Albums of the Week

November 17-November 23

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In this edition: Tim and Nicki Bluhm, Ex-Norwegian, Gary Moore and Mark Sultan.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Tim & Nicki Bluhm: Duets (Little Knickers)

“When you’re having a hard time believin’ in yourself, baby,” this quietly delightful pairing of two of Northern California’s finest may be just the ticket to bevel down your blues and raise a smile. Anyone who’s seen The Mother Hips’ Tim Bluhm and his Grambler leading spouse Nicki perform together knows their chemistry extends beyond their marriage. When they sing with one another there’s a sparkle to things, love and a life shared resonating in the music, and that sonic twinkle reverberates throughout their first official studio pairing, Duets (released November 15). The hovering, smiling spirits of Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner and Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris circle this brief set, which wisely keeps things clear and direct, focusing on their intertwining voices and Tim’s acoustic guitar. Producer Dan Prothero (Mofro) uses the same approach he used on 2005’s California Way, arguably Tim’s finest solo album to date. When you’re dealing with appealing, distinctive singers like the Bluhms and top-notch songwriting – their own and choice covers of Richard Farina’s Reno and country staple You’re Running Wild – there’s not much truck in adding frills and whistles. This is a new gateway into these artists, a simpler POV that could snag folk and classic country fans totally unfamiliar with the Hips or Nicki and the Gramblers. For existing enthusiasts, this is a charming love letter sure to please. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Ex Norwegian: Sketch (Dying Van Gogh)

Clocking in at a lean half hour and change, Sketch (released November 15) is a model of power pop ingenuity. These ten cuts show Miami Beach, FL’s Ex Norwegian to be worthy descendents of The Kinks, Cheap Trick, The Raspberries, Badfinger and other pop-rock stalwarts, but refreshingly the fingerprints of their inspirations are faint at best. This imaginative, highly enjoyable album is jammed with excellent arrangements and instrumental coloring that builds on the basic trio, and the hooks and choruses linger nicely even after just one spin. Highlights include Mind Down, a small marvel of jangle and stop-start head-shake, and Sky Diving, a soaring Jeff Lynne worthy flight. Ex Norwegian gets it right in a way that radio has largely forgotten, joining under-celebrated contemporaries like Sloan and Splitsville in keeping the torch lit for great, smart ear candy. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Gary Moore: Live at Montreux 2010 (Eagle Rock)

Sorry Edge, but when it comes to talk about who is the best Irish rock guitarist there are only two men at the top of that conversation. The first one is Rory Gallagher, and the other is Gary Moore. For over 40 years, the Belfast-born axe titan consistently toiled to help shape the art of hard rock guitar with an ever-evolving approach to his craft. From the Fleetwood Mac-inspired electric blues of his first band Skid Row to his role in the development of the twin guitar attack that’s become commonplace in modern hard rock and metal as a member of the all-important Black Rose lineup of Thin Lizzy to his forays into American blues and Celtic music as a solo act to his part in one of the most underrated power trios of all time as a member of BBM with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker of Cream, Moore has truly established his place in the annals of history with his unabashed penchant for reinvention.

Sadly, Moore succumbed to a heart attack in February of this year, dying at the age of 58 and forever snuffing out one of the most distinctive voices to ever shred a neck. Lucky for those of us weaned on his playing, one of his final performances has been preserved forevermore in the form of this excellent career-spanning set from the 2010 Montreux Jazz Festival, both on CD and DVD/Blu-Ray. Backed by a killer group consisting of longtime Moore collaborator Neil Carter on keyboards and rhythm guitar, former Jethro Tull bassist Jon Noyce and Primal Scream drummer Darrin Mooney, Moore turned in one of this most inspired performances in decades, highlighted by epic runs through Over the Hills and Far Away, the opening cut to his Gaelic-flavored 1987 album Wild Frontier, a pummeling version of Military Man from Grand Slam, his short-lived side band with Phil Lynott, and, of course, Parisienne Walways, his 1978 hit collaborative single with the late, great Thin Lizzy frontman, here clocking in at a whopping 11 minutes. Moore was also in the process of recording a new rock LP at the time of his death, and he took the chance to introduce three of the tracks at Montreux. And from the sound of Days of Heroes, Where Are You Now and Oh Wild One, the guitarist was in the throes of his finest work since 1990’s Still Got The Blues, the title track of which was performed at this concert but not included on the CD unfortunately (though it appears on the DVD). “Gary, without question, was one of the great Irish bluesmen,” eulogized former Boomtown Rats singer and fellow countryman Bob Geldof on the BBC shortly after Moore’s death was announced to the world, citing him as part of a trilogy alongside Van Morrison and the aforementioned Mr. Gallagher. Live at Montreux 2010 (released September 20), warts and all, is a fitting if unexpected epitaph to the soul and genius of this true giant of the electric guitar whose magnificent scale-work will sorely missed. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Mark Sultan: Whatever/Whenever (In The Red)

One of the leaders of the new school of garage rock steps out from behind his BBQ Show moniker to deliver a solo album for the ages with Whatever/Whenever (released October 25). Also available in an expanded format on double vinyl entitled Whatever I Want, Whenever I Want, non-obsessives will undoubtedly be satisfied with the pared-down CD version, which finds Sultan eschewing the caustic nature of his lo-fi beatdowns in favor of tackling everything from street corner doo-wop to 60s girl group soul to early West Coast hardcore to Albert Ayler-esque free jazz interspersed throughout this impressive collection of original tunes and covers of such groups you should be looking into like Ultravox, The Stains and The Four Lords. Flanked by a super session of musician friends that includes Dan Kroha of The Gories, Erin Wood from the Spits, Cole Alexander and Jared Swilley of Black Lips fame, Deerhunter/Atlas Sound mastermind Bradford Cox and longtime collaborator King Khan, Whatever/Whenever is an underground garage hootenanny you don’t want to miss. (RH)