Category Archives: CD

THE BALLROOM THIEVES – Unlovely

Album: Unlovely

Artist: Ballroom Thieves

Label: Nettwerk

Release Date: February 14, 2020

http://www.nettwerk.com/

By John B. Moore

The fourth track, “Homme Run,” off The Ballroom Thieves’ latest Unlovely is a beautifully succinct, deftly written call out to how far we have yet to go in terms of equality. Even the Democratic party in 2020, the political group that has been preaching gender equality ad nauseum, is offering a choice between two 70-something white males as the group’s leader. Two steps forward one step back.

Wrapped into Calin Peter’s stellar vocals is exhaustion, frustration (“I’m done”) and still a rallying call to continue the fight. It’s the perfect anthem for the world we are currently struggling through and demonstrates just how powerful a band The Ballroom Thieves have evolved into over the past half-decade. Whether slyly pushing an agenda through quieter songs or bellowing out loudly in more raucous anthems punctuated by horns, the band is not wasting a single word with their lyrics. Unlovely, easily the band’s strongest album yet, seems the tour de force the band has been building up to for years.

On this, their third LP, the trio perfectly blend their fondness for sweet harmonies, sharp political, social themes with traded off female/male vocals. Anyone who thinks folk music can’t be as blistering and incendiary as punk rock needs to spend 30 minutes with Unlovely.

Download: “Unlovely,” “Tenebrist,” “Vanity Trip” and “Homme Run”

Adam Holt – Kind of Blues

Album: Kind of Blues

Artist: Adam Holt

Label: Zenith

Release Date: May 24, 2019

https://www.adamholtmusic.com/

By ERIC THOM

There are many distinctive voices in the category of rock but rarely a quality voice that makes you sit up and really take notice. Adam Holt has one of those and Kind of Blues – this self-produced release – goes well outside of the lines to embrace everything from rich, Southern blues to rock-pop, country-rock and full-fledged blues-rock.

Which comes off as being somewhat surprising, given that Holt looks – and sounds like – a good ol’ Alabama boy. Naturally, one assumes he’s the voice of the band, surrounding himself with great players to make good on his vision – or is he the hired help for someone else’s enterprise? Turns out, he can do it all, as bumping into this YouTube video makes clear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySNqDOm4bmw

For this release, however, Holt has surrounded himself with exceptional players: Owen Finley/Pierre Robinson (bass), Greg Deluca (drums), Donnie Sundal (keyboards), Lee Yankie (slide guitar) and Mark Welborn (pedal steel). To his credit, this home-recorded album’s sound is crystalline clear – so much so that some of his standout guitar work can leave a welt. However, if you judge a man by his appearance, the opening “Mr. Morning Drive” might surprise you. An upbeat tribute to wife, Jillian’s DJ Grandpa, it’s built around actual recordings from Jack Bell’s AM drive-time radio slot on WOOW, Holt’s cheery, beyond-buoyant chorus constructed around tight drumming, thick swaths of B3 and his own blisteringly-clear guitar work. Yet, the takeaway is sunny pop, right down to its hummable chorus – Grandpa Jack would likely approve of such a rousing novelty. The chameleonic Holt continues with “Don’t Give Up On Me, Baby”, diving much deeper – slower, more bluesy – adding taut, muscular guitar lines (Yankie’s slide?), Holt’s soul-soaked vocal far forward in the mix. One of the disc’s key tracks is surely “Bobby” – a lament for a snowblind friend, set up by the funereal sounds of a church organ intro as the song unfolds. There is no resolve, only hope – from one friend to the other – as guitars scrawl over the serious beat of the rhythm section. The kinder, gentler “I’m Still Holding On” binds acoustic guitar to electric while Welborn’s pedal steel underlines Holt’s deep country drawl. Holt’s lead guitar cuts glass on this southern-sounding epiphany that builds to an epic scale. Cue up the darkly aggressive “Before I Trusted You” – featuring a stinging guitar hook coupled to tough chords, buoying Holt’s rich, fully-expressive voice as he lays an ex-lover (one assumes) to waste, as Yankie’s slide and guest guitarist John Keuler join in the fray. The driving, honky-tonking piano of Donnie Sundal sets the stage for “Give The Dog A Bone”, borrowing a page from Skynyrd in this loving tribute to Man’s Best Friend, Holt’s guitar snarling and barking accordingly. The rich balladry of “The Story Must Go On” provides an illuminating backdrop to appreciating the superior tone of Holt’s guitar work as his lyric conjures the evil spectre of Jim Crow and a war not yet won. There’s a simplicity to “The Bourgeoisie” – as if CCR were a strong influence – yet it’s this very simplicity that makes the song so catchy, despite its tongue-in-cheek, exaggerated lyric. Sundal’s soothing, simmering sheets of B3 set up “The End” with its gentle, liquid guitar leads and solid backbeat. You’d never guess Holt might cover Dylan – let alone Nashville Skyline’s sacrosanct “Lay Lady Lay” – yet he ups its country edge with his deep, resonant, Big Sky vocal, supported by the authenticity of Welborn’s weeping pedal steel, right down to its cowbell accompaniment. Stranger still to end on this classic when the level of songwriting on Holt’s nine originals are so drop-dead impressive. His is a voice and a solid guitar sound you’ll want to add to your library of bona fide southern sounds as you dig back through his catalogue to see where it all came from – wondering why it’s taken ‘til now to hear about somebody this good.

Thomas Anderson – Analog Summer (four-tracks and then some)

Album: Analog Summer (four-tracks and then some)

Artist: Thomas Anderson

Label: Out There

Release Date: February 28, 2020

(Out There)

www.angryyounggradstudent.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Singer/songwriter Thomas Anderson is prolific enough that he shouldn’t necessarily have to plunder his own archives to release a new album. But then, it’s that very prolificacy that means that none of his self-curated comps are collections of mere scraps.

Analog Summer gathers various four-track recordings (plus a few studio items) from around the turn of the millennium. As per usual with the Oklahoma native, the record presents a set of songs into which a great deal of thought and craft went – particularly the lyrics. Full of literary allusions, musical quotes, historical references, and disarming heart-on-sleeve moments, Anderson’s words can easily convey a surface meaning, but reward repetition by revealing layers you didn’t realize were there at first pass – cf. opening track” My Old Friend Analog,” which moves back and forth between celebratory and spiritual, or the grim yet sardonic “The Wrong Tornado.” Few artists justify printing the lyrics in the liner notes, but Anderson’s musical prose demands it.

Indeed, his wordsmithing brilliance overshadows his melodies, which tend to be solid but unspectacular. The four-track, one-man-band performances lead to a certain lack of color in the arrangements, but the argument could also be made that fancier production tricks could obscure what Anderson is trying to get across. Still, one wonders what “Pepperbox Blues” or “You Should Be With Me” might sound like with full-band backing. Ultimately, though, that’s a minor quibble, as Anderson’s songs display an ambition and dedication rarely found anymore outside of the catalog of dead and dying icons.

DOWNLOAD: “The Wrong Tornado,” “My Old Friend Analog,” “Pepperbox Blues”

 

G. LOVE – The Juice

Album: The Juice

Artist: G. Love

Label: Philadelphonic/Thirty Tigers

Release Date: January 17, 2020

http://www.thirtytigers.com/

By John B. Moore

While G. Love’s latest, The Juice, is technically a solo album, he still filled the studio with plenty of friends for the outing. Most prominently was former labelmate Keb Mo, who co-produced, co-wrote and performs on several songs across the record.

Other guests who stopped by the studio include Marcus King, Robert Randolph, Roosevelt Collier and Ron Artis. And while this slew of new voices and players don’t entirely change the unique vibe and sound G. Love has build up over the past 25 years, it does expand on his funky, Jazz, R&B, Pop fusion quite a bit. He leans heavily into the Blues on tracks like “Fix Your Face,” and the track “Shake Your Hair” hardly sounds like a G. Love song until you hear his distinct vocals, a mix of Philly immediacy strained through a southern drawl.

The album kicks off with the title track (which also closes the record), one of his most overtly political songs with nods to the #MeToo Movement and general equality. His lyrics – almost a trademark in goofiness that surprisingly almost always manage to work – do come off a little too forced now and then on this record (most notably on the eye-rolling “Soulbque”). But that odd knack for turn of phrase shines beautifully on a song like the sweet “She’s The Rock,” one of G. Love’s closest attempts to a Pop song yet.

At this point, more than two and a half decades in, you pretty much know what to expect with a G. Love record. Love him or not, he’s consistently content doing his own thing as musical fads come and go. The Juice seems to keep the streak going, even if it’s tweaked ever so slightly on this outing.

Download: “The Juice,” “Shake Your Hair” and “She’s The Rock”

MARSHALL CRENSHAW – Miracle Of Science

Album: Miracle Of Science

Artist: Marshall Crenshaw

Label: Shiny Tone

Release Date: January 17, 2020

www.marshalcrenshaw.com

By John B. Moore

This mid-1990s record was Marshall Crenshaw’s first for the indie Razor & Tie and simultaneously marked his move into a more indie mindset. Recorded at least partially at his own home and playing just about all the instruments, its’ also the record that comes closest to Crenshaw’s brilliant 1982 debut.

Having regained ownership of his efforts from the Razor & Tie era, Miracle Of Science is the first of four albums Crenshaw is re-releasing on his own Shiny-Tone label. The album is a little all over the place musically which makes for a pretty satisfying experience. From an instrumental (“Theme From Flaregun”), a solid cover of an overrated song (Crenshaw gives Dobbie Gray’s “The In Crowd” more respect that it really deserves) to a handful of pop songs that are as good as many of his better known hits, Miracle Of Science is a fantastic exercise in musical creativity. The twangy “There And Back Again,” and “Who Stole hat Train,” the closest Crenshaw has come to a Southern Rock song, are both positively addictive.

The album also includes three bonus tracks – Daniel Wylie’s “Misty Dreamer” Michel Pagliaro’s “What The Hell I Got” and the Crenshaw original, “Seven Miles An Hour”. The latter is the most impressive of the trio. A great album that deserves a whole new audience.

Download: “Who Stole That Train,” “There And Back Again” and “Starless Summer Sky”

EDDIE HEINZELMAN – Wherever You Go

Album: Wherever You Go

Artist: EDDIE HEINZELMAN

Label: One Louder Records

Release Date: November 08, 2019

www.eddieheinzelman.com

The Upshot: Crack Nashville session guitarist reveals multiple talents, moving far closer than 20 Feet From Stardom.

 BY ERIC THOM

 “Close, but no cigar”, is the sad takeaway for anyone who absorbed the endearing, Academy Award-winning documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. However, Radney Foster’s backing guitarist revels in stepping well out from the shadows, revealing much more than his ability to play scorching guitar. His pedigree is pure. He’s not only met, if not exceeded, Foster’s legendary standards, but has also played alongside such country royalty as Lee Roy Parnell, Ricky Skaggs, Darden Smith, Vince Gill and Bill Lloyd (not to mention stretching into jazz, pop and opera territories as gun-for-hire). This display of depth may serve to explain the Indiana native’s inventive range but it’s interesting to note that the proverbial kick-to-the-head – the one that makes you decide on a career in music (at age 12) – came in the form of a revelation upon hearing Led Zeppelin IV for the first time. It explains a lot.

The overriding feel from these 10 self-penned originals (one, a co-write with Foster) opens a door to a genre that’s been left wanting since the untimely demise of the many of its progenitors: southern rock. And, as many a fan already knows, the blend of country, blues and rock are the key ingredients to this sacred genre. Heinzelman proves a shoe-in, despite hailing from north of the Macon-Dixon line. On Wherever You Go, his sophomore release, he launches with both barrels blazing on “Medicine”, combining the low grind of tough-edged guitar, his surprisingly solid vocals – tempered by Kendra Chantelle’s sweet, soulful backup – and the aggressive keyboards of John Henry Trinko. His slowed-down, honky-tonkin’ tribute to the great Mary Gauthier (“Dammit, Mary”) – one of Heinzelman’s songwriting idols – adds additional proof as to the strength, lustre and slight edge to his voice, as Trinko’s distinctive 88’s pound things home. The first sweet taste of the south comes in the form of “The Road” and Trinko’s (John Lancaster’s?) delicate piano accompaniment to Heinzelman’s surprisingly Allman-esque vocal, as B3 and weeping slide up the ante while adding rich colour to a song about the loneliness of the road. “Steal Away” is a palate cleanser and a gentle, too-short instrumental that leans heavily on acoustic guitar that alternates with two speeds as Heinzelman offsets his peaceful, easy feeling with lightning-fast, Al Di Meola runs that cascade in and around the main melody. It’s a lovely set-up to the disc’s key salvo, the 6 ½ minute “Dandelion” – a laidback yet riveting country blues composition that is all about scintillating B3 and sensual swathes of slide. As an added treat, “Dandelion” adds extra guitar muscle in the form of the Kentucky Headhunter’s Greg Martin as both artists pivot off each other like a pair of barn swallows on a day off. Vocally, Heinzelman could be a dead ringer for Glenn Frey (too soon?) and the wisdom of supporting the composition with the Bougainvillea-sweet ’n’ sultry backup vocals of Kendra Chantelle and (unidentified) lifts this piece skyward. If this song went on for another 10 minutes, it would still be way too short. Cue “The Heart Knows What It Needs“ – a more traditional country track that champions piano, country guitar and speaking one’s mind as it slags the state of current-day Nashville. The heartbreaking “Lonely Outweighs Regret” chronicles another twist of life on the road, as soul-stirring B3 (Trinko?) and stand-out piano (Lancaster?) join Heinzelman’s searing, snarling slide guitar, substantial enough to almost cut through the guilt of the next morning. “Shufflin’” is the second instrumental and one that again reveals a more jazzlike approach to Heinzelman’s guitar technique, relying on the equally gifted skills of piano/B3 players John Henry Trinko and John Lancaster. Bassist Tommy MacDonald goes to town with a funky touch while Casey Wood’s drums resound with a fatness that he carries throughout the album.

Following this, “Miss TLC” proves a surprise as the band exorcises a few demons with a down ’n’ dirty rock approach featuring a pounding beat as Heinzelman and (Trinko/Lancaster) spar over a straightforward vocal about a local tease, tossing in thick slabs of B3 and enough sensuous guitar solos to require a shower afterwards. Even “Miss TLC” gets in on this lowdown bump’n’grinder. Heinzelman’s duo with Foster on “Wherever You Go” is pure pop bliss – a sizzling single if there still was such a thing. Two sensational singing voices meld on an upbeat pop song, replete with bubbly chorus as Chantelle adds some melted butter into the background. Plenty of guitar bookends the piece, somewhat muted so as to not compete with the voices. This track sets its hook deeply and, before long, you’re singing it to yourself every time you hear it.

This album remains a pleasant surprise. Heinzelman is a phenomenal songwriter, a superb, range-friendly vocalist and searing-yet-sensitive guitarist, deserving serious praise for his ability to paint a complete picture. He may be a respected guitar-slinger-for-hire but he’s clearly got the talent to take this anywhere he’d like to go.

DAN ISRAEL – Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Album: Social Media Anxiety Disorder

Artist: Dan Israel

Label: One Louder Records

Release Date: October 11, 2019

 

www.DanIsraelMusic.com

The Upshot: Long-running singer-songwriter has released fifteen albums exploring his various musical passions but has finally found his comfort zone.

BY ERIC THOM

Dan Israel has had a long, impressive career – chipping away at everything from introspective singer-songwriter fare to alt-country before there was such a thing. He’s relentlessly sought respect for his craft and has smashed his head against the wall more times than he’s ever deserved to. A crack songwriter, Dan has had his Dylan phase but, without maybe knowing it, always wanted to be a Beatle. Along the way, he’s honed his wordsmithing skills and, despite his patented, world-weary sound, he knows his way around solid pop fare. On this – his fifteenth album – it all comes together. Surrounded with skilled, simpatico players who have built him the ultimate sound bed to feel comfortable in, this oddly K-Tel–looking package contains a dozen legitimate jewels. And while we’ll never have the Beatles back, Social Media Anxiety Disorder goes a long way towards rekindling that sparkle of smart pop recalling Lennon-McCartney, Nick Lowe – even Beck (Bek), at times. Through all of it, Dan is still Dan….strumming his acoustic guitar and singing his slightly nasal-toned, Dylan-hued,  “shout and fall” vocals. However, with ‘Anxiety’, he is entirely reborn, if not completely rejuvenated. Credit the quality of the songs and the caliber of the accompaniment, but this has the energy and innocence of a debut, give or take 22 years.

With one of the brightest intro tracks ever, “Be My Girl” is the epitome of bright, sunny pop songs built on a beaming bed of exuberant horns (Paul Odegaard, overdubbed) as Dan is hustled along, hurtling headlong to keep pace with this energetic barn-burner. Clearly the front man, Israel’s having the time of his life. Cue the Beatle-esque “125” – the album’s best track, from the choice of many – driven along by Steve Price’s serpentine bass plus scorching lead guitar and effects from Steve Brantseg, his Harrison-imbued, psychedelic overtone lending a mystical feel. Blend in Janey Winterbauer’s ethereal backup vocal and Israel’s own processed vox and one wonders – has Israel finally exposed his inner Bangle? Despite the child-like intro of “Just Can’t Take It”, this is great Nick Lowe-grade pop – all acoustic guitar and David Russ’ fat drum sound. The song gets a bit busy with itself and momentarily loses its way, yet the band displays an experimental edge that has nothing to do with taking it the easy way. The lush contrast supplied by the comparably intimate “Still I’m Lost”, featuring more acoustic guitar, B3 and electric keyboards, serves up multiple hooks and, again, assumes a slightly cosmic trajectory as Jeremy Yivisaker’s lead guitar and Steve Price’s keyboards mimic Israel’s vocal with an elaborate, somewhat mournful – if not entirely hypnotic – call and answer. Another standout track. “Might as Well be Me” lightens up to reveal a face-forward Israel vocal, perked up by David Russ’ bouncy drumbeat, as Jon Herchert’s sinewy slide eventually drives the tune into a pleasing overdrive. “Another Day” provides another exceptional pop song – Israel’s voice is in top form as chiming guitars meet Jeremy Yivisaker’s slide guitar which, itself, lends even more of a definitive Harrison flavor. Israel’s lyrics, too, ignite a strong rhythm of their own, underlining the song’s strong pop edge. “Just Can’t Take It Revisited” has a somewhat sleepy start with its dreamy vocals and what sounds like a child’s xylophone, as mix of spoken word and something bordering on rant-meets-rap erupts as the band falls into place. If this was simply a case of a late night in the studio for Israel, his bandmates fly in with inventive, toe-to-toe experimentation as lively bass and piano, distortion effects and searing guitar turn what might have started as a joke into an infectious surprise of a track. Another highlight, “Tired”, returns Dan to where he started, emulating Dylan but leaning heavily on the majesty of Peter Anderson’s drums, Jon Duncan’s meaty B3, Steve Price’s bass and banjo to transform this potentially sad, introspective study into a bona fide toe-tapper. Cue “Alright” for some lighter pop fare with its military drum intro, cheerful electric keyboards and simple chording, yet its amped up, rigorous chorus treatment heavies things up as Herchert’s bass and harder-edged guitar moves this ditty into hearty XTC territory at times. Mark “Here for Today” down as their reliable rocker and veritable palate-cleansing sorbet as dynamic, ringing guitars and distinctive slide land a bulletproof hook as Dan reverts to rock singer with a purpose. The band is in full acceleration, the production complex and stirring in its dynamic energy. “Out of my Hands”/”Out of my Hands” (Reprise) is a two-part exploration. The first rendition of “Out of my Hands” is a slower, Traveling Wilbury-inspired creeper that features more Harrison-styled guitar from Herchert, dovetailed together with acoustic guitars, slightly heavy-handed percussion and church bells until it Magical Mystery Tours itself into fresh turf at the halfway point, featuring baritone guitars, mechanical-sounding backup vocals, a strings effect and some delicious Harrison slide against acoustic guitar and telltale bells. Part Two replays elements of the first version but introduces the full lung power of guest vocalist Tonia Hughes Kendrick, who lifts the familiar theme into full testifying territory. The song plays itself out with a church-like choir of angels as Kendrick turns on her more sultry side. Together, this is one hell of an epic composition that threatens to fall off the edge of the earth, yet scores big points for simply being something incredibly unexpected.

Influences aside, this is Dan Israel’s strongest effort to date – a rich and varied playbook of the music he loves most, driven home by an eclectic and imaginative host of cohorts dedicated to seeing through his vision. It works really well and will revitalize any playlist instantly. No wonder Dan’s laughing so heartily on “Just Can’t Take It, Revisited”. He deserves to.

 

THE ROOTS – Things Fall Apart

Album: Things Fall Apart

Artist: Roots

Label: Universal

Release Date: September 27, 2019

The Roots’ ‘Things Fall Apart’ Celebrates 20th Anniversary With Deluxe Reissue

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

The finest Roots album in this reviewer’s opinion has been given a loving, deluxe reissue by Universal Music. Instead of spending an inordinate amount of time reviewing an album that’s been reviewed to death, I want to talk about the total package that’s on offer. First my review is based on the 3 LP black vinyl edition and when I got this in the mail my jaw dropped, because it’s a heavy package chock full of important extra tracks as well as some incredible track by track commentary by Questlove and Black Thought, presented in a beautiful LP sized booklet that’s chock full of some amazing period photos. Spanning 3 LP’s this “Ultimate Edition” brings it hard but if there’s one thing I find a bit of head scratcher, is why not give 180g editions of the LP’s instead of their 150g thinner counterparts? You spend this amount of money these days and you deserve 180g or 200g. That aside in terms of fidelity I played the LP’s back on my Denon turntable with my Ortofon stylus and the sound was warm and expansive, filling the room with a good mix of bass and midrange sound. Thankfully unlike some labels where fresh vinyl is filled with poor pressing skips, this vinyl plays solid from start to runoff groove with zero audible sound in between the tracks. “What You Want” just blew me away and “thumps hard” just like Black Thought’s lyric.  This track was actually my intro to this album back when I was living in Beijing. I caught the video on Channel V and made a note to myself that the next time I visited HK to go to HMV and pick it up, which I eventually did. This reissue is a must for fans of the band and people who want to hear a true artwork with the vision and tunes to back it up. With a front cover of black youth being chased in Bed-Stuy by white cops, the album which is 20 years old this year sadly finds an America still mired in racism. But the message that comes ringing loud and clear from the record is that there’s hope amongst the cracks in the sidewalk. Amen to that.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN:  “The Next Movement” “100% Dundee” “What You Want” “Adrenaline” “You Got Me” (Drum & Bass Mix)

 

AVETT BROTHERS – Closer Than Together

Album: Closer Than Together

Artist: Avett Brothers

Label: Republic

Release Date: October 04, 2019

Republic Records

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It’s apparent that the Avett Brothers’ musical momentum remains undiminished. That’s obviously affirmed by the big label mechanism gifted them by their record company, American Records, and the recruitment of mercurial maestro Rick Rubin to sit behind the boards. With Closer Than Ever, the shift in their MO at first seems to be indicated courtesy of the heightened production values that define opening track “Bleeding White” in particular.

Fortunately though, the Avetts haven’t forsaken the fragile charm and tenuous underpinnings that  made their homegrown sound such an indelible part of their seminal sounds. On “We Americans” for example, they revert to the softer, more subdued delivery once so essential to their modest intents. The song is a sly deflation of the American mantra, but the unassuming approach belies any bitterness or recrimination.

While the band may seem more aware of emphatic expression overall, many of the melodies maintain the anthemic perspective that ‘s always been so inherent and inspired. “Long Story Short” offers the album’s best example; with little more than acoustic guitar, cello and high, harmony, they share the story of everyday individuals bound by dysfunction and desire. Like the best of the Avetts’ material, it’s touching and poignant all by the same measure. The same could be said of the simple sing-alongs that follow, the light and lilting “C Sections and Railway Trestles” and the decidedly delicate “Bang Bang with its strings and sweetening,” as well as the tender and touching “Who Will I Hold.”

Aside from the obvious flourishes, the brothers’ facility for supple storytelling in pointed, poignant fashion remains the surest sign of the band’s continuing maturity. As a result, Closer Than Ever finds the Avett Brothers not only close, but fully arrived.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “We Americans,” “C Sections and Railway Trestles,” “Who Will I Hold”

BEN LEE – Quarter Century Classix

Album: Quarter Century Classix

Artist: Ben Lee

Label: New West

Release Date: November 22, 2019

www.newwestrecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Given his unruly beginnings in an early ‘90s Aussie outfit that called itself Noise Addict, Ben Lee’s decision to retrace some seminal favorites from those  early ‘90s ought to come as little surprise.  So while Quarter Century Classix may be first and foremost a covers record, Lee’s inherent flair for sharing memorable melodies with an infectious energy serves him well here. The choice of material may not seem pop friendly initially, but even so, Lee demonstrates an ability to turn the work of some post punk provocateurs into something that’s not only intriguing, but surprisingly inventive as well.

Indeed, in many of the cases here, Lee takes an offhanded approach to the music that belies the darker designs of the originals. Archer of Loaf’s “Web in Front,” Fugazi’s “Blue Print” and Guided By Voice’s “Goldheart Mountain Top Queen Directory” all  take on an amiable, ambling presence that’s not only outwardly engaging, but practically transformative as well. Still, that’s nothing compared to the sweet pastiche he gives Built To Spill’s “Car” and the effusive energy endowed in Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle,” the latter now sounding like a classic incarnate. The psychedelic sheen of “Get Me” (Dinosaur) and “In the Mouth of a Desert” (Pavement) add further illumination to the overall effort, while further confirming Lee’s  own inventive instincts.

Though it started out as an inconsequential attempt to revisit Lee’s early influences through  some impromptu hotel room recordings, Quarter Century Classix was later spurred on by the assistance of various artists who can also claim credence as far as that essential era — among them, Mike Watt, William Tyler, Petra Haden, Maria Taylor of Azure Ray, harpist Mary Lattimore, drummer Joey Waronker, and electronic artist Julianna Barwick. It’s a formidable crew, but Lee’s obvious infatuation with the material is the thing that gives the album its unmistakable allure. Even a quarter century on, Lee instills these so-called classix with a renewed credence and conviction of his own.

TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: Speeding Motorcycle,” “Get Me,” “Web in Front”

To read a brief – and fun – essay that Lee himself penned about this delightful album’s originals, go here.