Albums of the Week

July 26-August 1, 2010

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In this edition: Mark Olson, Tom Jones, Martin Sexton, The Books, Deadstring Brothers, Noun and Jay Bennett.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:Mark Olson: Many Colored Kite (Rykodisc)

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The full, painful, beautiful spectrum of human feeling rushes one in an unfiltered gush when Mark Olson sings, an exposed honesty that skirts showiness but still possesses a humming density that’s honest-to-god stirring. And The Jayhawks co-founder has never been more emotionally naked than his sophomore solo album, Many Colored Kite (released July 27). If Olson’s solo debut 2007’s dense, bittersweet The Salvation Blues, was a way of processing a divorce in song, then Kite is the happy realization that love can spring anew from even the shittiest soil given time, watering tears and proper appreciation. The core band – Neal Casal (guitar), Danny Frankel (drums) and Ingunn Ringvold (harmony vocals) with guest turns from Vashti Bunyan and Jolie Holland – is stunningly empathetic, which fits material that requires a deeper reach than the norm. Poetic and positive, this song cycle finds The Jayhawks’ most diverse member once again stepping into new territory, touching on the lightly polished pop of Joe South and 60s British folk-rock, which he weaves into his own wide-open sky tendencies. In the end, this seems about hope and connection and how one finds and sustains these things, delivered by a real bard of the human condition. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:Tom Jones: Praise and Blame (Lost Highway)

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Welsh showman Tom Jones might be best known for his kitschy Las Vegas act that brought members of the Silent Generation to the hot Nevada desert in droves to catch his regular gigs at The Flamingo and Caesar’s Palace back in the mid-sixties (immortalized on his classic 1969 live album Live in Las Vegas), not to mention his equally gimmicky forays into R&B, show tunes, disco, country and even techno, all of which make it perfectly understandable to view this Lost Highway debut with a spoonful of skepticism. But, the 70-years-young Mr. Jones hunkers down and delivers what could possibly go down as the best album of his half-century-long career. Working in collaboration with producer Ethan Johns and backed by a crack studio band led by Memphis organ great Booker T. Jones, Praise & Blame (released July 27) strips away all of the pomp and circumstance of Jones’ past endeavors to deliver a gritty, bluesy set of covers that allow the soulful tarnish on that golden voice of his to shine through quite beautifully. Clocking in at a timely 38-minutes, Tom and co. revisit several gospel standards previously blessed by his posthumous Lost Highway labelmate Johnny Cash, delivering driving renditions of Run On and Ain’t No Grave that would surely earn the Man in Black’s seal of approval. There’s also a great take on Jessie Mae Hemphill’s Lord Help that comes across like an outtake from RL Burnside’s Mr. Wizard and a version of John Lee Hooker’s Burning Hell that stomps with the bloozy grime of vintage Zep. Also of note are the performances of What Good Am I?, a deep track from Bob Dylan’s 1989 comeback masterpiece Oh Mercy!, a rolling barrelhouse rendition of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things, and a run through Pops Staples’ Don’t Knock so drenched in rockabilly grease it’ll have Tav Falco double-checking his medicine cabinet for a missing tube of Dippity Do. Not since his salad days as the frontman of the local Welsh beat group Tommy Scott and the Senators has Tom Jones sounded as genuine as he does on this masterful chalice of amplified holy water. (Ron Hart)

Martin Sexton: Sugarcoating (Kitchen Table)

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A plaintive “whoo-oooh, yeahhhh” that crawls right into you is followed by the melancholy opening lines, “I get lost in the concrete jungle/ I get lost in the big flat screen/ I get lost in the talk on the radio/ Don’t mean much to me.” Martin Sexton is a “man who seeks high places,” as he rightly observes on opener Found, a gently perfect pop number that sets the standard for Sugarcoating (released April 6). If the likes of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Jonathan Edwards still defined radio fare then this would be simply everywhere. This kind of heart-on-the-sleeve feeling combined with super strong craftsmanship isn’t the standard anymore but Sexton reminds us why that music keeps delivering decades on. Sugarcoating is similarly built to last, skipping and weeping over jazz-tinged, often acoustic settings, and blowing kisses to the living as they struggle through the day. (DC)

The Books: The Way Out (Temporary Residence)

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Five years following their spotty foray into crafting proper pop tunes, The Books dive back into the weird world of sound collage full force on The Way Out (released July 20). Easily the New York City duo’s most electronically minded title to date, the fourth album from guitarist/vocalist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong culls together a series of snippets from a variety of hypnotherapy and self-help cassettes to deliver a strange, beautiful and poignant sonic dissertation of the relationships between children and adults. And right in the middle of all the chopped up chatter and trigonometry-inspired beats rests one sole pop song called “Beautiful People” that is just about the loveliest thing The Books have delivered to us thus far. (RH)

Deadstring Brothers: São Paulo (Bloodshot)

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There are many more places to be exiled from than Main Street. Still, the Stones touchstone continues to inspire musicians and its sticky fingerprints are all over São Paulo (released February 23). What elevates the Brothers’ effort above the pack is how they’ve conjured voodoo very strongly reminiscent of the original energies Keith and the lads brought forth in the South of France in 1972…and then given it a healthy update that reflects the rock world post-Exile. It’s a pretty stunning achievement really and a far cry from the paltry retreads one usually gets from acts striding into this lion’s cage. Like vintage Stones, São Paulo feels a little dangerous and beckons one in with a charming pout, messy guitars and a backbeat you can hump to. Time and familiarity just increase the sweetness, with more & more lines jumping into the memory banks as the befuzzed riffage takes one out towards Brazil and beyond. (DC)

Noun: Holy Hell (Don Giovanni)

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As the frontwoman/guitarist for the South Jersey-based group Screaming Females, Marissa Paternoster has decimated the New Brunswick basement circuit with some of the most amped-up DIY punk currently laying waste to the East Coast (a proper taste of which will be revealed via the trio’s forthcoming sophomore set, Castle Talk, on September 14). However, under the guise of her five-year-old solo side project Noun, the raven-haired beauty reveals her surprising roots as a pop songwriter wit Holy Hell (released July 6). Here, Paternoster expands her boundaries to include piano ballads and bluesy guitar work and offsets her intense vocal range with a bed of mellow instrumentation that works quite well in contrast with one another. And while you can’t mosh to it like you can with her work in the Females, the sound of Noun is a perfect complement to a little backyard hangout session on a warm New Jersey summer’s night. (RH)

Jay Bennett: Kicking at the Perfumed Air (self-released)

Kicking at the Perfumed Air

Jay Bennett

Undoubtedly one of the saddest losses in a year overrun with music industry deaths is the untimely passing of former Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, who was found dead in his home in May of 2009 from an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. He left this earth with a lot of unresolved issues stemming from the embarrassing and controversial public termination he was dealt by ex-bandmate Jeff Tweedy, caught on film by director Sam Jones for his documentary on Wilco: I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and tactlessly left on the celluloid for the whole world to witness. Well, luckily, it is Jay who has gotten the last laugh, even in the afterlife, as his posthumous sixth solo album is a masterstroke of blue-eyed barstool blues alight with shimmering beauty, brutal honesty and late night weariness that is a thousand times better than that joke of a latest Wilco record could ever be. Do yourself a favor and head over to The Jay Bennett Foundation and download a copy of this fine, fine work of melancholy Americana today. (RH)

One thought on “Albums of the Week | July 26-August 1, 2010

  1. Checked out Jay Bennett’s new album. He starts with a very fine version of a Boomtown Rats tune. That brings me back to eigth grad.!

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