Thursday, December 3, 2009

Casual Listening - Greatest Misses 2009

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

December 4, 2009

The parade of end-of-the-year features continues:

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

Greatest Misses: Overlooked in 2009

! Ami Saraiya– Archaeologist (vocal)

I don’t invoke names like Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday lightly, but I also don’t come across voices anywhere near that caliber very often. You’ve just got to hear Ami Saraiya to believe it. She’s able to pull emotional strings across the musical spectrum: her cabaret is romantic, her blues gritty, and her rock downright sinister. The orchestration is exquisite, with occasional strings, muted trumpet, guitar, and heavy doses of accordion. You can’t help but be swept off your feet by this album.

Disclaimer: I know Ami and have followed her work for years. I can assure you no favors were traded in preparing this review. This is legitimately a world-class album.

Listen to Ami Sariaiya’s “Vegas Moon” on MySpace, and order the album at

! Anne Akiko Meyers – Smile (classical)

Eclectic pieces for virtuoso violin connected by a deep sense of joy. With achingly pure tone, Meyers does equal justice to Schubert, Astor Piazzola, and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The title piece is originally by silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and it’s a chaplinesque broad smile that’s the product of every piece on this recording.

Listen to Anne Akiko Meyers “Smile

! Rihanna – Rated R (R&B)

I’m having trouble figuring out which of these is more shocking to me:

1. The best mainstream pop album of the year is about domestic abuse.

2. The most powerful public statement about domestic abuse this year is a mainstream pop album.

While I’m getting over the shock, let me say that the album sounds great. Slower tempos and dancehall inflections give a sense of gravity that’s uncommon for an artist aiming for the top 40. Rihanna portrays herself on this set as hardened. She evokes images of gang fights and Russian roulette not because she has a deathwish, but because she doesn’t. She’s been forced to face her mortality and somehow has to rebuild a life afterwards. Heavy stuff, powerful art.

Listen to Rihanna “Stupid in Love

! Hiram and Huddie – various artists (country, blues)

A group of folk and blues players wrench two American music legends off their pedestals and make them dance again. Hiram is the given name of Hank Williams, and Huddie somehow got the nickname Leadbelly. The new interpretations of their honky-tonk and jailhouse classics are amazingly vital. The performers here – William Elliot Whitmore, Scott H. Biram, and Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band are the tip of the iceberg – have the collective potential to turn the roots rock world upside down.

Listen to Hiram and Huddie “Gallis Pole

* Filisko & Noden – I. C. Special (blues)

Two top-shelf instrumentalists wail on the forgotten blues of the 1920s and 1930s. Filisko is a legend in harmonica circles, and Noden deserves to be one for his slide guitar work. They find plenty of life left in songs and styles from the dawn of recorded music.

Disclaimer: I know these guys, too. What can I say? Genius loves company.

Listen to “Gridlock Blues” and buy the album here.

Ori Dakari – Entrances (jazz)

Dakari’s compositions blend Israeli music traditions with the jazz tradition. A talented sax-focused quintet gives these pieces life, with Dakari himself on guitar.

Listen to Ori Dakari “Beresheet

Dunkelbunt – Raindrops and Elephants (world)

Master DJ’s alongside drums and instruments from across sound like a musical dispatch from the electronic Amazon. Dunkelbunt surprises at every turn, rolling a global amalgam over a big beat.

Listen to Dunkelbunt “Balkan Qoulou

Animal Collective – Fall Be Kind (rock)

You’ll see the group’s earlier release “Merriweather Post Pavilion” on many critics’ best-of lists this year. This 5-song EP is a good introduction to their freak-out pop style.

Listen to Animal Collective “What Would I Want? Sky

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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