Albums of the Week

January 23-January 29

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In this edition: Scott H. Biram, Cowboy Junkies, Common and Hubble.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Scott H. Biram: Bad Ingredients (Bloodshot)

Based on this clapboard cupboard of Bad Ingredients (released October 11, 2011), Biram – a self-described “dirty old one man band” – is a touch possessed. There’s devils (and a few angels) sluggin’ it out inside this beautifully bedraggled Austinite, and the stuffing they punch loose is cracklin’ country, blues dipped righteousness. Biram offers baptisms in the “First Church of Ultimate Fanaticism,” and one does feel hit in the spirit during highway prayer Open Road, fierce love paean Victory Song, and pretty much everywhere on this album. Biram stirs up the kind of bloody fingered reality inherent to Lightnin’ Hopkins and Leadbelly, a homegrown hoodoo not encountered much in modern times – Seasick Steve has a bit of this but Biram is less premeditated, more unruly, and just a better songwriter to boot. With all the polish and politeness of a spit shined shot glass filled with toilet fermented raisin wine, Bad Ingredients packs a hell of a kick. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Cowboy Junkies: Sing In My Meadow: The Nomad Series Vol. 3 (Latent)

While its fond memories of this long-lived Canadian band’s brief time on the U.S. charts that’s made them a mainstay on the winery and theatre circuit in the States, what’s kept this longtime fan hooked since he first saw them perform in 1988 in Santa Cruz is the bloody-minded storytelling and sheer earthiness of their concerts – a consciously bruising feistiness the Junkies have never fully captured in the studio until now. Sing In My Meadow (released October 25, 2011) was captured live-off-the-floor in just four days with the five-piece touring band (the core Timmins siblings, bassist Alan Anton and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Bird), who fully indulged their love of distortion slathered blues-jazz-rock that vibes nicely with Spotlight Kid Captain Beefheart, the 15.60.75 (Numbers Band)’s Jimmy Bell’s In Town, and the rockier side of early 70s Miles Davis. Death and lust tussle aggressively here, slashing at those that crucify peace, crows picking at the war-makers’ eyes as Margo Timmins purrs like a cat on a hot tin roof, sexy as slow kisses down your spine, deadly as a woman with her back against the wall, hungry as hell with an appetite for sin. However, the star of this set – appropriately – is Michael Timmins, whose songwriting continues its sharp cleave of recent years – 3rd Crusade is one of the gnarliest war indictments in ages – propelled by one of the best showcases for his guitar work to date. I’ve long argued that Timmins is one of the finest six-string warlocks of his generation, and Sing In My Meadow helps make that argument in tangible ways. What’s becoming clear in the past few years is this band’s third decade together may prove their most interesting yet. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Common: The Dreamer, The Believer (Warner Bros.)

For his Warner Bros. debut, Common links up with one of the hottest producers in the game to deliver some of the most no-nonsense mic work he has flexed since his Relativity days. Say what you will about the fine line the Chicago MC walks between consciousness and machismo across the dearth of The Dreamer, The Believer (released December 20, 2011), but what some critics may mislabel as misogyny on tracks like Sweet and Raw is balanced out by tunes like Cloth and Lovin’ I Lost, indicating perhaps the proverbial roller coaster of emotions that come along with the mending of a broken heart. Meanwhile, think of Com’s raw porn talk on the Nas-assisted Ghetto Dreams not so much as sexist hypocrisy but rather a revenge bang fantasy where he has his way with Sarah Palin, who winds up crying for his head on a whole ‘nother level than she did a few months back. However, having this song follow the opening title cut, which features a poignant, eloquent spoken word coda from legendary poet Maya Angelou, on the other hand, might not have been the wisest decision. Meanwhile, the true star of this record is No ID, who plays a perfect Brian Jackson to Common’s Gil-Scott Heron, giving the man something he has not truly enjoyed since the late 90s, namely a substantial sonic platform to do what he does best. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Hubble: Hubble Drums (Northern Spy)

I was not going to let 2011 come to a close without getting my two cents in on one of the weirdest and wickedest albums to emerge from a truly odd year that thankfully drifts smaller and smaller into the distance as the early days of ’12 tick on. Having finally arrived in my mailbox after months of eager anticipation, the three lengthy bugouts that comprise the debut LP (released November 8, 2011) from the solo project of Zs guitarist Ben Greenberg is every bit as transcendent and trippy as one could have originally imagined. It’s as if Philip Glass gave up his Steinway for a Fender in a bid to cosmically replace Robert Fripp on No Pussyfooting. In fact, opening track “Nude Ghost” was actually utilized to soundtrack a video of images culled from NASA’s Hubble Telescope. Now if that isn’t considered true space rock, I’m not quite sure what is. (RH)