Albums of the Week

September 13-September 19, 2010

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In this edition: Robert Plant, of Montreal, Black Mountain, Megadeth, Lower Dens, Common Grackle, Screaming Females, ARP, Gov’t Mule and Sonny & The Sunsets

Dennis’ Pick of the Week: Robert Plant: Band of Joy (Es Paranza/Rounder)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003NWS5AO]Maybe Bob should have taken up shop in Nashville a long time ago. Between 2007’s Raising Sand and Band of Joy (arriving September 14), the Zep icon has regained his mojo and shown some new colors besides. This rocks considerably more than his somewhat stately collaboration with Alison Krauss and T Bone Burnett, and Plant’s all the better for it, often sounding as if he’s wrapping up some unfinished business from Zeppelin III, mingling the electric and the acoustic with greater success than rock usually manages. Co-produced with musician’s musician Buddy Miller, there is palpable joy to this set, with the high end ensemble – Darrell Scott (acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, accordion, pedal and lap steel), Byron House (bass), Marco Giovino (drums) and Miller (electric guitar, 6-string bass, mandoguitar) – settling into the musculature of perfectly chosen material from Low, Richard Thompson, Los Lobos, Townes Van Zandt and others alongside some traditionals. Patti Griffin is Plant’s primary vocal foil here and much like her recent harmonizing with Todd Snider, she’s proving a sublime collaborator with phenomenal range and empathy, with moments rivaling Sandy Denny’s legendary intertwining with Plant, though offered with quieter delivery. The swing through fifties style rockers You Can’t Buy My Love and Falling In Love Again hits the nostalgia nail on the head better than Bob’s Honeydrippers experiment, and beyond any stylistic differences, every cut comes alive in these very capable hands. More than anything, Band of Joy is the sound of veterans doing everything just right, and their pleasure is contagious to say the least. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:of Montreal: False Priest (Polyvinyl)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003U42ZM4]Over the last few years, the intermingling of R&B and indie rock has been a captivating fusion of disparate styles that’s yielded some pretty surprising compounds, whether it’s Jigga and Beyonce attending Grizzly Bear shows, Kanye West channeling Thom Yorke and collaborating with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, the Dirty Projectors eschewing art-damaged Black Flag covers for avant-Aalyiah posturing or Jagjaguwar supergroup Gayngs delivering a chillwave rendition of the Teddy Riley aesthetic. But there hasn’t been anything that has better defined this strange marriage of macking and mumbling quite like the latest album from Athens-based sonic chameleons of Montreal. Over the last 15 years, we have seen the ever-rotating ensemble’s chief architect Kevin Barnes evolve from the childlike prince of Elephant 6 psychedelia to the Prince-like king of art rock flamboyance. And on False Priest (arriving September 14), he brings the dabblings in funk and soul that permeated of Montreal’s music on recent efforts like Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and Skeletal Lamping to full-blown realization, diving headfirst into a steaming pool of bravado in a way not unlike what the Stones did with Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You or Kiss did with Dynasty. Working with a pared down trio of himself, veteran producer and quirk pop mastermind Jon Brion and in-demand session drummer Matt Chamberlain, Barnes vamps it up like nobody’s business across thirteen tracks that would sound perfect on some alien hybrid of Hot 97 and NPR. The Paisley Park freak rock of Our Riotous Defects finds him duetting with sexy alt-soul android Janelle Monae (who also appears on the song Enemy Gene), while Sex Karma finds Barnes getting lewd and rude with Mrs. Carter’s New Wave-minded kid sister Solange Knowles, cooing, “You look like a playground to me, playa” into her young, eager earhole [Editor’s Note: Solange and Barnes are both Super Music Friends Show veterans from Yo Gabba Gabba. See for yourself with her song and his]. Meanwhile, the presence of Brion, flexing some of his best production yet here – perhaps working off the high from his collaborations with Kanye and expounding upon his previous work with of Montreal on 2009’s Jon Brion Remix EP – can be felt most significantly on the Suffragette City-copping first single Coquet Coquette and the epic closing track Do You Mutilate? He initiates a cut-and-paste approach to the of Montreal style that cuts closer to the cloth of his colorful, experimental arrangements on the soundtracks to Punch Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind than the orchestral whimsy of his work with Aimee Mann and Fiona Apple. Even if you aren’t a longtime fan, False Priest is such a contrast from of Montreal’s Gay Parade days that it’s almost like listening to a whole new group – a group, mind you, who has created one of the best records of the year. (Ron Hart)

Black Mountain: Wilderness Heart (Jagjaguwar)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003UHYSDK]This is the one where it all came together for Black Mountain. The sinewy strength of their hair flipping, intoxicating live show and their studio flair for vintage hard rock and pastoral Zeppelin-ism converge in super cool ways on Wilderness Heart (arriving September 14). This is so blessedly heady at every turn, but not in ways so overly brainy or conceptualized that anything feels premeditated. Like the best hard rock past, this set grounds one in the muck and mirth of the now, charging up the blood one minute and then cooling it sweetly the next (including artfully sketched digressions like the Roger Waters-esque Radiant Hearts and elegant closer Sadie). Beautifully paced, Wilderness Heart offers the band’s strongest lyrics and best boy-girl singing yet, and the analog keys, keenly etched guitars, original arrangements and intuitive rhythm section give the proceedings a burnished richness that recalls prime Procol Harum. Balanced and bold, this is Black Mountain’s finest outing and the happy fulfillment of years of promising building. (DC)

Megadeth: Rust in Peace Live (Shout! Factory)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003TN920E]There isn’t a better Megadeth album than the longtime Bay Area thrash great’s foreshadowing apocalyptic fever dream Rust In Peace. Though nowhere remotely near the sheer perfection of the original 1990 studio masterpiece, this electrifying performance – captured at the Hollywood Palladium on the final night of their 20th anniversary tour where they played the record in its entirety – is a fitting testament to one of the greatest heavy metal titles of all time. While current guitarist Chris Broderick is no Marty Friedman, this live version of Rust does feature the return of original bassist Dave Ellefson after an eight-year absence. And, of course, singer-guitarist Dave Mustaine, at nearly 50, still harbors astounding quickness in his fingers and that unique sneer in his voice as he rips through such key album cuts as Holy Wars…The Punishment Due, Hangar 18 and Dawn Patrol. In addition to the entirety of Rust, this set also features six other Megadeth fan favorites, including Trust, Symphony Of Destruction and Peace Sells. Also available is a DVD version of this electrifying performance celebrating a heavy metal milestone. It’s still hard to believe it’s been 20 years already. (RH)

Lower Dens: Twin-Hand Movement (Gnomonsong)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003NFM480]Never less than simmering and thickly potent, Jana Hunter hasn’t always been seductive in any traditional sense; chewy, sharply honest and intense are adjectives that spring more readily to mind. However, in Lower Dens she’s got the intoxicated drift of a fine weed buzz sans the hippie implications. The steady beat, reverberant guitars and belly rumbling bass of Twin-Hand Movement (released July 20) recall Durutti Column and their Factory Records pals or perhaps a slightly baked cousin to Belly and Throwing Muses, where the stridency is stripped away to reveal a warm underbelly that’s just so nice to nestle into. And good luck unlocking the lyrical mazes inside these shimmering landscapes: “On the hill adorned in dew, I miss seeing you through your den of verse/ In the clinic stall they’ve confined me to, loose the noose I wear and I’ll run away with you.” Uh, sure, whatever you say, Jana. (DC)

Common Grackle: The Great Depression (Fake Four, Inc.)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003QTBU1U]If you haven’t heard of Factor you need to remedy that real quick. This Canadian producer’s mind-bending grooves have laced tracks for some of the most prominent names in hip hop’s outer perimeters for the better part of this decade, including Freestyle Fellowship’s Myka 9, Sadat X, Aesop Rock, B-Real, Moka Only and Aceyalone, among many others. As one half of Common Grackle, Factor combines his psychedelic beat science with the indie pop songwriting of fellow Canuck Gregory Pepper to create The Great Depression (released July 27), a half-hour long LP whose combination of lush harmonies and dusty analog grit sounds like something along the lines of Brian Wilson’s SmiLE reboot had DJ Shadow been at the controls instead of Van Dyke Parks. Good stuff! (RH)

Screaming Females: Castle Talk (Don Giovanni)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003Z88IIU]Heavy rock with punk’s pop ‘n’ punch is hard to pull off, though not for New Jersey’s Screaming Females apparently. With beefy riffs to satisfy the testosterone addled and a feminist bite akin to The Slits and X-Ray Spex, Castle Talk (arriving September 14) scoops one up with ease and then offers plenty for repeat offenders. Their energy matches contemporaries (and occasional tour partners) Arctic Monkeys and The Dead Weather, but guitarist-singer Marissa Paternoster channels unique elemental energies, a precocious, primordial shake of the sort a young Patti Smith threw into the universe. Drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist King Mike keep pace with her, and their sum total equals ballsy, quality rock. (DC)

ARP: The Soft Wave (Smalltown Supersound)

[amtap amazon:asin=B0041S54H6]On his second album under the ARP moniker, Alexis Georgopoulos – formerly of the San Franscisco skeletal funk outfit Tussle – offers a cleaner, more crystalline approach to the synth-heavy sound he debuted on 2007’s In Light. On The Soft Wave (MP3 released September 6, CD out September 28), Georgopoulos uses a combination of guitar, bass and synths to simulate a late 70s futuristic vibe reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter soundtracks and the interludes on Brian Eno’s pop albums, infusing it with elements of the drone phenomenon that has since become all the rage among the hipster cognoscenti. But don’t let that stop you from checking it out anyway. (RH)

Gov’t Mule: Mulennium (Evil Teen)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003S897UK]The original trio formation of classic rock torchbearers Gov’t Mule was something to behold, one of the first such modern formations to rival the golden era of Cream and Grand Funk Railroad. The sudden passing of bassist Allen Woody in August of 2000 forever altered the Mule’s trajectory, and though 10 years gone, Woody is never forgotten by those who loved him and his unique musical personality. So, the arrival of Woody’s final New Year’s Eve show with the band is a wonderful thing. The chemistry between Warren Haynes (lead vocals, guitar), Matt Abts (drums) and Woody is intense, a ferocious wrestling with deep blues, metal, pop flavors and more that’s never been duplicated since his death. Mulennium (released August 3) offers 3-discs of this incarnation’s endurance and spunk as evidenced on the night of December 31, 1999. Guest turns from guitarist Audley Freed (Black Crowes, Dixie Chicks) (especially on boffo covers of Helter Skelter, Sometimes Salvation & 30 Days In The Hole), Little Milton and others thicken the soup, but the most prominent flavor remains what the trio accomplished together. (DC)

Sonny & The Sunsets: Tomorrow Is Alright (Fat Possum)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003VOP7N2]Sonny Smith is a part-time social worker who digs old school doo-wop, reads R. Crumb and once created an art exhibition where he featured 100 record covers created by 90 different artists for 100 songs he wrote, recorded and then played on a jukebox custom built by the man himself. Ten of those songs comprise Tomorrow is Alright (released August 31), Sonny’s wonderful debut album with his band The Sunsets for the Fat Possum label. This is a sun-kissed set of West Coast surf pop that comes off as the most convincing cop of the Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers’ sound since the Violent Femmes. (RH)