Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Black Crowes

Long time readers of my Top Ten lists will know that I have an enduring affection for Southern Stoner Rock, resulting from early imprinting by the Allmans, Skynyrd and their redneck brethren from the classic era. I confess I've never been a particularly big fan of the Black Crowes, but I'm definitely high on their new release Before the Frost... It was recorded live in Levon Helm's barn studio before a small but appreciative audience, and something about the setting has definitely brought out the best in these guys. Their sound is rich and nuanced. This is a vibrant, energetic set, but it's not just about the chooglin'. Certainly, there are abundant big Stones-y riffs as one might expect, but also moments of lyricism as well. This one has quickly made it into heavy rotation on my car stereo system. Good drivin' music!

Colorado Americana

Another case study of why we need record stores, particularly independent record stores. While checking out the "local artist" listening post at Bart's CD Cellar in Boulder, I was introduced to these two fine artists, both of whom would probably be classified as Americana, Country/Folk, Singer Songwriters... but none of those labels quite does them justice. Give them a listen... Both present well-crafted, melodic material suitable for listening in a quiet space where you can really pay attention....

Reed Foehl's new release Once An Ocean will remind you of "After the Goldrush" era Neal Young with the poetic lyrics of a Townes Van Zandt. He's ably backed by members of the Be Good Tanyas. Nuf said?

Ain't The Same As Before from multi-instrumentalist Kort McCumber has a bit more of a country twang to the vocals, but also features intelligent lyrics and sweet melodies. Next best thing to actually being in Boulder.

Puerto Plata

If the Dominican Republic honored living national treasures, the name of 86-year old Jose Cobles, aka Puerto Plata, would certainly be on the list. During the thirty-year Trujillo dictatorship, his music was banned and performed only in red light cabarets and other underground clubs. Give this a listen and you can see why tyrants might have been fearful. His nylon string guitar and extraordinary voice capture all the joy and power inherent in the human spirit. He can even take a tune like "Guantanamera" which you've heard a thousand times and make you sit up and feel it as if for the first time. He's backed on this new release Casita de Campo by some of the cream of the crop of the younger generation of Dominican musicians. You've just got to love this!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Matt Schofield

Why do we need record stores? Here's one more reason. I had the time to leisurely browse the bins at Amoeba San Francisco recently and came across this sublime 2004 release entitled the trio, live (Nugene Records). The blurb on the back says "Virtuoso guitar, greasy organ and infectiously funky rhythms. File under jazz/blues." Who could pass that up for $3.99? And the blurb don't lie. Perhaps I'm the last person in the English speaking world to hear of this guy... yet another Strat Master from the UK (and apparently no relation to John). And the other two-thirds of his trio ain't bad either. This is a live recording from the Bishops Blues Club in England and he simply burns down the house! Guitar fans definitely owe it to themselves to get a listen of this. What technique! What power! I suppose we've all heard these licks before, but never quite assembled in this way and performed with this clarity. Now I've got to look up the rest of this guy's catalog.... Join me.

Maria de Barros

In need of a mental vacation? Cue up Morabeza, the latest release from this 2004 TD Top Ten artist. Within the first few bars, you'll find yourself sitting on the outdoor patio of a seaside cafe in Cape Verde, soaking in the view of the azure sea, with the cool drink of your choice in your hand. But this is no simple happy hour fare. This is deeply beautiful music that captures the soul of a people. The title refers to solidarity in times of misfortune... kindness, tenderness, hospitality, sympathy and friendship. Captivating. Transporting. Uplifting.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brian Blade

Mama Rosa is something different for this noted jazz drummer. His songwriting and exceptional vocals are the centerpiece of this 2009 release on Verve Forecast. It's measured, meditative, questing music perfect for late night listening. Definitely more jazz than pop in sensibility, with excursions into minor key moody atmospherics influenced by co-conspirator Daniel Lanois. Memorable. Hauntingly beautiful. If I were to particularly recommend one track, check out Mercy Angel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Marshall Crenshaw

My friend Wayne Osgood originally introduced me to the music of Marshall Crenshaw, and his self-titled debut album was one of my very favorites way back in 1982. If you've never heard it, by the way, I recommend you give it a listen. It still stands up ... fresh and snappy with echoes of Buddy Holly at his best. I confess, I've lost track of M.C. over the years until coming upon his new release Jaggedland. It retains the same kind of energy of his early work and is definitely in the early running for one of my favorite discs of 2009. It's intelligent, well-crafted rockin' music about the affairs of the heart and the inevitability of change. Imagine an album with lyrics worth listening to where you actually find yourself humming the tunes later in the day. He also hasn't lost his touch on the Stratocaster. Great tone and economy of technique.