Albums of the Week

April 20-April 26

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In this edition: Steven Wilson, The Howlin’ Brothers, Robyn Hitchcock, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Dead Confederate.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) (Kscope)

AOTW0420_StevenWilson While likely best known as the driving force behind Porcupine Tree, arguably the strongest band in progressive rock today, it’s Steven Wilson’s solo albums in the past few years that fully expose what a ridiculously wide ranging, maddeningly talented gent he is. His third outing under his own name (released February 26) takes full advantage of the short story flexibility implied by the title, jumping off with a fiery electric jazz-rock flourish that evolves into something akin to David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name before concluding with an ELO-esque orchestral swell – and that’s just the first piece! With five out of six cuts stretching past the seven-minute-mark and two hovering around 12 minutes, Wilson has given himself space to explore but always moving with considered, chess master focus. The spill of styles and moods would surely be a bloody muddle in lesser hands but Wilson is a sure-footed storyteller with seemingly boundless musical curiosity.

This is a good distance from the long-form ideas Wilson works with in Porcupine Tree, and thus a proper solo outing in its embrace of other partners, other ways of doing things, etc. The playing throughout this set is simply delectable, employing the same crack band Wilson employed on the fab live release Get All You DeserveTheo Travis (woodwinds, multi-instrumentalist), Adam Holzman (keyboards), Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman stick), Marco Minnemann (drums) and Guthrie Govan (guitar) – who bring subtle sophistication and bold punctuation to these tales. Wilson reaches new places as a vocalist here, touching on the same quivering emotional terrain as Marillion’s Steve Hogarth and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke in moments. But this isn’t an exercise in musician heroics it’s a stimulating vision that embraces diversity while maintaining a bound together unity. Blink and you’ll miss individual shifts, but the flow and feel of The Raven That Refused To Sing enfolds the listener in visions lovely and original; the stuff one ponders for years before truly unlocking what lurks within their verses. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
The Howlin’ Brothers: Howl (Readymade Records)

AOTW0420_HowlinBrothers This chugging, roots rockin’ debut from Nashville’s Howlin’ Brothers gives one the same tickle as The Gourds and The Felice Brothers, i.e. great American Music acts that tangle excited fingers in charming bluegrass, small group jazz, country hoots, ruminative folk, and more. While Howl (released March 5) opens with a front porch/street corner busking flavored trio of songs – including the Warren Haynes boosted Big Time – what awaits the listener further down the line are New Orleans dappled gems like Delta Queen and Just Like You, Everyman’s hymn Mama Don’t You Tell Me, the jig-touched Boatman Dance, the thoughtful, swaying Tell Me That You Love Me, and more variety beside. Each piece throws its arms around the listener, drawing them closer and inspiring a raised glass to what the Brothers have wrought. Some call this good humor but that undersells the nourishing nature of this fare – one actually feels good imbibing these siblings-in-name-only. While this record asserts their pickin’ bona fides, there’s more range than the average twang cowboys; a kind of lurking love affair with American tunesmithing along the lines of Randy Newman and Hank Williams bubbling just below the knee-slappin’ surfaces. Produced by Brendan Benson and released on Benson’s Readymade label, this happily meandering set marks the beginnings of one of the next great Americana finds – and a homegrown blow against the Mumford-ization of roots music. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Robyn Hitchcock: Love From London (Yep Roc)

AOTW0420_RobynHitchcock At 60 years young, Robyn Hitchcock remains the most eccentric Englishman of all London Town. But on his first new album since 2011’s Tromso, Kaptein, the eternal Soft Boy delivers some of his most accessible pop yet. Love from London (released March 5) is Hitchcock’s declaration of zen in an era of environmental and economic disarray at home and abroad. “We are surfing on the momentum of chaos. If a consensus on global warming comes from the people, then the media, the politicians, and the corporations will have to adapt to it,” he recently said in a public statement surrounding the release of this new album. “Rock and Roll is an old man’s game now, so I’m staying in it.” Across these ten new tracks, highlighted by such charming tunes as I Love You and End of Time, Hitch harks back to the more melodic end of his psychedelic jangle that made such late 80s/early 90s Egyptians fare as Queen Elvis and Perspex Island so great. At his age, Robyn seems to have realized the best way to rail against the system is through earworms. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Specter at the Feast (Vagrant)

AOTW0420_BRMC At first, the cover of The Call’s 1989 FM hit Let the Day Begin might seem a little odd on an album by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. But a deeper reading into the choice reveals it to be an homage to frontman Robert Levon Been‘s father, Michael, who just so happened to be the singer for the Santa Cruz, CA new wavers and who died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2010 backstage at a BRMC concert in Belgium where he was serving as the group’s sound engineer. It is just one of the unexpected charms of Specter at the Feast (released March 19), the Rebels’ seventh album and best work since their eponymous 2001 debut, a work soaked with the acme of the band’s classic formula of AOR grit, garage rock grime and shoegaze gusto in a sense that really displays the passion of their performance like nothing else they’ve done before. Papa Been would be so proud. (RH)

Ron’s Bonus Review:
Dead Confederate: In The Marrow (Spiderbomb-Redeye)

AOTW0420_DeadConfed The third full-length from Athens, GA’s Dead Confederate takes the new school Southern rock movement to new levels of intensity. With a hefty amount of time playing the entirety of Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night well ingrained into the bones of their sound, the aptly titled In The Marrow (released April 16) showcases the quintet ramping up the amplification to deliver eight songs of soulful viscera, creating something that comes across like The Dream Syndicate pledging their allegiance to My Bloody Valentine. This is alt-country for Am Rep fans. Pure magic. (RH)