Apr 2020

Easy To Buy Hard To Sell (CD)

Legendary guitarist Joe Bonamassa’s all-star band Sleep Eazys includes Late Night with David Letterman’s Anton Fig (percussion), Musician’s Hall of Famer Michael Rhodes (bass), Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Reese Wynans (keyboards), Lee Thornburg (trumpet), Paulie Cerra (saxophone), along with Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins on background vocals. Accompanying the stellar and tight-knit cast are Jimmy Hall on harmonica and esteemed multi-instrumentalist John Jorgenson.

 

For Easy to Buy, Hard to Sell, Joe digs into history to pay tribute to some of the great players that influenced him as a young guitarist, like Hank Garland, Jimmy Bryant, Link Wray, Tony Joe White, King Curtis, and Danny Gatton. Fans of Bonamassa will enjoy the larger-than-life sound of the star-studded collective, providing an array of sounds in everything from jazz to bluegrass, funk, rockabilly and more.

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Wake Up! (CD)

Hazel English’s debut full-length album trades the hazy, reverb drenched production styles of her earlier work for a classic late '60s pop sound with timeless pop hooks and addictive melodies. A move from San Francisco to Los Angeles to collaborate with producer Justin Raisen (Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX, Angel Olsen) has brought a fine-tuned sense of pop craftsmanship to her music. Wake Up! casts a wry eye over modern life and promises to be one of the highlights of 2020.

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The Don Of Diamond Dreams (CD)

With the duo’s fifth album, The Don of Diamond Dreams, the eclectic and daring vision we’ve come to expect from Shabazz Palaces continues, this time reimagining hip-hop in a futuristic mold full of robotic vocoder, warped auto-tune, shimmering shards of refracted Funkadelic, and alien synthesizers. But the drums speak a universal and timeless language. It is hip-hop, dub, jazz, R&B, soul, funk, African, experimental, and occasionally even pop. The album features contributions from singer/keyboardist Darrius Willrich, percussionist Carlos Niño, Knife Knights collaborator OCnotes, Saxophonist Carlos Overall, and bassist Evan Flory-Barnes.

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Trust The River (CD)

Post-hardcore legends At the Drive-In are like Voltron in reverse: having disbanded in 2001 on the cusp of true alt-rock stardom, the band members eventually splintered into two separate acts. One of those became massively successful prog-rock enterprise The Mars Volta, who quickly eclipsed the notoriety of their predecessor in all but the hearts of punk rock diehards everywhere. The other group was the lesser-known Sparta, who initially seemed poised to better carry the mantle of ATDI into the subsequent millennium, creating volatile yet catchy records in a more “traditional” post-hardcore vein. Yet after 2006’s Thirds, they quietly faded into the background, going on an extended hiatus before eventually returning for a scattered series of live performances. Despite teasing new material, a fourth album continued to elude the ears of fans everywhere.

 

Trust The River ends the 14 year draught between albums, and Sparta has mellowed out considerably in that time. Fittingly, much of Trust The River sounds far removed from what came before. The roundhouse kick of energy that defined songs such as “Cut Your Ribbon” is replaced with a steady confidence as the band settles into a more contemplative mood. “Miracle” begins with a Modest Mouse-evoking shimmering guitar riff over shuffling drums, ruminates on “letting go and getting lost” and rides that sentiment into glorious catharsis. “Believe” features a U2-worthy melody on what might be the most straightforward pop moment from the band yet. There are still frenzied moments to be found, however, with early singles like “Cat Scream” and “Graveyard” bringing back the energy that defined the Sparta of the mid-2000s.The latter track especially rips; an utter guitar fest strutting with a bluesy arrogance, it is a modern rock update of Thin Lizzy that is reminiscent of the best cuts from Queens Of The Stone Age.

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The New Abnormal (CD)

With an oddly prescient title, The Strokes unveil their sixth full length album, The New Abnormal. Arriving four years after their last release, 2016’s brief and weary Future Present Past EP, and seven years since their last proper LP, it marks the longest gap between Strokes albums to date, even taking into account their late ‘00s hiatus. So what does the wait result in? Ever since First Impressions of Earth, The Strokes have attempted to escape the effortlessly cool box they painted themselves in on their aesthetically-immaculate, zeitgeist-grabbing first two albums. In the process, they’ve revealed the beating pop heart of the band to be less the Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers, and Television signifiers that made rock critics swoon nearly two decades ago, and more indebted to unabashedly poppy '80s new wave. That influence is well reflected on The New Abnormal, whether it be the bright keyboard lines and Human League vocal inflections on “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus” or the Modern English-via-Billy Idolisms of “Bad Decisions,” which, despite its obvious sonic inspirations, also happens to easily be one of the most “classic” sounding Strokes songs on the record.

 

Yet The New Abnormal is not so much interested in revisiting past glories as it is creating new ones. Though it’s not quite as adventurous as Julian Casablancas’ Voidz albums, Abnormal finds The Strokes pushing into new musical territory and outside their comfort zone. As masters of pop brevity (being fans of GBV will do that), this is the first Strokes album to feature any song reaching the five minute mark, and there are a number of them here. Notable among them is “At The Door,” which is an almost postmodern version of a traditional Strokes-y ballad. Buoyed by a looping keyboard riff and orchestral synth strings, all the while completely bereft of drums, it slowly builds into a seemingly power-ballad climax before subverting expectation by fading into an extended coda that features, among other treatments, some wordless auto-tuned harmonics. Definitely not a formula many would come to expect from the band. With a crystalline (but never overdone) production from modern rock guru Rick Rubin, all of these new wrinkles to The Strokes sound are cast in sharp relief, unindebted to either the stripped down production and telephone booth vocals of Is This It or the stylized ‘80s worship of their post-reunion albums. Much like Vampire Weekend’s 2019 renaissance Father of the Bride, The New Abnormal is not so much a complete reinvention as it is rejuvenation; a new breath of possibility for The Strokes as they enter their third decade.

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The Complete Releases 1956-62 (CD)

Aretha Franklin's position as "The Queen Of Soul" was cemented by her landmark 1967 pop and R&B No. 1 "Respect." However, her career as a recording artist was a decade old by that time, having honed her style and singing gospel, jazz, and blues-influenced material in her late teens. This 48-track collection brings together all of her recordings which were released between 1956-1962, by which time she had established a reputation as a distinctive, soulful, and dynamic performer and had made early inroads in both the R&B and pop charts. It comprises her debut recordings as a gospel artist on the 10" LP Songs Of Faith, for Joe Von Battle's JVB label, made when she was just 14 years old, and then all her singles for Columbia, most of which came from her three albums for the label, Aretha Franklin With The Ray Bryant Combo, The Electrifying Aretha Franklin, and The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin, the complete content of which is also included, along with a track from a multi-artist Christmas compilation. It's a thorough showcase for her talent and style in the early years of her career.

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Everything Seems Like Yesterday (CD)

Surf punk outfit The Frights try something new for their fourth studio album. Written and performed by vocalist and guitarist Mikey Carnevale with production by bassist Richard Dotson, Everything Seems Like Yesterday was recorded in one week at Carnevale’s grandmother’s cabin in Idyllwild, California. The album features a wide array of ambient sounds and the use of real-life objects found around the cabin as instruments, such as glasses with water in them, leaves, pots and pans, a ringing phone, and more. The effect is highly intimate, making for the band’s most emotionally direct body of work to date.

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Aloha (CD)

Son Little (songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Livingston) plays nearly every instrument on Aloha himself, but he put the songs in the hands of French studio wizard Renaud Letang (Feist, Manu Chao) to create his boldest, most self-assured statement yet. Equal parts vintage and modern, the collection blends classic soul, old-school R&B, and adventurous indie sensibilities into a timeless swirl fueled by gritty instrumental virtuosity and raw, raspy vocals. It's an ambitious work of vision and reflection.

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Disko Anksiyete (CD)

Turkish goth rockers She Past Away adopt a more avant-garde approach and pull from diverse influences for a new take on modern gloom. Their sound on the melancholic Disko Anksiyete is dark-wave mingling with '80s post-punk guitars behind minimal Turkish lyrics, creating a driving and mesmerizing exploration of the dark and mysterious soul.

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The Mirror (CD)

Singer/songwriter and guitarist Raul Midón breaks new ground on his 11th studio album with exciting new teams-ups (vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Gerald Clayton), two spoken-word pieces in the tradition of Gil Scott-Heron, and many other surprises. Midon’s signature flowing electric guitar and lyrical sophistication tie The Mirror together into one cohesive and personal vision, as does his painstaking production.

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