Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Casual Listening Extra - Overlooked Gems

Casual Listening


November 26, 2008

Some good ones that slipped through the cracks this year

* Ani DiFranco – Red Letter Year (rock)

This is the best sounding record she’s done in years, scrapping the neo-folk for a texturally interesting rock album. She brings out everything but the kitchen sink – electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums and various percussion plus strings, piano, organ, bells and some electronics. It all melds together brilliantly, and for once the music turns as many heads as the lyrics.

Listen to Ani Difranco “Emancipated

* Otis Taylor – Recapturing the Banjo (blues)

Taylor’s rustic banjo playing feels like a séance for the African spirits who inspired the first blues music. On this album, he’s joined by a number of other young guns – Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Keb Mo among others on a mix of acoustic and electric tunes, all featuring multiple banjos.

Hear tracks at Otis Taylor’s MySpace Page

Why skimp on one of the world’s great instruments? Upload any song, and you can tell the program how much cowbell to add to it. I uploaded the first thing I could find on my hard drive (Radiohead’s “Bodysnatchers”), and a bunch of extra cowbell sure didn’t hurt. This is a site you just have to try.

Surf to

Carla BruniComme Si De Rien N’Etait (folk)

Imagine this: Michelle Obama decides to make a record. It’s actually good. Very good. And she wrote all the songs. And some of them are in Spanish. That’s roughly the feat that Bruni accomplishes here, and it’s why I continue to be ga-ga for France’s first lady. She’s got a warm, beautiful voice that would catch your attention even if you didn’t know she was an international celebrity.

And can I just say that despite Clinton’s loss, we’ve got a pretty intriguing crew of women on the world stage? In addition to Obama and Bruni, there’s Michelle Bachelet, the progressive single mom who’s now the president of Chile, and Tzipi Livni, the Israeli vegetarian spy-turned-likely prime minister, just off the top of my head. Their politics are widely different, but they’re all defying expectations of what women in power should be.

Listen to Carla Bruni “Tu Es Ma Came

Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile – Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile (jazz)

Virtuosic picking with ex-Nickle Creek mandolinist Thile alongside the renowned newgrass bassist. All acoustic with just the two instrumentalists, it’s an imaginative collaboration that busts genres – elements of classical, jazz, and bluegrass all sit side by side.

Listen to Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile – “Cassandra’s Waltz

Sars Flannery – Sale of the Century (rock)

A sly, nonchalant vocal style and an ear for pop songcraft make Flannery stand out. Spot-on production also lifts this above the crowd, each song embellished with a taylor-made sound that sharpens the mood while lifting up the guitar and vocals.

Listen to Sars Flannery here

Flobots – Fight With Tools (rap)

Soundtrack for the revolution. File under hip hop, but closer to spoken word with an often inventive musical background to ease it down. Politically intense. Thanks to James for the tip on this band.

Listen to Flobots “Rise

Casual Listening Extra - John Zorn, The Fireman, Killers

Casual Listening


November 26, 2008

Three albums to lift you from your Thanksgiving food coma:

! John Zorn – The Last Supper: Film Works XXII (classical)

Zorn draws on ancient polyphony and modern harmony to create a gorgeous film score. The resonance of five voices and occasional drums opens a sacred space that alternates between the transcendent and the primal, a sort of A Capella “Rite of Spring.”

Listen to John Zorn “Dance for the Vernal Equinox

! The Fireman – Electric Arguments (rock)

Paul McCartney’s bravest album in decades. The sound is bluesier, grungier than anything I’ve heard him do. McCartney pivots from songwriting to music making, more concerned with sound than melody – the sound is tremendous.

Listen to The Fireman “Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight

* Waylon Jennings – Waylon Forever (country)

A posthumous set of heavy country played with Waylon’s son Shooter. The set verges on epic rock, with covers of Cream and Neil Young among the more country-fried numbers. Waylon’s voice looms large, proving again why he was one of the best to ever pick up a microphone.

Listen to Waylon Jennings “Waymore’s Blues

Killers – Day and Age (rock)

Killers hit the scene about 20 years too late. Their blend of rock, dance floor beats, and easy pop hooks would have made its way onto thousands of “best of the ‘80s” mix tapes. For today’s musical sensibilities, it’s still irresistible.

Listen to Killers “Human

In the blog: This year’s overlooked gems. And stay tuned for a special guest review next week of the long-awaited Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy

Monday, November 24, 2008

Casual Listening - Serge Severe, Femi Kuti, School of Seven Bells

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

November 21, 2008

! Serge Severe – Concrete Techniques (rap)

Funk, Funk, and Funk! Serge Severe hearkens back to the birth of hip hop when the breakbeat was king – DJs taking the funkiest pieces of the funkiest records they could find and looping them to get people dancing. Serge Severe distills James Brown-style horns and drums and adorns them with articulate lyrics that revolve around the love of the music. Did I mention funky?

Listen to Serge Severe “Bring the Horns

* Femi Kuti – Day by Day (world)

Prince of the Afrobeat nation, Kuti delivers horn-heavy, jazz-inspired tracks with a conscience. This album is less frenzied than what you’d expect from this style, drawing inspiration from the more relaxed rhythms of reggae and even chicha.

Listen to Femi Kuti “Eh Oh

* School of Seven Bells ­– Alpinisms (rock)

Technicolor synthesizers and electronics shape propulsive beats and voices. Bright vocal harmonics emerge from and disappear into a rainforest of sound. If the economy is squeezing your travel plans, let this album be your next voyage.

Listen to School of Seven Bells “Wired for Light

Tom Richards Orchestra – Smoke and Mirrors (jazz)

Big bands are hard to find these days, especially ones dedicated to music written after WWII. Tom Richards composes for the ensemble, and is adept at using the harmonic possibilities that so many instruments create. A vocalist takes focus on a couple of numbers, but it’s on the instrumental tracks that the broad weave of musical voices really shines.

Listen to Tom Richards Orchestra “Dropping Pennies

Victor Manuelle – Una Navidad a mi Estilo (Latin)

The lyrics are about Puerto Rican holiday food and Christmas caroling, but the music is about a serious salsa dance party. It’s a shame to confine this one to the holiday season – you’ll want to take advantage of it while you can.

Listen to Victor Manuelle “Lechon, Lechon, Lechon

Expect an “Extra” on Wednesday with a few highlights from the week – reports on Kanye West, Killers, Paul McCartney’s “Firemen” project, and the long-awaited Guns N’ Roses release, as well as a blog post with a handful of overlooked gems from the year. Send me your top 10 lists, and I’ll start posting them in December.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

November 21, 2008

I'm in Colorado this week, so hold tight until Monday and you'll get reviews of Serge Severe, Femi Kuti, and School of Seven Bells. Meanwhile, I managed to find an expert who could give me the most authentic review of one of the most important recent releases. Samantha, my 9-year-old niece, wrote the following review:

! High School Musical 3: Senior Year - Original Cast (soundtrack)

A movie musical with a lot of feeling. Mostly active and exciting songs with some peaceful and relaxed moments. They dance to every single one of these songs. That's why I love it.

Listen to High School Musical "Right Here, Right Now"
"Can I have this dance"
"A Night to Remember"

CALL FOR TOP 10 LISTS: Send me your favorite 10 albums of this year, and I'll post it in the blog between now and the end of the year.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

Check out the blog at . To subscribe or unsubscribe, or just to say hi, send an e-mail to

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Casual Listening Extra 11-14-08

Casual Listening


November 14, 2008

From here until the end of the year, new releases start to slow down, so I’m going to try to give you some special features between now and the end of the year. This week, there are a couple of recent releases by friends of mine that I’ll hip you to.

If there’s something you haven’t seen reviewed in Casual Listening this year that you’d like to see, let me know, and we’ll try to hit it before the end of the year.

Doko Benjo – Doko Benjo (world)

A globally-inspired, horn-driven ensemble that you’d be crazy not to dance to. Elements of funk, Afrobeat, salsa, jam rock, and a pinch of hip hop make this a party waiting to happen. I have yet to see them live, but it’s a sound that’s built for the immediacy of a club.

Listen to Doko Benjo “Funk Bus

Snowsera – Fictions (rock)

A five-song EP from a band with a pop sensibility and a rock edge. If Oasis wanted to resurrect The Police instead of The Beatles, you’d end up in Snowsera’s neighborhood. Clear vocals with a touch of alienation, moody guitar riffs, and a driving rhythm section. Definitely worth a listen.

Snowsera’s EP “Fictions” available free here

Casual Listening - Beres Hammond, Taylor Swift, Adversary

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

November 14, 2008

* Beres Hammond – A Moment in Time (reggae)

Uplifting, easygoing lovers rock from a master performer. Sax, organ, and drums lend a relatively organic background to Hammond’s soulful singing. You can’t help but smile listening to this one.

Listen to Beres Hammond “No Good Bye

Taylor Swift – Fearless (country)

Slick production helps foreground the sweet voice of this pop-country talent. Her vocal style is more coffeehouse than honky-tonk, with only an occasional pedal steel or mandolin in the background for texture. Expect Swift to get an audience beyond the country music faithful.

Listen to Taylor Swift “Fifteen

Adversary ­– Singularity (metal)

For those interested in a little musicianship amidst the racket. This is still extremely heavy music, but the guitar riffs are melodic, and some singing accompanies the growling.

Listen to Adversary “Singularity

In the blog: Cool local stuff: Doko Benjo

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

Check out the blog at . To subscribe or unsubscribe, or just to say hi, send an e-mail to

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Casual Listening - Mavis Staples, Q-Tip, Bela Fleck

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

November 7, 2008

! Mavis Staples – Live: Hope at the Hideout (soul)

The sound of the rebirth of hope in America. One of the best gospel voices of the last half-century makes the civil rights movement sing again. The live versions of these freedom songs are an order of magnitude more powerful than last year’s studio release “We’ll Never Turn Back.” I fell for this album a week ago when I first heard it, but in the days after Obama’s election these songs sound different. There’s a whole new resonance to “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” when a piece of that prize has been won. Goosebumps, goosebumps, and more goosebumps.

Listen to Mavis Staples “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

* Q-Tip ­– The Renaissance (rap)

With creative instrumentation approaching jazz fusion, this is a producer’s tour de force. Clever and impressionistic lyrics with a wide romantic streak. Guests include Nora Jones and Rafael Saadiq. Thinkers’ rap.

Listen to Q-Tip “Official

* Bela Fleck & the Flecktones – Jingle All the Way (jazz)

The most adventurous Christmas album to come out in years. Bela Fleck is a samurai banjo player who has created thoroughly modern versions of holiday chestnuts. He’s broadened the cannon to include “Linus and Lucy” and Joni Mitchell’s “River” alongside “Silent Night” and even an excerpt from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Oh, and don’t forget “Jingle Bells” done by Tuvan throat singers.

Listen to Bela Fleck & the Flecktones “Sleigh Ride

…and since I teased you with it, “Jingle Bells (reprise)”

* Wee Hairy Beasties – Holidays Gone Crazy (kids)

This album bears the mark of an enduring kids album, which is that adults don’t get sick of it after the fourteenth consecutive listen. This is a multi-holiday album, with Halloween as well as Christmas and several year-round tracks. Ragtime guitar, ukulele, harmonica, kazoo, and washboard set off a fun set of original tunes. Way over the head of my two-year-old, but I’m guessing this will hit squarely with young schoolkids.

Listen to Wee Hairy Beasties “Dinosaur Christmas

Andrea Bocelli – Incanto (classical)

The pop opera phenom delivers a wonderful set of mostly Italian traditional songs. Orchestral arrangements with choir, mandolin and just enough schmalz for your next spaghetti dinner.

Listen to Andrea Bocelli “Santa Lucia

Grampall Jookabox – Ropechain (rock)

Freak folk with a capital Freak. Lots of bells, electronics, and chipmunk-range backing vocals, all of which still manages to hang together.

Listen to Grampall Jookabox “Old Earth, Wash My Beat

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Soundtrack for a New America

Soundtrack for a New America

Listen to Otis Redding "A Change is Gonna Come"