Albums of the Week

August 31-September 6, 2010

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In this edition: MMJ’s Carl Broemel, Richard Thompson, Ryan Bingham, Gurumaniax, The Chapin Sisters, Heart, Baths, Stan Ridgway and Kathryn Calder.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week: Carl Broemel: All Birds Say (ATO)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003VOP7SW] At times as tender and contemplative as The Carpenters or Cat Stevens, this solo debut from My Morning Jacket’s lead guitarist is a gorgeous keeper to tuck in one’s knapsack for the long haul. In a lilting, inviting, clear voice, Broemel reflects on talking in your sleep and warns that drinkin’ more doesn’t make one deep. Small observations like this mound up like sand on a shoreline, slowly creating a landscape that’s surprisingly solid given the generally gentle feel. Weaving his own multi-instrumental talents (guitar, pedal steel, autoharp, sax & more) with his classical musician dad’s bassoon, clarinet and arrangement help, All Birds Say (released August 31) is an inducement to hand holding, daydreaming and simply slowing down and reflecting on the sweetness of one’s life. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week: Richard Thompson: Dream Attic (Shout! Factory)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003NYVYB4] As a guitar player, British folk icon Richard Thompson is one of the best in the world. But historically, the blistering solos he tends to fire off whilst in concert do not translate as effectively on his otherwise impressive solo material. However, taking a cue from The Black Crowes, the former Fairport Convention charge recorded Dream Attic (released August 31) live in concert at various stops during his West Coast tour in early 2010. The spontaneity of the stage setting definitely brings a much-needed surge of electricity to this 13-track set, which features some of Thompson’s most rockin’ material in years, evident in the way his scholarly knowledge of scale structure flies all over his fretboard on kinetic cuts like Haul Me Up and Demons in Her Dancing Shoes. Even on the mellower moments of Dream Attic, such as the ominous Crimescene and the yearning Stumble On, you cannot escape the power of this guy’s masterful craftsmanship on the electric guitar. As with most of his music, Celtic and Medieval overtones imbue some of these tunes, evident on tracks like Here Comes Geordie and Sidney Wells, but certainly not as obscenely as they have on past titles. Yet even the most ho-hum material on this album is textured with the energy of Thompson’s touring band, giving them more sonic appeal than they would have harbored had they been recorded in a studio somewhere. As an album, Dream Attic ranks alongside Pour Down Like Silver, Shoot Out The Lights, Rumour & Sigh and Mock Tudor as one of Thompson’s finest in a five-decade long career. (Ron Hart)

Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses: Junky Star (Lost Highway)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003QTDEQ4] “A poet writes his songs in blood,” announces Bingham at the start of Junky Star (arriving September 7), unquestionably his best work to date and the thickly knotted fruition of the promise he’s shown since his 2007 debut, Mescalito. On Junky Star Bingham fully grows into his husky, older-than-time voice, sounding like a mix of Johnny Winter, Merle Haggard and Widespread Panic’s John Bell singing Americana-y songs full of foreboding, desperation and unexpected connections. Not the happiest album but the busiest producer of 2010, T Bone Burnett, creates a compelling atmosphere that puts Bingham’s crosscut pipes at the helm and then pushes ample wind into the sails. Like another 2010 standout, Shooter Jennings & Hierophant’s Black Ribbons, this is an unapologetic artistic statement of purpose that will likely define and shape everything that follows. If Bingham and his ace band keep it up like this folks will start missing Ryan Adams and The Cardinals a whole lot less. (DC)

Gurumaniax: Psy Valley Hill (Bureau B)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003HIDJLO] Though overshadowed by their more prolific contemporaries in early 70s German Krautrock like Amon Düül, Can, Cluster and Neu!, Guru Guru still flew in under the radar to produce two of the movement’s finest recordings in 1970’s UFO and 1971’s Hinten. The group’s melding of the free jazz chops drummer Mani Neumeier, honed from his time in a group led by Swiss piano great Irène Schweizer, and the psychedelic rock sound coming out of England with The Soft Machine and Pink Floyd was more spot-on than just about any other group at the time. And the music they create on this reunion album of sorts definitely harks back to the height of the band members’ collective heyday. Gurumaniax is Neumeier, Guru Guru guitarist Ax Genrich and Belgian avant-garde musician Guy Segers on bass. The heady, guitar-washed jams that make up Psy Valley Hill (released July 6) sound just as commanding and enveloping as they did 35 years ago, the last time Genrich and Neumeier logged studio time together. A most triumphant comeback. (RH)

The Chapin Sisters: Two (Lake Bottom Records)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003XKB10W]In every aspect, Two (released August 31), the sophomore offering from singing, songwriting siblings Lily & Abigail Chapin betters their 2008 debut. While recorded at a family farm in rural New Jersey, Two has the honed, substantive vibe of early 1970s records by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Kate & Anne McGarrigle – arguably the finest period for such fare. No one style holds sway but it’s all recognizably rock, and with most cuts clocking in around 3 minutes, this whips along at a nice, varied pace. An air of winning confidence pervades Two, which tones down the folksy bits of their debut in favor of nicely outfitted arrangements and a full-yet-uncluttered sound from co-producers Jesse Lee (Gang Gang Dance) and Louie Stephens (Rooney). The Chapin Sisters have refined their talents, amping up all their virtues and making one eager to hear where they go next. (DC)

Heart: Red Velvet Car (Sony Legacy)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003TTB0GC] Unhip Week might have come and gone here at the Dirty Impound; but it’s never too late to extol the virtues of “the first ladies of arena rock,” Ann and Nancy Wilson of Seattle AOR greats Heart. Though billed as an acoustic album, don’t rule out Red Velvet Car (released August 31) as some folkie reprise of the band’s schmaltzy 80s years. This record’s got serious teeth, with songs like the bluesy title cut and the hard driving Wheels finding the Wilson girls revisiting their guitar-heavy glory days of Little Queen and Bebe Le Strange, although more in a style similar to their unplugged side project The Lovemongers. Red Velvet Car is a late-career gem from a group whose time for a proper coolness reassessment has most undoubtedly come. (RH)

Various Artists: This Is The Blues – Volume Three & Four (Eagle)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003P5AJM6] Ballsy move to call any collection This Is The Blues, but this ongoing Eagle Rock series largely lives up to its lofty, inclusive name. Culled from several Pete Brown produced tribute albums, the latest installments tangle with choice tunes from early Fleetwood Mac, John Lee Hooker and more, even delving into folk like Will The Circle Be Unbroken. With the likes of Jeff Beck, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Rory Gallagher, Peter Green, Billy Sheehan, Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker and many less familiar names, the current This Is The Blues offerings (released July 20) present 30 sincere, well played takes on the genre that remind one why the blues endure. (DC)

Baths: Cerulean (Anticon)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003K48HBC] The latest sensation from Anticon, California hip-hop’s original asylum for creative weirdness, is one Will Wiesenfeld, a 21-year-old from the outskirts of Los Angeles who records under the guise of Baths and proves his worth as a promising young blood on the West Coast abstract beats scene with his debut album, Cerulean (June 22). This 39-minute aural journey is a creative piece of modern-day fusion, which finds Wiesenfeld creating soulfully alien love songs out of a combination of lo-fi, chillwave synths, quirky songwriting and a hazy crock-pot of geometric beat stew that might remind one of Atlas Sound cut up and rewired by Flying Lotus. (RH)

Stan Ridgway: Neon Mirage (A440)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003YP7NH6] A serious, densely emotional song cycle might not be what casual listeners expect from the former Wall of Voodoo frontman but Neon Mirage (released August 24) is just that. Underscored by the passing of Ridgway’s father last December and the suicide of session violinist Amy Farris, whose final work appears here, Neon Mirage finds Stan singing better than ever, most of the affectations of his Voodoo years absent, in diverse, softly sophisticated musical settings. Producer Dave Alvin sprinkles in harmonica, sax and other bright shades to accent the solid playing by Ridgway and longtime collaborators Pietra Wexstun (keys, electronics) and Rick King (guitars). Maturity ain’t so bad when it turns out like this, and Neon Mirage places Ridgway next to classy, fellow elder statesmen Nick Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Case. (DC)

Kathryn Calder: Are You My Mother? (File Under Music)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003QTLSPI] As a member of such prolific groups as The New Pornographers (band leader Carl Newman is her uncle) and Immaculate Machine, most fans of indie rock are already well aware of the lovely voice of Canadian singer-songwriter Kathryn Calder. The deeply personal Are You My Mother? (released August 10) is a gorgeously introspective alt-country-cum-power pop paean to her mom, who died recently following a valiant battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It was recorded while she was living at home and serving as her mother’s primary caregiver, yet in spite of the shroud of hospice which envelopes it, the songs here shine through with a melodic catchiness that rivals her work in either of her other groups. (RH)

One thought on “Albums of the Week | August 31-September 6, 2010

  1. Thank you for the kind words re: The Chapin Sisters new album TWO. However, it’s a Sept 14th release…

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