Thursday, September 24, 2009

Casual Listening - They Might Be Giants, Claudia Cunha, Volcano Choir

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

September 25, 2009

* They Might Be Giants – Here Comes Science (kids)

If there’s anyone that could make science cool…it’s probably Beyonce or someone like that. TMBG only intensifies its nerdy allure through pop gems with titles such as “I Am a Paleontologist” and “Photosynthesis.” Still, my money’s on this album for cementing the fascination of a younger generation with phenomena like solar plasma

Listen to They Might Be Giants “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?

And courtesy of Lee Winkelman, one of our Casual Listeners, a recommendation for another great new kids rock album: “Worser” by Duplex! You can catch one new song from the album here, and the whole thing for sale here.

* Claudia Cunha – Responde a Roda (world)

Cunha has the attitude to pull off perfect Bossa Nova: a fine balance of laid-back and playful that seems to underlie all good Brazilian music. The arrangements are smart, using snappy percussion, quiet guitar, accordion and musical bow.

Listen to Claudia Cunha – “Baiao Dividido

* Volcano Choir – Unmap (folk)

Angelic choral tapestries stretched over neo-rustic frames – it’s no surprise that a key architect of this Midwest pastorale is Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. The hypnotic background patterns are reminiscent of classical minimalism. A little guitar, stray thumb piano, and lots of love.

Listen to Volcano Choir “And Gather

Crayon Angel: A Tribute to the Music of Judee Sill (folk)

Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of Judee Sill before either. She was a shooting star of a folk singer in the ‘70s who wrote beautiful melodies that deserve to be revisited. An able cast of young singers (Ron Sexmith, Beth Orton, etc.) provide gentle re-visions of these works.

Listen to “Jesus Was a Cross Maker” from “Crayon Angel”

Adam Steffey – One More for the Road (bluegrass)

Solid traditional bluegrass, alongside a few contemporary riffs. The instrumental tunes in particular add a welcome bit of harmonic adventurousness.

Listen to Adam Steffey “Deep Rough

Dan Tepfer/Lee Konitz – Duos With Lee (jazz)

Konitz has been a household name in the jazz world for 50 years. Tepfer may be the next one. Tepfer’s classically inspired compositions for saxophone and piano have an appealing sweetness. Konitz is still in fine form, although it’s Tepfer that sets the pace of this album.

Listen to Dan Tepfer & Lee Konitz “Elande #2 (Bb)

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Casual Listening - Mujerez, Q-Tip, Chris Knight

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

September 18, 2009

! Mujerez: Juana/Dolores/Tomasa (world)

Hands down the most powerful flamenco I’ve heard. The passion you hear in the voices of these three women is enough to knock you off your chair. Despite wide differences in vocal style, they share the soulfulness that’s made people across the globe fall for this music.

Listen to Mujerez “Te Quise Sin Darme Cuenta

* Q-Tip – Kamaal the Abstract (rap)

Abstract is the operative word, and in this case it signals masterful creativity. Q-tip is embracing a tradition of Black experimental music, and you can hear its overtones throughout the album: Miles Davis’ fusion and Prince’s pop-funk are two reference points. This album is a challenging listen, but it rewards you with a sophistication that mainstream rap doesn’t even attempt.

Listen to Q-Tip – “Heels

* Chris Knight – Trailer II (country)

Knight wears country lonesome like a favorite flannel shirt. He has a gutsy drawl that’s more troubadour than twang, and a simple guitar accompaniment leaves plenty of space for beautifully crafted, heartbreaking songs.

Listen to Chris Knight “It Ain’t Easy Being Me

Muse – The Resistance (rock)

Muse creates for a giant-sized world: epic, dramatic, and with grand scale. Driving rhythms with guitars, synths, and earnest vocals characterize most of the songs. File this next to The Killers, although their palate is broad enough to pull in everything from Queen to Beethoven.

Listen to Muse “The Resistance

Simian Mobile Disco – Temporary Pleasure (electronic)

This one’s just a pleasure to dance to. Simple electronic beats carry big hooks and harmonies, more music than metronome.

Listen to Simian Mobile Disco “Cruel Intentions

Chris Russell – Merge (ambient)

While Casual Listening often strives to present music you can enjoy while doing other things, ambient music is purposely designed as creative background noise. Chris Russell’s newest project presents a range of electronic textures that manage to convey a sense of warmth amidst the machines. Let this wash through your subconscious while you’re going about your day.

Listen to Chris Russell’s track “Sky Watcher” at AtmoWorks

Cowboy Troy – Demolition Mission: Studio Blue Sessions (rock, etc.)

Cowboy Troy is one of my guilty pleasures. Best known as the inventor of the county-rap hybrid “Hick-Hop,” Troy takes this album in the direction of straight-ahead rock. Whatever he’s playing, he’s got a real pop sensibility that works.

Listen to Cowboy TroyThat’s Me

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Casual Listening - Jay-Z, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Come O Spirit!

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

September 11, 2009

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3 (rap)

An inventive album from a megastar who largely delivers on his promise “I don’t run rap no more, I run the map.” Thanks to Kanye West’s production, you’ll hear overtones of classic soul, rock, and jazz, shout-outs to Frank Sinatra, and even a klezmer clarinet riff. Jay-Z’s rhymes promise a peek at the secret to his success, both financial and musical, as well as tributes to neighborhood New York.

Listen to Jay-Z “Empire State of Mind

Rodrigo y Gabriela – 11:11 (world)

Punk flamenco? Fiery acoustic guitar propels this set of funky instrumentals. For sheer kinetic energy, this duo is in the same caffeinated neighborhood as Ani Difranco.

Listen to Rodrigo y Gabriela – “Hanuman

Come O Spirit!: Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs Vol. 1 (folk)

Folklorists of the last century scoured the mountain villages of West Virginia for ordinary people doing simple renditions of traditional church songs. Now, a new wave of hip folksters are singing their way into the tradition. Sufjan Stevens, Damien Jurado, and friends sound like they just pulled the dulcimer off the wall for John Hammond to record on an old reel-to-reel for posterity.

Listen to “Hard Times” from Come O Spirit!

Les Triaboliques – rivermudtwilight (world)

The combination of guitar, saz, and bouzouki roll across the open landscapes of the world: Arabian Desert, Cuban Tropic, the Mississippi Delta. Laid-back traveling music to accompany a well-worn passport.

Listen to Les Triaboliques “afasundi (I have been corrupted)

A Fine Frenzy – Bomb in a Birdcage (rock)

Sweet vocals cruise along an understated pulse with intricate pop production. Place this one in the Feist/Jem galaxy.

Listen to A Fine Frenzy “Electric Twist

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Casual Listening - Bernstein Mass, James Moody, Bela Fleck

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

September 4, 2009

! Bernstein: Mass – Jubilant Sykes, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop conductor

A new recording of the least-performed work of one of America’s most beloved composers is in itself a cause for celebration. It’s an immense piece – full orchestra, adult choir, children’s chorus, and rock band – with some amazingly difficult music and a rebellious social message. It also contains moments of such beauty as can bring you to tears. Jubilant Sykes is an inspired choice in the role of the celebrant, and his interpretation brings both an expanded dynamic and emotional range to the work. The supporting cast often surpasses but sometimes under-reaches the mark set by the original recording. Some extremely quiet passages demand that it be listened to at full volume, so be aware it’s designed for your stereo system, not your ipod. All said, you’ll thank yourself spending two hours with this recording.

Listen to Bernstein: Mass “A Simple Song

* James Moody – 4A (jazz)

Even at 85, years old, Moody’s tone on tenor sax is blazing. With a simple quartet and a set of such standards as Round Midnight and Stella by Starlight, he once again proves himself worthy of the moniker “living legend.”

Listen to James Moody “East of the Sun

Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer – The Melody of Rhythm (classical)

Blistering virtuosity on a newly composed triple concerto for banjo, bass, and table drums, accompanied by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It’s often over even my head, but there’s still some powerful new music here. Hussain’s drumming is wondrous, and between the pitched drums and the banjo (which itself contains a drum), the paradox implied in the title is well-explored.

Listen to Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer – “The Melody of Rhythm, Mvmt. 2

Susana Baca – Seis Poemas (Latin)

An emotionally packed short set from a fantastic Peruvian folk singer. The lyrics come from poems of another Peruvian singer, Chabuca Granda. The language is exquisite, and the voicing even moreso.

Listen to Susana Baca “Resbalosas

Drive-By Truckers – The Fine Print (Country)

When your B-sides are as good as the ones collected on this album, you can begin to legitimately stake your claim as king of the hill in alternative country. Ragged guitars, mournful pedal steel, and lyrics that read like short stories are DBT’s calling cards, and they’re all powerfully in evidence here.

Listen to Drive By Truckers “George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues

The Black Crowes – Before the Frost…Until the Freeze (rock)

Three-quarters of this double-album is skippable, but the five remaining songs would make an EP than points to a powerful new direction for the Black Crowes. In place of the vocal high-wire act that characterized their early records, they’ve come done in the fertile soil of folk Americana. To the extent they continue down this road, they’ll find themselves in the illustrious footsteps of The Band and moving toward the psychedelic folk that’s increasingly being rediscovered by younger bands. Here are my picks for an EP:

Listen to The Black Crowes:

What is Home

The Last Place That Love Lives

Aimless Peacock

Garden Gate

Shine Along

Juliette Lewis – Terra Incognita (rock)

Perfect punk attitude in the vein of Patti Smith. She shows herself to be a woman not afraid of her own voice.

Listen to Juliette Lewis “Ghosts

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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