Albums of the Week

June 7-June 13, 2010

Comments Off on Albums of the Week | June 7-June 13, 2010

In this edition: Everest, The Black Keys, Anders Osborne, Sage Francis, Marley’s Ghost, Moon Duo, Setting Sun, Harlem, and The Jayhawks

Dennis’ Pick of the Week: Everest: On Approach (Warner Brothers)

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On Approach (released May 11) is gripping from the start, an album both urgent and contemplative, and a marker in time for these tumultuous days. It’s also a damn fine piece of beautifully constructed rock ‘n’ roll that’s played and sung with fiery conviction and buckets of overflowing talent. The growth spurt between their excellent 2008 debut, Ghost Notes, is powerfully striking. They were already pretty freakin’ great but their second time at bat swings for the fences cut after cut and just shreds the leather with a resounding crack each time. Ambition backed by this kind of skill, vocal prowess and songwriting acumen is serious business. Thick, emotionally honest and by turns charging and whisper intimate, Everest’s music taps into the same cosmic reservoir that’s served Neil Young, U2, Pearl Jam and other major artists that take rock’s basic components and rejigger them into something resoundingly fresh and relevant. There’s a potent inquisitiveness that seeks to burrow below surfaces and facile approaches, both musically and lyrically, that can be felt immediately in the tightly controlled perfection of opener Let Go, which begins, “May I come in, my old friend? You’re lookin’ thin/ Do you feel alright? There’s something I want to say tonight/ Let go!” And this cry for release and revelation is again reflected in the opening lines of closer Catalyst: “I’m just trying to quit/ trying to figure it/ find a way out/ a catalyst/ So don’t waste any time knocking on my door/ Gonna lock you out/ I can’t have anymore.” The title On Approach implies a nearness to a destination but with this release Everest has fully arrived, a band that’s gonna matter in the years to come, but could also just enrich one’s life greatly in the meantime. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week: The Black Keys: Brothers (Nonesuch)

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It took me a minute to get around to checking out Brothers (released May 18), the sixth album from Akron, OH-based blooze rock duo The Black Keys. After all, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney haven’t dropped anything worth my time since their 2002 debut The Big Come Up. But it is hard to deny the stellar playability of this new record, regardless of how nauseated you may or may not be of their inescapable ubiquity on your TV set, given the twosome’s penchant for whoring out their tunes for everything from episodes of Dexter, Gossip Girl, Entourage, One Tree Hill, Rescue Me and Hung (I’ll Be Your Man is the show’s theme song), as well as bed music for such un-bluesman-like programming as HBO’s 24/7 Pacquiao-Hatton and the 2009 American League Championship Series. However, Brothers defies any preconceived notions you may harbor of the Keys or their music, because it’s so different from anything they have ever recorded and released in the past. Dually inspired by their hip-hop hybrid project Blakroc with the likes of Jim Jones, Mos Def, Q-Tip, Raekwon and RZA and the ambiance of the legendary Muscle Shoals studio where it was recorded, this 15-track set strikes the perfect balance of grit, groove and grace, highlighted by such crucial cuts as Tighten Up (produced by Danger Mouse, who helmed their 2008 effort Attack and Release) and a gorgeous cover of Jerry Butler’s Chicago soul classic Never Gonna Give You Up. Right down to the impeccably vintage Cooper font all-text cover art, Brothers brims with a serious sense of old school swagger that takes The Black Keys’ music to a whole new level of fun. (Ron Hart)

Anders Osborne: American Patchwork (Alligator)

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The opening notes of veteran Anders Osborne’s new disc, American Patchwork (released April 27), is a sure sign of a solid gritty guitar record through to the end. But it unfolds into so much more than that, each song a new surprise that touches listeners in a unique way. The Swedish songwriter returns with an explosion of incredibly potent songs on this record that includes Robert Walters on keys and organ and New Orleans funkster Stanton Moore on drums, who also produced the record. This collection showcases Anders’ diverse background and influences, offering up his craft through a vivid patchwork of images including heartbreak, drug addiction, angels, touring and piercing dirty guitar licks that force you to sway. This record could very well be the summer festival soundtrack we’ve been waiting for. (Mason Blake)

Sage Francis: Li(f)e (Anti)

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When one speaks of the most fearless MCs in hip-hop, it might seem a little odd to include a mutton-chopped white boy from Rhode Island named Paul alongside the likes of such bonafide word warriors as Chuck D, KRS One and Immortal Technique. Yet over the course of his 15 years in the game, Sage Francis has earned his place amongst the verbal elite unafraid to wield their microphones like pocket pulpits to preach on society’s ills. Li(f)e (released May 11) could very well be his boldest statement to date. Produced by Brian Deck and featuring a veritable who’s who of indie rock, including former Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle, the late, great Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse in one of his last recorded endeavors, Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla, Tim Fite and members of DeVotchKa, Calexico and Califone, Li(f)e finds Sage taking on the hypocrisy of organized religion with the same verbose ferocity with which he questioned 9/11 on his Makeshift Patriot EP. Equal parts funky, folky and fiercely experimental, this is one rock/rap connection that is built to last. (RH)

Marley’s Ghost: Ghost Town (Sage Arts)

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Now this is country! There’s a great gobs of swing and style to Marley’s Ghost, who stir up the ghosts of 50s/60s/70s country music with real aplomb on Ghost Town (released March 2). While many of the selections are covers, their instincts for tunes they can bend to their will is unimpeachable — Warren Zevon’s She’s Too Good For Me, Don Williams’ Which Way Do We Go, John Hartford’s Here I Am In Love Again — and their originals jive with this wide range, all delivered in a style reminiscent of Hoyt Axton, Mac Davis, and Asleep At The Wheel. Marley’s Ghost is a class bunch of pros who do the West Coast country scene proud here. (DC)

Moon Duo: Escape (Woodsist)

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Moon Duo is the side project of Erik “Ripley” Johnson, guitarist for San Francisco’s premier powerhouse drone-psych outfit Wooden Shjips. With his lady friend Sanae Yamada on drums, this duo make good on the promise of their previous 2009 Killing Time EP with their full-length debut Escape (released February 16). Fans of Shjips might wonder what the difference is between Moon Duo and Ripley’s full-time gig, as the two acts mine rather similar territory. But a closer listen to the amazing Escape, which at four songs clocks in at a taut, tight half-hour of power, finds Moon Duo relishing in more of the Krautrock end of the Shjips’ spectrum with a touch of early Suicide tossed in for good measure. Despite its brevity, Escape is a great little sidebar to the Wooden Shjips legacy and just as intoxicatingly mesmerizing. (RH)

Setting Sun: Fantasurreal (Young Love)

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Some home studio, one-man-mastermind projects can sound insular or scream for an editor, but Gary Levitt’s Setting Sun lets in enough guest collaborators and light to make his vision feel like a band effort. The snappier moments have the new day tie-dye vibe of MGMT (though he’s a far better songwriter, singer, etc. than that mystifyingly popular group), and the more somber bits recall young Todd Rundgren or early Elliott Smith. Breezy is overused as a descriptor but it fits much of Fantasurreal (released June 1), which blows around one and makes the air dance a bit as well placed strings and female vocal accents twirl with this pop maestro in the making. (DC)

Harlem: “Hippies” (Matador)

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Normally if there are copious traces of Pitchfork drool on something I’m almost automatically not a fan, but the sophomore effort from this Austin garage trio is just too damn good to resist. Definitely more in the vein of Del-Fi than Matador, Harlem’s “Hippies” (released April 6) strikes the ears like the idea of Buddy Holly living into his forties and making friends with Alan Vega of Suicide and kibitzing at Max’s Kansas City with Lou Reed and Robert Christgau (though not together, obviously). This loose, lo-fi and loveable one-band Nuggets compilation is an early contender for my Top 5 of 10. (RH)

The Jayhawks: The Jayhawks (aka The Bunkhouse Album) (Lost Highway)

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2010 marks the 25th anniversary of the recently reunited, highly celebrated alt-country group The Jayhawks. And while Legacy Recordings has a pair of pretty tasty deluxe editions of the band’s two breakout American Recordings classics, 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall and 1995’s masterful Tomorrow The Green Grass, on deck for later this summer, Lost Highway unveils the true rarity of the Minneapolis band’s catalog. Originally released on vinyl by the tiny Bunkhouse imprint in 1986, The Jayhawks’ eponymous debut is by far the most country album in their canon, with songs like King of Kings and Falling Star indicating their full allegiance to the gospel of Gram Parsons before Alex Chilton’s flavor began to seep into their whiskey. Though a little sleepier in some spots than their later works, The Bunkhouse Album (re-released May 18) is nevertheless an essential listen for any Jayhawks fan worth their salt. (RH)