Scott Holt, Kudzu (Gracetone Entertainment)
I can allow for vanity releases (the press blurb is that this is the record company’s first release), and I can deal with someone wanting to take some of John Cougar’s pie (if there is any — know anyone who bought the latest John Cougar, I mean Mellencamp, album?). I can even tolerate a little ripping off of Hank Williams Jr.’s theme for Monday Night Football (on “That Girl”), because it’s nice to have Monday Night Football in this country (it’s better than “Monday Night Ice-Curling,” admit it). But jeez guy, if the idea pool is that small and your idea of hard-ass edge is Hendrix, would it have been possible, pretty please, to restrain yourself from ripping off Hendrix’s most famous tune, “Purple Haze,” in “S&M?” You will never hear of this guy again, but now you know that he likes old Hendrix. Old, old Hendrix. Cripes.
Grade: C- [Release Date: 1/11/11]
Robert Owens, Art (Compost Records)
With 20 years of singing primordial disco-house under his belt, Owens is without question the Barry-White-and-Smoky-Robinson-rolled-into-one of the genre. Are you jealous, though, particularly when you consider that no one most of you know has ever heard of him? I mean, there are major velvet-rope hits and collaborations with people like Frankie Knuckles in his past, and on this new 2-count-em-disc set he spreads knob duties between Atjazz and some newer guys (but mostly, stubbornly, with his old Fingers Inc partner Larry Heard), and blah de blah, more name-dropping, top of their game, and disk 2 has more urgent-sounding stuff than disk 1, etc. In the end, though, it’s like with progressive house vs. Lady Gaga: the line between this stuff and legit chart-topper material is paper-thin but impenetrable somehow, at times giving off the air of a guy trying to get out of his own way. And doesn’t disco still suck, or did I miss the meeting?
Grade: B- [Release Date: 11/16/10]
Heaven & Hell, Neon Nights: 30 Years of Heaven & Hell- Live In Europe (Eagle Records/Fontana)
Ronnie James Dio died recently, leaving several generations of headbangers understandably distraught; Dio made Bruce Dickinson seem like a helium-filled piker. The lineup of Black Sabbath in which he was front-guy was a legendary thing, combining Dio’s wizards-and-dragons trip with the hard acid-metal pioneered by Iommi and his peeps. This 2007 live set of the band (as renamed for the mold-breaking album that originally brought them together) finds Dio in not the greatest form but more than solid; his impeccably trained voice is plum out of those crazy-sounding high Bs by the time the set gets around to “Neon Knights.” Urged on by the thunderous work of the sound crews at these outdoor Euro-fests, Iommi tinkers a lot with his lead guitar work without sacrificing the shtick that made the tunes famous, such as the 3 Stooges-esque yuk-it-up ditty that kicks off the “Mob Rules” solo. Geezer Butle and Vinny Appice comprise the back end, thus this is classic in every sense.
Grade: A [Release Date: 11/16/10]
Apparat, DJ-Kicks (K7 Records)
German DJ Apparat is ambient fetishist Sascha Ring, co-owner of IDM/techno specialty label Shitkatapult. Knowing this now, you may be shocked to learn that his contribution to the DJ-Kicks series is comprised mostly of ambient techno with broad hints of IDM. A study in hypnosis through repetition, this album finds Apparat submerged thousands of leagues under the hearing-test-pattern sea, putting forth such big names as Burial (with Four Tet, on “Moth,” comprised of a progressive house pattern massaged by a warm-toned half-written alien-visitation melody) and Thom Yorke (sounding more Bono than usual on “Harrowdown Hill”), with appearances by Vincent Markowski (whose cavitating, more deep-house-ish “The Madness of Moths” has only its title simpatico with its lead-in from the aforementioned Burial joint) and Telefon Tel Aviv (“Lengthening Shadows,” a look at what MGMT might sound like captured on Martian radar). Apparat has been accused of being scattershot in his approach, but many artists can relate to the sometimes bipolar nature of what turns them on — frankly I don’t see anything all that non-linear about this collection, and can certainly recommend it as a state-of-the-art mix.
Grade: A [street date: 10/25/10]
Lyrics Born, As U Were (Decon Inc.)
Perhaps owing to this Frisco-area producer/DJ’s maturity, I don’t have a huge issue with this album, which is normally the case when I’m presented with novo-80s disco. It’s odd to see the words “mixture of Rick James, Scary Monsters-era Bowie, Kool & the Gang, Cee Lo and Snoop” forming on my screen without another sentence talking about how much I detest yuk-yuk baloney like Datarock and whatnot, but there it is. If guilt by association went for anything, LB would be bigger than he is; his old-days cohorts include Blackalicious and DJ Shadow. Could be, however, that mainstream DJ America isn’t ready for an Asian dude with a not-great sense of humor (as evidenced by a couple of pointed but unfunny skits on board this LP), because the songs themselves, a mixture of the influences I just cited, are seriously catchy and a lot of fun. Then again, fun-time novo-disco DJs would not be the first people led into the mile-deep bunkers if nuclear war ever broke out, and an also-ran income level is better than nothing.
Grade: A- [street date: 10/25/10]
Decembrists, The King is Dead (Capitol Records)
With the one-off “concept album” experiment from Decembrists that was 2009’s Hazards of Love now in the books, the band turns again to the hayloft-indie space while claiming that 3-minute pop songs are more difficult to put together than conceptual magnum opuses. Were he alive, Bach might not agree, and there was a lot about Hazards that was simply too cool for school in a Zeppelinized-steampunk kind of way, but whatever. The yodeling fadeout that closes “Calamity Song” is pressed against the sort of open-window drivetime mid-tempo guitar urgency native to REM, which is where we should mention Peter Buck, who guests on 3 of the songs. REM can’t be referenced merely in passing, though; pretty much the whole thing is a countrified Fiddle Faddle that many people will assume is Arcade Fire attempting to resurrect 1980s Atlanta (jump-off single “Down by the Water” flirts dangerously close to ripping off “The One I Love”). Departures include a grog-and-whaling accordion/fiddle break in the wry mining storyteller “Rox in the Box”; a nod to Jimmy Buffett in the sedate, Christmasy “January Hymn”; and some not-unlikeable NASCAR bluegrass (“All Arise”).
Grade: A- [Release Date: 1/18/11]
Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen, For the Ghosts within (Domino Records)
One scrap of unkillable rock n roll wreckage you may not be familiar with is Robert Wyatt, who fronted 60s/70s band Soft Machine from behind the drum kit before he summarily quit to immerse himself in other oddball projects in between permanently losing the use of his legs. He’s legendary stuff in some circles, and a relationship with Domino Records that began in 2007 with a solo LP continues here in this collaboration with saxplayer/board-wiz Gilad Atzmon and violinist Ros Stephen. The instrumental core support for Wyatt’s lispy Tom-Waits-vs-Boris-Karloff warble is string quartet with lonely midnight-sax passages, so in general there’s a 1930s Hollywood soundtrack feel to it that deviates only once into Arab-accented grime (“Where Are They Now,” with feat. credits to Stormtrap and Shadia Mansour) and finally exits on a particularly ironic “What a Wonderful World.” It isn’t at all unsuccessful, not that I could tell you for the life of me what kind of audience would be genuinely enthralled by it.
Grade: B [street date: 10/19/10]
Bill Mumy, Glorious in Defeat (GRA Records)
Maybe you knew that Will from TV’s Lost in Space was making blues-rock albums, and if so, may I suggest that you get some semblance of a life, because all that sort of knowledge does is make music writers jealous. For those who have lives but find this curiosity curious, yes, he’s at 4 albums of straight-up bar stuff now, and it’s “good,” if you consider your buddy’s basement-beer practice band “unacceptable.” Mumy’s stifled vocal sound is like Corey Feldman’s, if you’ve ever heard that stuff on Howard Stern’s show — it’s almost like he doesn’t want to be heard, everything in a gruff half-whisper. And so a prejudice is born: former TV stars need to take voice lessons, or at least put the verb “PROJECT” on an endless loop in their iPods for a few days. The music itself is fine, with some almost Ozzy-ish turns on his lead guitar (Mumy plays all the instruments, which in this case is actually something to brag about). Throwing the lyrics under a microscope reveals a few lines about a chick in purple boots the narrator has a boner for: are we talking about Judy, Penny, or Dr. Smith? (I couldn’t resist, Bill, if you’re reading this. Big fan.)
Grade: B [street date: 10/19/10]
Roxy Coss, Roxy Coss (CDBY Records)
Seattle-based jazz chick Coss is making waves in New York, based not just on her Presidential Scholorship to William Paterson University but for her vise-like grip on new-jack bebop. Everything is in place on her all-original debut — agreeable moods, impeccable engineering — making this an instant classic for oldbies and newbies alike. “I’m in the Mood For Love” feel-alike “Wandering One” kicks off the record, which next moves into unfettered, Rhodes-supported torch with “Lately,” then weary cha-cha at “A New Time,” at which point Coss appropriately trades her adventurous sax for flute. More slowbie torch at “Enlightenment” spotlights gliding sax lines, and at this point it becomes apparent that this is makeout stuff, further driven home by the moderately edgy but never obtrusive modal lines of “The Slow Ascent” and the puffy, fugue-inducing “I Think So.”
Grade: B [street date: 10/5/10]
Rumspringa, Sway (Cantora Records)
There’s no lack of cred here — among other things, Cantora Records launched MGMT’s Time to Pretend EP into low orbit — and this SoCal guy-girl duo have their vibe down pat: George Thorogood hijacking White Stripes. This’d be a logical tour pairing with Band of Skulls, whose less rootsy, more Led Zeppelin-esque stuff has already proven to be car-commercial-ready, whereas Rumspringa’s neo-bar-band blues (complete with racetrack-megaphone vocals, which I can’t get sick of for the life of me) seems to want to teach Jack and Meg about Muddy Waters, for duty and humanity — you get the idea, a no-brainer similar to Dead Weather’s bayou-vampire murk. Venice-gondola overtones in slug-rocker “Tryptych” smack of Walkmen’s Lisbon LP, but that’s the only mustard they get on their curveball (this album hasn’t made the biggest splash in the world, probably mostly owing to this sub-genre stubbornness — at least Zeppelin toyed with 18th century American folk, and you sort of wish this generation… oh, I won’t waste my breath).
Grade: B [street date: 10/5/10]
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