Mar 2021

1975 (CD)

1975 is songwriter/scholar Julian Saporiti's new album for his multi-media No-No Boy project. Saporiti tackles the complex issues of immigration and the Asian American experience with impeccably arranged folk/rock songs that include clips from field recordings. "Imperial Twist" leans toward garage rock with lyrics about rock n' roll and the Vietnam war, while "The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming" is a freewheeling folk tune about "a bunch of 'Japs' playing jazz." The elegant "Close Your Eyes and Dream of Flowers," with its delicate percussion and warm cello, talks about people stuck waiting at the Mexican/U.S. border. This is a strong set for fans of both indie rock and American history.

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Clouds (The Mixtape) (CD)

Rapper NF follows up October 2020's emotional single "CHASING_(DEMO)" with CLOUDS (THE MIXTAPE), featuring guest turns from Hopsin and Tech N9ne. The slow-building title track's lyrics reflect a highly relatable frustration with the pandemic: "Hanging onto songs this long is daunting...You doing all right? / Your year really sucked / Yeah that's what I figured." Wryly introspective, rapid-fire lyrics - deliberately void of expletives - are accompanied here by restrained beats and dramatic pulses of synths or strings. CLOUDS is a strong set of tightly constructed, accessible rap with a pop flair.

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Life In Your Glass World (CD)

Citizen's new album, Life In Your Glass World, is energetic indie rock interspered with elements of both pop/rock and their early emo/post-hardcore style. Double kick pedal and driving rhythms go hand-in-hand with dance-y guitar lines and soaring vocals. The strong single "I Want to Kill You" is an example of this composite sound on its poppier side - despite a subtle, angsty scream in the chorus - while "Black and Red" shows off the edgier spectrum, with a guitar riff that sounds like The Hives.

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Smith/Kotzen (CD)

Two guitar heroes, Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big), have teamed up for a new project. Smith/Kotzen blends classic rock, blues and '90s alternative - especially since Kotzen's vocals sometimes sound like Chris Cornell's - with melodic hooks and guitar solos. The two artists trade off vocals as effectively as they jam together on guitar. "Taking My Chances" and "Scars" are solid grunge-inspired tracks, but "Running" doubles down on the subtle catchiness of the former and adds an anthemic '80s vibe. Elsewhere "Solar Fire," featuring Iron Maiden's Nicko McBrain on drums, digs into '70s rock and "Glory Road" revels in the blues.

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Shore [Crystal Clear Vinyl] (LP)

Fleet Foxes' new album offers gentle indie rock with soaring melodies like "Can I Believe You," as well as quiet folk tunes like "Wading in Waist-High Water." Overall, the arrangements on Shore are intricate and cinematic. "Jara" is rhythmic and engaging with a lovely, jangling energy; "Featherweight" offers a darker melody and steady strumming. Then there is the dynamic, epic track "Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman," which calls to mind Illinois-era Sufjan Stevens.

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Songs From The Bardo (CD)

The initial seed of Songs From The Bardo was planted a decade ago, when Tibetan singer/multi-instrumentalist Tenzin Choegyal and composer/activist Jesse Paris Smith (daughter of Patti) met at a fundraiser to benefit the preservation of Tibetan culture. Along the way performance artist icon Laurie Anderson was added to the fold, and the result is the mesmerizing Bardo, an 80 minute presentation of text from The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. The work is meant to "draw the listener into the present moment and provide a framework for inner exploration," and works beautifully on multiple levels, transformative both musically and mentally while incorporating a rich verbal and instrumental heritage into a contemporary and accessible setting.

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All The Good Times (CD)
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings deliver a set of impeccable covers to comfort everyone in lockdown, covering traditional folk tunes as well as songs by Bob Dylan, Norman Blake and John Prine. The duo's harmonies are the star here, but Rawlings does justice to Dylan with his reedy voice in the lead on "Señor" and "Abandoned Love." "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" is an enjoyable classic gem, while Prine's "Hello In There" is elegantly melancholy. Then there's Johnny Cash's "Jackson" to shake things up a bit. Read more
Changes (CD)

Justin Bieber's fifth studio album is a star-studded set that is an unabashed love letter to his wife. The smoothly sweet "Intentions" featuring Quavo will make fans swoon with its gentle, upbeat melody. "Holy ft. Chance The Rapper" is even more uplifting and guileless in its expressions of love, riding along on a catchy beat. A move away from the electronic sounds of 2015's Purpose, Changes is a warm set of songs certain to be heard at more than a few weddings this year.

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Free Nationals (CD)

Anderson .Paak's live band Free Nationals has emerged from the background with both a self-titled debut album and a band documentary, Indigenous To The Funk. The album, which features guests like the late Mac Miller, Kali Uchis, T.I. and Anderson .Paak himself, shows off the group's retro R&B and soul chops. "Time," with Uchis and Miller, is a smooth, bouncy tune with some nicely placed horns near the end. Another impressive track is "On Sight" which brings out the heavy groove and disco-funk, enhanced by Kadhja Bonet's airy vocal reminiscent of Donna Summer.

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Becoming (Music from the Netflix Original Documentary) [Score] (CD)

Kamasi Washington's soundtrack to Becoming, the Michelle Obama Netflix documentary, is just what you might expect from the talented saxophonist and the subject matter: classy and uplifting smooth jazz. The title track is soulful with a little retro swing and "The Rhythm Changes" is lightly funky, like the theme song for a smart '70s TV series. "Provocation" stands out for its ominous, dramatic chords and flurrying swells, but the highlights here might be "Southside V.1" and "V.2." The related tracks will put a smile on your face with their feelgood optimism. Remember "Hope"?

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