Friday, November 27, 2009

Casual Listening - Christmas Album Roundup

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

November 27, 2009

Happy post-Thanksgiving, all. We’re into the end of the year, and new releases slow to a crawl, so I’ve got a series of special features for you over the next few weeks:

Nov 27: Christmas Album Roundup

Dec 4: Greatest Misses: stuff I’ve overlooked

Dec 11: The best of 2009

Dec 18: The best of the decade

Dec 25 & Jan 1: No reviews, possibly some special features

Jan 8: Launch of the new

Christmas Album Roundup

* Kermit Ruffins – Have a Crazy Cool Christmas (jazz)

It doesn’t snow in New Orleans in December, but that doesn’t keep Ruffins from spreading some holiday cheer. Spot-on Dixieland and funk jazz renditions of the classics along with a few surprises.

Listen to Kermit Ruffins “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Andrea Bocelli – My Christmas (vocal)

As a recording of a beautiful voice with over-the-top orchestration, Bocelli’s album belongs in the same category as Bing Crosby’s Christmas recordings. Some of the carols have a more classical bent, others more pop, but all of the have the kind of sentimental feel that brings families together around the hearth this time of year.

Listen to Andrea Bocelli “White Christmas

Bifrost Arts – Salvation is Created (rock)

This collective of indie rock artists came together as a group to explore Christian themes in traditional music – which made a Christmas album a natural. The settings draw on a chamber orchestra, with various tracks having violins, xylophone, and electric guitar. These are adventurous and often dark takes on mostly familiar standards.

Listen to Bifrost Arts “Let All Mortal Flesh

Straight No Chaser – Christmas Cheers (A Capella)

The novelty song is a venerable Christmas tradition, and Straight No Chaser carry it on honorably. Both more listenable and more clever than “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” this album is a big dose of jolly.

Listen to Straight No Chaser “The 12 Days of Christmas

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Casual Listening - Dave Rawlings Machine, Them Crooked Vultures, CAGE MATCH: Lady Gaga vs. Kid Sister

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

November 20, 2009

* Dave Rawlings Machine – A Friend of a Friend (folk)

Best known as Gillian Welch’s guitar-playing sidekick, Rawlings shows he can kick out the back porch jams. Tight harmonies, lots of mandolin, and an enthusiasm reminiscent of The Band brings on a big hippie grin.

Listen to Dave Rawlings Machine “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)

* Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures (rock)

A Frankenstein of a rock project. With superstars from bands like Nirvana and Led Zeppelin grafted together, the full assembly is menacing, but it’s alive. Sludgy guitar riffs and a trashcan drum sound make for a heavy but inventive set of tunes.

Listen to Them Crooked Vultures “Elephants

Alan Lomax – Alan Lomax in Haiti (folk)

An enormous time capsule from one of the most important documenters of the world’s traditional music. Ten discs of field recordings from the island made in 1936 and 1937 are being made available for the first time. There are whole albums of voodoo music and carnival music, as well as three songs sung by folklorist and writer Zora Neale Hurston. It’s worth just picking through a few tracks at random to give yourself the sound of another place and time.

Listen to Alan Lomax in HaitiWoy-O Woy-O Plus Ochan

Grupo Pesado – Desde La Cantina (Latin)

While most only encounter the radio version of Nortena music, to catch its true spirit you need to hear it live with friends, accompanied by a few beers. Grupo Pesado’s new album comes as close as I’ve heard to capturing that setting. Perfectly harmonized ballads and brawny accordion solos show off a band playing their hearts out.

Listen to Grupo Pesado “Cielo Nublado

Larry Sparks – I Just Want to Thank You Lord (country)

Gospel numbers have always been part of bluegrass, and Bill Monroe always had several hymns among the ballads and breakdowns. This album is all bluegrass gospel, in the best old traditional style. High and lonesome with plenty of serious picking, it’s also a window on an era when church music was one of the universals of rural life.

Listen to Larry Sparks “Little White Frame Church

CAGE MATCH: Lady Gaga: The Fame Monster -vs- Kid Sister: Ultraviolet

The Contest: Dance Dance Revolution!

On the left dancepad, the new darling of dance-pop, so cool you need a refrigerator just to dig her, Lady Gaga! (GAGAGAGA!!!) And on the right dancepad, the princess of the hip-hop underworld, patron saint of nail technicians everywhere, Kid Sister! (HOOYAHH!!!!)

Lady Gaga drops a mid-tempo disco noir. Step-step, twirl (you’re doin’ great!) Stomp to the beat! Stomp to the beat! (you’re on fire!) Now she’s signing like Madonna! Hophophop-step (let’s do it again!) That score’s going to be tough to beat.

Kid Sister punches up the electro beats (let’s dance!) Step-step-jump! (all riiiight!) Bop to the left, Bop to the right, feel the funky flow (your moves are refreshing!) and the screen shuts off! Her stare is too seductive for the computer to handle!!! Kid Sister wins!!! (HOOYAHH!!!!)

Listen to Lady Gaga “Bad Romance

Listen to Kid Sister “Right Hand Hi

Giuliano & I Baroni – Faccia d’Angelo (rock)

Every once in a while, I run across an album so unbelievably bad, I can only marvel at the evil geniusness of the artist who concocted such a monster. This is hands down the worst album I’ve heard all year, possibly the most horrendous album I’ve heard since I started reviewing music. From the embarrassing cover photo to the pop trash sung in Italian, this is a true tour de farce. And if you think the album’s a nightmare, the YouTube video will have you screaming.

Listen to Giuliano & I Baroni “Piccola Stella

Or if you dare, go to the website and watch the YouTube video of “Arrivano I Cow Boy

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Casual Listening - Asobi Seksu, Wale, Silk Road Ensemble

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

November 13, 2009

* Asobi Seksu – Rewolf (rock)

Like strolling across a meadow made of clouds, this is dream pop with a heavy emphasis on the dream. Xylophone, flute, toy piano, soprano vocals with heavy reverb, and anything else that weights the sound toward treble. A beautiful, fragile sound.

Listen to Asobi Seksu “Walk on the Moon

Wale – Attention Deficit (rap)

Deftly syncopated flow over backgrounds painted with an extensive palate: afrobeat , retro R&B, and space-age synths. Amidst the party jams and boasting are a few tracks that speak fearless truths.

Listen to Wale “Shades

Silk Road Ensemble – Off the Map (classical)

Even without founder Yo-Yo Ma, this is a formidable ensemble. With pan-Asian instrumentation including koto, er-hu, sheng, and tabla alongside orchestral strings, Silk Road is redefining the classical tradition to include east and west, ancient and contemporary. Four major pieces each present a different vantage point on this unexplored, challenging terrain.

Listen to Silk Road Ensemble “Sulvasutra: Letter to Pythagoras

Julia Wolfe – Dark Full Ride: Music in Multiples (classical)

Contemporary classical music that still passes the coolness test. Layering of single instruments and repetition characterize the sound. The opening is a jaw-dropper – I guarantee you’ve never heard bagpipes quite like this.

Listen to Julia Wolfe “LAD Part 1

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Casual Listening - Dixie Bee-Liners, Celia Mur, Emma Lou Diemer

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

October 30, 2009

! The Dixie Bee-Liners – Susanville (Bluegrass)

A one-hour road trip for the mind, “Susanville” captures the restlessness and discovery of barreling across middle America. The string band sound evokes just enough nostalgia to capture the feel of truck stops and diners without getting too comfortable – after all, it’s the road that calls. These songs carry a sense of velocity, always moving us along to somewhere new.

Listen to The Dixie Bee-Liners “Restless

* Celia Mur – Simpatia (jazz)

Nightclub jazz with sultry vocals in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Mur is a delight to listen to, and her improvisations show the confidence she feels with her voice. Mark Turner’s sax is a welcome bonus. A couple of flamenco tunes round out the set.

Listen to Celia MurTres Morillas

Emma Lou Diemer – Summer Day: The Complete Works for Violin and Piano (classical)

Diemer’s compositions are characterized by a strong sense of melody, a quality that is rare to find in the world of modern composition. The duet format leaves plenty of space for the melodies to emerge.

Listen to Emma Lou Diemer “Suite for Violin and Piano: Summer Day

Rickie Lee Jones – Balm in Gilead (rock)

Jones’ unpolished but enthusiastic voice always brings a smile to my face. Whether she’s doing retro soul, honky tonk, jazz, or just her own thing, there’s an underlying joy to the music that’s irresistible. Not to mention songwriting that’s head and shoulders above most of what gets produced today.

Listen to Rickie Lee Jones “Eucalyptus Trail

Amerie – In Love & War (R&B)

High quality pop candy. Amerie’s buoyant voice bobs across a clear sheen of energy that manages not to be too much of anything, but draws elements of soul, rock, rap, and funk. Nearly every song on here could see radio airplay.

Listen to Amerie “Dangerous

Kate Earl – Kate Earl (rock)

While she’s cribbed a page from Lily Allen’s playbook, she does it so well that you really don’t mind. Slick, sexy, and aloof, this is an enjoyable listen.

Listen to Kate Earl “Nobody

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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