic. Horns remain prominent, of course, and when saxman Mike Buckley steps up for his solos, the Fela comparisons can’t be avoided; one track, “Assassin,” also brings in key rhythmic elements from African highlife. But overall it seems that the way Ikebe now integrates its horn arrangements (sax, flute, trumpet, trombone) with the percussion, keys, and guitar makes it closer to the classic Stax/Volt model, at times also conjuring images of vintage Motown and Muscle Shoals setups.

Indeed, “Penny the Snitch” could be from a long-lost Blaxploitation soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, from Robin Schmidt’s chicken-pickin’ guitar and wah-wah flourishes to Dave Bourla’s percussion (bongos and congas?). Likewise, on “Blue Giant” we’re in pure Curtis Mayfield territory, Schmidt’s guitar slipping between bluesy riffs and more wah-wah, while Buckley’s flute and Bourla’s percussion lend a cinematic, chase scene-like vibe. Speaking of the movies, “Brushfire” pulls off the impressive trick of sounding like a psychedelic spaghetti western overture, but with funk horns instead of mariachis; you don’t hear a lot of funk in the desert, but damned if Ikebe doesn’t make it a reality.

Seriously, this is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year, and not just within the band’s chosen genre. It’s simultaneously hypnotic and danceable, and it gets better with every spin, too. Initial copies from Colemine are pressed on crystal clear vinyl and arrive in a deluxe gatefold sleeve (thick tip-on style) with each copy individually numbered. Download code included as well, a touch that a lot of labels overlook. Colemine consistently goes the extra mile, and they should be saluted for that—one of my favorite labels these days, period.

DOWNLOAD: “Blue Giant,” “Brushfire,” “Shifting Sands”

 

DAN REEDER – Nobody Wants to Be You

Album: Nobody Wants to Be You

Artist: Dan Reeder

Label: Oh Boy

Release Date: November 10, 2017

https://www.ohboy.com/

The Upshot: Short, sharp, shocks to the system via the snarky folkster’s latest EP.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Dan Reeder’s latest EP, Nobody Wants to Be You, is short. Just five songs long, it is frustratingly short. Just about every track here, beginning with the title song, embodies all that is great about Reeder’s quirky, snarky take on folk, which just adds to the feeling that he’s teasing us by putting out such a brief record.

It’s appropriate that John Prine started releasing Reeder’s music, as both share a knack for getting across their point succinctly with a wry sense of humor and little use for superfluous flourishes. Need an example? Take the lyrics for “Born a Worm”: “Born a worm/spins a cocoon/goes to sleep/wakes up a butterfly/oh what the fuck is that about?” Simple, yet brilliant.

Whether he’s singing about disappointing your loved one spectacularly (“Nobody Wants to Be You”) or the Jesus looking guy in the park (“The Pond in the Park”), Reeder can draw a listener in with just a line or two. The only downside to this latest is that it’s over almost as soon as it begins. Let’s hope this means a full length is right around the corner.

DOWNLOAD: The entire thing; come on, man, it’s only 5 songs long!

 

 

 

J.J. & THE REAL JERKS – Back to the Bottom

Album: Back to the Bottom

Artist: J.J. & the Real Jerks

Label: Dead Beat

Release Date: August 18, 2017

www.dead-beat-records.com

The Upshot: Cali punks hoist high the flag of ’77 in a fitting tribute to four fuggin’ decades of rock ‘n’ roll decadence that will never be forgotten.

BY FRED MILLS

From the R.Crumb-meets-Big-Daddy-Roth album sleeve art to the punque-as-fuque label name to the biker bars ‘n’ careening guitars sound, Los Angeles J.J. & The Real Jerks pretty much check every box that matters.

Bolt-outta-the-gate opening track replete with chugarama riffs and yakkity sax skronk (“Out of My Means”)? Check. Harp-powered blooze thrasher ode to drinking and stinking (“Bottle and Can Retirement Plan”)? Double check. Side B opener as visceral as Side A’s, evoking in the process no less than classic Heartbreakers (Thunders, not Petty, for “Mr. Good Enough”)? Check, check, check. Anthemic, power-chord metaphorical dissection of love on the rocks—or love never even getting far enough to paddle near the shore (“Ice Queen”)? Waiter, the check, please—we’ll pick up some dessert across the street at the liquor store.

Nobody’s reinventing the wheel here, which is probably the point, ‘cos J.J. (that’s little Joe Jennings to his mom and pop) and his gang—fellow guitarist Skot Pollok, bassist Hiroshi Yamazaki, sax maestro Geoff Yeaton, drummer Richie Mendez—have a different objective in mind. By serving up these nine hi-nrg slices of Noo Yawk ‘tude and southern Cali garage-punk, J.J. & The Real Jerks hoist high the flag of ’77, a fitting tribute to four fuggin’ decades of rock ‘n’ roll decadence that will never be forgotten. But they are still indescribably now, and you can count on that.

Vinyl hound alert: The LP’s first 100 copies come on beautiful blue vinyl. Everyone too slow on the draw will still get the black vinyl edition, and you know we here at BLURT central would have it no other way than wax, Jack.

DOWNLOAD: “Mr. Good Enough,” “Tuned Out,” “Bottle and Can Retirement Plan”

 

THOR AND FRIENDS — The Subversive Nature of Kindness

Album: The Subversive Nature of Kindness

Artist: Thor and Friends

Label: Living Music Duplication

Release Date: November 17, 2017

http://lmduplication.com

The Upshot: Evoking Steve Reich, it’s a lovely piece of work, balancing intellectual rigor with beauty.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

A flock of marimbas. A covey of xylophones. A herd of vibraphones. The technical term for multiple, massed, tonal percussion instruments escapes me just now, but making it difficult to describe this album from the Swans/Shearwater percussionist Thor Harris (and friends). But the sound that’s generated by these instruments is intricate and bewitching, as one, two or even three mallet-struck instruments plink riffs that intersect and interlock and rattle against each other, transparently, luminously like a glass-bead curtain of music. Add to that swooping swirls of violin, wavery washes of mellotron and wordless vocals and you have The Subversive Nature of Kindness, an alternatingly hypnotic, cathartic and enchanting piece of work.

This is Harris’ second album with these particular friends, fellow percussionists Peggy Ghorbani on marimba and Sarah Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano. They are joined by a rather large ensemble, producer Jeremy Barnes from a Hawk and a Hacksaw,  who also played a number of stringed and keyed instruments, Heather Trost, also of a Hawk and a Hacksaw, who sang and played violin and viola, Jordan Geiger from Hospital Ships, John Dieterich from Deerhoof and a small choir of singers, including, notably, Michael Gira of Swans and Norwegian experimental singer Stine Janvind Motland.

The singers, by the way, work more as providers of texture than in the usual forefronted way. Motland sings, for instance, on a track that is partly named for her, “Swimming with Stina” contributing vibrating, staccato tones that sound like celestial beings who purr like cats. Gira puts his imprint on the closing “Grassfire,” a shimmering puzzle palace of interlocking motifs which turns chaotic and urgent midway through with his nattering, muttering “nanananana”s.

Yet even so, the percussion instruments take central roles. “Dead Man’s Hand” begins with a spare motif on marimba (or xylophone or whatever it is) and some gong notes for structure. A violin weaves in and around, fetching, beckoning you in to this strange mathematical space bounded by percussion. It’s a dense mesh of textures, a heady, enveloping dream inside an equation.

The Subversive Nature of Kindness, of course, evokes Steve Reich, who also wrote for multiple marimbas. However, it feels warmer, less abstract and more dreamily human, whether tinged with Native American spirituality (“Standing Rock”) or lit with the broody drama of melloton (“Carpet Creeps”).  It’s a lovely piece of work, balancing intellectual rigor with beauty, and well worth assembling a pride, a mob, a gang or even a congress of malleted instruments together for.

DOWNLOAD: “Standing Rock” “Grassfire”

 

BARK – Year of the Dog LP

Album: Year of the Dog LP

Artist: Bark

Label: Striped Light

Release Date: October 06, 2017

www.stripedlight.com

The Upshot: Who you callin’ honey?: From minimalist, brooding blooze to shuddery surf-rock to moments of pure celebration, the erstwhile Tim Lee 3 members serve notice that they are in the house and here to stay.

BY FRED MILLS

Although Knoxville’s beloved Tim Lee 3 has been put up on blocks for the time being, following a ten-year, six-album run, 2/3 of that ensemble—spouses Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee—is still very much in action as Bark. In fact, the guitar/drums duo were road-testing as far back as 2015, when they released Let’s Go Dancing Down on Gator Lake Road… Shake That Thang Till Our Heads Explode, a live-in-studio mini-album that revealed a rawer, bluesier side to the Lees. Now comes Year of the Dog, which is a bit more fleshed out than LGDDOGLRSTTTOHE; they don’t follow the White Stripes 2-person template, instead adding bass guitar as desired (Susan handled bass in the Tim Lee 3, but here, both share duties), and a handful of guests contribute everything from percussion to Moog to handclaps. But it’s no less visceral in feel, a garagey—at times, surf-toned—set that’s all killer, no filler.

The record is available on thick black vinyl, w/download card, or on CD, but the striking thematic sleeve art really demands that the consumer possess the full-sized artifact, because it is genuinely is art, created by Susan. Hang it on your wall and you’ll get a response at the next gathering.

Things kick off on a minor-key note via “How You Gonna Miss Me,” a low-slung, low-pitched number highlighted by the intriguing contrast of Tim’s droning baritone guitar and Susan’s insistent kit thump. Indeed, a number of tracks here are of a distinctive brooding sort—the somber, trudging “Interstate Blues”; the Western-tinged “Elbmur” (if the instrumental starts to sound somewhat familiar after a couple of listens, well… read the title backwards; it would make a terrific murder ballad if lyrics were added); minimalist blooze “World of Regret.” One hesitates to read too much into the Lees’ equally downcast lyrics, but knowing that they’ve experienced several significant personal losses over the past year or so, it’s hard not to think that they were working through some pain as they wrote these songs.

Elsewhere on the album, the Bark musical purview is compellingly broad, from the quirkysexybluesycool “Lazarus” (Susan turns in one of her finest vocals to date here) and the shuddery surf motifs of “Living Under Water,” to psychedelic raveup “The Only Cure” and the hilarious road trip that is “One-Eyed Driving” (improbably enough, it suggests a classic hill country-styled blues transformed into a surf anthem). The latter tune’s cheeky Snoop Dogg lyrical invocation—“I got my mind on my honey, and my honey on my mind”—seals the deal, and it also serves as a righteous declaration of devotion for this rock ‘n’ roll couple.

Incidentally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Year of the Dog is a 12-songer, with the vinyl only having 11 of those 12 tracks. Never fear, wax devotees: The final track, the upbeat, celebratory rocker “Ends of the World,” is included with the digital download. It’s a terrific number, too.

DOWNLOAD: “Living Under Water,” “Elbmur,” “World of Regret”

Ed. note: elsewhere on the BLURT site you can read our 2015 Tim Lee 3 interview as well as our 2017 look back at Tim’s early power pop band The Windbreakers.

LOUIE FONTAINE – The Sun Ain’t Black

Album: Louie Fontaine

Label: The Sun Ain’t Black

Release Date: October 20, 2017

www.louiefontaine.com

The Upshot: Danish rocker currently based in New Orleans serves up dramatic, charismatic rock, blues, gospel, and much more.

BY FRED MILLS

Right from the get-go, you sense the guy’s got more than just the experience and the chops. New Orleans (by way of Denmark) songwriter and guitarist Louie Fontaine clearly has an intuitive grasp upon the essential drama that nestles within rock ‘n’ roll, with opening track “Ain’t the Right Girl for You Girl” blazing forth like a classic spaghetti western theme as envisioned by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Only in this instance, it’s Louie Fontaine & Starlight Searchers: fellow guitarist Egon Kronberg, bassist Martin Burke, drummer John DC Washington Jr., and pedal steel/organist Rick

From the atmospheric gospel-blues of confessional “Prefer My Demons” (here, as on a number of songs, Fontaine’s backing chorus of femmes—Charlene Howard, Teka Briscoe, Sharon Colette—righteously underscore his essential gravitas) and the Muscle Shoals-styled anthemic soul (with crucial horns, no less) that infuses the title track; to edgysexycool thumper “Maintain Her Love” (which suggests a raunchy collision of Tom Waits and Ray Wylie Hubbard) and the ripping mini-opera “My Woman Is Insane” (Nick Cave could cover this one), The Sun Ain’t Black is indeed a dramatic excursion to the perimeter. Fontaine’s job is to report back on his findings, and he absolutely delivers.

DOWNLOAD: “Ain’t the Right Girl for You Girl,” “My Woman is Insane,” “The Hambiltons”

THE ORCHIDS – Who Needs Tomorrow… A 30 Year Retrospective

Album: Who Needs Tomorrow... A 30 Year Retrospective

Artist: Orchids

Label: Cherry Red

Release Date: September 29, 2017

www.cherryred.co.uk

BY TIM HINELY

Of course you remember the Orchids, or you should anyway. This terrific Glasgow band, formed in 1986, were the darlings of the Sarah Records stable for a few years in the late 80’s/early 90’s….at least in my house they were. Oh and the thing is, they’re still putting out solid/excellent records (check it 2014’s Beatitude #9 that was released on Spain’s Acuarela label).

This 2-cd compilation (38 songs in all, disc one is the best of while disc two is the rarities) focuses on those early Sarah years and beyond and is pretty damn essential. I mean, just listen to the songs, it’s pretty evident that the band was quite special (and next to unknown on our shores) as cuts like “Apologies,” “It’s Only Obvious” and “Bemused, Confused and Bedraggled” are all ace pop tunes that bear repeated listens. Later on on “Peaches” they go all St. Etienne dance on it (and do it damn well) so the band wasn’t afraid to experiment with different styles (and they still aren’t).

As for the rarities disc (which has lots of  demos and acoustic versions), this one has some gems, too. Check out the dreamy “From This Day” as well as the demo versions  of “Whitley Bay,” “And When I Wake Up” and “And I Paint a Picture.” Man folks (like me) felt that the band split at the peak of their powers in 1995 so it was certainly a welcome return when they came roarin’ back in 2007 with Good To Be a Stranger (their third record since they’ve come back was 2010’s Lost Star). Ian Carmichael provides some insightful liner notes so purchase this immediately (if not sooner  and bask in what was (and still is) jangle pop greatness.

 DOWNLOAD: “Apologies,” “It’s Only Obvious,” “Bemused, Confused and Bedraggled,” “Peaches”

 

THE SHE’S — All Female Rock and Roll Quartet

Album: All Female Rock and Roll Quartet

Artist: The She's

Label: Empty Cellar

Release Date: November 17, 2017

https://theshes.bandcamp.com/album/all-female-rock-and-roll-quartet

The Upshot: Distaff garage pop band sticks to the basics, achingly melodic songs roughed up mildly by rock aggression.

By JENNIFER KELLY

The She’s are, as the album title suggests, four women who make music together, now on their second full-length of fizzy, fuzzy, tightly harmonized garage pop. Their latest album is a bit harder edged than the 2011’s debut Then It Starts to Feel Like Summer but not radically so. There is a buzzy sweetness at their rambunctious core, a jangling pop sunshine behind brash batteries of drums. Their sound might remind you of 1990s female empowered outfits like the Muffs or even, at a stretch, the Breeders, with sudden stops and pull-ups, off-kilter bass lines and melodies that are both blithe and brash.

Edgy “Ashes” is full of attitude, its hard rhythms and strident guitars framing sly, knowing verses about the sweet and sour of romance. “You seek to tease me push my faults in my face/I  am completely lost in your sunken eyes,” Hannah Valente talk sings, in a sexy dead-pan that might remind you of Karen O, at once vulnerable and taking absolutely no shit. “Sorry” wafts sugar-coated girl group choruses over spiky, punchy rhythms, cutting the tuneful-ness with noise towards the end, in a saw-toothed bassline, plinking piano dissonance and staticky found-sound recordings. “Lies Again,” showcases bass player Sami Perez and drummer Sinclair Riley’s  way of knocking pretty pop songs sideways with staccato, locked in rhythmic foundations. Guitars, too, (that’s Valente and Eva Treadway) behave until they don’t, breaking out in splintering rays of dissonance in the intervals.

There are a few experimental breaks, but mostly All Female Rock and Roll Quartet sticks to the basics, achingly melodic songs roughed up mildly by rock aggression. Though the band name-checks Merrill Garbus of TuneYards as a mentor, there’s little of her electric unpredictability. This is a solid record, well played and nicely representing the distaff point of view, but nothing earth-shaking.

DOWNLOAD: “Ashes” “Lies Again”

 

COUSTEAUX – CousteauX

Album: CousteauX

Artist: CousteauX

Label: Silent x

Release Date: September 15, 2017

http://www.cousteaux.com

The Upshot: Not perfect, but the combination of the erstwhile Cousteau members (Moor’s songs and McKahey’s voice) is still a potent combination.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When the British band Cousteau broke up after three albums in the mid-’aughties, it seemed way too soon. Admittedly, primary songwriter Davey Ray Moor had left the group after the second record, but the band still displayed enormous potential, and had two near-masterpieces under its belt already. Moor ran off to Italy for production, songwriting and solo career, and singer Liam McKahey fucked off to Australia for his own solo work. That seemed to be the end of it, a career that promised great things but was cut too short.

So imagine our delight when Moor and McKahey reunited for their first CousteauX album together since 2002. (The silent X was added to stave off potential copyright claims.) CousteauX doesn’t see the return of any of the other original members, alas, with the parts not covered by multi-instrumentalist Moor filled in by session musicians. But its distinctive rock noir sound – equal parts Burt Bacharach, Scott Walker and the softer side of Nick Cave – remains intact. Moor’s songs burrow deep into the bowels of love, gently but steadily picking at the scabs of past relationships and causing new scars in current ones. The opening pair defines his agenda, as “This Might Be Love” (note the qualifier) and “Memory is a Weapon” bury fraying connections and bruised feelings under lush melodies and arrangements.

McKahey, as always, proves Moor’s perfect interpreter, emoting like a diva when necessary, but more likely to pull back for a slower, deadlier burn. His magnificent baritone, equally capable of soaring and growling, is practically an orchestra unto itself, and McKahey’s tight control wraps it around the harshest of sentiments like a blanket straight from the dryer. As sharp with the pleading tone of “Seasons of You” and the aloof romanticism of “BURMA” as with the menacing rumble of “The Innermost Light” and the cathartic drama of “Thin Red Lines,” McKahey is a great actor given strict direction by a sympathetic director, an expert navigating the conflated extremes of light and darkness. “Fucking in Joy and Sorrow” indeed, as the final song puts it.

The record isn’t perfect – the original band is missed, particularly guitarist Robin Brown, who balances soulful crunch with seething delicacy like few others. But the combination of Moor’s songs and McKahey’s voice is still a potent combination, and CousteauX celebrates the duo rediscovering how good that feels.

DOWNLOAD: “The Innermost Light,” “Memory is a Weapon,” “BURMA”

 

EILEN JEWELL – Down Hearted Blues

Album: Down Hearted Blues

Artist: Eilen Jewell

Label: Signature Sounds

Release Date: September 22, 2017

www.signaturesounds.com

The Upshot: Steeped in classic jazz and stripped down acoustic blues, the singer-songwriter delivers a remarkable set of covers.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s hard not to think of someone like Billie Holiday when listening to Eilen Jewell. The Boise native manages to sing with the seemingly contradictory feelings of passion and ease. Her voice, steeped in classic jazz and stripped down acoustic blues, has a timeless quality that that could plausibly have come out anytime from the 1930s on.

Her latest, Downhearted Blues, only adds to that perception. Across a dozen tracks, some classics, others obscure gems, Jewell and her band covers songs by everyone from Willie Dixon to Betty James. What could have come off as sacrilege from a lesser talent (especially on the Dixon-penned title track), is purely satisfying in Jewell’s hands; She manages to add her personal signature to a remarkable set of covers.

Songs like “You Know My Love,” best associated with musicians like Dixon and Otis Rush take on a whole new feel with Jewell vocals. There’s not a single song here that isn’t done justice by her treatment. A remarkable album from start to finish.

DOWNLOAD: “You’ll Be Mine,” “Down Hearted Blues” and “Nothing in Rambling”