Thursday, April 30, 2009

Casual Listening - Bob Dylan, The Sixteen, Ben Folds Presents University A Capella!

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

May 1, 2009

Just announced: Steve Reich won the Pulitzer Prize for Music with his “Double Sextet.” Casual Listening was there for the concert performance of this work – you can find the review here.

! Bob Dylan – Together Through Life (rock)

Dylan has earned his blues. After nearly 50 years of music-making, he plays the music not merely in imitation of old forms, but as a way to channel the depth of his own heartache and hard living. A song like “My Wife’s Hometown” is based on Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” but is arguably better than the original. I don’t say this lightly. Accordion is on nearly every track, sounding like a withered version of Dylan’s trademark harmonica. Devastating.

Listen to Bob Dylan “My Wife’s Hometown

* The Sixteen – Padre Pio Prayer (classical)

Three composers using sacred choral music to bridge the 15th century and the 21st. James MacMillan, Roxanna Panufnik, and Will Todd each set the text of a classic prayer for vocal ensemble. The result is Renaissance motets shot through with contemporary harmonies, the beauty of faith marbled with the dissonance of doubt. The Sixteen does a masterful job of carrying out some incredibly demanding material. The album is filled out with additional compositions by the three composers.

Listen to The Sixteen do Will Todd’s version of “Stay With Me (Padre Pio Prayer)

* Ben Folds Presents: University A Capella!

The story of this album is as interesting as the album itself. The nations’ best collegiate a capella groups arrange and perform the music of the piano-rock popster. The match works brilliantly, withdeep harmonic arrangements bringing out layers in Ben Folds’ songs that you never realized were there. Ultimately, the sunny disposition of both the songwriter and the performers reinforce each other nicely.

Listen to The Sacramento State Jazz Singers’ version of “Selfless, Cold, & Composed

Los Straitjackets – The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets (rock)

Summer’s just around the corner, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better purveyor of surf rock than Los Straitjackets. Instrumental rockers with reverb-heavy guitars and flashy drumming. Grab your board (or at least a beach towel) and crank this.

Listen to Los Straitjackets “Blowout

Louisiana Red – Back to the Black Bayou (blues)

Louisiana Red was a lesser-known contemporary of the great 1950’s Chicago bluesmen. His sound is cut from that classic mold – stoptime rhythms, overdriven harmonica, and a singer who knows how to wail. Is there anything more pitiful (and more worthy of a blues song) than being too poor to die?

Listen to Louisiana Red “Too Poor to Die

Kermit Ruffins – Livin’ a Tremé Life (jazz)

Ruffins successfully crosses Louis Armstrong-era New Orleans jazz with the second line funk of the Mardi Gras brass bands.

Listen to Kermit Ruffins “I Ate Up The Apple Tree

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Casual Listening - Art Brut, Camalion, Allen Toussaint

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

April 24, 2009

! Art Brut – Art Brut vs. Satan (rock)

Irrational exuberance personified. Art Brut’s singsong-shouted lyrics share enormous enthusiasm about everyday things like public transportation. Add tight punk-pop guitar and drums and you can’t help but giggle every time you hear them.

Listen to Art Brut “The Replacements

Camalion – De Las Cenizas (Latin)

“Old-school” Reggaeton is the reggae-rap fusion that comes from the Puerto Rican underground of the 1990’s. Camalion was part of that scene, and is on a crusade to bring these sound back into circulation. Camalion remakes classic tracks, keeping the distinctive, heavy beat that made Reggaeton a dance favorite, but which new artists have increasingly put aside.

Listen to Camalion “Rebel Music

Allen Toussaint – The Bright Mississippi (jazz)

A loving tribute to New Orleans style traditional jazz. Old favorites like St. James Infirmary and West End Blues live again in the hands of a crackerjack ensemble of piano, clarinet, trumpet, guitar, bass and drums.

Listen to Allen Toussaint “Bright Mississippi

Mamane Barka – Introducing Mamane Barka (world)

Barka is the last living master of the Biram, a harp from Niger that looks like a small boat. Zig-zag baritone string melodies ride alongside galloping drums and call-and-response vocals.

Listen to Mamane Barka “Alhadj

The Boxmasters – Modbilly (country)

Classic honkytonk and rockabilly from a new band with attitude and serious talent. Twenty-four tracks on a double album, and you’re still left wanting more.

Listen to Boxmasters “Heartbreakin’ Wreck

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy – How Big Can You Get? The Music of Cab Calloway (jazz)

BBVD have expanded to a full big band for this album of swing-era greats. Although it’s impossible to match Calloway’s vocal style, their reproduction of the huge sound of classic swing makes this a satisfying listen.

Listen to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy “Hey Now, Hey Now

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Casual Listening Extra - Bela Fleck article on Pop Matters

Some albums require more than three sentences to really understand. Today, I have an essay about Bela Fleck's "Throw Down Your Heart" on the Pop Matters website. If you go to today you'll see it on the front page. After today, you can access it here.

And then there's the music. To my ears, it's one of the most significant world music releases since Paul Simon's Graceland. Check out the album here. There is also a documentary of Bela Fleck's travels to Africa that's racking up prizes at film festivals. You can find out more about the film and when it may be coming to your town here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Casual Listening - Mike Farris, Dengue Fever, Choco Orta

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

April 17, 2009

Check out James Mumm’s piece on the band DEATH in the blog

! Mike Farris – Shout! Live (gospel)

Farris’ last album Salvation in Lights was the first album ever reviewed in Casual Listening, and the live version is equally a knockout. Old-school gospel-soul with arresting vocals and a full horn section blows the doors off the small club where Farris’ entourage was recorded. If there’s a jam session in the hereafter, I can only imagine it sounds something like this.

Listen to Mike Farris “Sit Down Servant

! Dengue Fever – Sleepwalking Through the Mekon (world)

Dengue Fever’s predilection for 60’s Cambodian psychedelia takes them to the motherland. With wa-wa guitars and ethereal vocal sung in Khmer, this is the companion soundtrack to a documentary of the American group’s first tour of Cambodia. The band’s music is solid, and the inclusion of some unbelievable tracks from Dengue Fever’s predecessors makes you understand why they’re obsessed with this style of music.

Listen to Dengue Fever “Tip My Canoe

and Sinn Sisamouth “New Year’s Eve

* Choco Orta – Ahora Mismo (Latin)

Orto’s salsa is slick enough for the salseros on the dance floor, but it’s when she leaves the script and starts shouting across from the backups that she really lights up. She’s got a deep penetrating voice that encourages comparisons to the late, great Celia Cruz. Her band is greased lightning.

Listen to Choco Orta “Por Accidente

John Doe & the Sadies – Country Club (country)

Heavy honky-tonk that feels like an unreleased treasure from thirty years back. Rollicking guitar, crying pedal steel, and sweet male-female duets from a next-generation artists who knows his roots.

Listen to John Doe & the Sadies “Stop the World and Let Me Off

University of St. Thomas Symphonic Wind Ensemble – Out of Nowhere (classical)

A collection of pieces commissioned from notable composers for a top tier university band. Mass of St. Thomas Aquinas is a sparkling choral/orchestral work of driving rhythm and modern harmony, while the Armenian Rhapsody for band and solo guitar draws ethnic folk materials together in a lively and lovely celebration. Both of these deserve to enter the modern repertoire.

Listen to University of St. Thomas Symphonic Wind Ensemble

Mass of St. Thomas Aquinas: IV Benedictus

Armenian Rhapsody for Guitar and Symphonic Wind Ensemble: II Bar

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Casual Listening Extra - DEATH

Casual Listening


April 17, 2009

Guest listener: James Mumm

DEATH: For The World To See

This three piece from Detroit is the best band you've never heard of...period, the best punk band you would carve a tattoo of George Bush of your arm in order to be able to see live (you can't, one of the members passed away a few years ago), and the best African-American punk band of all time (yes, I said it, now you can troll about Bad Brains for the next few hours until you actually listen to DEATH, then you will see). The New York Times headline on March 12th said it all, "This band was punk before punk was punk." You can check out "Politicians in my eyes" on Youtube and their seven song album is a measly $7 bucks on iTunes. Get it now!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Casual Listening - Mexican Institute of Sound, Billy Ray Cyrus, Buraka Som Sistema

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

April 10, 2009

* Mexican Institute of Sound (electronic)

A brilliant remix of popular Mexican sounds. Cumbia, Banda, and Corrido get twisted almost beyond recognition to meet the demands of the modern dance floor. MIS’ double vision is both original and playful.

Listen to Mexican Institute of Sound “Yo Digo Baila

* Billy Ray Cyrus – Back to Tennessee (country)

Hannah Montana’s dad pushes the envelope of Nashville country with complex songwriting and edgy rock bordering on grunge. “He’s Mine” is one of several songs on this album that speak to the difficulty of a flawed man trying to live an upright life.

Listen to Billy Ray Cyrus “He’s Mine

Buraka Som Sistema – Black Diamond (world)

Kuduro music is a cultural cage match that comes from Angola via Portugal, and Buraka Som Sistema owns the crown in this genre. Electronic beats drive the sound, balanced with the analog tones of shakers, bells, drums, and rap-style vocals. Intense, driving rhythms make this a workout either for the nightclub or the health club.

Listen to Buraka Som Sistema “Kalemba (Wegue-Wegue)

Cyril Neville – Brand New Blues (blues)

Texas roadhouse sound with New Orleans flair. Slinky guitar, electric organ, and funk-laden drumming hook up a party caboose to a twelve-bar blues engine. Songs of hope and change are alternate with songs about women, both wrong-doing and otherwise.

Listen to Cyril Neville “Cream Them Beans

Enter the Haggis – Gutter Anthems (rock)

Put aside for the moment that I’m a sucker for anything with bagpipes – Enter the Haggis makes a solid connection between modern rock and Celtic tradition. The band is more melody and less punk than some of their contemporaries. And yes, a righteous helping of rock ‘n’ roll bagpipes.

Listen to Enter the Haggis “The Litter and the Leaves

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Casual Listening -- Rodion Shchedrin, John Parish & PJ Harvey, Queensryche

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

April 3, 2009

! Rodion Shchedrin: The Sealed Angel (classical)

Choir of Gonville and Canius College, Cambridge, Geoffrey Weber, conductor

Choir of King’s College, London, David Trendell, conductor

This a capella choral masterwork has a fascinating backstory that includes the re-emergence of religion in 1980’s Russia and the clandestine practice of sacred painting. Don’t worry about the story. Connoisseurs of Russian choral music will recognize echoes of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and the sacred works of Tchesnokoff. Don’t worry about the history of Russian choral music, either. This is a transcendent work with the power to move you regardless of what you know about it. Let this piece seep into your soul.

Listen to Rodion Schchedrin “The Sealed Angel: III

* John Parish & P. J. Harvey – A Woman a Man Walked By (rock)

Harvey lends her eerie vocals to Parish’s distorted guitar textures. The resulting angular rock arrangements smolder with the energy of sunlight focused through a magnifying glass.

Listen to John Parish & P. J. Harvey “Black Hearted Love

Sleepy LaBeef – Roots (country)

An old chestnut of a musician takes on a set of traditional folk and gospel songs with similar staying power. LaBeef has a rich baritone paired with an acoustic guitar that you can imagine listening to curled up in front of an old AM radio.

Listen to Sleepy LaBeef “Cotton Fields

Kelly Joe Phelps – Western Bell (folk)

Phelp’s idiosyncratic vision of roots music on solo guitar invokes the spirit of the singular, powerful stringwork found on John Fahey’s America. It’s a challenging listen that strays far enough from tradition to give a new perspective on it.

Listen to Kelly Joe Phelps “The Jenny Spin

Michelle Malone – Debris (rock)

My musical obsession with Michelle Malone led me to sneak into a show in Atlanta fifteen years ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since. This album is the bluesiest she’s done, with electric slide guitar powering a set of pro-feminist rock & roll.

Listen to Michelle Malone “Feather in a Hurricane

Queensryche – American Soldier (metal)

For as deeply as this country has been involved in war in recent years, this is a rare album dedicated to music from a soldier’s point of view. Screeching falsetto choruses and big guitar riffs are a legacy from the ‘80s, which seems just the right speed for this tribute.

Listen to Queensryche “Hundred Mile Stare

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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