Albums of the Week

October 17-October 23

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In this edition: Jonathan Wilson, Chamberlin, L.A. Guns and Rocket From The Tombs.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Jonathan Wilson: Gentle Spirit (Bella Union)

Some albums whack you between the eyes and others boil you slow. The latter method tends to develop richer, more complex textures but it also requires patient listeners willing to saunter awhile. From the prayerful, cracked plea of the opening title track to the vaguely magical, silvery conclusion, Gentle Spirit (released September 13) takes its time, pure California rock redolent of the hills, valleys, highways and ocean that sculpt the state, a child of the canyons outside of Los Angeles where wildness and star-filled skies still hold sway. Wilson has been active in recent years as a producer and sideman, working with Dawes, Gary Louris, Chris Robinson, Jackson Browne and many others, but his own music is singular, earnest, poetic, a sound that permeates and invigorates one with a deep breath of fresh desert air. The first five cuts all clock in over six minutes with two hovering around eight minutes, thus quickly establishing a long-form, exploratory personality, though Gentle Spirit doesn’t meander. Like the best work of his Cali ancestors – the early solo albums of Crosby, Stills and Nash spring to mind – Wilson’s music has dense muscle pumping its wings, soaring but solid, lovely and powerful in its graceful movements. Natural Rhapsody may be the finest evocation of Obscured By Clouds/Meddle-era Pink Floyd ever wrought, and Desert Raven is a controlled mini-epic that starts with a guitar figure that rivals In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. One could pick out such sparkling moments on every cut so densely packed with beauty and thoughtful craftsmanship is Gentle Spirit, a lush, spiritually resonant work that’s timely as hell even if we might not realize it in all our hustle & bustle. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Chamberlin: Cabin Covers EP (Roll Call)

It’s cheeky to cover five songs released by peers in just the past few years but to do so with the quiet aplomb Chamberlin has mustered is cheeky AND impressive. On the Cabin Covers EP (released September 20), the Burlington, Vermont band has given an old school MTV Unplugged treatment to tunes from Kanye West/Bon Iver (Lost In The World), Passion Pit (Little Secrets), Cults (Go Outside), Vampire Weekend (Giving Up The Gun), and Foster The People (Pumped Up Kicks), effectively exposing the bones of this teen-centric material and building on those sturdy elements after shearing away the original shiny coats. Chamberlin doesn’t shy away from the overwrought, adolescent concerns in the original lyrics, and lead singer Mark Daly’s faultless falsetto and quivering pipes cling surprisingly well to these tales of young love and cultivated ennui. Frankly, I’d happily listen to any of these versions before revisiting the originals (with the one exception of Pumped Up Kicks, arguably the weirdest hit single of 2011, which continues to fascinate it in any configuration). By sculpting these acoustic-leaning, gorgeously harmonized renditions Chamberlin shows they can meet the competition on their terms and then better them, a form of sonic judo that throws one for a loop. (DC)

All proceeds from sale of the Cabin Covers EP will go to Vermont communities impacted by Hurricane Irene. You can pick up a digital download for a $4.99 minimum donation or a physical CD with a pound of Vermont Coffee Company Dark Roast here.

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
L.A. Guns: Acoustic Gypsy Live (Favored Nations)

When it comes to personnel changes, guitar great Tracii Guns definitely has his old partner in crime W. Axl Rose’s Guns ‘n’ Roses beat in terms of the cast of cats who’ve rotated through the lineup of his legendary Hollywood hard rock outfit L.A. Guns. So much so that there is now essentially two versions of the band touring under the group’s name, one led by longtime singer Phil Lewis and the other one helmed by Guns himself, something I will need a lot more room than this stretch of space to get into – it’s enough to make your damn head spin. And, at press time, the member deck has been shuffled yet again with the news of former Love/Hate frontman Jizzy Pearl leaving the Tracii-led L.A. Guns, after two years of returning to the band following a short stint with them in the late 90s, and being replaced by the group’s first female member, Rock Star: Supernova runner-up Dilana Robichaux. However, prior to Pearl’s departure, the arguable stronger version of L.A. Guns recorded an amazing live album capturing the band’s very first all-acoustic performance at the celebrated Los Angeles music venue The Hotel Cafe in February of this year with one of the strongest lineups either faction has witnessed since the Cocked and Loaded era. “I hadn’t played live acoustically for more than an hour since my Bancroft Junior High School guitar ensemble when I was 13 years old,” explains Guns in the liner notes to Acoustic Gypsy Live (released September 27), a candid snapshot of the group presented in a way many fans never thought possible. But this excellent 14 song set proves that Tracii doesn’t need to plug in to be electrifying on the six-string. Produced by former Quiet Riot guitarist Niel Citron and boasting a contingency consisting of Jizzy, Tracii and the now ex-rhythm section of drummer Chad Stewart and bassist Danny Nordahl (who have since been replaced by Eric Grossman on bass and Doni Gray on drums, who appears here on percussion and backing vocals), not to mention auxiliary players Teddy Andreadis on keys and Muddy Stardust on second guitar, this stripped-down performance exposes the rootsy essence of some of L.A. Guns’ rowdiest, loudest anthems like Never Enough, Over The Edge, Sex Action, and Rip and Tear. Other tracks, meanwhile, such as the recently penned Little Soldier and the group’s signature hit The Ballad of Jayne, showcase a more twang-induced essence that sounds more Laurel Canyon than Sunset Strip. And when you dig into Pearl’s commanding presence on surprise covers of Otis Redding’s These Arms of Mine and Love Hurts, the Boudleaux Bryant hit made famous by Nazareth, you will instantly feel the impact of his absence from the still-warm microphone he left behind. How the Dilana-led edition of the Tracii Guns version of L.A. Guns will fare in comparison to past incarnations remains to be seen, but chances are it’s gonna have to be something mighty transcendental to eclipse the definitive nature of Acoustic Gypsy, which presents this excellent body of work in the world of hard rock in a light that far exceeds the interpersonal drama that has mired its existence all these years. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Rocket From The Tombs: Barfly (Fire Records)

When Rocket From The Tombs first emerged in 1974 out of Ohio’s burgeoning proto-punk scene alongside the likes of the Electric Eels and DEVO, they came screaming out of the gate armed with some of the most visceral anthems ever penned in the Me Decade, Sonic Reducer and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo chief among them. However, rampant drug use and violent interpersonal conflict between its members caused the Tombs to implode during a July 1975 soundcheck for a shared bill with Television. Shortly thereafter, the ex-RFTT members went on to form Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, two of punk’s most celebrated acts, causing the Tombs to achieve supergroup status after the fact. 37 years later, original members David Thomas, Cheetah Chrome and Craig Bell reconvene with Pere Ubu drummer Steve Mehlman and Television guitarist Richard Lloyd, who was eyewitness to the band’s brutal demise, to finally conspire the long-dormant band’s official debut LP. And while there are elements present that do showcase their age, such as the old man soul-rocker Sister Love Train and its reprise Love Train Express, Barfly (released October 11) nevertheless exhibits all the scrappy, caustic charm we have come to expect from this lost American band whose official arrival onto the national scene has evaded us for way too long. (RH)