Thursday, February 26, 2009

Casual Listening -- Laura Barrett, Shemekia Copeland, War Child: Heroes

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

February 27, 2009

* Laura Barrett – Victory Garden (other)

Adventurous songs for voice, chamber orchestra, and African thumb piano. I could see contemplating this with a bottle of white wine on a summer evening at Ravinia or Tanglewood. Barrett’s lyrics and arrangements have an avant-garde sensibility, while the melodies are beyond haunting.

Listen to Laura Barrett “Wood Between Worlds

* Shemekia Copeland – Never Going Back (blues)

Classic rhythm and blues from one of the best singers of the new generation. Copeland commands many styles, and on this album sounds great on soul, gospel, Delta, and Chicago blues.

Listen to Shemekia Copeland on myspace here with “Never Goin’ Back to Memphis

* War Child Presents Heroes (rock)

Fifteen rock gods. Fifteen of their greatest songs. Fifteen bands anointed by the songwriters to do new versions of those songs. Pretending to render any sort of objective judgment on this collection is futile. Just enjoy being the kid in the candy store with this one, and feel even better knowing that your dime gets donated to an organization that rescues child soldiers.

Listen to Beck covering Bob Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat

Listen to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs covering The Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker

Listen to Estelle covering Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition

K’Naan – Troubador (rap)

Anyone looking for proof of the global scope of rap music should consider K’Naan exhibit A. Raised in Somalia and relocated to Canada, K’Naan testifies to the redeeming power of hip hop on streets far more dangerous than urban America. With a hopeful vibe and a powerfully spoken message, K’Naan digs this music deeper than all but the most skilled American rappers.

Listen to K’Naan “Dreamer

Uri Gurvich – The Storyteller (jazz)

A series of jazz extrapolations of Jewish themes. Gurvich’s tenor saxophone quartet draws inspiration from John Coltrane, bringing a similar sound and spiritual centeredness to sounds rooted in another ancient tradition.

Listen to Uri Gurvich “Ha’bonim

Also worth a listen this week: Lamb of God “Wrath,” The Bran Flakes “I Have Hands”

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Casual Listening -- Beirut, N.A.S.A., ...And You Will Know Us...

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

February 20, 2009

! Beirut – March of the Zapotec & Realpeople: Holland (world)

The core of Beirut are richly sentimental songs channeling Eastern European folk styles. The settings on this double EP are night and day: the first half with a full Mariachi band and the second half with Euro-dance club beats. Miraculously, both sides work. The stark emotion is a common thread which appears in different colors depending on available light.

Listen to BeirutThe Shrew

and “My Wife, Lost in the Wild

* Dr. Lonnie Smith – Rise Up! (jazz)

There’s a penthouse apartment in the jazz world dedicated to the organ combo. These days you find groups like Medeski, Martin, and Wood who rent it out, but Dr. Lonnie Smith is the landlord. Sax, electric guitar, bass, and drums add to the Hammond B3, bringing a righteous and oh-so-funky vibe.

Listen to Dr. Lonnie Smith: “Tyrone

* N.A.S.A. – The Spirit of Apollo (rap)

Here’s a party game: take your favorite rapper and pair them with a completely unrelated underground rock icon. Chuck D and David Byrne? Kanye West and Santogold? Kool Keith and Tom Waits? Welcome to N.A.S.A.’s galaxy. No, really. There hasn’t been this assemblage of talent since they designed the album cover for Sgt. Pepper. N.A.S.A.’s production team keeps fresh beats rolling throughout, emulating everything from classic disco to space-age techno.

Listen to N.A.S.A., Kanye West, and Santogold & Lykke Li “Gifted

* William Elliott Whitmore – Animals in the Dark (folk)

Whitmore’s soulful baritone delivers tales of scoundrels and saints. Electric guitar, an occasional banjo or drum, and backing vocals give subtle support to a gin-soaked and heartfelt voice.

Listen to William Elliott Whitmore “Johnny Law

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Century of Self (rock)

An opus with both the ambition and broad appeal of a Who rock opera. The band has a dense sound layered with guitar effects, as well as melodies to charm an audience. A valiant jailbreak from the prog-rock nerd ghetto.

Listen to …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead “Isis Unveiled

Also worth a listen this week: Morrissey “Years of Refusal,” The Kills “Midnight Boom,” and Alela Diane “To Be Still.”

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Casual Listening Extra -- 7 Grammys

Casual Listening


February 13, 2009

Casual Listening Wins 7 Grammys

Last year, I started using the Grammys as a benchmark for how well I’m exposing you to the best of new music. Last year, five Grammy winning albums were reviewed in Casual Listening with a star or better. This year it’s six albums in seven categories. This doesn’t include Grammy winning songs, many of which are also in albums you saw reviewed here.

A point of pride for me is the diversity of the albums reviewed. I challenge you to find any other critic that reviewed both Radiohead and Joan Sebastián last year. Here are the winning albums:

· Album of the Year: Raising Sand, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss

· Best Pop Instrumental Album: Jingle All the Way, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones

· Best Alternative Music Album: In Rainbows, Radiohead

· Best Norteño Album: Raíces, Los Tigres del Norte

· Best Banda Album: No es de Madera, Joan Sebastián

· Best Contemporary Blues Album: City That Care Forgot, Dr. John and the Lower 911

· Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album: Raising Sand, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss

And for those of you who are interested, Banda and Norteño are both types of Mexican music you’re likely to find on your local Spanish-language station. Banda has a horn section, while Norteño is mostly accordion.

Lily Allen

Snappy pop candy with attitude. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I can see how she’s drawn a tremendous following and critical acclaim for her work.

Listen to Lily Allen, “22

Casual Listening -- Christian Grabandt & Larry Porter, Nels Cline

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

February 13, 2009

* Christian Grabandt & Larry Porter – Ol’ Man River (jazz)

Elegant trumpet melodies with just a piano for backup. Big classics such the title track are joined with a couple of new tunes in arrangements notable for their simplicity. This is an eminently approachable jazz album.

Listen to Christian Grabandt & Larry Porter “I Want a Little Girl

Nels Cline – Coward (new age)

A collection of finely textured guitar atmospheres. With subtle melodic movement, these pieces envelop you in sound – often reassuring, sometimes disconcerting. This is ambient music that demands and rewards listening, as opposed to most of what you’ll find playing in the waiting room at the holistic doctor’s office.

Listen to Nels Cline “Prayer Wheel

Anthony B – Rise Up (reggae)

This Jamaican artist manages to deliver dancehall-style energetic vocals over a laid-back reggae backbeat. It’s an effective hybrid, bringing a sense of urgency to the otherwise hypnotic rhythms. Politically conscious, musically delicious.

Listen to Anthony B. Stop Fight Reggae

Golem! – Citizen Boris (world)

Edgy Gypsy rock. A series of shifting meters gives rhythmic intensity to these occasionally risqué songs sung in English. Accordions, brass, violin, and drums define the sound.

Listen to Golem! “Train Across Ukraine

Sam Bisbee – Son of a Math Teacher (rock)

Indelible pop in the vein of sensitive songsters like Matthew Sweet. The arrangements oscilate between rock and orchestral, with solid hooks in either idiom.

Listen to Sam Bisbee “This is the Day

In the blog: Casual Listening Wins 7 Grammys, Lily Allen

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Melinda Doolittle, Willie Nelson, Keith Jarrett

   Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

February 6, 2009

! Melinda Doolittle – Coming Back to You (soul)

Old-School soul music back with a vengeance. Doolittle brings the vocal fireworks on a classic-style set with the full wall of sound: hammond organ, horns, strings, guitar, drums, and chimes. Guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

Listen to Melinda Doolittle "Fundamental Things"

* Willie Nelson -- Willie and the Wheel (country)

It's amazing that this country music giant is still making must-hear albums. In enlisting Asleep at the Wheel as his backup band, Nelson captures the jazzy sound of Western Swing popularized in the 1930's by Bob Wills -- uptempo fiddle and pedal steel, in this case with a horn section.

Listen to Willie Nelson "Bring it on Down to My House"

17 Hippies -- El Dorado (world)

A European melting pot with gypsy, klezmer, cabaret, celtic, and other assorted influences. Violin, banjo, accordion, and trumpet are prominent, with other assorted instruments, and vocals in several languages.

Listen to 17 Hippies "Uz "

Keith Jarrett -- Yesterdays (jazz)

A killer piano trio doing an album of serious standards. With tunes by Miles Davis and Charlie Parker as well as real chestnuts like "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," this is a great jazz 101 lesson for casual listeners, and a trip down memory land for the old hands.

Listen to Keith Jarrett "Scrapple From the Apple "

Young Dubliners -- Saints and Sinners (rock)

Modern Celtic rock, with tuneful songs across drums, guitars, and the occasional pennywhistle. Young Dubliners temper the brashness with introspection in the vein of bands like Oasis and The Smiths.

Listen to Young Dubliners "Rosie"

Leehom Wang -- Heart Beat (rock)

You don't sell 15 million albums without a scientist's ear for what people want to hear. Wang's got it, and although there's no new ground being broken here, you've got to hand it to him for turning in classic rockers, cool club tracks, and plenty of power ballads.

Listen to Leehom Wang "Ai De De Ti "

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Jeff Pinzino