In this edition: Dr. John, Leland Sundries, Crackerjack Highway, Chrome Cranks, Daniel Rossen, Radar Eyes, and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad.
Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Dr. John: Locked Down (Nonesuch)
In 2006, Dr. John donned his Night Tripper feather suit and headdress for the first time in decades to put the whammy on a late night Bonnaroo audience. It was a one-off, a strange, voodoo doll ‘n’ dancing Salomes affair where primordial forces were conjured into being and the Good/Bad Doctor called down rain on us motherfuckers. Five years later at a Bonnaroo Super Jam, Dr. John connected with Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), and what seemed a sound, a vibe, a hoodoo howl of a bygone time rose and birthed the collaboration heard on Locked Down (released April 3). To call this a return to form isn’t entirely correct, but it does signal the first time Dr. John has walked such funkily spooked, socially charged, vaguely menacing ground since the early 1970s. It is arguably his finest hour since 1974’s Desitively Bonnaroo. That may come across as harsh but despite a basically unassailably solid catalogue Mac didn’t shake things up for a long, long time. Up until his recent Katrina stoked records, he’d been coasting comfortably as a premiere ambassador for all things New Orleans, dueting with fellow celebs and cutting the theme song to PBS’ Curious George cartoon. Auerbach – TOTALLY using his newfound clout and capital for good – has steered Dr. John into something many of us figured was way behind him – contemporary significance. What lies at the bottom of Mac’s legend are those mystical, adventurous, and downright singular early albums like Remedies, In The Right Place and especially Babylon – the album most similar in existential temperament to Locked Down. This new set is playful and serious in equal measures, earthy as afternoon fucking in a tool shed and riled up as a drunkard on May Day. At his best, Dr. John is a transformer of ephemeral truths into shapes that breathe and bleed; a soothsayer of current events that ties them together with ancient mysteries. Locked Down presents Dr. John at his very best from front to back, the old master channeling forces most of us lumps of clay wouldn’t dare tangle with, riding high and free with Auerbach and the young guns he gathered together specifically for this project. The Afrobeat/Nigerian funk touches are nifty, and while it honors and stirs up the Doc’s early classics, this album never feels like an exercise in recreation. It’s slinkier and sexier than anything else unleashed in 2012, and with a lot more going on upstairs than the vast majority of competition. As with his landmark recordings, Locked Down is serious business that cannot be denied, a psychedelisized pimp slap to awaken us, a call to love and a cudgel against fear, the right place in these wrong times. (Dennis Cook)
Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Leland Sundries: The Foundry EP (self-released)
Leland Sundries have very wide arms, and they’re only stretching wider with each new release based on this second EP, where the shipbuilding tradition of Greenpoint, Brooklyn meets bile-tinged anti-love songs and swooning travelogues. There are some delightfully antiquarian aspects to this Brooklyn-based outfit – referencing times past and utilizing out-of-fashion touchstones like 78s, iceboxes and Morse Code transmissions – but gracefully turning on their heels to quip, “I knew that girl was doing me wrong, but at least she was doing me.” History – personal and the larger collective sort – figures prominently in this six-pack, but woven in such a way that one sees how the disparate threads come together. At various points one hears hints of Nick Cave, Robyn Hitchcock, Leon Redbone and Leonard Cohen, but increasingly ringmaster Nick Loss-Eaton shows a wit and intelligence that mark him as his own man, and like the best EPs, this set makes one curious about what lies ahead even as it begs one to hit repeat to further ruminate on what’s at hand. (DC)
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Dennis’ Bonus Review:
Crackerjack Highway: Raised By Squirrels (self-released)
Crackerjack Highway are a dead solid rock band, moving with confidence, tight harmonies, air guitar inspiring riffs and a crisp attack on their latest EP. Raised By Squirrels has a bit of a Big Rock feel – things are boldly etched, no whiny diary rock this – kicking off with 70s Journey-meets-Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion feel on Simple Today before charging into radio-ready True Stories, a head-full-of-wine sing-along about flying freak flags that should be a jukebox staple. The energy drops to a simmer on Shine Tonight, an earnest slice of power pop-y, early Springsteen-esque romantic tunesmithing, which is followed by a sincere cover of The Eurythmics’ Here Comes The Rain Again (a tougher number in Crackerjack’s hands – nice). Closer Pig Farm is redolent of Phish, Zappa and other oddballs with instruments, a bold statement that lets the band flash and fly. With all these angles on display, Crackerjack Highway shows themselves adept at them all, a group simply in love with rock in the broad sense and eager to try their hand at whatever variety takes their fancy. (DC)
EP release show is May 12 at the Brick and Mortar Music Hall in San Francisco. And DI can attest to Crackerjack Highway’s killer live prowess.
Check out three cuts from Raised By Squirrels here!
Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Chrome Cranks: Ain’t No Lies In Blood (Thick Syrup)
Comprised of members of GG Allin’s Murder Junkies, the Honeymoon Killers and Pussy Galore, the Chrome Cranks were a supergroup organically grown from the piss, scum and asphalt of New York City’s downtown district, which they called home for 20 years. Today, Lower Manhattan is a vastly different landscape compared to when the Cranks released their debut EP Eight-Track Mind in 1992, with such landmarks as CBGB’s, Mars Bar, Bleecker Bob’s, Ratner’s, the Lansky Lounge and countless other storied establishments since shuttered to make room for more Starbucks, Duane Reade drug stores and – worst of all – the John Varvatos clothing store that stole the soul of 315 Bowery – all done in the name of corporate sanitization. But while Bloomberg and his zoning goon squad can remove the edifices themselves, they can never take away the memories many of us natives cherish of such venues – memories that come rushing back like a tidal wave of dirty blood and stale Rheingold on the Cranks’ first new album in 15 years with the classic lineup of frontman/guitarist Peter Aaron, guitarist William G. Weber, bassist Jerry Teel and drummer Bob Bert in tow. Recorded by Kevin McMahon (Lucky Pierre, Prick). at Marcata Studios in Gardiner, NY, not too far from Aaron’s additional duties as music editor of the long-running Hudson Valley magazine Chronogram, and graced with cover art designed by Michael Gira of the Swans, Ain’t No Lies In Blood (released February 28) is a visceral knife-hand chop to the throat of the hipster demographic from the salty dogs of the old guard of the Lower East Side. It is a nine song, 34 minute blues punk brick pitched through the window of the luxury condos that overtook Norfolk St. with the ferocity of David Wells’ famed fastball, evidenced by such teeth smashing tunes as I’m Trash, Rubber Rat and an uncompromising rip through The Byrds’ Lover of the Bayou. Ain’t No Lies In Blood is the sound of the city we all once knew and loved propelled by the power of four men who have returned to show all those entitled little shits fucking up their old neighborhood how it’s supposed to be done. (Ron Hart)
Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Daniel Rossen: Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP (Warp)
When Daniel Rossen first began working up the five songs that would comprise his first-ever solo EP, he did so with the intentions of presenting them as possible entries for the next Grizzly Bear album. Recorded in a variety of assorted rehearsal rooms and private spaces across New York City, the material soon began to take on a life of its own, with themes and thoughts so entrenched in the personal nature of Rossen’s being that the choice to release the material under his government name was the most logical one. “There’s bliss in this mess,” he sings on the EP’s closing track Golden Mile augmented by the mighty drum work of Dr. Dog’s Earl Slick. “There’s madness all around.” Earlier in the program, he enlists the help of Ian Davis and Kris Nolte of the upstart Brooklyn collective Mason Jar Music to color such material as Return to Form and Up on High, while St. Nothing is a striking piano ballad completed in one take that recalls Harry Nilsson at his bleakest and is as lovely as anything the singer has done with either Grizzly Bear or his other band Department of Eagles. With Silent Hour/Golden Mile (released March 20), Daniel Rossen steps out of his effects-laden comfort zone to deliver the most beautiful and organic music of his young career to date. (RH)
Ron’s Bonus Review:
Radar Eyes: Radar Eyes (Hozac)
Chicago has always been a town continually abuzz with great new bands, and the latest export from the Windy City is one of their most promising in years. Radar Eyes eschews the obligatory post-rock prerequisites of their region in favor of a unique compound of 60s psych-garage and early 90s Britpop that brings The Seeds out of The Lightning Seeds. Their eponymous debut (released February 7) is a superbly refreshing spin on the current shoegaze revival the Y Generation is waging, and it is more of a shame than a shock that more folks in Blogger land aren’t talking about them. (RH)
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad: In These Times (Controlled Substance Recordings)
From end to end, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad’s In These Times (released April 10) is a guided practice in Irie and world-wise meditation. Billed as a psychedelic reggae album, from a band that has the skill to make a field full of fans melt away during their live sets, the dubs are spongy and the listener’s brain is sure to gleefully discombobulate through the process of absorbing the sap-laden rhythms. One of the preeminent and uniquely-styled U.S. reggae bands currently on the tour circuit, amongst a list of many sound-alike groups, GPDS is showing that they are masters of their craft. Having recently released a stylistically exploratory acoustic album (Country) that shares tracks with In These Times, it’s apparent that this is a band able to tackle a broad scope of genres with professional exactness and a creative muse that few bands are able to call upon. In These Times is lyrically profound and musically grounded in far-reaching traditional and progressive reggae styles; this relatively young band is only beginning to show its ability to branch out. One can tell a lot about a band by its ability to access and willingness to share the stage or a song with a kindred band, and Hawaii’s equally-talented The Green lends backup vocals on All Night Music. Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad isn’t scared to experiment, and that need to spread their wings is a sure sign of staying power – this crew is destined to bless our ears for some time to come. If you haven’t yet jumped on the wagon, there’s no better time than these times. (Jeremy Sanchez)