By Jon R. LaFollette
Note: The Music Snob is back on his grind this month after a hectic three month span of constantly feeling behind on new releases. Despite graduating from college, hosting an open house, attending the Indy 500 and hosting family from out of town this month, I still found enough spare time to review plenty of fresh new music to share with you guys.
This month's column features seven reocrds worthy of your time and/or money. Two of the reviews (Wes Montgomery and Homeboy Sandman) are taken from my works at NUVO. Both records recieved solid grades from me, so I figured I'd share with those of you who missed them. The better albums to be had this month run the gamut of traditional blues, new world blues, hip-hop, new world hip-hop, Euro-pop and Down Under Punk - easily making this column the most eclictic one I've written in quite some time.
As far as choice cuts go, I didn't realize until now that the section dedicated to good songs on bad records was dominated by women. Please don't think of me as an anti-lady lover - just someone who gives credit to Carrie Underwood where credit to Carrie Underwood is due.
And as for the John Mayer record goes, I admire his willingness to step away from the ultra-frat-douche monster he created and make a record that Neil Young would be proud to have inspired, still, it's hard to sympathize or connect with coming-of-age songs from a man who made racist comments involving his penis, mostly because I've never made racist comments involving my penis.
As always, most of these albums can be found on Spotify.
Salvaged from a collection of tapes obtained by a collector and restored by a team of veteran jazz producers / historians, little is known about the music which makes up Echoes of Indiana Avenue. Likely recorded over a period of three sessions, including two live stints, around the time of Montgomery's signing to Pacific West Records in 1958, the music shows a budding virtuoso well on his way to the success he would later find over the next decade. Montgomery's guitar work is sublimely nimble and calmly zigzags its way through the arrangements, and at times seems to dissolve behind the other equally notable musicians - which include his brothers Monk and Buddy, who contribute bass and piano respectively on "Straight No Chaser". Yet the unsung hero is pianist Earl Van Riper who sets, and at times carries, the mood in the album's second half where all of the live recordings are found. His work on "Take the 'A' Train" is every bit as quick and fluid as Montgomery's, and his spacious use of chords on "Misty" gives the other instruments room to wiggle. But Montgomery resumes control on the improvisational finale "After Hours Blues," where he unleashes a barrage of staccato notes so confident yet understated it sounds like hollow gunfire. Talk about killing them softly. GRADE: A
Key Tracks: "Straight No Chaser" "Misty" "After Hours Blues"
Balkan Beat Box - Give
Politics aside, these Israeli-Americans know what's really important. Beats. So they keep 'em coming as best they can. Blending traditional Middle Eastern percussion with New World club flare, their better songs come out of the gate early and usually feature a healthy mix of saxophone courtesy of Ori Kaplan, who is given a greater role compared to their past releases. Every song bounces, races, pulsates and dances about while vocalists Tomer Yosef, along with the occasional guest, pontificates on the ills of the world. But don't worry; his tirades are never overbearing or even tirades for that matter. They're simply-stated verses that resonate with simple truths. "Money leads to more money / Power to more power." "Everybody wants to be big like a god, everybody wants to have more than they got." Simple. But not stupid. GRADE: A-
Homeboy Sandman - Subject: Matter
A New York rapper with a flow as quick-footed as they come, this emcee's every bit as socially conscious as he is meditative. Though this EP is only six songs in length, it's maximized with clever quips, including "Carpe diem / As a.m. turns to p.m. / The zone I be in / Muy Bien" on the opening "The Miracle." But he's not just a philosopher, as is proved on the strangely charming "Unforgettable," a track about a hypnotizing woman. He's imperfect and human. However, there's more than verses and stacks on stacks on stacks of rhyme here. The production is lush and syrupy and gives his soulful musings a more earnest feel, as "Canned Goods," a song for the 99 percent, demonstrates. "Other food spoils much quicker / The spoils go to the victors," he says. You may not know who exactly the victors are, but if he keeps putting out music this smart and confident, it's safe to assume it's himself. GRADE: A-
Amadou & Mariam - Folila
Dubbed "the blind couple from Mali" for obvious reasons, Amadou Bagayokoand and Mariam Doumbia have spent their entire careers piecing together influences from other genres and blending them with their own arsenal of Afro-Blues-Pop. While this record doesn't peak as much as the 2010's Welcome To Mali did, there are still plenty of enjoyable songs to be found - in particular "C'est Pas Facile Pour les Aigles" featuring Ebony Bones, a zesty pop tune that's easily in the running for my favorite song of 2012. But it's the more spacious songs, such as the two opening numbers, which allow for Amadou's subtle guitar chops to flourish. GRADE: B+
Royal Headache - Self Titled
Bratty and blistering, this Australian foursome from the Down Under punk scene have arrived on a cloud of brittle distortion and AM-Radio pop hooks so powerfully short you'd swear they were the poster children for ADD. Not single songs crosses the three minute mark and, save for the two chilled-out instrumentals, all feature a hyperactive sense of the now. This is frenetic verse-chorus music for punk kids who forgot to take their Ritalin. The album's success is due in part to the solid vocal work from Shogun, who simply goes by Shogun, and proves to be as capable and promising a front man as his chosen name is silly. GRADE: B+
Allo, Darlin' - Europe
Elizabeth Morris, an Australian from London, writes wistfully catchy songs that are simple both lyrically and musically. Every one of these 10 tracks is melodically robust and easily hums along thanks to chirpy and quaint guitar lines paired with easy-going verses about easy-going love and yearnings for simplicity. It may come off as too cute for some, as it almost did for me, but the difference between Morris and her (too-cute-it-hurts) fem-pop contemporaries is her ability to maximize her potential with the limited means she has. Case in point? The best song features Morris' voice and a ukulele. Like I said, it's almost too cute for its own good. Almost. GRADE: B-
Santigold - Master of My Make-Believe
A tad too straight faced for her own good, but where many heard a sophomore slump, I heard an artist simply going through growing pains. Boring growing pains. GRADE: B-
Honorable Mentions (Records with limited appeal that still contain some noteworthy moments)
OFF! - Self Titled
Hardcore punks of old make a 17-track record that barely reaches 20 minutes in length, and showcase what underground scenesters have to look forward to - more of the same.GRADE: C+
Key Tracks: "Harbor Freeway Blues" "Wiped Out"
El-P Cancer 4 Cure
Sound is there. Context? Nope. GRADE: C+
Damon Albarn - Dr. Dee
A very British record written by a very British performer for a very British opera. GRADE: C+
Choice Cuts (Good songs on otherwise bad records)
Garbage - Not Your Kind of People
Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts
Carrie Underwood - Blown Away
Regina Specktor - What We Saw From the Cheap Seats
Saint Etienne - Words and Music by Saint Etienne
Dud of the Month
Best Coast - The Only Place
Front woman Bethany Cosentino has traded in the reverb and escapism of her surf-pop debut for a stripped down alt country feel and less weed references. New sound, but the same flaws remain - that of faulted simplicity. Where her overly-vague and plainly-stated lyrics were buried under enough glossy production to make Rivers Cuomo swoon, here they are front and center, laid bare to come off as the She & Him B-sides they are. She still gets more credit than Zooey Daschannel because she's not a character, but if she wants me to move to California, she'll have to give me a better reason than "we have fun where we please." There's sunshine everywhere else too ya know. GRADE: C
John Mayer - Born and Raised
Beach House - Bloom
B.O.B. - Strange Clouds
The Walkmen - Heaven
Adam Lambert - Trespassing
Tenacious D - Rize of the Fenix