Category Archives: New Releases

KEATS – Radio Sounds

Album: Radio Sounds

Artist: Keats

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 28, 2018

www.tonykeatsmusic.com

The Upshot: With summer, comes the need to kick out some jams and, given the mood, lighten the hell up. This is traffic-busting music for driving with the top down and one promising debut from a little-known journeyman with his eye on a prize.

BY ERIC THOM 

Sadly, the number of good power pop albums released these days can be counted on one hand or less. Then, out of left field comes Tony Keats and a strong first release, Radio Sounds. We wish radio sounded this good anymore.

To be fair, these eleven, fresh-sounding tracks lean more towards ‘pop’ than they do ‘power’, yet each perky composition is carefully thought out and expertly played – featuring Keats’ prominent vocals and guitar, joined by Brian Pitts (bass/vocals), Kyle Walsh (drums/vocals), Brian Rogers (pedal steel), Don Eanes (piano, organ, clavinet) and co-producer, Dave Coleman (guitar, percussion). It’s the energy that rises out of this combination of players that thrusts their sound into the power category. Each arrangement sings – even before Keats utters a lyric – and that’s the secret ‘power’ behind each song. You can feel the fact that these guys love what they’re doing.

“Radio Sounds” – the initial track – sneaks up on you with its gentle reliance on Eanes’ piano and Rogers’ pedal steel. Yet, it soon amps up at the 1:04 mark, thanks to a tougher, full-band sound that makes the most out of tasty guitar, pedal steel and some subtle B3. This lone track frames Keats as a bit of a Jackson Browne clone (I know…not known for his power pop) while the guitar, here, is distinctly Lindley-esque. That comparison is immediately dashed with the upbeat chords of a more playful “Love & Affection” as Keats and crew deliver something sounding more akin to early Graham Parker, its nicely Vox-ish,? and the Mysterians organ vamp updated by sharp-toothed guitar stings and an juiced-up rhythm section. This is clearly driving music. The equally feel-good “Something Changed” features horns, pedal steel and has an underbelly of guitar strength plus a killer chorus.

The lone cover on the disc is a surprising one. Imagine having the unmitigated gall to cover something as sacred as Van Morrison’s “Cleaning Windows”? Yet, thanks to its ramped-up production levels – including the same uncredited horn section, great B3 and clavinet from Don Eanes – Keats’ warm vocal fits the track perfectly, right down to cloning Van’s quirky asides. One of the disc’s strongest outings is found in the beautiful “East Nashville Fireflies”. And beautiful is more than appropriate, given the delicate intro of piano, pedal steel and acoustic guitar as Keats offers a gentler, kinder vocal to fuel this love song to his favorite place to live (although it may well be about something else…). Throughout, Keats’ voice is the album’s greatest strength and he uses it to alternate between the thoughtful and heartfelt and, as required, the half-crazed, energetic and committed. The somewhat surprising, over-the-top intensity of “The Getaway“ suggests an uncharacteristic display of muscle to offset the band’s softer side, demonstrating their potential as tougher, more guitar-oriented rockers. It’s a nice balance – as evidenced at the halfway point of this song, where things slow down to reveal the same strong chorus set to the backdrop of a more focused, but still-gnarly, guitar treatment. A mellow ballad in the form of “The Only Way I Know How”, Keats’ voice is showcased further, and it seems there’s little he can’t do, vocally, the background instrumentation always working to turn what might be ‘harmless ditties’ into serious contenders, compositionally. “To Be Happy” stands out for its powerful, singalong-worthy chorus – a Beach Boy-ready sunshine song boasting hooks to spare (especially in the song’s final minute) plus some tasteful use of pedal steel. Likewise, “Raining In New Orleans” is, perhaps, Radio Sounds’ strongest foot forward. Not unlike Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia”, it’s a soul-packed, slo-mo mood-maker which accentuates Keats’ abilities as front man, aided and abetted by his surprisingly tight band of fellow Nashvillians. It’s a warm, elegant track featuring great B3, the always-outstanding drum spark of Walsh (who, together with Brian Pitts’ quietly-powerful basslines, make this a rhythm section to reckon with), led by Keats’ confident vocal and some of his strongest songwriting. The somewhat jarring “Une Cerveza” (due to its sequencing after the exquisite “Raining”) is a fun, crowd-pleaser of a song, using punchy horns to drive it into Keats’ Jimmy Buffet moment, with another strong hook all its own.

The soft touch of “The Dream” serves as an appropriate coda to close this 11-track release. Another kinder, gentler treatment of the subject matter which – with thanks to some weeping pedal steel – picks up the pace enough for allow Keats’ to again rekindle the Parker-esque snarl in his voice to keep things interesting. As his band changes the instrumentation around him, all firm snare hits and swelling B3, the song proves a memorable closer – as Keats’ Dream, is still alive and far from over.

DATURA4 – Blessed is the Boogie

Album: Blessed is the Boogie

Artist: Datura4

Label: Alive Natural Sound

Release Date: April 05, 2019

www.alive-records.com

Available on digital, compact laser disc, and sweet colored vinyl (see below).

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Though best known as a power pop/garage rock god fronting the Stems and DM3, Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist Dom Mariani got his initial inspiration from the original wave of his country’s bluesy hard rock bands: Coloured Balls, Buffalo, etc. Joined by ex-Drones drummer Warren Hall, Dave Hole keyboardist Bob Patient, and Jack and the Beanstalk/Majestic Kelp bassist Stu Loasby, Mariani turns Datura4 into a tribute to his youthful influences. Blessed is the Boogie, the quartet’s third LP, goes right for the jugular, putting Mariani’s formidable six-string chops up front of a set of songs that could have come from 1974.

The blues is at the heart of “Run With Lucy” and “Black Dog Keep Running,” but to equate these songs with John Lee Hooker—or even Led Zeppelin—is to do them a disservice. When it comes to writing memorable tunes, Mariani can’t help himself, and while this isn’t the Badfinger-meets-Foghat mashup of which some wags have likely dreamed, it’s not far off.

Plus, Mariani is no macho cock rock shouter – no matter what backdrop he stands in front of, he’ll always have that slightful soulful, melodic power pop voice, backed here, as everywhere, with creamy vocal harmonies. Check the folk rocking “Not For Me” and “The City of Lights” and the overtly psychedelic “Cat On a Roof,” breaths of fresh air that meld Mariani’s pop sensibilities with the period sounds he evokes elsewhere. Ultimately, though, the record is all about riffing, strumming and soloing guitars—that Mariani drafts his exceptional axepersonship to such indelible tunes makes Blessed is the Boogie all the more satisfying.

DOWNLOAD: “City of Lights,” “Run With Lucy,” “Not For Me”

Datura4 previously reviewed:

Hairy Mountain

            “Demon Blues

 

ARLEN ROTH – Tele Masters

Album: Tele Masters

Artist: Arlen Roth

Label: Aquinnah Records

Release Date: January 22, 2019

https://www.arlenroth.com/

The Upshot: Granted, it doesn’t take much to make a Guitar Nerd’s day – except non-stop guitar played by the masters. Fans of Arlen Roth’s output over the past 50 years are simply pre-sold, given his lofty standards and choice of musical partners. Tele Masters delivers the unexpected – and then some.

BY ERIC THOM

 Some artists are beyond reproach – to the point where reviews are barely relevant. Still recovering – personally – from the stellar Slide Guitar Summit from ’15, Roth’s Tele Masters will simply stop you in your tracks to fully concentrate on the rich beauty summoned by Leo Fender’s Telecaster. Good luck wiping that smile off your face.

Roth is no stranger to these smart compilations. Aside from his original solo releases, Roth issued Toolin’ Around back in ‘94, enlisting the support of giants like Danny Gatton, Duane Eddy and Jerry Douglas. A popular sideman and guitar teacher, Roth stayed out of the limelight, preferring to work when – and with whom – he wanted. This heralded Master of the Telecaster and King of All Guitar Teachers continued to release solo records but returned to Woodstock on a more relaxed, Levon Helm-themed ramble that also featured Sonny Landreth and Bill Kirchen. With the success of Slide Guitar Summit, Tele Masters zeroes in on a wider range of guitar sounds, as Roth assembles a varied template of guests (Joe Bonamassa, Steve Cropper, Jerry Donahue, Vince Gill, Johnny Hiland, Bill Kirchen, Albert Lee, Brent Mason, Brad Paisley, Jack Pearson, Will Ray, Redd Volkaert and Steve Wariner) to stir the pot, adding their colourful shades to sixteen choice cuts. This is clearly a guitar party amongst the instrument’s brightest lights – and a joy to sit back and listen to. And, while you expect the most from Cropper, Kirchen and Albert Lee, there are some great surprises as well. Produced by fellow curator, Tom Hambridge (as was Summit), vocals play a key role on five tracks – notably, daughter Lexi’s haunting turn on Pee Wee King’s “Tennessee Waltz” and Jack Pearson’s inimitable work on both Charles Segar’s “Key To The Highway” and the sensational Pearson original, “I Can Fix It” (Pearson turning in exceptional guitar-playing on both). One expects country genius from Albert Lee who, in concert with Roth, recreates Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson” as it’s never been heard before but, it’s the country guitarists – in general – on this record who burn brightest: Vince Gill’s molten gold on Red Hayes’ “Satisfied Mind” is, together with Roth, simply beautiful music that also serves to remind us of Gill’s other great instrument, while the steam coming off the blistering workout by Roth, Steve Wariner (and Cindy Cashdollar) on Hank Penny’s “Remington Ride” opens the disc with the bar for Instrumental Excellence set to ten, if not eleven. Roth’s own “Roadworthy” underlines why both Roth and Brent Mason remain first-call session giants, the tune recalling The Ozark Mountain Daredevils at their most daring. Truly head-spinning. At the other end of the spectrum, Merle Haggard’s right-hand man, Redd Volkaert closes the record with Roth as they float down an old mill stream with the delicate, slightly jazzy, “A Minor Thing”, before turning up the tempo and going all Hot Club. Of special note is Hambridge’s other role as drummer on all but one track, together with his stalwart bassist, Tommy MacDonald. Not to be outdone, Steve Cropper’s own “White Lightning” is noteworthy, although Cropper’s gruff voice proves a slight deterrent. Will Ray’s muscular treatment in tandem with Roth on Link Wray’s “Rumble” pays dear tribute to fellow Tele Master Roy Buchanan, rekindling Roy’s appeal in seconds flat. Brad Paisley’s lightning-fast, speed-demon pairing with Roth on Roth’s own “Bunky” is further proof that these young country boys have a lot more going for them than inflated Stetsons. What can one say about the tireless, prolific Joe Bonamassa, making time to join Roth for his tribute to Albert Collins in “Joe’s Blues”, slowing things down in a bluesy tussle with Roth, Jack Pearson and Billy Panda on acoustic guitar? To his credit, he disappears into the Roth/Pearson original as all three conjure their magic as equals. Yet, there are three tracks on Tele Masters that rise above the rest. Roth’s revisited version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” is completely transfixing (he covered the Stan Jones classic on his first record, Guitarist, in ’63). Here, joined by the great Cindy Cashdollar on steel guitar, Alex Saltzman on organ and Billy Panda on acoustic guitar, the song is bigger than legend itself. Johnny Hiland joins Roth in tribute to fellow session and Tele Ace, Danny Gatton, with Roth’s “Funky Mama” – and you can almost picture Gatton, elbow-deep in thick grease, underneath one of his vintage restorations with a smile from ear to ear. In addition, Jack Pearson proves why he deserves ‘household name’ status with – again – “I Can Fix It”. His near-perfect, bluesy voice teams with his scorching guitar as he and Roth roll and tumble like their sights were set on reinventing Lowell George’s Little Feat. If anything was broken, Jack Pearson just fixed it, with the powerful Hambridge/MacDonald rhythm section earning an assist.

Tribute to past masters or a celebration of current Tele superstars? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that these are the best sixteen tracks you’ve ever heard in a row and Tele Masters will soon top your playlist, turning a typical drive into a fresh way to appreciate your surroundings. Such is the power of great music and the variety on display will keep it from burning out. Kudos to Roth, who has pulled this master Tele class together, rising above his personal challenges, to arrive somewhere something fresh and vital. So nice to see his daughter, Lexie, be a part of the plan.

 

NEXTGEN JAZZ QUARTET – Starlight

Album: Starlight

Artist: Nextgen Jazz Quartet

Label: self-released

Release Date: March 29, 2019

https://nextgenjazz.bandcamp.com/releases

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

One of the joys of reviewing music is you sometimes come across a band or musician that is so striking, that it just knocks you on your feet. Boston’s Nextgen Jazz Quartet consists of both current and former NEC (New England Conservatory) students who set the musical world on fire with their debut album. They are helmed by prodigy sax player Ye Huang, who has toured Asia with Mike Stern, and is a talent so startling that the world is his for the taking.

That’s not to say the other players aren’t killer either. On the album we are also introduced to pianist Gabriel Feldman, bassist Chris Mondak, and drummer (and NEC graduate) Mario Fabrizio. These guys are all uber-talented players that have the chops of musicians 30 years their senior.

Diving into the album, I was blown away by the tune “Slavic Blules,” its lyrical, sexy and provides the perfect entry into a record filled with numerous highlights. Here, the band shows a dynamism that is completely their own. “Hibernation” is a gem as well, written by Feldman, the track recalls the lyricism of Lyle Mays and builds into moments of micro crescendos that had me tapping my feet and hoping it wouldn’t end. “Always Smiling” is a wonderful homage of sorts that channels the likes of Sidewinder-era Lee Morgan and Dexter Gordon’s Our Man in Paris.

“On a Cloudy Day” is a cool breeze of a song where Ye, with some stellar backing, shows how he is able to infuse the proceedings with both emotion and grit. With “A Brief Dalliance” it became clear to me that Nextgen are risk takers. This song has some curious moments that aren’t always successful, but still shows that the palate of ideas they are working from could lead them in more experimental directions should they choose that on future albums. Closing track “Ask For More” is a musical tour-de-force arranged into sections that are funky and show how this well-oiled machine is ready to take on the jazz world.

This finely-honed debut is a bold statement percolating with promise that hopefully will propel these four young lads onto even greater musical accomplishments. A showcase in the Big Apple might not hurt their case either!

DOWNLOAD: “Slavic Blues” “Hibernation” “Always Smiling” “Ask For More” “A Brief Dalliance”

ROGER KUNKEL – Guitar Solo

Album: Guitar Solo

Artist: Roger Kunkel

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 01, 2019

https://rogerkunkel.bandcamp.com/releases

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

I’ve been a fan of Roger Kunkel and his previous band, Thin White Rope, for a long time and was excited to hear another side of Roger’s guitar playing on this deeply poignant record. It takes me back to a freer time in my own life, driving on a Sunday through the Stahmann pecan orchards of Southern New Mexico that bordered my hometown of El Paso, Texas. I loved how the warm sun would collide with the coolness of the orchards as I drove towards an unknown destination. This record captures that spirit and enables the listener to mate these beautiful tunes with memories from their own lives.

These ten acoustic numbers offer the perfect antidote to the squally feedback that I love yet sometimes need a break from. Opening tune “Big Fade” is akin to late afternoon sunlight bathing the farm fields in a sea of gold. “History Part 2” evokes Neil Young while calling to mind imagery from a bygone era. It’s too bad Johnny Cash is dead because “Blood Moon” would’ve been a great canvas for his baritone.

Riding on the darker edge of things, Roger is able to capture the narrative of good versus evil with his deft playing. “Minerva’s Daydream” would be my choice to be used in the PBS shows Victory Garden or New Yankee Workshop. I say that with the utmost reverence, because these programs hold a special place in my heart and this expressive yet brief tune managed to conjure that memory for me. ”Shuffle Kerfuffle” has a cool jazzy swagger to it and would not be out of character on, let’s say, a Tuck and Patti record. “Dream a Little Dream” closes the proceedings with a melancholic whimsy that is the perfect signoff for a record that gently coaxes you into its good graces and then softly vanishes into thin air.

DOWNLOAD: “Big Fade” “Old Man Longbeans” “Minerva’s Dream” “Blood Moon” “Dream a Little Dream” “Shuffle Kerfuffle”

 

MOON GOOSE – Source Code

Album: Source Code

Artist: Moon Goose

Label: Fruits de Mer

Release Date: April 29, 2019

http://www.fruitsdemerrecords.com/moon.html

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

It’s rare these days for a record to stun me upon first listen, but that’s exactly what happened with Moon Goose’s debut album.

Opening cut “Second Life” is a gloriously tight psychedelic instrumental that reminded me of the band White Manna with its widescreen spirit leading us somewhere uncharted. “Knifeless Skinning” is a fascinating descent into an unsettling scene, where exploration and an incantations are all rolled into one.

And it just gets better from here.

“Le Conte” amps up the uniqueness to 10. Funky, diverse, and deep, the song is magical as it unfolds for the listener. Here the band reminds me of Malesch-era Agitation Free with their organic transitory sound. “Trains” is a slow burner that eventually reaches max elevation, with guitar playing that’s as magical as it can get. Then there’s “Carnage,” which is an amazing amalgam of the band’s best elements and musical leanings. Succinct, melodic, and tighter than a nun’s ass, the band really lets it fly on this brilliant track.

This record glides from one glorious moment to the next. There’s even a double colored vinyl pressing in the offing (it includes a CD of the whole album as well) so our vinyl-porn-fixated Chief Editor Fred Blurt can get his fix. (Gimme. You had me at “Agitation Free” who, incidentally, have just seen Malesch reissued on colored wax.— Krautrock Ed.)

DOWNLOAD: “Second Life” “Knifeless Skinning” “Carnage” “Le Conte”

MICHAEL MCARTHUR – Ever Green, Ever Rain

Album: Ever Green, Ever Rain

Artist: Michael McArthur

Label: Dark River Records

Release Date: January 25, 2019

hwww.darkriverrecords.com/

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Florida native Michael McArthur credits isolation, among other things, for the tone of many of the songs off of Ever Green, Ever Rain, his debut LP. That loneliness can heard throughout each and every track here as McArthur turns in a vulnerable, haunting collection of modern folk that brings to mind everyone from Bon Iver to Iron & Wine.

There is an openness to many of these songs, like the self-confessional “Elaine” that makes the listener almost feel guilty for listening in. Gorgeous? Yes, but it sounds a little intrusive, like listening to a relationship ending at the next table. There is also a vulnerability to both his voice and lyrics that echoes back to decades to folks as diverse as Nick Drake and James Taylor.

Though a dozen tracks of earnest, heartfelt folk can be tough to take in one sitting for some, McArthur manages to turn his isolation and loneliness into a movingly beautiful album.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Wild in the Blood,” “Elaine” and “Warmer Months”

BAD SPELL – Don’t Go Out Tonight

Album: Don’t Go Out Tonight

Artist: Bad Spell

Label: Midnight Cruiser

Release Date: April 12, 2019

 

www.midnightcruiserrecords.bandcamp.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Atlanta’s rock & roll hot streak continues with Don’t Go Out Tonight, the fiery debut from power trio Bad Spell. Though ostensibly playing garage rock, guitarist Bryan G. Malone, baritone guitarist Shane Pringle and drummer Pietro DiGennaro didn’t purchase Nuggets and stop there. The band explores the nexus of mid- and late-sixties guitar grunge, starting at the Sonics, continuing through the Litter and ending up in Detroit. Powered by burly riffs, raw singing (and we do mean actual singing, not screaming), and DiGennaro’s jet engine drumming,

Bad Spell’s energy level kicks the needle into the red, pulling back at just the right times, in order to make the next punch deadlier. The group’s blare is effective enough, but it’s put to use on songs with substantial melodies and a sense of actual craft. The band isn’t hiding an urge to be the Zombies underneath its crackle, but there’s definitely a vibe that says “Yes, Virginia, we know how to actually write songs.” That’s evident in the blazing “Sick On Love,” “Spellbound” and “Some Kinda Strange,” the almost rootsy “Jenny Lynn,” “Wastin’ Time On You” and “(Hey Hey Hey) Let’s Disappear” and the crunching powerhouse that is the title track. Indeed, there’s not a bum track here – every song is primed for maximum riffology. This kind of crash-and-bash rock & roll is becoming scarce, at least the kind that’s done well, so kudos to Bad Spell for taking an older model and giving it a turbocharge.

DOWNLOAD: “Don’t Go Out Tonight,” “Some Kinda Strange,” “(Hey Hey Hey) Let’s Disappear”

 

WAY DOWN WANDERERS – Illusions

Album: Illusions

Artist: Way Down Wanderers

Label: Org Music

Release Date: February 22, 2019

www.orgmusic.com

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Chicago alt folk/Americana upstarts The Way Down Wanderers have managed to spike their music was some interesting elements on their sophomore effort, adding in snatches of jazz and pop here and there, while still remining true to the sound that made their debut a satisfying affair.

Though not vastly too different from their self-titled record, Illusions takes small steps forward both musically and lyrically for a more consistently appealing sound. Songs like “Frozen Through” and the creative musical stuttering on a track like “She’s Alright” find the band building on the foundation laid out two years ago and starting to separate themselves from an ever-growing field of bluegrass/Americana bands that have sprouted up over the past year or so. While the infusion of other styles for the most part serve to bolster their music, the Reggae-like beat on “All My Words,” has the opposite effect, dragging down an otherwise decent song.

Lead singers Austin Krause-Thompson and Collin Krause have impressively built on their strengths from the debut, perfecting their trade off vocal style and knack for strong harmonies. Aside from a few small stumbles here and there, Illusions is another solid effort from The Way Down Wanderers.

DOWNLOAD: “FROZEN THROUGH,” “SHE’S ALRIGHT” AND “HEARTLAND”

JOE JACKSON – Fool

Album: Fool

Artist: Joe Jackson

Label: Ear Music

Release Date: January 18, 2019

www.ear-music.net

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Coming immediately off a run of summer dates in 2018, Joe Jackson and his current band hit the studio to capture a group that was still very much hitting its stride musically. The resulting album Fool, Jackson’s 20th, still boats many of the jazz-infused pop trademarks that marked his post-big hit debut through much of the 1980s. It’s a solid set from the always dependable Jackson, if not a bit uninspired in places.

The album starts off with the ambitious “Big Black Cloud,” a dark song that sounds a little forced on the first listen but stays with you on repeated listens – one of the savviest tracks on the record. The breezy “Friends Better,” sounds as if it came off of “Look Sharp!”

Elsewhere, there are some songs that sound like they were last minute add-ons (“Alchemy” is so plodding you can almost watch time stand still), but taken as a whole, Fool still finds Jackson playing some of the best pop music out there, immune to fads and current trends.

DOWNLOAD: “Friends Better” and “Big Black Cloud”