Albums of the Week

July 23-July 29

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In this edition: Admiral Fallow, Stevie Jackson, Jimbo Mathus, Chatham County Line, The dB’s, Joe Walsh, The Cribs and Heavy Blanket.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Admiral Fallow: Tree Bursts In Snow (Nettwerk)

Bodies broken and bruised, forgotten and weary in our very fiber is how it sometimes feels. It doesn’t have to be anything cataclysmic that triggers such a mindset – sometimes we drop to our knees without knowing just why, the infinitesimal increase in psychic weight the grain of sand too much for us to continue standing. What’s beautiful and amazing about such states of being is how they tenderize us so that healing and bone-deep wisdom can seep in. All of this circles in on the underlying current within Tree Bursts In Snow (released June 26), the second album from Scotland’s Admiral Fallow. Besides a name that sounds a bit like a Dukes of the Stratosphear pseudonym, this band trucks in subtle hooks and lyrical finesse, a sound that one rides, smiling perhaps without realizing it, only understanding what the music has given them after the fact. Anyone who’s spent long, solitary hours with the work of Paul Buchanan, Paddy McAloon and Roddy Frame will recognize a kindred spirit in Admiral Fallow. Those unfamiliar with the soul-food within the Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera will still intuit these songs are tools towards hope and understanding in a most workingman’s way. What’s built here is the stuff that lasts, the stuff that builds calluses and muscle, for indeed, as they point out here, “the world needs ditch diggers, too.” In a post-Mumford era, their accents have winning cache, and what they’re singing and the settings they’ve created coalesce into an album one lives with as a companion rather than just another amusement. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Stevie Jackson: (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson (Banchory)

As someone who has long thought Belle and Sebastian do their best, most nakedly creative work on their EPs, this blast of utterly infectious pop-rock from the band’s lead guitarist comes as a dandy surprise. Jackson has contributed some real gems to the B & S catalog – often on singles and EPs – but he was clearly saving up the highest-karat gold for this solo debut (released July 3 in the U.S.). A jumping energy and love-what-I’m-doing feel permeates this set, which shifts around a lot to show there’s much more than six-string skills going on with Jackson. Like his day job, there’s humor and brains, but blessedly less mope, romantic self-pity and cheeky nihilism. And, being honest, Jackson’s got a more readily likeable set of pipes than Stuart (who I adore in all his fog-clouded, fish-and-chips Glaswegian charm). Seriously, if you yearn for the intelligent, beat-wise classic Kinks or the free range cool of The Beatles White Album, Stevie Jackson has you sorted out proper on his debut. (DC)

Dennis’ Bonus Review:
Jimbo Mathus: Blue Light (Big Legal Mess)

“Today is Thursday. It’s not the worst day,” is how the latest slab from one of THE under-appreciated American musicians of our time begins. Mathus, particularly in his non-Squirrel Nut Zippers solo wandering, has an unerring intuition for melancholy and pissed off undercurrents of the sort that reside inside all too many of us. It’s hard to look at the world, at the news, at our neighbors, and ultimately, ourselves and not feel like some profound, fundamental things aren’t working. Blue Light (released July 17), a new six-song EP, marries the socially aware weariness of Donny Hathaway with the swampy funkiness of Tony Joe White. It’s a fab union with the right-on mood of a contemporary CCR, except this one is helmed by an actual southern boy. If there’s one complaint it’s that killers like Fucked Up World, the mesmerizing title tune and Ain’t Feelin’ It just make one wish this was a full-length release. Can’t wait to hear where the green river takes Jimbo and his current sparring partners The Tri-State Coalition. (DC)

Dennis’ Other Bonus Review:
Chatham County Line: Sight & Sound (Yep Roc)

Raleigh, North Carolina-based Chatham County Line has been writing some of the best pure singer-songwriter material in the past decade. Billed by most as a bluegrass outfit, as is often the case with acoustic, drum-less outfits operating outside normal genre constrictions, it’s a description that badly misses the mark. This live set functions as a primo introduction to a band that’s far more in tune with Yonder Mountain String Band and Old Crow Medicine Show than any traditional grass band. Lead singer-prime songwriter-guitarist Dave Wilson has real presence, a voice clear and true belting out confident, unsentimental observations. The blend of singers and instruments in Chatham County Line is so damn nice, and they pull off what they do so well in the studio just as well in concert on Sight & Sound (released July 10), huddled around a single mic to deliver a cohesive, utterly solid case for their inclusion in any list of Americana’s top tier acts today. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
The dB’s: Falling Off The Sky (Bar/None)

Still sad about the R.E.M. break-up? Well, if you fancy yourself a true fan of the band, the news about the surprise reunion of 80s power pop greats the dB’s who, along with The Byrds and the Patti Smith Group comprised a major chunk of the Athens outfit’s DNA and whose members Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey have collaborated with the group on a number of occasions through the years, should have certainly served as a fitting respite from the loss of the unit behind such American masterpieces as Murmur, Life’s Rich Pageant, Green and Automatic for the People. And then when the word got out that the original lineup of Holsapple, Stamey, bassist Gene Holder and drummer Will Rigby are cutting their first new album in 30 years with Scott Litt and Mitch Easter – two men who are essential architects to the R.E.M. sound during their classic years – it almost felt as if some strange phoenix had risen from the ashes to ensure the spirit of their sonic kid brothers would remain alive and well in the aftermath of their split. And from the explosive jingle jangle of their Bar/None debut Falling Off the Sky (released June 12), the dB’s pick up right where they left off on such New Wave era barn burners as Stands for Decibels and Repercussion on glimmering earworms such as opening cut That Time Is Gone, World to Cry and Write Back. “Our main concern was just to make a really great dB’s record,” Holsapple explained in a press statement the group released about the reunion, “one that would stand beside our best work.” From the outcome of this stellar comeback, the sky’s the limit for a band whose time to enjoy the proper recognition as one of college rock’s most important and essential acts by this modern generation of Pitchfork preemies is beyond overdue. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Joe Walsh: Analog Man (Fantasy-Concord)

“I’m an analog man in a digital world,” isn’t just the main hook for the title cut of Joe Walsh’s first solo album since 1992’s dreadful Songs For A Dying Planet, it’s a fuckin’ mantra! It’s an adage for guys like me and the man behind some of rock’s greatest licks who feel a little out of step with society’s lemming-like inference for accepting a life inside the confines of one’s laptop/ iPad/ iPhone/ Droid/ netbook. It’s a message of assurance to guys who still prefer the tangibility of a record, book, magazine and newspaper over their subsequent apps – a battle cry that they are not alone in their luddite complex. Producer Jeff Lynne puts the same level of pomp and sincerity he utilized for the first Traveling Wilburys album and Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever on Analog Man, a Grade-A slab of album oriented pop that chronicles his delicate recovery from drugs and alcohol with the assistance of such famous friends as Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Graham Nash and longtime Neil Young bassist Rick Rosas. To call this Walsh’s best LP since There Goes The Neighborhood is an understatement. Analog Man (released June 5) deserves to be right up there with Barnstorm, James Gang Rides Again and The Long Run as one of the crowning achievements of his storied life in rock. (RH)

Ron’s Bonus Review:
The Cribs: In The Belly of the Brazen Bull (Witchita)

So where do you go after you lose the employ of the greatest guitarist of his generation from your ranks? That was indeed the challenge posed for the Brothers Jarman of The Cribs, who saw former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr come and go from the Wakefield trio’s company just long enough for him to help the siblings achieve a career high point with their excellent 2009 album Ignore The Ignorant, arguably the best thing Marr’s been associated with since Electronic. But In The Belly of the Brazen Bull (released May 15), the group’s fifth full-length LP, Ryan, Gary and Ross enlist the services of indie rock studio greats Steve Albini and Dave Fridmann to create a furious blast of old school college rock bombast that is far more SST than NME, not unlike the way Blur emulated Pavement 15 years earlier with their eponymous 1997 masterpiece. Marr’s brief stint with The Cribs was only gravy. The real meat of this band is the intuitive chemistry between the Jarman boys as they once again show why they are one of England’s most important bands. (RH)

Ron’s Other Bonus Review:
Heavy Blanket: self-titled (Outer Battery)

Have you been waiting all these years for J. Mascis to deliver his Joe Satriani record? Well ponder no more, youngsters, for on the eve of the excitement surrounding I Bet On Sky, the forthcoming third full-length from the reunited original lineup of Dinosaur Jr., comes the eponymous debut of Heavy Blanket (released May 8). Attached to a dubious back story of this mysterious instrumental trio being a high school side project of J’s to deviate from the noise he was creating as a member of the pioneering hardcore group Deep Wound, this one-off release is the kind of pure six-string masturbation that bridges the gap between Surfing With The Alien and Greg Ginn’s Gone. And whether or not its origins are bunk is irrelevant because jams like “Spit In The Eye” and “Dr. Marten’s Blues” contain some of Mascis’ sickest ripping in ages, making this a must-get for Dino fans who are serious about the alt-rock icon’s status as one of the best shredders of his generation. (RH)