Albums of the Week

September 26-October 2

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In this edition: Masters of Reality, Eric Clapton, Jerry Joseph & Wally Ingram, Tricky, Soulfly, Bear In Heaven, Leonard Cohen, The Vaselines and Richard Barone.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week: Masters of Reality: Pine/Cross Dover (Cool Green Recordings)

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One of the first questions thrust at you on Masters’ latest is, “Who do you trust in a world gone insane?” There’s simply no pussyfooting with Chris Goss, the brains and balls behind this 20+ year heavy rock institution that’s influenced and touched some of the brightest lights in rock’s past quarter century. What knocks you back on your heels with Pine/Cross Dover (arriving stateside October 12) is how much this band still sounds like no one else and how much others have lifted from them. Masters of Reality aren’t trying to emulate any of their ancestors but in their veins flows the same viscous fluids that pumped through prime Deep Purple, Television, Grand Funk Railroad, Cream and the like. Goss does nod to a couple fine influences here, notably the Jerry Garcia inflection of lengthy instrumental closer Alfalfa and the Al Di Meola-esque Johnny’s Dream. But mostly he just plumbs rock’s further possibilities in a way that feels quite modern despite the music’s genuine classic rock bedrock, which he unearths on powerhouse strut vehicle Up In It (what a title!), the swinging, intricate The Whore of New Orleans or the skipping, primal Dreamtime Stomp. Goss’ voice has never been more seductive, a dexterous purr ‘n’ growl that suggests a mix of a hunky underwear model, 70s Roxy-era Bryan Ferry and Jim Morrison-like golden godhood rather than the thickly built, middle-aged shinehead actually making the sound. That’s Masters of Reality in a nutshell – not quite what you expect but giving you what you really need. Rather than bludgeon or scream, Pine/Cross Dover gets heavy through sustained intensity tempered but one of the sexiest deliveries in rock. You can practically feel Goss’ hands all over you as he chips away at the general malaise and discontent floating in the modern ether, reaching out to us as we sit in our suicide rooms, shaking us awake and reminding us to hold on so we might testify for love another day. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week: Eric Clapton: Clapton (Duck-Reprise)

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With this year being the 40th anniversary of his self-titled solo debut, it seems appropriate for Eric Clapton to bookend the commemoration with his second eponymously titled LP. And much like its 1970 predecessor, which featured EC in heavy collaboration with the likes of Delaney Bramlett, Leon Russell, Leon Russell, Stephen Stills, Steve Cropper and future Derek and the Dominoes members Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon, Clapton (arriving September 28), his 19th endeavor, finds ‘God’ once again teaming up with a large ensemble of friends and compatriots for a freewheeling collection of songs. It’s his best since Reptile or perhaps even From the Cradle, his 1994 “return to form” album of raw blues covers, following a daunting journey through overblown “with the times” production and adult contemporary corniness that had marred the majority of his work since Slowhand. For the majority of the oughties, Clapton’s solo career has been something of a redheaded stepchild to his reunion with Cream, Steve Winwood and Jeff Beck, as well as playing with old pal J.J. Cale, collaborating with his heroes (BB King) and his students (Derek Trucks) and paying tribute to his deep roots in American blues (2004’s excellent pair of Robert Johnson tribute albums, Me and Mr. Johnson and Sessions for Robert J). So, by the time he got around to releasing any kind of original material the creative juices felt run dry, evident on 2005’s woefully snoozy Back Home. However, such is not the case with Clapton. Here, EC, co-producing the record with longtime associate Doyle Bramhall II, initially entered the studio with a small team of capable conspirators, including session greats Jim Keltner (drums), Willie Weeks (bass) and Walt Richmond (keys), as well as songwriting partner JJ Cale, to lay the foundation for this laidback 14-track set comprised of covers and originals running the gamut of blues styles from big band jump to dirt road country folk to dark Delta electric. Then comes the parade of guests. Ex-girlfriend Sheryl Crow drops in for the ballad Diamonds Made From Rain. Allen Toussaint, Wynton Marsalis and members of the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band come together to bring a New Orleans flavor reminiscent of Clapton’s days jamming with Dr. John on a great pair of Fats Waller tunes (My Very Good Friend the Milkman and When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful). And then we have young Mr. Trucks, who has been Clapton’s go-to guitar foil lately in the grand tradition of his old Dominoes partner Duane Allman. Here, Derek follows up on his keynote appearance on 2006’s Clapton-Cale album The Road to Escondido by lending his effortless slide guitar skills to an easygoing version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Rocking Chair. Good old JJ, so key in the last 40 years of Clapton’s success having co-written two of EC’s biggest hits in After Midnight and Cocaine, has a hand in four songs here, two of which he penned (River Runs Deep and Everything Will Be Alright) and a pair that he duets on (River Runs Deep and a cover of Robert Wilkins’ No Way To Get Along). But the real star here is Clapton himself and the way he pushes his guitar playing to new realm, be it in the RL Burnside-esque grit of opening track Travelling Alone or the jazzy, Chet Atkins-like quietude of his striking cover of the Johnny Mercer standard Autumn Leaves. 40 years after making history with his solo debut, Clapton has proven that September of his years may be just as rich as his May Days. This is a truly stunning release that will no doubt surprise more than a few longtime Clapton fans. (Ron Hart)

Jerry Joseph & Wally Ingram: Civility (Cosmo Sex School)

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Jerry J is almost too quotable, his compositions the same delightfully knotted briar patch as Elvis Costello or Bob Dylan. This can sometimes get missed in his blistering electric work, which makes the acoustic slant and quieter communication of Civility (released June 1) a perfect chance to bend an attentive ear to Joseph’s overflowing muse. In a voice weathered by hard living and the subsequent burnishing of familial connection, fatherhood and sustained friendships, musical and otherwise, Joseph pulls away more curtains from our eyes, offering truth to everyone, including the face in the mirror: “Sober, life just isn’t as fun as it is when you were young/ But baby you’re getting older/ Oh trouble, it’s got you on the run/ Now you set like a sun/ I believe that you’re getting colder,” soon adding, “Shoot, shoot, shoot/ You deserve a break today/ Shoot, shoot, shoot/ A little roll in the hay/ Shoot, shoot, shoot/ Who cares what the neighbors say anyway?” He’s found the ideal foil in percussion pro Wally Ingram, whose seemingly endless skill set and ingrained empathy allow him to follow and accent on everything Jerry is doing, adding punctuation to the lyrics and providing a seamless platform for Joseph’s guitar. The only other instruments besides this pair are the judicious use of Felix Fan’s cello and Jai Vatuk’s color splashes on slide guitar, bass and sitar. Mainly, we get to eavesdrop on Wally & Jerry, who are rapidly growing into an amazing duo that pull the very best from one another. Three ever-excellent Joseph originals and a superior remake of Stockholm Syndrome’s White Dirt are joined by ace covers of M.I.A.’s Paper Planes (which Jerry gives a wicked, knowing grin) and Blitzen Trapper’s Furr, which the pair inhabits as if they’d written it. Jerry Joseph doesn’t make bad records. That’s just a fact, but Civility is a cut above even for him. (DC)

Tricky: Mixed Race (Domino)

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Ever since Martina Topley Bird left Tricky’s side homeboy hasn’t delivered a decent album. However, working off the promise of 2008’s Knowle West Boy, the kid finally delivers a mellow set worthy of his roots in the Bristol hip-hop movement with Mixed Race (arriving October 5), which finds the celebrated producer dabbling in a seamless blend of New Orleans jazz, folk blues, dubstep and the quieter side of Afrobeat to craft his best album since at the very least Pre-Millennium Tension, if not Maxinquaye. (RH)

Soulfly: Omen (Roadrunner)

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Ah, such undiluted, masterfully wrestled aggression! Brazil’s greatest gift to metal Max Cavalera has kept things at nigh cartoon levels — Soulfly are Dethklok’s clearest touchstone – since 1997 and Omen (released May 25) shows no signs of wearying anytime soon. The grinding, switchback fast music is so dense and relentless, with one fascinating exception (the Satriani/Vai honoring instrumental Soulfly VII), that it overrides one’s instinctive urge to chuckle at a chorus like “Bloodbath & beyond!” One suspects metal’s innate humor isn’t lost on Cavalera, whose band credit reads, “Vocals, 4-strings, soul, sitar, lyrical terrorism.” The tone is pretty apocalyptic on Omen but an honest assessment of the world’s present state doesn’t exactly inspire rainbows & ponies. Unlike metal’s many growlers and grumblers, Cavalera actually enunciates and keeps the vocals riding atop the power kick drum fueled haze. Sandblasting vocal cameos from Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato (Rise of the Fallen) and Prong’s Tommy Victor (Lethal Injection) are highlights, but this is Max’s show and we’re glad to take his latest blows to the head. (DC)

Bear In Heaven: Beast Rest Forth Mouth/Remixed (Hometapes)

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Endorsed by Grizzly Bear and critically jizzed on by Pitchfork as one of their “Best New Music” pets, the second album from Brooklyn’s Bear In Heaven was truly one of the most lauded albums of the 2009 season. Not too shabby for a band whose sound comes off more inspired by Roger Waters’ Amused to Death than Animal Collective, albeit with a Motorik shimmy that recalls the height of Sky Records’ heyday. This deluxe edition of Beast Rest Forth Mouth contains a bonus disc that features the entire album remixed by a host of imaginative parties including The Hundred in the Hands, The Field, Twin Shadow, High Places and Jesu, among others, each of whom bring their own unique spins to the ingredients of an already amazing set of songs. (RH)

Leonard Cohen: Songs From The Road (Columbia Legacy)

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Leonard Cohen’s 2008-2009 tour saw the 75-year-old Canadian bard overcome the frailty of his age and a dire bout of food poisoning in Spain to charm sold-out crowds across Europe, North America and the Pacific with an intimate concert experience that offered a fitting testament to the magnificence of a career that spans nearly a half-century. Following last year’s equally illuminating Live In London, Songs From The Road (released September 14) is an exceptional CD/DVD package that offers an even closer look into this tour. It features 12 selections from a wide variety of locations throughout the exhaustive journey, from Tel Aviv to San Jose to Helsinki, covering the entirety of Cohen’s years as a Columbia recording artist, with each song handpicked by producer Ed Sanders based specifically on the post-show discussions he and Leonard would have on the drive back to the hotel each night. Even if you see the release of Songs From The Road as redundant following the soothing majesty of the London live album, this set is nevertheless an eye-opening look and listen to an artist whose stage presence has been known to make grown men cry and women throw their blouses onstage. (RH)

The Vaselines: Sex with an X (Sub Pop)

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Hard to believe that a band that virtually no one thought would reunite in the 21 years since they initially broke up could bounce back to release one of the most enjoyable pop albums of 2010. That’s exactly what Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly achieved when they reconvened as The Vaselines in 2008 to play their longtime label Sub Pop Records’ 20th Anniversary concert extravaganza. Apparently the gig inspired the pair to write new material, which they took into a Manchester studio with producer Jamie Watson and a backing group comprised of members of Belle & Sebastian and the 1990s to deliver Sex with an X (released September 14), 12 tracks that pick up on the scrappy charm of their last full-length, 1989’s Dum Dum, albeit with a bigger budget and a more elaborate mixing board. (RH)

Richard Barone: Glow (Bar-None)

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If you want to read one of the most indispensable books on rock in the last ten years, pick up Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth, the 2007 self-help memoir from former Bongos lead singer-turned-solo artist Richard Barone. And if you want to understand why the Hoboken luminary is the right man to pen such a tome, look no further than his latest album Glow (released September 14), an adventurous 11-track collection expertly produced by the legendary Tony Visconti that forgoes his penchant for lush chamber pop for a guitar-heavy melodic twist that recalls some kind of fantastical daydream where Paul McCartney and Mitch Easter got together to pay homage to Marc Bolan (whose T. Rex nugget Girl Barone covers here). Fans of pure, concentrated power pop can bask in the Glow of this glistening highlight of an already indelible career. (RH)