Leon Foster Thomas, Brand New Mischief (Krossover Jazz)
This is how they do it in your basic Caribbean tourist retreat — okay, I’m lying, it isn’t. Trinidad native Thomas’s mastery of steel pan drums extends through a wide spectrum of color, from thumped bass funk (the title track, in which Thomas sees the solo space Thomas as an opportunity to emulate Kenny G-style sax) to progressive chill (“Baby Powder,” “Annecy”) and neo-bop (“Enchantment”). Along the way, this guy absolutely cooks, organically finding just the right voicings for his athletic, sweaty runs. Could steel drums become a go-to sound for the clubs? Probably not, but these sure ain’t your basic tourist trappings.
Grade: A+ [street date: 7/31/2012]
Marco Cappelli’s Italian Surf Academy, The American Dream (Mode Records)
Italian avant-jazz guitarist Cappelli took his formidable academic credits to New Yawk, where he’s settled into the eclectic scene (I know, is there a non-eclectic scene in that city?). This collaborative trio’s stated aim was to touch on Italian music as perceived by American moviemakers, ie the overall sound is a paean to Ennio Morricone, whose “Sundown” is covered here, with Cappelli mostly using, as you’d absolutely guess, acid-rock stun-guitar rather than the familiar 50s binky-bink surf sound (irony is so, you know, ironic, isn’t it?). Along with that bit of false advertising, the tone and theme of the record can get scattershot, with neo-prog and Mingus-like outbursts thrown out with seemingly few reasons, regardless of whether or not the sounds fit within the context, not that they don’t. Thus it all smacks of Lynch, not Tarantino, if you’re still trying to make up your mind.
Grade: B [street date: 7/31/2012]
Tom Teasley, All The World’s A Stage (T2 Music)
Teasley, a DC-area multi-instrumentalist, has won a lot of weird awards (Fulbright Hayes, etc.) for his weird, ethnically fascinated music. The instruments he uses include things with weird names: riqq, doumbeck, balafon, many percussion and wind instruments native to the Middle East, where he traveled on behalf of the State Department, performing solo and teamed up with indigenous musicians. Despite all you’ve just read, this isn’t the most outlandish world-music effort you could ever possibly hear; in fact there’s an almost throwaway Massive Attack vibe in the opening track, “Oresteia Furies Dance,” helping to demark the beginning of the album as the more accessible, almost Americanized section of it. It’s a polyrhythmic treasure, absolutely, don’t get me wrong — if I don’t sound wildly enthused it’s because I’m not enamored with his off-the-cuff soloing, much of which I assume would have been more melodically compelling if played by real native masters. He wanders around a lot in “The Apple Song,” his harmonica-like melodicas never really roping in the Western listener, whether or not he has a firm grasp of the scalar modality, which I sort of doubt he does. But again, the polyrhythmic-centric efforts are why you’d want to hear this in the first place, so sample and download accordingly.
Grade: B [street date: 7/10/2012]
Waterslide, Lincoln Signal (Wampus Multimedia)
My first Mark Doyon listening experience was when he was Arms of Kismet — I’m pretty sure that was the Cutting Room Rug album. That was bar-band stuff inspired by Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, but we’re all 8 years older now, and that includes Doyon, who’s now known as Waterslide for the time being. If I had to guess, it seems he bartered his Top 40 records for Eels and Velvet Underground albums when mapping out the ingredients in this slow-cooked, well-imagined stew. Adamantly downtempo at first, this concept album chronicles the life of an overeducated poli-sci milquetoast who finally wigs out and gets a life, or a clue at least, not that the record’s pulse really does any redlining, unless mid-70s Eagles (“Off Grid On Target”) or Hypno-Coin fractalism (“Summer Girls #23”) get you jacked. His beats, as always, are wondrous things, thus dubbing this a “solid LP” doesn’t wuite do it justice, although it’s close.
Grade: B+ [street date: 6/19/2012]
Joanne Weaver, Interstellar Songbook (CD Baby)
The obvious reference here, in this unbelievably bleeding-edge tribute to torch singers from the 40s/50s/60s, is Brenda Lee, whose cover of Skeeter Davis’s “End of the World” probably caused more suicides in its day than did cheap vodka. After much study (apparently including a lot of mirror-time working on detached Rita Hayworth diva poses), Weaver was able to get that vocal sound, simultaneously resolved and forlorn, down pat, so she abandoned her pre-med schooling in Cali to move to New York and see what it might sound like if an ocean of bedroom techno were laid underneath Lee’s and Patsy Cline’s period-authentic sound. The result is amazing, save, perhaps, for a bit too much horror-soundtrack cheese on “We Three” and a slightly overlong “Nature Boy,” but even these tenuously picked nits can’t detract from Weaver’s voice. “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” a droopy 1959 tune from French singer Jacques Brel, is just terrific, combining Weaver’s light-tempered Edith Piaf-destroying roundness with a downtempo beat reminiscent of Enya.
Grade: A [street date: 6/5/2012]
Strawberry Alarm Clock, Wake Up Where You Are (Global Recording Artists)
The last time this one-hit-wonder had a record out was in 1969, when they released a cover version of “Good Morning Starshine” from the Hair soundtrack. The sole hit in their oeuvre was “Incense and Peppermints,” which instantly has to make you think of Austin Powers kickin’ it velvet-paisley style. With that in mind, and knowing that this is pretty much the entire original band, there’d be almost no way to guess what they wanted to sound like in 2012. They’re funnily relevant, actually, if your idea of 2010s-relevance is what’s been coming out on Teepee Records and whatnot: these guys have spent the last 40-odd years plotting out mega-long solos for 12-minute songs, like Iron Butterfly, with Crosby Stills and Nash vocals. It’s a hot delightful mess when the guitars solo over each other, like some sort of lost-bootleg superstar jam between Leslie West and The Doors’ Robby Krieger. Some of the sound — the vocals, specifically — is hilariously dated, but in the end it’s part of a certain charm; a little bit of skronk and people like Raveonettes would be screaming about how these guys are their current favorite band.
Grade: A [street date: 5/4/2012]
Bryan Fenkart, Simple & Grey (Modern Vintage Recordings)
In 2010, the show Memphis won a ton of awards, including the Tony for Best New Musical, and Fenkart played the lead for the national tour. Given this, and the too-many-cooks suckiness of Glee, I was expecting some pretty hurtin’ stuff, but Fenkart doesn’t come off like a dweeb with a brass band; he does keep an ear to what’s happening in alt-rock, although it might have been nice to hear a little Airborne Toxic Event goofing around somewhere on this po-faced, sometimes painfully commercial set of tunes, which run a pretty wide gamut. “OK” borrows its chilly tone from Coldplay and a bit of melodic oomph from Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”; “New World” imagines Grizzly Bear as a shoegaze crew; the title track fixates on neo-country-tinged Americana. Fenkart writes great stuff, although the filler is ponderously disposable (the outdated Jim Croce-esque “Middle Man”).
Grade: B [street date: 3/26/2012]
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