Apologies for posting this a day later than usual, but I just spent the last eight days in Austin, Texas, at the South by Southwest Music Conference, a popular confab this year highlighted by appearances by rising stars Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent and other lesser-known, unimportant clods!
It was great!
Sadly, upon my return, I dutifully drove to the office early Monday morning with every intention of penning this world-acclaimed blog later that night--but, when day was done, instead found myself sleeping for a full 13 hours!
To return the favor to you, dear readers, I've decided to write this blog tonight, in hopes that you too might sleep for 13 hours as well! It's easy and fun!
The Shins: Port Of Morrow (Aural Apothecary) A new album by the Shins is always welcome, as the robust pop group has an uncanny knack for memorable melodies, respectable songcraft, and a wonderfully anatomical name! The new disc, named after a unique cut of roast mutton strangely fixated on bone structure and gristle, is a marvelous collection of tunes that, on a purely vocal level, occasionally recalls the work of cult popmeister Emitt Rhodes, until one realizes that it must be an accidental thing, genetics are marvelous, and that the things major labels are now seeing fit to release are often frightfully random but occasionally quite good! The album cover features a candid pic of Cthulu--but, of course, what album doesn't these days?
Esperanza Spalding: Radio Music Society (Heads Up) It would be sadly predictable were Esperanza Spalding, the jazz artist who unexpectedly won last year's Grammy award as Best New Artist, were to return here with an album that deliberately chose to exploit the potential vast new audience that awaited her, but no--the album is thankfully more of the same: inspirational playing, a stellar cast of jazz artists including Joe Lovano, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Terri Lyne Carrington, and stunning, varied material that further proves Spalding to be one of this decade's most notable young stars. Highly recommended.
Casey James: Casey James (19 Recordings) Like most of us, I stayed up late at night hoping singer Casey James would be the ultimate winner of American Idol's ninth season, but a late-night trip to my neighborhood 7-11 for coffee and a French Cruller--now available in a box of two for only a dollar!--distracted me momentarily, and the sad result: James only reached third place! Still, there must be more to life than a potential shot at superstardom courtesy of a television reality show--at least hypothetically--and I'm betting that this debut album from young Casey, who, it should be mentioned, is a native of Cool, Texas, is the answer! An appealing, countryish collection certain to set the hearts of country and Idol fans alike aflutter, the album proudly depicts the young singer on its cover looking backward, at his colorful reality TV past one last time, before stepping forward (to the left) to claim his new title as Solo Star Destined For Superstardom! It was either that or Yet Another Dude Walking Around With Two First Names, and who the heck would want that?
Melanie Fiona: The MF Life (Universal Republic) I'm pleased to report that the second album by talented singer Melanie Fiona is quality product! Its clever title--the set is dedicated to jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson rather than, heh, herself!--is just the first indication that the singer who was savvy enough to sample the Zombies' "Time Of The Season" on her earlier hit "Give It To Me Right" is back in "full force," as they say, and here--featured with guest stars like John Legend, B.o.B., Nas, J Cole and T-Pain--she's never sounded better! The jarringly revealing album cover, caught by an anonymous photographer puzzled by the singer's blind obedience to a "DON'T WALK" signal from a malfunctioning traffic sign, is just the first of many indications that Melanie follows a different drummer, at least artistically, so how about all of us chipping in, buying her a milkshake, and sending her on her way to make another, even better record? Into it? I am!
The B-52's: With The Wild Crowd! Live In Athens GA [Blu-Ray DVD] (Eagle Rock) It's hard to believe that this welcome DVD is celebrating the 34th anniversary of long-lived Athens, GA party band the B-52's--as the good times they have long evoked have always seemed fresh, current and new! Still, their unique appeal has rarely been captured so vividly, and their songs--which have never really dated--couldn't sound more contemporary. For at least one generation, they were the ultimate party band, and this disc is a wonderful documentation of exactly why.
Anoushka Shankar: Traveller (Deutsche Grammophon) Celebrated not only for her technical skills as a sitarist but for her status as daughter of master musician Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar has released several volumes of exciting, challenging music, and this latest may be one of boldest efforts yet: a fusion of Indian traditional music with flamenco. Featuring a group of Spanish musicians including Pepe Habichuela, Pedro Ricardo Miño, Juan Ruiz, Sandra Carrasco, and producer Javier Limón, Traveller is a sonically compelling set of pure fusion, perhaps likely to upset purists, but no less adventurous than, say, some of the better "cultural fusion" experiments by Brit jazz guitarist John McLaughlin. Good stuff--and on a distinguished label, no less.
Lost In The Trees: A Church That Fits Our Needs (Anti-) The highly listenable second album by North Carolina collective Lost In The Trees is a wonderfully textured collection of songs that boast innovative arrangements, subtle lyrics, and noticeable variety. That alone should be recommendation enough, but yet...there is the matter of this actual "church" of which they speak, the one that fits their needs. I find it highly doubtful any respectable American house of worship would allow cannibalism, proclaim candy corn to be its blessed sacrament, and insist that female attendees wear ski masks and male attendees no pants at all! And when I wake up, I'm going to write exactly that!
B.B. King: Live At The Royal Albert Hall 2011 (Blue-Ray DVD) (Shout! Factory) I'm grateful we get opportunities to witness some of our still-living legendary musicians in full force, and here we have blues guitarist B.B. King performing before an appreciate crowd in England, with a random array of guests including Susan Tedeschi, Ronnie Wood, Mick Hucknall and Guns & Rose dude Slash. Songs include the immortal likes of "Rock Me Baby," "The Thrill Is Gone," and "Key To The Highway," and the concluding "When The Saints Go Marching In" is, all things considered, about as soul-stirring as it could possibly be in 2012. A worthy document, as eye-opening as it is inspirational.
Daniel Rossen: Silent Hour/Golden Mile (Warp) Five songs from the man who's been a key part of both Grizzly Bear and Department Of Eagles, this new set showcases tunes mostly performed by Rossen himself (with a little outside help), all of them listenable, serviceable, and, indeed, not quite you'd expect from his other bands. Personal stuff, worthy of further listenings and, one would hope, a full album somewhere down the line.
Odd Future: The OF Tape Vol. 2 (Odd Future) Taking their name from an odd encounter with a San Fernando Valley fortune teller who told them that they--each and every one of them--would eventually turn into Ralph Dibny, alter ego of the celebrated Elongated Man, Odd Future are trying to deal with their lot in life via their album covers! But it's hard work! That said, "We Got Bitches" is certainly a classy affair!