Category Archives: CD

BRETT NEWSKI – Live in Wisconsin

Album: Live in Wisconsin

Artist: Brett Newski

Label: self-released

January 01, 1970


For close to a decade now, Brett Newski has been living the troubadour life. And not, “oh, that guy tours for a month at a time, he’s a real troubadour.” No, the Wisconsin-based musician Newski, began his career in 2011 with a six-month Southeast Asia tour. He followed it up the next year with a 20-date South African tour and has pretty much been on the road ever since – playing festivals, opening for everyone from the Violent Femmes to Barenaked Ladies, to playing living room and basement shows. Sometimes with a buddy on drums, but, more often than not, traversing the globe alone, his live shows are a thing of wonder and beauty. Part stand up, part serenade, he even manages to play his own backbeat through foot pedals, accompanying himself on guitar and occasionally the kazoo.

It’s a wonder that it’s taken him this long to put out a live record. He does a good job of filling 14 tracks here with a nice cross section of music from his last few albums, from the deeply comical (“DIY”) to the slightly more earnest (“Ride”), with plenty of his charmingly witty banter interposed throughout.

While it hasn’t completely captured the feel of a Newski live show – that would be virtually impossible – it does a pretty admirable job. Live In Wisconsin is certainly worth picking up and playing on repeat until Newski comes through your town again. And based on his track record, that’s probably just a few weeks from now.

DOWNLOAD: “I’m Paranoid,” “DIY” and “No Anchor”

NEW PORNOGRAPHERS – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

Album: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

Artist: New Pornographers

Label: Concord

Release Date: September 27, 2019


Longtime New Pornographer’s member Dan Bejar’s 2017 departure and subsequent minimal involvement notwithstanding, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights finds Vancouver’s odd and eccentric collective New Pornographers as exuberant as ever. While Neko Case’s moonlighting from her solo day job allows her to enliven the proceedings, it’s obvious that the ensemble, as a whole, contributes to the richness and resonance that the new album exudes in its entirety.

Indeed, there’s a lot to take in here in terms of the ambiance and arrangements. The effusive output found in such songs as “You’ll Need a Backstreet Drive,” “The Surprise Knock” and “Colossus of Rhodes” speaks to the group’s emphatic delivery, with all its surprising sounds and atmospheric infusion. Granted, it’s hard to catch some of the lyrics, and oftentimes the sheer magnitude of the proceedings can feel overwhelming, but credit the band for their invention and ingenuity regardless. Anyone who feels weighed down by their daily doldrums ought to feel inspired even after a single listen.

To be sure, there are moments of respite that give listeners time to catch their breath. The decidedly affirmative “Higher Dreams’ lives up to its billing, while “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile” offers a shimmering example of their more ethereal charms. Nevertheless, the giddy, gregarious vibe remains intact throughout, revived and renewed via “Dreamlike and On the Rush” and “You Won’t Need Those Where You’re Going,” two notable selections that appear midway through. It’s songs like these that underscore the adrenalin rush and suggest that the brake lights referred to in the album title are applied sparingly at best.

DOWNLOAD: “Higher Dreams,” “You’ll Need a Backstreet Drive,” “The Surprise Knock”


Album: Wake Up Again

Artist: Eleni Mandell

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: June 07, 2019


With a dozen albums and more than 20 years spent pursuing her career, one would think that Eleni Mandell would be better situated in the public consciousness by now. Certainly, though, it’s not through lack of trying. Nor does that failing have anything to do with her inability to move in the right circles. Her past associations have included X guitarist Tony Gilkyson, Wilco’s Nels Cline, Berlin’s Steve Berlin, noted drummer Lenny Waronker, and chanteuse Inara George with whom she partnered in the short-lived indie supergroup The Living Sisters. Mentored by Chuck E. Weiss, Rickie Lee Jones’s legendary muse, Mandell makes music that’s occasionally insurgent, but not so far from the mainstream to be considered anything other than engaging.

Wake Up Again offers further proof of that point, its title suggesting it’s the public, and not the artist, that needs to take a second look. Its songs are entrenched in a solid folk-like firmament, with some, such as “Circumstances,” “Be Yourself,” “Ghost of a Girl” and “Wake Up Again,” infused in that delicate more than others. To be sure, there are a couple of assertive pronouncements — “Box in a Box” and “What’s Your Handle (Radio Waves)” being the most prominent, but overall these are songs of wistful reflection and quiet contemplation. It’s a set of songs that’s sweetly sugar coated throughout, its pleasantry apparently part of its purpose.

If the title holds deeper meaning, it might be interpreted as Mandell’s desire to maintain a sort of cerebral dream state, one where life is celebrated from a nocturnal perspective, shielded from the otherwise unpleasant intrusions of the world around us. Obviously, that’s not realistic, but here, in a bubble of serenity and serendipity, we’re given opportunity to imagine what such a blissful existence might actually be like.

DOWNLOAD: “Circumstances,” “Be Yourself,” “Ghost of a Girl”




JACK WATERSON – Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson

Album: Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson

Label: Linear Labs

Release Date: April 12, 2019


The ubiquitously titled Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson could be considered payback of sorts. Twenty years ago, Waterson befriended and subsequently mentored Younge, an 18-year-old budding musician whose ambition and admiration eventually made him the perfect foil for the near legend that Waterson had become. Indeed, there was reason for Younge’s devotion; a critical member of L.A.’s hugely influential psychedelic revivalist ensemble Green on Red, Waterson was rarely heard from, though he remained a seminal figure regardless.

In the 25 plus years since Green On Red originally disbanded prior to briefly reforming in the new millennium – read about the group’s history and legacy here – the band’s pervasive appeal has only broadened, even though Waterson’s individual output was limited to only one earlier album, 1988’s well-regarded Whose Dog? With this current effort, Waterson seems intent on restating his claim to the band’s acid-drenched imprint, thanks to ten tracks that firmly instil that same hallucinatory impression. Songs such as “Smile,” “Religion of Death” and “The Legend of Shorty George” are flush with ominous uncertainty, a tangle of bleak and bizarre atmospherics that defy form and function. Even the titles are lysergic in tone — “Flashback,” “They Won’t Help You” and “Prepare for a Long Fall” are clearly a set-up for the dire circumstance they share. Waterson and his protege play all the instruments between them, but the darkness and density suggests some far deeper design.

 After all the harsh, harrowing circumstance, the final two tracks, “Larceny” and “All Hail the Emperor,” find the duo shifting somewhat into more subdued circumspect. But no matter. The imagery and intrigue of this effort overall ensures its lingering largesse.

DOWNLOAD: “Smile,” Stay,” Religion of Death”

GIANT SAND – Recounting the Ballads Of Thin Line Men

Album: Recounting the Ballads Of Thin Line Men

Artist: Giant Sand

Label: Fire

Release Date: September 20, 2019


A year after the re-release of their seminal album Glum and their first new album in three years, Returns to Valley of Pain, Giant Sand make a quick turnaround with Recounting the Ballads of Thin Line Men, an album that shows even after an earlier extended absence, the band is in fine form. Leader and guiding light Howe Gelb remains at the helm of this ever-shifting ensemble, as always responsible for a strange assortment of sounds that are often as inexplicable as the album title itself. Given the fact that the band is frequently on hiatus, it’s still cause for celebration, particularly for those fans who have come to appreciate the way they reflect their particular southwest desert noir. However, for those who have yet to catch up, or catch on, even after nearly 35 years, the music often comes across like a confounding contradiction.

As expected then, Recounting the Ballads of Thin Line Men offers a series of menacing melodies, one moment, loud and unruly, and then several that are, by equal measure, sombre and subdued. Howe himself possesses a vocal quality that conveys a decided sense of gravitas in his doom-laden delivery. “Get your acid at the door,” he suggests in the opening verse of “Tantamount,” and indeed a psychedelic mindset might well be the key to full appreciation. That said, Howe and company are at their best when the music is propulsive — the robust “Reptillian,” an upbeat “The Chill Outside” and the scorching rocker “Thin Line Man” being prime examples. All too often however Gelb resorts to his Lou Reed variety deadpan demeanor, an approach which comes across as ominous and overbearing. On the other hand, when he veers off with some variation on the aptly-dubbed “Who Am I,” he sounds like Jim Morrison stoking the flames of pure petulance, and appears far more veracious for it. Likewise, the Zeppelin-sounding riff underscoring “Hard Man To Get To Know” offers an all too rare familiarity factor that promises, albeit temporarily, a common connection.

Then again, Giant Sand would not be the eccentric outfit they are without a few twists and turns along the way. In Recounting the Ballads, they offer ample reasons why. (Editor’s note: The album is available on limited edition colored vinyl – with download card included – in addition to CD and standard black vinyl versions.)

DOWNLOAD: “Reptillian,” “The Chill Outside” “Thin Line Man”

WATERBOYS – Where The Action Is

Album: Where The Action Is

Artist: Waterboys

Label: Cooking Vinyl

Release Date: May 24, 2019


Mike Scott and the Waterboys have had a resurgence of late, thanks to their comeback album of sorts, 2017’s Out of All This Blue, a set of songs which reaffirmed their inherent strengths as an anthemic outfit well adept at sharing a sense of purpose and passion. The aptly dubbed Where The Action Is finds Scott and company maintaining that momentum, thanks to a sweeping set of songs that are as driving and deliberate as anything in their earlier catalog, the epic Fisherman’s Blues included.

The album commences with the powerful one-two punch of the title track and “London Mick,” but it’s a credit to Scott’s ability to balance energy and emotion that he can turn a telling ballad like “Right Side of Heartbreak (Wrong Side of Love)”  and a contemplative rumination such as “In My Time On Earth” into such singular statements.

Scott’s philosophic tomes define him as one of rock’s more profound elder statesmen, thanks to the consistently compelling melodies that dig deep into the human psyche. And while “Take Me There I Will Follow You,” with its rap refrain and hint of hip-hop might throw off the faithful, it too fits remarkably well.

Granted, Where The Action Is may not be the absolute rave-up the album title implies, but it is a remarkably incisive effort that ought to remind one and all what a singularly important ensemble the Waterboys were… and still remain.

DOWNLOAD: “Right Side of Heartbreak (Wrong Side of Love),” “Where The Action Is,” “In My Time On Earth”

THE MONROES – The Monroes 2.0

Album: Monroes 2.0

Artist: The Monroes

Label: Tugboat

Release Date: May 03, 2019

The delightful ’80s San Diego outfit remodels and returns – and in fine form.


From the “it’ll happen when Hell freezes over” files… The Monroes, best known for their 1982 hit “What Do All the People Know,” have returned after more than 35 years! As aficionados of the New Wave era know, this San Diego band not only had one of the great songs of their day but also one of the most bizarre stories (read my article on The Monroes here).

The Monroes 2.0 is an apt title — not only because this is their second proper release but also because it presents a different lineup from the one on their 1982 EP. Singer-bassist Bob Monroe, in fact, is the only original band member in the current quintet. 2.0 finds him joined by guitarists Ronny Jones and Barry Scott, keyboardist Dave Hart Pomeranz and drummer Bob Sale — all of whom have been in the trenches for years, playing with a wide variety of artists. While original vocalist Tony Ortiz and keyboard whiz Eric Denton are certainly missed, this new lineup has talent to burn. Moreover, the band now boasts three strong singer-songwriters and, while Bob Monroe may be the leader, it feels like a democracy.

The first four songs on the new album are essentially flawless — and each one is different from the next. Monroe’s “White Lace and Blue Jeans” kicks things off in fine style. It’s a catchy paean to a woman who is “sometimes wild and crazy, sometimes so austere.” Next up is “Midnight in Hollywood,” which spotlights Jones (with some fine backing vocals from Laurie Beebe Lewis). In a just world, this song would be blasting from car radios in suburbia  — and it probably would have been in the ‘80s! Imagine a less corny Bon Jovi or a less quirky Goo Goo Dolls and you’ve got the idea. Scott’s “It’s a Good Thing God Will Forgive You” is third and Monroe bats cleanup with  “I Could Sing.”  These last two tracks are more topical and less relationship-oriented than most of 2.0  — but both are terrific.

If the rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to the standard of those first four songs, it definitely has its moments. While Scott’s “Walking with Renee” is a bit overproduced to these ears, his “Tell Me Tonight” is top-notch, Beatlesque pop. Jones cements his credentials as the band’s rocker on “Gotta Get Gone.” And the disc closes with Monroe’s “Mad for You,” an unabashed song of love and devotion. It’s not every day that a band from more than three decades ago comes back sounding better than ever. If you missed out on the talents of Bob Monroe and his cohorts the first time around, don’t make that mistake twice.

DOWNLOAD:  “Midnight in Hollywood,” “I Could Sing” and “Tell Me Tonight”



CHRIS MONDAK – Eternal Youth

Album: Eternal Youth

Artist: Chris Mondak

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 01, 2019


Eternal Youth hit my desk in June and has been on non-stop rotation on my stereo ever since. Chris Mondak, a bassist hailing from Venezuela ,hits hard on his maiden voyage. With nods to Dave Holland and a whole slew of classical jazz composers, the listener is treated to eight original compositions that are a true joy to behold.

Opener “Voyage Maid” wastes no time in showing us the goods Chris has in store for us. His virtuosity is a wonder to behold as are his compositional skills which soar to lofty heights throughout the album.  His players are exceptional and they add heft without overshadowing Chris at just the right moments.  Solomon Alber’s sax opens the beautiful tune “Abuelito” and captures a mournful beauty that sounds a dead ringer for Stan Tracey. “Dream Catcher” is a Bossa nova number that has some stellar guitar playing by Carlos Heredia. I really dig how the number takes a funky turn midway through the track. “Warriorld” is Chris’ homage to jazz greats like Clifford Brown and shows that his compositional talent has a dramatically wide scope.  If there’s one let down its “Swords on the wall” this track feels weak and slapdash and zig’s when it should zag.

This summer has been filled with meeting upcoming jazz player and listening to their music and I can say, with Chris Mondak, the future of jazz is bright indeed.

DOWNLOAD:  “Voyage Maid” “Dream Catcher” “Abuelito” “Warriorld”


CHUCK MEAD – Close To Home

Album: Close To Home

Artist: Chuck Mead

Label: Plowboy

Release Date: June 21, 2019


It seems pretty appt that one-time BR5-49 member Chuck Mead would head to the iconic Sam Phillips Recording Studios in Memphis to make his latest, as few in the Americana world have come across as easily an instant classic as Mead. Even though the band first came out in the ‘90s, they had an instant timelessness to their music that you’d have been forgiven for assuming they’d cropped up in the original Sun Studios era. And, much like his former band’s output, Mead’s latest, Close To Home, is just as ageless. Crammed with twangy chords, steel guitar, mandolins, and Mead’s distinctive, melodic drawl (a Midwestern/Southern hybrid), this record is classic honky tonk for a modern age.

From the opening, charging chords on “Big Bear in the Sky,” Mead and crew reel through nearly a dozen country swing and barroom dance floor jams, slowing the tempo down ever so slightly now and then, but never for long.

The music is superb, but it’s Mead’s subtle, witty lyrics that really take center stage on this record (like all his previous solo offerings). Though there’s hardly a weak track on the album, the closing song, “There’s Love Where I Come From,” manages to be both remarkably simple, and simply sublime.

DOWNLOAD: “I’m Not the Man for the Job,” “Close to Home” and “There’s Love Where I Come From”

SUMO PRINCESS: When an Electric Storm

Album: When An Electric Storm

Artist: Sumo Princess

Label: Ruined Vibes

Release Date: May 10, 2019


There’s a whole lotta heavy in them hills! All hail this hefty slab’o’wax from Sumo Princess a band made up of Abby Travis and Gene Trautmann both of whom have played with The Go Go’s and Masters of Reality. Abby Travis is a wicked LA bass player and an amazing vocalist who on tracks like “Crooked Plow” delivers some powerful emotions using her wonderfully expressive voice and swagger filled bass playing. “New Goth” had me rocking in me seat. Here Travis’ throb heavy bass recalls elements of Peter Hook and then there’s the drum beat which has “She’s Lost Control Again” written all over it. The song then sludges out into hallucinatory territory, a shot to the dome, that hands beat downs all the way to its glorious fade out. Trautmann’s skin smashing talent, lends a biting heft to all the songs on this record. “Kali Ma” me not really like, it’s part Helios Creed processed vocals and King Diamond operatic nonsense. That misstep aside the next track “You Will Rise” is as if Kate Bush began fronting a stoner rock band. The track bristles with an unsettling moodiness augmented by some clever percussive elements. The subtle nuances Travis is able to coax from her bass is visible on the ultra-heavy and hypnotic “Angel Dust”. The album closes with “Click Bait” an oddly structured number that conjures both elements of Therapy? and Elastica, stretched over some jarring time changes. Travis’ amazingly broad vocal range and bass playing is so compelling, it makes the case for getting this record on its own. That said I think that her best vocal moments are when she sings using a more standard delivery. The musical interplay between Trautmann and Travis when it connects makes for an absorbing experience that pulverizes everything in sight. I’d be interested to see how that translates to a live setting. The band is playing a string of east coast dates with the Meat Puppets beginning in early May.

DOWNLOAD: “Crooked Plow” “New Goth” “You Will Rise” “Angel Dust” “Kill the King”