Albums of the Week

June 28-July 4, 2010

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In this edition: ’77, Chemical Brothers, Jackie Greene, The Roots, Devo, Matthew Larkin Cassell, Dierks Bentley, Peggy Sue, Wolf Parade and Dmitri From Paris.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:’77: 21st Century Rock (Listenable)

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This is raunchy, unfiltered hard rock heaven. Hailing from Barcelona, Spain, ’77 is the finest evocation of Let There Be Rock-era AC/DC yet conjured, and many have tried since dear old, lecherous, brilliant Bon shuffled off. Where ’77’s debut, 21st Century Rock, betters the other wannabes is in its integral grit and messy, primal boogie. This delves further than Angus and the boys to connect with the source material that sent them onto the highway to hell in the first place. With a singer that’s the ESL doppelganger for Bon Scott – think his cockney slur with the oddly rounded English pronunciation of Shocking Blue – and a pair of Gibson SG blasting brothers leading the charge, ’77 is just too right. Things are further kept in the pocket by a grip tight, well-muscled rhythm section. Yes, there’s no escaping the Australian archetype’s shadow here but why would you want to when cuts like Hardworking Liar (about a conniving gal who’s “a wizard of the oratory”), Less Talk (Let’s Rock), Big Smoker Pig and Gimme Rock ‘n’ Roll ooze all the menace and mischief of AC/DC in their club crawling early flush? You might not make out every word but the mood is always clear, and what you can hear details a seedy, hellaciously saucy back street world that anyone with a hard rock soul is gonna wanna explore. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week: Chemical Brothers: Further (Astralwerks)

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Perhaps the one true moment from Woodstock ’99 conducive to the original hippie dream on Yasgur’s Farm came during The Chemical Brothers’ magical Saturday night set. On a weekend defined by concrete, gang rapes, tsunamis of raw sewage, overpriced food, wildfires and Long Island frat guys engaging in Lord of the Flies-esque nihilism, the power hour spun by England’s Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons – though playing music that serves as the total antithesis of the whole Woodstock ethos – provided the most genuine feeling of pure communal bliss that even came close to the feeling of that summer of ’69 during that entire epic fail of an event. 1999 also served as the last time The Chems came out with anything remotely interesting to listen to, suffering their fans through a decade of albums riddled with corny cameos and half-hearted beats that were eons apart from the mastery of their Planet Dust days. And this is exactly why the duo’s latest is every reason to call it a comeback. Completely eschewing the trappings of their trifecta of duds – 2002’s Come With Us, 2005’s Push the Button and 2007’s We Are The NightFurther (released June 22) brings the Chemical Brothers sound back to The Private Psychedelic Reel, the final track on their last great album, 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole, almost picking up right where that masterpiece of freak-groove left off. From the slow-burning build-up of opening track Snow into the 11-minute Baba O’Rielly-riffing peak-out Escape Velocity to the left turns into areas of shoegaze (Swoon), dub (Another World) and Krautrock (K+d+b), Further is brilliant return to the Sunshine Underground sound they perfected a decade ago and a most welcome return to form for Tom and Ed – naysayers be damned. (Ron Hart)

Jackie Greene: Till The Light Comes (429 Records)

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Speaking in shades of gray and lamenting all the time spent on the dead, Greene marbles in some pretty deep stuff into the breezy, toe-tapping Till The Light Comes (released June 29). It’s a hard trick to insert actual depth into pop-rock frameworks but Greene makes it seem easy. Co-produced by Greene and Tim Bluhm, this is unquestionably Jackie’s finest hour, showcasing his growing maturity as a composer, singer and multi-instrumental badass. A swirl of different rock flavors, this set shows his kung-fu is strong whether he’s raunchin’ it up (Medicine), plying some AM-radio style mellow gold (Stranger In Sand), channeling his inner Harry Nilsson (Grindstone, Take Me Back In Time), showing his affinity for The Mother Hips (A Moment of Temporary Color) or laying down serious hand-jive (Spooky Tina). Till The Light Comes is a fine end-to-end listen whose individual parts shine very brightly when removed from the whole, such is its multilayered excellence. (DC)

The Roots: How I Got Over (Def Jam)

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There’s a lot of hullabaloo on the, uh, Internets talking smack about The Roots being sellouts for taking the job as the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. However, while those cats are busy choking down Haterade they’re missing out on Illadelph’s finest album since Things Fall Apart, a slow-burning 42-minute firebomb abetted by Kamal Gray’s gorgeous minor-key piano work, a star-making vocal turn from longtime associate Dice Raw, guest appearances from My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, Joanna Newsom, Peedi Crack and John Legend, among others, and some of the finest rhyming Black Thought has ever delivered. If this is the end result of selling out to network television, then may The Roots enjoy many meals at the NBC commissary for years to come. (RH)

Peggy Sue: Fossils And Other Phantoms (Yep Roc)

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There’s abundant female energy to Brighton’s Peggy Sue, but the strong, tangibly potent Patti Smith/Siouxsie variety not the Lilith Fair sort. It’s an important distinction because when one sees the words “soulful folk” it often bodes ill. Ignore that simple tagline – which isn’t actually wrong, just wrongly understood in our soundbite culture – and you’ll discover a colorful, curious assortment on Peggy Sue’s debut Fossils And Other Phantoms (released June 1), which vibrates on a wavelength with precursors Kate & Anne McGarrigle and Vashti Bunyan and contemporaries Fire On Fire and Larkin Grimm. Powerful women all, and Peggy Sue – comprised of Katy Young, Rosa Slade and drummer Olly Joyce – holds their own even against luminaries like the McGarrigles. Their songs are full of interesting textures, beguiling movement and lyrical barbs that make one chuckle blackly or grin with understanding. It’s going to be a blast to excavate all the secrets inside these Fossils. (DC)

Devo: Something For Everybody (Warner Bros.)

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Back when I was a kid, I used to listen to Devo on MTV when it was still in its infancy and wonder if pop in the future would all sound like the music contained within the grooves of Freedom of Choice. However, when I put on the Akron oddballs’ first studio album since 1990’s Smooth Noodle Maps, it seems as though the group’s New Wave glow is about as strong in the 21st century as it was in1980. Despite the very modern assistance of Money Mark and Mario C. of the Beastie Boys, Santigold, Greg Kurstin of The Bird & The Bee, John King of the Dust Brothers and new drummer Josh Freese, Something for Everybody (released June 15) – the end result of a strange focus group study conducted prior to the album’s release – is a 12 song hit parade that proves the concept of Devo-lution is still as wonderfully blippy, brainy and unabashedly catchy as it’s ever been in the 40 years that have passed since the day Gerard Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh and Bob Lewis met on the campus of Kent State in the name of Jocko Homo. (RH)

Dierks Bentley: Up On The Ridge (Capitol Nashville)

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Most of what Nashville pumps out today is pure product, sonic widgets to be used in TGI Fridays and pick-up truck commercials and Nascar montages. But seeing Dierks Bentley at Bonnaroo a few years ago I had the sense that there was more to him than the Music City Machine had revealed. Up On The Ridge (released June 8) fulfills some of that hinted at promise, taking him a few steps away from glossy contemporary country and into hillbilly acoustic territory. Not really the bluegrass album it’s being sold as, this is really quality hayseed country that’d work next to the twangier bits of Merle Haggard and Hoyt Axton in the 1970s. Bentley’s got a nice but indistinct voice, but he wisely surrounds himself with powerhouses like Del McCoury, Alison Krauss and Chris Thile, who’s joined by all of his Punch Brothers on the three standouts here – original Rovin’ Gambler and covers of Dylan’s Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) and a stunning reading of U2’s Pride (In The Name of Love). There’s a lil’ fodder for CMT and his label bosses (Fiddlin’ Around, Draw Me A Map), but they’re balanced out by two primo drinking tunes (Bottle To The Bottom with Kris Kristofferson and Bad Angel with kindred contemporaries Jamey Johnson and Miranda Lambert). Overall, the up-close production by Jon Randall Stewart and sky-high musicianship – Bentley has the smarts and fat pockets to hire killers like Sam Bush, McCoury, and the like – make this a really enjoyable platter. (DC)

Matthew Larkin Cassell: The Complete Works (Stones Throw)

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Having been mined by venerated crate diggers Kon and Amir and sampled by the likes of Madlib and People Under The Stairs, this reissue chronicling the artistry of obscure Bay Area singer-songwriter Matthew Larkin Cassell should come as no surprise. Spanning the years between Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Complete Works (released May 18) gathers all 20 tracks of this soulful surfer’s private press output, a Laura Nyro-by-way-of-Steely Dan menagerie of yacht rock cool harboring the kind of excellent pop chops that should have catapulted Cassell to Jackson Browne and Billy Joel Billboard Top 40 success. Anyone even remotely interested in breezy Carter Administration jazz-rock should definitely check this one out. (RH)

Wolf Parade: Expo ’86 (Sub Pop)

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Third time’s the charm for this celebrated Montreal-based indie rock supergroup with the brilliant Expo ’86 (released June 29). Named after the famous World’s Fair held in Vancouver, British Columbia back in the summer of their youth, Wolf Parade also seem to be mining some of their favorite albums of that year as well. There are moments across this set that suggest a crew of good friends growing up to the sounds of The Cramps and Candy Apple Grey-era Hüsker Dü. Escaping the ironic hipster trappings of their dumb name and their last two albums, Expo ’86 will make even the most hard-pressed skeptic of this Pitchfork favorite a true believer. (RH)

Dimitri From Paris: Get Down With The Philly Sound (BBE)

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“Disco sucks” might have been the rallying cry of the rock masses back in the 1970ss, however, little did some of these mooks know was that they were dissing some of the most legendary names in Philadelphia soul. And leave it to a Frenchman to take us ignorant Yankees to school on this massive two-disc set loaded with classic Philly dance floor fire spanning 1973-1980, featuring such greats as Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, Eddie Kendricks, The Jackson 5, The Trammps and the late, great Teddy Pendergrass, to name a few. If there is even a droplet of appreciation for disco in your rock ‘n’ roll heart, you can definitely Get Down With The Philly Sound (released June 1). (RH)