Thursday, September 27, 2007

Casual Listening Extra 9-28-07

Casual Listening


September 28, 2007

Joni Mitchell – Shine (folk)

Like much of Mitchell’s later music, Shine is both personal and inventive. Sadder-but-wiser song-poems still respond with immediacy to the changing world around her. An electronic orchestra supplements her piano and guitar playing.

El Gran Silencio – Serie Verde (Spanish Rock)

Like someone put the Spanish station and the Alternative station too close together on the radio dial so the signals bleed into each other. Rapped lyrics and rock guitars compete with accordion Cumbias, to hip effect.

Casual Listening 9-28-07

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

September 28, 2007

! Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (jazz)

Moving jazz portraits of Joni Mitchell songs, both hits and hidden treasures. Hancock peels away layer after layer, reminding us just how much music is packed into Mitchell’s tunes. Fantastic guest vocals by Nora Jones, Tina Turner, and Leonard Cohen.

! Chaka Khan – Funk This (R&B)

Wicked syncopation and slow jams from the original funk goddess. A cover of Jimi Hendix’s “Castles Made of Sand” is arguably better than the original. A duet with Mary J. Blige tears the roof off. The new generation of soul singers should take note – this is how it’s done.

* Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade (rock)

Everything you’ve come to expect from Steve Earle – gutsy vocals, catchy songwriting, pointed satire, and folksy tributes. The arrangements are unexpectedly urbane, with electronic samples scattered among the mandolins. Earle has always been an iconoclast, and seems equally at ease in a New York soundscape as in a Texas one.

* Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog (rock)

Impressionistic story-songs conveyed in muted psychedelic tones. Sitar and bass harmonica are among the acoustic instrumentation supporting a warm voice that’s both dynamic and restrained. A gem.

Jose Gonzalez (folk)

Shhhh. You’ll have to listen closely to catch Gonzalez’ quiet-style singing and guitar playing. Introspective songs help take the edge off late-night solitude.

Bettye LaVette – The Scene of the Crime (soul)

LaVette’s style is uptown blues, something you might find sandwiched between B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland on the radio of an earlier era. Her voice is aged like fine wine, and she can still belt out heartbreaking soul.

Other great stuff this week: Joni Mitchell, El Gran Silencio. Check the blog for these reviews.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Casual Listening 9-21-07

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

September 21, 2007

* Jim Lauderdale – Bluegrass Diaries (bluegrass)

This album is notable for a strength rarely found in bluegrass: songwriting. Had there been steel guitars instead of banjos, this album would be a hit with the big hat crowd, but instead it’s an acoustic breath of fresh air. Don’t be surprised to find yourself with these songs stuck in your head hours after you’re done listening.

* Gloria Estefan – 90 Milas (world)

Classic tropical stylings from the most recognizable Cuban-American voice since Celia Cruz. The songs here span the gamut of Cuban rhythms, from romantic ballads to hot dance numbers. Estefan shows this is still vital music for the 21st century.

* Akron/Family – Meek Warrior (rock)

Bombastic, psychedelic – the kind of music one would associate with either the creation or the destruction of the universe. Dense drumming, choral singing, and free jazz interludes are used to magical effect. Quieter, acoustic, though no less epic songs are interspersed. Ridiculously exciting music.

* Thurston Moore – Trees Outside the Academy (rock)

Smart, spare indie rock. The Sonic Youth noisemaker goes solo with a well-crafted, melodic set accented by acoustic guitar and violin. Only occasionally does he let his electric guitar off the leash.

Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds – Playlist (easy listening)

If you only have one lite rock album in your collection, make this the one (and really, do you need more than one?). Babyface lends his soothing tenor to soulful covers of James Taylor (“Shower the People,” “Fire and Rain”), Eric Clapton (“Wonderful Tonight”), and Dan Fogelberg (“Longer”).

Dropkick Murphys– Made in the Shade (Celtic rock)

Blustery Celtic-American pop punk. Raucus and fun with loud guitars and bagpipes, this album is good for a shout-along with a pint of Guinness.

Willie Williams – Comet Ride (jazz)

Post-Coltrane tenor sax fireworks. Williams is a compelling soloist, experimental without becoming obtuse. There’s a broad range of moods on this disc, from frenetic to introspective to edgy to sublime. Jazz with something new to say.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Also-rans: 50 Cent

Also-rans: 50 Cent

You may notice that I reviewed only half of the week’s cage match between Kanye and 50 Cent. My opinion was that 50’s new album wasn’t worth the bandwith, but after a reader request, I decided to say something.

I’m an occasional fan of rap, and I’ll admit that I have no real interest in gangsta rap. Still, I realize that I need some objective criteria to review a rap album. I’m not ready to write off an entire genre, especially one that has as big an audience as gangsta rap does. So I asked an unbiased listener, my wife, to enumerate for me what she thinks makes a good rap album. Her list pretty well reflects mine:

  1. It doesn’t completely offend me
  2. It’s got cool beats
  3. It has interesting lyrics

So let’s look at the 50 Cent album through this framework.

1. Completely offensive? No. With rap, I try to give some benefit of the doubt, but the disqualifiers in this category would be heavily misogynistic or homophobic lyrics, graphic depictions of torture or pornographic sex without a larger message. The 50 Cent album, at least what I heard of it, doesn’t have any of these. Lots of gun fetishism and sexual innuendo, but overall a lot tamer than I expected.

2.Cool beats? No. This is pretty standard stuff. No irresistible hooks or unusual instrumentation, just a lightly ornamented backbeat.

3. Interesting lyrics? No. No compelling storytelling, or creative twists of phrase, just straightforward boasting, and talking about guns. Even then, you’d hear more interesting rhetoric at an NRA convention.

So the music’s nothing to write home about, and you don’t even have the excuse that it was too graphic. Curtis is a mediocre album.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Casual Listening 9-14-07

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

September 14, 2007

* Kanye West – Graduation (rap)

Believe the hype. This is a fascinating album. Kanye draws from a ridiculously broad palette of sound, from sci-fi dance grooves to Stevie Wonder-style soul, electronics to strings to choral arrangements. Whoever says rap is dead needs to give this one a listen.

* The Go! Team – Proof of Youth (rock)

If the cheerleading squad got together with the marching band to enter your high school Battle of the Bands, it would sound something like the Go! Team. Relentlessly peppy rock-chant with retro guitars, horns, and bushels of percussion. Infectious.

The Turtleduhks – True Lover (folk)

Sweet back-porch music with fiddle, guitar, and banjo. A mix of old-time standards and neo-traditional tunes that’s as good an excuse as any to get the clogging shoes out.

The Red Stick Ramblers – Made in the Shade (Cajun)

A panoply of pan-Louisana stylings: Cajun fiddle tunes, Zydeco, funk-boogie, and anything else that strikes their fancy. Playfully eclectic. Only 5 months till Mardi Gras!

Jonathan Rice – Further North (rock)

Rock-driven Americana that lands near the country side of Wilco. A sometimes loud, sometimes twangy sound supports interesting, albeit dark songwriting.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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The Onion: Pitchfork Gives Music 6.8

A brilliant skewering of the cooler-than-thou music review site:

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Casual Listening 9-7-07

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

September 7, 2007

Labor Day week is slow for releases – watch for a raft of blockbusters due next week.

! Dee Dee Bridgewater – Red Earth (world/jazz)

The veteran vocalist draws her latest material and her backing musicians from Mali. Bridgewater’s jazz approaches traditional African music like visiting a cousin, both with interesting stories to share since they last talked. The result does justice to both styles, while opening new horizons through their dialogue. Bridgewater makes it seem natural to trade scat-singing solos with a kora (African harp).

Patti Scialfa – Play it as it Lays (rock)

Raw roots-rock from a whiskey-throated singer. A member of the E Street Band, she could easily slip many of these songs right into their set. Scialfa shows herself a powerful performer in her own right, a name worth remembering more for her bluesy artistry than for being Bruce Springsteen’s wife.

Manu Chao – Radiolina (world)

Manu Chao is a musical nomad, drawing Latin and Reggae influences into a psychedelic rock beat. He manages to sound sexy in Spanish, French, or English, which accounts for his global star power. Groovy stuff.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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