Music Emissions Latest 5 Star Reviews Feed This feed gives you the latest Albums receiving 5 stars reviewed on Music Emissions en-us 260 Music Emissions 79 60 <![CDATA[1. Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky - Sleeping Beauty ]]> I've stated in the past an unwillingess to review Classical music. 

It seemed too much of a scholarly endeavor. I failed to see the practice of listening to the works as an entertainment quest. I had a change of heart on this after watching another film take on the Sleeping Beauty story via Maleficent. The recent adaptation looks at the story through the eyes of a villain. I prefer the 1959 animated version. But lest I digress. Both versions feature the song "Once Upon A Dream." The more recent movie includes the song by Lana Del Rey. This motivated me to explore the source material further. Andre Previn's version of the ballet features 61 songs and clocks in at two hours and 36 minutes. It's time well spent. The melody is so amazing throughout from beginning to end. I had trouble in my youth comprehending how people could listen to both rock and classical. The styles seemed so different. As you examine popular works based on Classical pieces, it becomes much easier to understand. Certainly movies are enhanced by the works of the masters. And if I can spend time writing about Ella Fitzgerald and others singing the songs of George Gershwin. Surely, there's a place for symphonic evaluation. 

This is a work of haunting beauty. The tempo changes I crave are all present in this piece of music. It takes a lot of time to get through the whole work. There's no requirement to partake the whole thing in one gulp. There's worse ways to spend an afternoon or evening, as well if one hearing is preferred by the listener.  I'd have to say the song is best served in the context of "The Spell." I'm also partial to the effect the whole album or excerpts leave on me with repeated listens. 

<![CDATA[2. Louis Armstrong - Ultimate Collection ]]> A two-disc collection from Louis is a no-brainer. 

This is a must have. To the unitiated it's required listening. To the converted it's an affirmation, which brings renewed pleasure. It's not hard to get drawn into an album with "Tiger Rag" and "When The Saints Go Marching In." But I'm pleased to get introduced to any blues Armstrong wants sing about. "Wolverine Blues" and "Muskrat Blues" do just fine. I'm thrilled to hear "Bye and Bye," which shows the necessity of Gospel music, when looking at the evolution of popular music. Any doubts about whether Armstrong had a claim to country greatness is pushed away with "Down in Honky Tonk Town." "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans" and "Swing That Music" are among the others, which dazzle. Armstrong is essential with his singing and trumpet playing. It's hard to quantify just how a remarkable an artist, he is. Eighty years later his recordings still sound fresh and inventive. The recording quality of this collection is excellent, as well. 

Armstrong's music works as music to sit and focus on the various aspects of the recordings. It refuses to stay in the background, regardless of the importance of a task. He's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an influence. To any musical taste, Armstrong works. The melodies are just too good. His enthusiasm for performing is contagious. His skills as a bandleader are without parallel. He could select the right musicians to play along with him. Armstrong could also just let things go with a solid instrumental. There's humor in the music, when he needs it. He generally doesn't over do it. And this collection is solid throughout the 36-track excursion. It clocks in at less than two hours. At the end, there's nothing wrong with revisiting the whole thing again soon. 

<![CDATA[3. Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction ]]> The Harvest Floor. Prior to that I was a simple dabbler in the realm of not only Cattle Decapitation, but grind/grindcore/whatever in general. There were a handful of tracks on Harvest that grabbed my interest, the band weaving the violent and razor-sharp foundations of their sound with a more grandiose melodies, particularly from vocalist Travis Ryan. These dark melodic passages seemed to counterpoint the aggression perfectly, and when Monolith Of Inhumanity was released three years ago, I was absolutely hooked. That album remains a staple and one of the absolute finest metal efforts I've ever experienced. Needless to say, the weight of that album and the years since have left expectations incredibly high for The Anthropocene Extinction.

However high those expectations may get for me, there is always an initial letdown. Because it simply isn't what you loved before; it never is. Which is undoubtedly a good thing however you look at it because, let's face it, we crave variety in art. Well, some of us do. In that vein, Cattle Decapitation offer enough of it this time around that, after the early "oh this isn't Monolith" nonsense clears away you see the beauty of subtle changes. It's not evident early; "The Anthropocene Extinct" sounds lifted from Monolith in almost every way; brutally engineered with an absolutely soaring chorus standing out in morbidly beautiful contrast. This track was released previous to the record as a teaser, so it's been through the grinder but still retains its status as one of the band's best tracks to date. But wait! There's more! "The Prophets Of Loss", featuring some guest vocal work from Philip Anselmo, is somehow more raw and violent than most of the band's straightforward past material, utilizing smarter songwriting to create a more dense and choking atmosphere. Huge moments abound on The Anthropocene Extinction, so much so that picking them out would turn this into an essay. Let's just say that this record matches the impact of Monolith Of Inhumanity while variating the sound enough to not make it derivative. Even if what they do best is still that incredible juxtaposition of brutality and melody.

There are no (NO) bands in metal today that are hitting on the high gears like Cattle Decapitation are. At the top of their game in all facets from individual performance to songwriting to the pivotal engineer/fifth member (Dave Otero). This record is the second in a hopefully long line of examples of a particular blend of metal taken to its limit, reshaped slightly in the process and delivered with the utmost passion and precision. In a word, it's amazing. Again.]]>
<![CDATA[4. Jj Ford - Perfect Saturday Night ]]>

I spent ten years either in the backseats of various Ford and Chevrolet two and four door cars or else squeezed between my dad and mom in one of the assorted pickup trucks he owned during my childhood. Neither of them cared much for rock music of any stripe, excepting rockabilly perhaps, and so the car radio filled that decade, 1975-1985, with honkytonk piano, steel guitar, and that high lonesome sound. JJ Ford’s album Perfect Saturday Night is a modern rendering of that classic sound, a personal statement, and a tribute rolled into one. Despite the objective fact that this music is far out of commercial favor, Ford has pushed ahead and recorded the album he wanted rather than pandering to the latest Nashville sound. This ten song collection will appeal to longtime devotees of the genre and anyone who appreciate solid songwriting, polished musicianship, and emotive vocals.


The title cut kicks off the album with light swing and easy, unassuming confidence. Specific details aside, this is an excellent song about enjoying the moment and Ford strengthens that impression with his relaxed and musical voice. The pinpoint accompaniment never strains for effect and, instead, coalesces around Ford’s singing. “Secondhand Dreams” has melodic, up-tempo bounce shaded with moody, brief guitar and fiddle fills. He builds this track in a seamless, fundamental way with percussion and acoustic guitar, but the band sparks things with a bit of flash chops on the instrumental break. “Listen Tonight” stands out thanks to its sharp songwriting. The song’s relatively basic shuffle provides a solid platform for Ford’s pragmatic and poetic lyric, but also provides a canvas for memorable interplay between the steel and traditional guitar lines.


Ford takes on another up-tempo honkytonker with “Broken Pieces”. It’s a bittersweet account of domestic discord taken straight out of country songwriting 101, but the phrasing of its dark humor spins the storytelling in an unique way.  Steel guitar plays a prominent role again in “Find Me”, a country ballad about childhood and family. The emotive side of Ford’s voice excels here with what might have otherwise unwound in a sickly sweet, sentimental way. Instead, Ford invokes real pathos and emotion without ever lapsing into melodrama. “Love Is Not a Word” embodies more of the distinctive, yet recognizable, songwriting that distinguishes this album. The vocal melody and phrasing do a great job of unfolding Ford’s lyric about the different experiences of love. It’s another fine, surprisingly poetic invocation of the beautiful and fine in this life that, once again, never falls into sentimentality.


The album’s second half doesn’t slack off in quality. “If It Wasn’t For the Wind” is rousing and radio-friendly light country rock from an artist with nothing to prove. If it wasn’t for the fact that Perfect Saturday Night is so resolutely traditionalist in its musical aims, this track would smack of a blatant lunge for attention. Instead, the album’s first half establishes Ford’s credibility with such conclusiveness that this feels like a successful stylistic departure. The song builds magnificently from its minimalist beginnings to its stirring second half and never overstays its welcome. “What If Destiny” joins “Listen Tonight” and “Love Is Not a Word” as the album’s finest tracks. The music is an easy-going acoustic jaunt with a steady bass pulse perfect for Ford’s lyric lightly scolding some anonymous subject for their arrogance.


Perfect Saturday Night takes me back, but it’s a forward looking album as well. Few country songwriters could claim songwriting like “Listen Tonight” and “What If Destiny”, but moreover, they couldn’t approximate Ford’s frequently perfect marriage between vocal, music, and content. This is as fine of an album as any traditional country music fan could hope for in 2015 and points to the future.  

<![CDATA[5. Vile Display Of Humanity - Vile Display Of Humanity ]]> Vile Display Of Humanity consist of an experienced and similiarly jaded group of individual talents who have brought their familiar and persistent sound to the Seattle area. Over the course of 15 months, the band took it upon themselves to fully oversee the creation of their latest, self-titled LP. From writing to recording and the eventual release under Forever Autumn records, VDOH have injected DIY passion (fueled by second jobs, learning on the fly and ever changing recording habits) into a well honed machine of social commentary and short, stinging tracks.

Each spin of Vile Display Of Humanity is better than the last, as the nature of hardcore punk/thrash reveals itself again as being a furious percession of riffs and panicked percussion that tends to blend together until numerous listens sees more and more highlights revealed. Generally speaking, this band produces riffs both venomous and hook-laden in such quanities that it's far too easy to overlook the quality. I can't say I'm a major purveyor of the style, but I'm hard pressed to remember an album that packed this much memorable riffage in. With hoarse, spitting vocals that embody the bitter nature of the lyrics perfectly and a rhythm section relentless and thick in the mix, the full package is here. The icing on the cake is how well constructed the entire record is; songs move quickly but flow with a chemistry that only experience can allow, and the production values harken to a time of demo tapes and an underground metal scene that many bands have to try at. Not these guys.

Highlights are scattered throughout but, truly, the entire set is one massive slab of upper-echelon material, a surprising gem in what has otherwise been a so-so year in metal for myself personally. Vile Display Of Humanity knocked me off my feet and aim to keep me there as, even after a couple dozen spins, Vile Display Of Humanity still reveals a bridge here, a riff there, a drum fill or a lyric that I hadn't picked up the last time around. A gift that keeps on giving, and a sound that too few can properly nail down the way these hard working hellraisers so clearly do.

One of the best metal albums of 2015 in my humble opinion.]]>
<![CDATA[6. Liquorsmiths - This Book Belongs To ]]> It’s a mistake to view roots music as limited. The Liquorsmiths are clearly a band who understands this is a malleable form and how collaboration uncovers endless variations within deceptively simple formulas. This San Diego-based three piece build from the instantly recognizable vocals of vocalist and guitarist Drew Thams, but drummer Clayton Payne and keyboardist Ryan Fischer are able music partners in creating memorable arrangements that compliments the songwriting extraordinarily well. The Liquorsmiths demonstrate masterful command over creating seductive folk-rock textures on their latest release This Book Belongs To and the production helps accentuate a welcome sense of intimacy.

“Coy with Me” has a relaxed, luxurious pace with a light hint of blues. The song’s lyrics have a quasi-stream of consciousness quality, but the storytelling never lacks clarity and makes telling use of significant detail. Thams’ voice has a cawing, nasal insistence that twists listener’s expectations without ever overwhelming them. “Get Well Soon” is a brisk shuffle with another superb Thams vocal. This track has a lighter touch than the opener and, as a result, has accessibility that the preceding track lacks. This isn’t a problem however. The entertaining energy and poppier touch shows off the band’s stylistic dexterity.

The slow unfolding of “Iris’ Song” has welcome, stripped-back clarity. Folk-rock outfits sometimes struggle with maintaining focus on songs like this. The Liquorsmiths, however, keep the song blossoming towards a satisfying conclusion and seize unexpected opportunities from the arrangement. Its spacious, dreamy pace creates space to pepper the track with a number of subtle, but significant, musical touches. The atmospheric

“Thief” veers closer to baroque, keyboard-tinted acoustic pop than it folk-rock. Any fears about such an experiment falling flat are unfounded. This sonic detour retains a consistent connection to the flavor of earlier tracks while expanding their possibilities. “Devil I Do” has an interesting arrangement that sounds like its barely holding itself together. The suggestion gives the track an appealingly chaotic feel to balance against equally memorable bridges and refrains. It’s hardly noticeable, but the introduction of organ during important passages is a nice, understated touch.

The finale, “Day by Day”, has a jazzy suggestiveness thanks to the guitar work. It’s one of the album’s better lyrics thanks, once again, to the band’s superior instinct for including compelling details and imagery. This Book Belongs To is one of the better recent folk-rock releases thanks to its polished songwriting, substantive writing, and exceptional musical talents. The Liquorsmiths’ reach never exceeds their ambition and their future promise has no perceptible limit.

<![CDATA[7. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs ]]> The Suburbs open with the eponymous song, with piano chiming against light drums and strummed guitar. As it builds, it sounds almost familiar, it is so typical and yet uncanny, it can’t be anything other than the suburbs which are familiar to all of us. Even if we haven’t lived in a suburb, we’ve passed one by, we’ve read about it, we’ve known someone who lives in one. For some this song will be nostalgic, for others who are house hunting and starting their own family to will kindle, possibly, different emotions. “The Suburbs” begins with children playing make-believe; “Your part of town against mine, I saw you standing on the opposite shore, But by the time the first bombs fell, we were already bored.” Quickly after setting up the make-believe game of a suburban war, the participants are “already bored,” which seems to gesture towards the fast paced environment of contemporary culture. By verse two, the singer seems to have matured and is reflecting on the kids around him; “The kids want to be so hard, but in my dreams we’re still screaming and running through the yard.” This sense of looking back is furthered when “all the houses they built in the seventies finally fall.” It is as if the singer is looking back at the houses he grew up in which are being torn down and seemingly “meant nothing at all.” By verse three, the singer has clearly grown up when he discusses having a daughter or a son. This song beautifully transitions from childhood and adolescence to nostalgia for your childhood and into renewal as an adult when you begin having children of your own.  

“The Suburbs” sets up the theme for the entire album. “Ready to Start” compares bullying at the hands of children at “art school” to the businessmen of adult life, where both said they would “drink [your] blood.” The singer questions his ability to begin again by trying to be himself or blend into the crowd because to “bow down to them anyway, is better than being alone.” “Modern Man” seems to criticize contemporary culture and the absurdity of many of the things people do while not understanding why they do it. “Rococo” appears to be sung from the perspective of an old man, criticizing a younger generation. He complains, the ‘modern kids’ are “using great big words that they don’t understand,” “They build it up just to burn it back down,” and “oh my dear God what is that horrible song their singing.” These are complaints similar to ones my grandfather has lobbied at my generation. Meanwhile, “Empty Room” sounds as if a lonely child is anticipating what their life will be like when they grow up: “And my life is coming, but I don’t know when.” “Half Light I” emphasizes the aura of childhood when it describes running through familiar city streets, disobey parents by sneaking out at night when their parents want to “lock [you] up safe, and hide the key.” This song acts as a nice foil to “Half Light II” which chronicles the singer as an adult returning to the town of his childhood. “Wasted Hours” beautifully encapsulates lazy summer days as a teenager. Teenagers are too young to enjoy the freedom people in their 20s have, such as going to bars, living on their own; but teenagers also feel they are too old to take part in activities with their families. Most teenagers end up driving around aimlessly and hanging out in parking lots. The song describes: “Wasted hours, before we know, where to go, or what to do.” Teenagers frequently dream of “a life that [they] can live,” and are “wishing [they] are anywhere but here.” Like the other songs on this album, the listener is easily transported to different points in their life. Using this technique, this album carries a timeless quality because you can listen to it during different stages in your life and gain something new each time. It’s an album which constantly makes itself new through its beautifully crafted lyrics and timeless theme. 

<![CDATA[8. Bruce Stringer - One ]]> Australian songwriter and guitarist Bruce Stringer has ambition to burn. This is artistic vision not content with accepting traditional limitations of form. Instead, this is an artist searching through each of the album’s ten tracks for an indelible balance between disparate genres. Stringer’s efforts to synthesize his own musical language from a melting pot of influences are remarkably successful, free from pretension, and he thankfully retains a clear-eyed sense of its obligation to entertain, as well as challenger, the listener. Instrumental music is rarely so well-rounded and accessible.

One's opening track, “Hieronymus Bosch”, starts with a quasi-classical introduction featuring female choral voices presented as ethereal counterpoint. Stringer’s music has a fondness for exploring different tempos and time signatures but there’s never any sense that the track is a grab-bag of motifs ramrodded together to create a greater whole. Instead, the transitions have a light, practically invisible touch. “Carnation” has beautiful, bluesy melodic flourishes and steady, mid-tempo power. Stringer, once again, gives listeners an unified musical piece consisting of colorful, complimentary parts. His guitar lines, in particular, are stamped with brooding lyricism that recalls David Gilmour from Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds era.

“OMNI” has a much more meandering flavor than the first two songs, but Stringer’s guitar licks give the track impetus and direction. His vibrato has a remarkably vocal quality and, like all the best guitarists, his playing is full of the same emotive phrasing and aching vulnerability heard from the greatest singers. “Mount Etna Erupts” is one of the album’s most successful marriages of form. The heavy keyboard textures, orchestrated build, biting guitars and straight-forward rock drumming lock into place without leaving behind any visible stitching. The restrained tempo doesn’t lack for energy, but keeps a persistent pulse and moves with sleek efficiency.

There’s a darker mood hanging over “Dreaming of Machines”. Some of the guitar playing is a little too precious for its own good, but the vast majority of Stringer’s work here maintains the same high standard set elsewhere. If the song needs anything, additional musical voices might be the key. There’s a surprising minimalism here that, while it might be Stringer’s aim, sharply contrasts with the earlier tracks. Some of that minimalism carries over to “Gemini” which, like the preceding track, achieves its effects through accumulation. Piano, drums, keyboard, and bass slowly coalesce into an appealing, but seemingly, disjointed melody before Stringer’s exotic lead guitar enters to punctuate the track. The song’s second half and conclusion neatly dovetails with the opening as the individual instruments fall away until the listener hears nothing but the bass guitar’s final notes.

The album’s longest and penultimate track, “World of Tomorrow”, is another strongly progressive flavored excursion centered on Stringer’s guitar. While his musicianship invariably provides the direction for each of the songs, he plays compositionally, rather than indulging his ego and attempting to dominate the songs. The tune’s halfway point, however, finds the other musicians stepping back and Stringer’s guitar taking an extended solo. It will strike few as an ego-exercise, but how much it adds to the song is debatable. One’s final song, “Who Will Protect the Innocent?”, is another fine piece in a progressive vein. The track succeeds on a couple of different levels. It is, first of all, a solid reaffirmation of the album’s musical virtues that avoids echoing them unnecessarily. The tempo shifts create spectacular dynamics and help bring One to a fitting conclusion.

<![CDATA[9. Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced ]]> I have come to the conclusion that there are many compilation albums that I dislike. Or perhaps that should read, bands whose compilation albums I dislike. I have two vinyl compilations by Jimi Hendrix, dating back to when I bought them in the seventies. It was only when I decided to get Hendrix's original albums on CD that I began to realise that the compilations did not do justice to the man's music.

One of those two compilations, Smash Hits, comprises about half the tracks from Are You Experienced? plus a couple of others from later albums. You might have thought that was a juicy enough selection to water anyone's palate, and yet when I compare it with Are You Experienced? the album, the compilation comes up decidedly wanting. Somehow, the tracks just seem a better fit on the album than on the compilation.

Are You Experienced? was Hendrix's debut album. Listening to it now, it is easy to forget how, over 45 years ago, it was so revolutionary and ground-breaking. This may be contemporaneous with the Summer of Love, but there is nothing hippified about this album. At a time when bands like Cream were beginning to advance the cause of blues rock, Hendrix tips a nod to it with tracks like "Red House" and "Hey Joe", but then goes off in a direction which others would not follow for decades. For instance, take the title track. At the time, the use of guitars on Are You Experienced? the song was so revolutionary it was breath-taking. Nobody, and I mean nobody, was doing this in the late sixties. I can't think of many who have tried it since.

And that is not all. The jangling, slightly off-key sounding flourish at the end of each line of the vocal of "51st Anniversary", the drawling fuzziness of "Love or Confusion" and the supremely laid back soothe of "The Wind Cries Mary" would have marked Hendrix out, even then, as a pioneer. Yet so far ahead of his time was he that there are many who, even today, struggle to appreciate his music. It should also be borne in mind that the technology which was used to create these guitar sounds was, by today's standards, primitive to say the least. Manipulation was analogue through the use of pedals. Electronic manipulation of sound was a thing of the future and yet there are still few today, even with our much more advanced technology, who would dare even attempt some of the things Hendrix manages with effortless ease. Lenny Kravitz step aside! This is how the master does it.

While I can barely listen to a Hendrix compilation all the way through, I have no trouble whatsoever listening to all eighteen tracks off this extended CD at one sitting, and even craving more afterwards. The songs seem so much better, somehow. "Hey Joe" fills the room with emotion (just listen to that wonderful bass line); "Purple Haze" thunders into your head; and "Highway Chile" makes you want to run out of the house, push the rider off the first motorbike you spot and zoom off towards the straightest road you can find at the fastest speed you can manage.

It is a fact that, with increasing affluence and accessibility, music today sells a lot more than it did back in the sixties. When I read recently that Jimi Hendrix, when he was alive, sold 1/16th the number of albums Kei$ha has, the statistic made me cringe with embarrassment. Have we really fallen so far that the lowest common denominator has become the standard for excellence? Jimi Hendrix would be in his seventies now were he still alive. Perhaps his early death, while it deprived us of what might have been, left us all with a small collection of albums which represent the finest of their sort and a legacy that ranks amongst the greatest of all exponents of rock and roll.

<![CDATA[10. Duke Ellington - The Duke (remastered 2014) ]]> It's worth revisiting the revisiting of tracks. 

This album is an updating of songs from the 1930s in '56. Any version of East St. Louis Toodle-O is fine with me. Most of these songs I haven't heard before. So it's new to me. I need more Duke research, and I'm up to the task. The quest to delve into his song catalog is fine with me, when there are songs as strong as "The Jeep's Jumpin," "Jack The Bear," "In a Mellow Tone" and "U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)." The songs don't always sound mellow regardless of title. There can be quieter moments within a cut. Johnny Hodges contributes good sax playing, and Sam Woodyard keeps the beat on drums. The whole band sounds excellent. Vocals aren't necessary, when the playing is this good. Ellington was a brilliant band leader. It's amazing the longevity, he showed keeping his career sizzling into the '70s. 

The 12 tracks take 39 minutes. This is a good starter for anyone wanting to peruse Ellington's mastery. No need to sift through a box set. You can just enjoy these tracks. None of the songs fail to delight. This is an album, I find myself wanting to listen to a second time right away, not because I had to for a review. I couldn't wait to delve into these songs again. This is the type of album, you can just play all day long. It's a tonic for these troubled times. It's not just a historical exercise. It's an opportunity to revel in good music. It sets a standard for where pop music should reach. It's asking a lot to equal Ellington. But rather than wonder about when the next great jazz artist is coming down the pike, we can just enjoy what's been released. And it's bound to last a long time. We don't have to run away from the music from the past. When it's this good, it's not hard to revisit. Bring on more reissues. 

<![CDATA[11. Adorable - Against Perfection ]]> Adorable came, they blazed very brightly, they faded, they disappeared. Mention the name Adorable now to most people and you will get blank stares. The world is a worse place for their departure. But then again, the world was not ready for the likes of Adorable. Was Adorable ready for this world?

Why was this? Well, there are a number of reasons. First off, they had a serious attitude problem which pissed off both their record company, Creation, and the record press (the album was originally going to be titled "Against Creation".) Now, when you are an upcoming band, you need all the friends you can get and being a bunch of arrogant gits, no matter how good you are, is not going to help. Second, in musical terms they straddled the shoegazers and the britpoppers without actually being either. They may have sounded like a post punk revival band, years after (or before) their time, but they never really mapped out a place for themselves in the musical canon of the mid-nineties. Sure, they found a niche, but the brightness with which they blazed was in a very small, dark and enclosed space. No one noticed. That is a real shame for Adorable, in retrospect, stood out, along with acts like Whipping Boy (who were similarly overlooked), as being something very special indeed.

Coming to this album now, it bubbles with a freshness and vitality which stands up across the years. Yes there are the shattering walls of guitars, but there are also some quieter passages, reflective and moody, as well as some lyrical strengths which are often overlooked. Adorable were not content to sing of dreamily floating clouds or getting lairy down the pub like some of their contemporaries. Adorable liked to tell stories.

This album is now very difficult to get hold of. (Having said that, I notice that an anthology of the best (although I would question that) of the two studio releases by Adorable, entitled Footnotes 92-94 has recently been released, so good news for anyone who wants to hear them on CD. I had for a long time to satisfy myself with a torrent I downloaded and watch as copies of it went for 35 quid second hand on eBay. Then a fluke. I bid for and won an extended edition Japanese import which contains the incredible "Sunshine Smile"and two other tracks. That single is surely one of the most overlooked tracks of all time. Yet there are other gems on this album, "Homeboy", "Cut #2"and "Favourite Fallen Idol" being the obvious ones. The album contains songs which combine a soft vocal style, to the fore and without the dreamy echoing sound of some of the shoegazers, with a shattering guitar sound which switches in and out and forces you to sit up and listen. Yet they had not yet perfected their style and had they gone on, who knows what gems may have emerged.

The truth is that the world was not ready for Adorable. This kind of sound was years ahead of its time and if it came out now would be an instant success. The sad thing is that this now largely-forgotten band is remembered only by a few who were there, and a few more who have taken the trouble to hunt down their music. Against Perfection could have been one of the greatest albums of the nineties. Adorable could have been one of the greatest bands in musical history. Let's hope that the new anthology will open to a wider audience a band who were simply too far ahead of their time to be credible.

<![CDATA[12. Syn - Live Rosfest ]]> Live Rosfest is a gentlemanly rebuke to notions of “oldies” music or genre distinctions. Instead, these are tightly constructed pop songs that, nevertheless, challenge formulas while exhibiting classic virtues.

The opener, “14 Hour Technicolor Dream”, glistens with stylish and playful melodies, but has an insistent push thanks to a propulsive rhythm section featuring Paul Ramsay on drums and Jamie Bishop on bass guitar. Lead singer Steve Nardelli excels with an effortlessly inviting and richly musical vocal. The following performance, “Milo”, is an exquisite turn that finds Nardelli exploring more personal territory. It’s a slower number than its predecessor that relies on softer instrumental voices, but despite this, the drumming’s dry snap and acoustic guitars move with immense grace.

“Devils and Demons” kicks off with airy, arpeggiated folk music chords and harmony vocals before settling into a steady, mid-tempo stride. More of the same outstanding vocal melodies characterizing The Syn’s best work are in full evidence here. One of the defining qualities of their excellence is their judiciousness – these songs and performances are products of sensibilities that understand the importance of knowing when or what not to play. It’s equally impressive how songwriting like this addresses complex personal feelings and issues with an ultimately hopeful spin.

“Madonna and Child” is one of the set’s strongest songs and the band delivers a fully realized performance. It sports a sophisticated lyric thick with imagery, but the vocal arrangement and unobtrusive harmonies help highlight it for maximum effect. Once again, this is a distinctly muted affair focused on conveying subtleties rather than overwhelming the listener, but the acoustic instruments and assertive percussion locks on a stately glide full of easy-going confidence. Tom Brislin’s keyboards fill out the band’s sound with a variety of textures.

The longest performance in this set, “Kings Clowns Cardinals”, draws from a wide palette of musical color. Much of the approach is strictly traditional, but the band overturns expectations with their seamless transitions from straight-ahead song craft into wilder, half-extemporized. However, The Syn isn’t any sort of jam band, so the fact their chemistry can suggest such loose, wide-ranging spontaneity is impressive. It becomes more apparent as the song goes on. The extended instrumental break near the song’s conclusion is nothing less than revelatory. Led by Brislin’s sure touch on the keyboards and his polymath-like command of voices, the other players help engineer a wall rattling climax.

The set concludes with the title track from the band’s recent Big Sky album. There’s an abundance of appealing harmonies and, once again, the vocal melody helps carry another fine lyric. It’s a fitting finale for other reasons. “Big Sky” is an entertaining, thoughtful reaffirmation of the band’s strengths and an ultimately soothing track that lands like a feather falling to earth.

While some tracks naturally stand out more than others, there isn’t really a single lull in this album. Polished songwriting and performances abound. New material sits comfortably beside songs from the band’s back catalog and form an unified whole that pulses with intelligence, love, and urgency. ]]>
<![CDATA[13. Tony Bennett - Tony ]]> This was Bennett's second album, released in 1957. 

It's remastered in this reissue. And it's well worth the time and money. The voice is one of a kind. Bennett can handle a song like no one except Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby. Still, some may prefer Bennett's crooning.  The 12 songs are over in 33 minutes. Nothing is dragged out. And there's no need to worry about a song being too short. You can just move onto the next track. The only cut, which doesn't dazzle me here is "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." This doesn't mean he doesn't do amazing things vocally on the song. It's just the lyrics aren't as delightful as the other cuts. Still this is the first album I've listened to with a version of "I'll Be Seeing You." And it alone makes the album a winner. His version of "Love Walked In" just might be better than Ella Fitzgerald's. If nothing else, it's fun to keep listening to the different versions. 

"These Foolish Things" is a song, I haven't heard as much as some of the others. And it could very well qualify as my fave on this album. Not all of these cuts are ones I've heard to death. There are other Bennett songs some might prefer to listen to. It's amazing to think someone could just walk in a record store and buy an album with these never heard before cuts. Now we've heard them. But it's still a remarkable album. It's preferable to compilations, which pair Bennett up with other singers or new releases where he's singing as part of a duet. Bennett in any context is better than no Tony as well. This is about as solid as it gets for the master, and it's more economical and user friendly than the multi-disc collections (That doesn't mean you can't find bargain prices on the longer albums). 

<![CDATA[14. Victorian Halls - Hyperalgesia ]]> Theatrics and rock music are forever fused. It isn’t any exaggeration to say the success of the entire endeavor hinges on some degree of artifice. Songs aren’t objective reportage from life’s front lines, but subjective amplifications. Everyday joys and tragedies assume Shakespearean proportions when the pieces fall into place. Love songs by the thousands depict losing significant others as scorched-earth disappointments leaving lifelong scars when the grief doesn’t kill you or else climbing the last inches to a happiness greater than any you’ve ever known.  The despair and exultation exaggerate our trajectories and dramatize our experiences. Victorian Halls, in the space of two albums, have demonstrated an innate understanding of how theatrics can enhance their songwriting and skillfully orchestrate an evolving range of sound.

The band doesn’t flinch from weighty subjects. The first track “All My Friends” will turn off some first time listeners with its Robert Smith-esque musings on mortality. However, it covers a surprising amount of emotional territory in its brief duration and the lyrics are genuinely suggestive rather than sounding like an assortment of clever, but inherently nonsensical, lyrical conceits. Hyperalgesia’s first full length track, “Adorned Scarlets”, moves a majority of the band’s firepower to center stage. Multipart harmonies and massive guitars weave together seamlessly over the changes and the song’s widescreen ambitions give listeners a memorable cinematic experience.

The dark hum of keyboards and assertive percussion opens “Dissolution”. When the song begins in full, the steady mid-tempo strut and pulsing bass gives Victorian Halls a strong base for the melodies to move over. Hyperalgesia’s first single, “Tonight Only The Dead”, is a lyrical avalanche set aside a challenging. However, Victorian Halls are rarely content following the same path for long. Rich harmonies and alternate voices, sometimes processed, are added to the mix. While it’s possible to identify influences in their music, it’s impossible to classify such a seamless fusion of wildly varying elements. The chaotic charge of “Most Firearms Are More Than Adequate in Killing an Undead Brain” has nothing, per se, to do with zombies. At least not the sort one might watch on a television program. Hyperalgesia’s intensity rises from the first track on and this particular entry plays like some sort of culmination.

“Come In With The Storm” rages with furious energy and the clever twist of the title, substituting the customary “from”, helps cement its lyrical mood. Despite the variety of emotions fueling Victorian Halls’ songwriting, one quality stands above all others at this specific point. These are songs unafraid of life, even if life is lived in a series of head-on collisions, and the songs provide listeners with fully immersive experiences that transport them to another world.

The album takes a quieter turn from this point. This falling action in the album’s narrative is carried off with tremendous tastefulness that spotlights another side of the band. It’s hardly hinted at on the album’s first half and a welcome experience. “Currency”, Hyperalgesia’s final song, is a brief summation open to interpretation and lovingly rendered by vocalist Sean Lenart.
This is an impressive achievement unconfined by era. Hyperalgesia is a quasi-conceptual work demonstrating greater unity and internal logic than similar entries with gaudier ambitions and seems built for posterity. Victorian Halls are capable entertainers, as any professional musician should be, but the level of songwriting talent and the obvious work they’ve put into this release suggest that the band is aiming for something bigger. They have the talent and Hyperalgesia plays like a full realization of their artistic vision.

<![CDATA[15. Erroll Garner - Concert By The Sea ]]>
Garner was a solid jazz pianist, who's pretty much forgotten. 
I hadn't heard of him until I watched a documentary on him recently. I definitely have some catching up to do. This live album is a good place to start. It's underproduced. But I'm not going to fret over borderline production qualities. It sounds good enough to me, especially when there's cuts as good as "Red Top," "You Can't Take That Away From Me," and "Where or When." I  haven't heard enough versions of "Where or When." This can be a favorite of mine at least of the instrumental versions. For now it's my favorite instrumental version by default. "Red Top" has a fun bluesy sound. "You Can't Take That Away From Me" has an elegance to the playing. There's a brilliant tempo change. The fun quotient is always there in Erroll's playing. I can picture him playing and smiling. 
There's a humor he brings to a performance, which is  endearing. This is a user friendly example of his wizardy. The 11 songs take 43 minutes.  It's a must for fans of the 1930s sound of jazz. But the bebop crowd can enjoy these tracks, as well. There's something to be said for the expertise of the trio performing the songs. And there's just the joy of listening to good melodies. Nothing stays in the background. Some of these songs I wasn't familiar with before I started listening to this record. "Mambo Carnival" can be a new favorite. His playing takes command of the track. This doesn't mean he's going to supplant other people as your favorite pianist. Still it's a worth a listen. There's no need to get caught up in comparisons anyway. 
There's even a closing quip by Erroll, which is a bonus. It can even be viewed as essential in getting a better idea what the great one was like.  
<![CDATA[16. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit ]]> This Australian is making quite a splash in the Indie world. 

It makes a lot of sense, since her music is remarkable. She turned a lot of heads with two EPs. The full-length debut is an 11-track tour de force. "Elevator Operator" rocks. The songs aren't overlong even the two, which clock in at 6:47 and 7:00. The latter is the amazing "Small Poppies." It starts out subtle with a beauty reminding me of Metric. It calls to mind the Clash, Elvis Costello and Sleeper, as well. The cut builds into a solid rocker. I want it to keep going. The vocals call to mind King Krule. She tops some of the aforementioned artists, at least on this offering. "Pedestrian at Best" comes with authority. Courtney sings in the tradition of great rock singers such as Roger Daltrey, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. And the necessary guitar riffs are there, too. 

"An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)" benefits from the guitar playing and it's got the needed hooks. She's up with the latest fashions. Maybe there's tongue in cheek reflections, and there's some genuine envy. Courtney has a feeling for ordinary people. This sits well in an era of grass roots revolt (I'm talking about the ballot box kind). The songs are all solid. It's a record worth revisiting for her humor. It's hard not to be fascinated about a track where she learns about the necessity of buying organic produce. It must all sound great live. Then again maybe it's just as good if not better to sit and just contemplate on these songs. The LP title encourages such activity. 

Yes, the bar has been set high with the debut. I think it's a positive development. There's no reason to believe she can't keep the originality and engaging quirkiness going for a good while.  

<![CDATA[17. Frank Sinatra - The Essential Frank Sinatra The Columbia Years ]]> The first time I reviewed a Sinatra album, someone read it and replied, "your points were all factual."

It gets to the point in criticism where certain points are hard to dispute. And those who run counter seem to be making factual errors. Tastes vary, and the music climate has changed  since the day when Sinatra ruled the pop world. Still his music has lived on for decades. And we continue to listen 17 years after his passing. My interest in Frank was piqued further by the Sirius station dedicated to his music. The show his daughter Nancy hosts motivated me to search out a Sinatra album to review. And I wanted to pick something other than the discs I own. There's bound to be disagreements about what cuts are included. I'm glad to hear songs other than the Frank renditions I've heard so many times. Besides, this collection includes "Night And Day," so what's the point of quibbling?

The first version I heard of "That Old Feeling," was by Mel Torme. Frank does just about as good of a job as Mel did with the song.  The Columbia Years covered a period from 1943 to 1952. Some may prefer the later Capitol recordings. There's so many great songs, it's worthwhile to venture into these recordings no matter how much one loves the later ones. It's hard to go wrong with "Almost Like Being In Love," "Stormy Weather," "Blue Skies" and "I Only Have Eyes For You." "It All Depends On You" is  notable for its fun, bouncy arrangement. Frank doesn't depend on the arrangement to make the track work. Still it's an added bonus, when the music enhances the song. 

There's a melody to the songs, which stay with you for some time. And it's good to just savor the voice.  It becomes hard after a while to imagine anyone else singing them. Even the lesser cuts can become favorites eventually. 

<![CDATA[18. Miles Davis - Miles Davis, Vol. 1 ]]> Browsing in a music shop isn't a futile exercise.

I came across this disc in a store I hadn't been inside in a couple of years. And this was a good find at $7. Most of my music browsing is via the digital route. But this gem from Miles is one I'm glad I found the old fashioned way. There's an iTunes version (same as the 12"LP version) which has three fewer tracks and costs $1 less. I'll take satisfaction I came out ahead if only because my version has "Well You Needn't." The Thelonious Monk version is better, but this is still a great track. There's a beauty to the trumpet playing regardless of which album version you come across. I'll gladly listen to the alternate takes. These aren't versions, leaving you longing for another one you've heard before. It's just more of the great sound Davis put out so effortlessly in the 1950s.

 Horace Silver, Art Blakey, J.J. Johnson and Gil Coggins are among the musicians, who played on these various sessions. It makes for an added bonus to hear these varioius players. Davis was brilliant at assembling talent. "Take Off" lives up to its name with everyone lending their input in a way, which keeps the tempo going without letting up. It doesn't go overboard either. You can always relax with "Lazy Susan." No track fails to win me over. It's the kind of disc, which demands multiple listens. And the listens aren't needed to understand what Miles is getting at. Disenchantment with the sound is an issue on his later recordings. Here it's just solid jazz. 

It brings to mind an era, which you might get bits of pieces at a concert today. Back then it was the norm at  certain clubs and from various masters of an exciting scene.  

<![CDATA[19. James McMurtry - Complicated Game ]]> McMurtry is a recently discovered plus. 

I don't feel deprived having missed out on his political commentary on earlier albums. My curiousity about other discs is amped up due to the brilliance of this entry.  It helps when you have tracks as good as "Ain't Got a Place," "She Loves Me" and "Long Island Sound." All these songs are good. "Copper Canteen" is one of a number of others I can revisit. His voice sounds wonderful. It's a case of less is more, since there isn't a need for technological advances. On further contemplation, I find some similarity to the Black Angels in their more subtle moments, which don't make it into their concerts.  There's a heartfelt, moving quality to the tracks, which don't veer into maudlin episodes. The sparse arrangements draw me into the lyrics. The music is good enough, I don't mind revisiting the tracks and studying what's coming down the pike. 

I don't sense irony, as he writes about romance. Surely, there's a sense of humor in a singer with these kind of insights. It doesn't matter to he if he doesn't aspire to be Randy Newman or even Neil Young. Maybe he can just be the artist Bruce Springsteen strived for on Nebraska.  It's good just to hear the passion come from the cuts. There's not a hint of formula. It all sounds inspired. The honesty from the singer makes  James a winner. Perhaps, the political commentary may draw interest. It doesn't have to qualify as an endorsement of his views, if the songs make their way onto my playlists. 

For now, I'll relish what he's come up with on his most recent outing. It's given me more enthusiasm for what's happening with the current music scene. The year is shaping up quite nicely all the sudden. It's good to think of his albums providing listening options in the future. 

<![CDATA[20. Vince Grant - My Depression Is Trying To Kill Me ]]> Sometimes catharsis is all that matters. When sincere, creative self-expression achieves its peak potential, artist and audience alike experience a multi-faceted catharsis. The work resonates with its intended targets in a wide variety of ways - the experience utterly transforms some while others are entertained. Each result provides distinctive, substantial rewards. Performance, strictly visual or otherwise, transforms the artist as well. The creative act, at every point, clarifies the artist's experience and can strengthen self-awareness. Cathartic art, in its purest form, embodies an unguarded human heart.

The above preamble is necessary to consider when hearing Vince Grant's debut EP, "My Depression Is Trying To Kill Me". While brooding songwriters are nothing new, some might recoil from his unrelenting focus on internal and external emotional conflict or, moreover, accuse him of floundering in self-pity. The opening track, "Melancholia" quick dispels these fears. While personifying chronic depression as a female character will strike some as a little clichéd, Grant never plays this artistic choice out in a predictable fashion. His lyrical skill and sensitive vocals leave a stamp of artistry on the track. He never lapses into the stock imagery or storytelling devices for a song such as this and, instead, builds his text on specific imagery that strikes familiar chords with the listener rather than inducing eye-rolls. Likewise, it isn't any simple trick for the song's central female figure to escape its male narrator's self-pity. Grant avoids that however and offers listeners a largely unsentimental song about a deceptively difficult subject.

"Oceans II" has a relaxed, indie-rock stride in a strong arrangement, but this is a song where Grant's vocals rest uneasily next to his musical backing. The band fires away, inching towards full-on rock bombast, and features a red-hot guitar solo, but occasionally plays like a poor fit for Grant's affecting pop vocals. Despite this uneasy marriage, the song succeeds on its own considerable merits. Grant's lyrics are, once again, strong and full of unflinching imagery. "Edge of the World" returns Grant's singing to more ideal ground and this aching mid-tempo song ranks as, arguably, one of his finest performances. Another distinguishing feature in the performance is steady drumming that locks into a groove from the outset.

The jaunty guitar rave-up kicking off "How Many Times You" is the song's first salvo in shooting for pop rock perfection. This should imply nothing facile - instead, "How Many Times You" glistens with a brightly distorted edge and swaggers with unmistakable rock power. The drumming, once again, is key here. The closing track, "Sweet Addiction", is a nine-plus minute statement anchored by strong acoustic guitar and colored tastefully by Grant's band. This song is an ambitious attempt on Grant's part to fuse his passions for rock and pop music with personal songwriting into a greater, almost symphonic, whole. It is a wonderful conclusion to a stunning debut.          

<![CDATA[21. Rock Masters Band - Hit The City - Diamonds ]]> The idea of an all-star band rotating members in and out of its lineup isn't a new one. A spate of projects in the vein of Josh Homme's Desert Sessions has debuted in recent years with impressive quality. Despite years of crappy bands diluting the term's power, it is clear that the "all star band", as a concept, still has some commercial potential. Bringing together name talent under one tent and invariably promoting them, as if these particular parts somehow equal a greater whole, is a gambit long familiar to music fans. Unfortunately, these assemblies of ego rarely hold together for long or, worse still, produce fragmented, uninspired work.

The Rock Masters Band avoids all of that. The communal spirit checks egos at the door and that has a freeing effect on the creativity of the participants. This collection of all-star Finnish musicians, hailing from bands like Sphia and Species, has released a new two new songs as a "double-single". The first of these songs, "Hit The City", is an impressive strut benefitting from an edgy, melodically aware vocal. Impressive poetic touches give the lyrics an enjoyable noir atmosphere. Songs like this provide ample evidence that ego hasn't wormed its way into the music - there are no solo spots here and the music moves with such loose, easy confidence that a listener can't help but be drawn in.

The second song, "Diamonds", erupts as an all-out guitar assault, but quickly settles into an inventive rock groove. Incorporating harmony vocals into this song creates a strong dynamic contrast and never sounds arbitrary. The musicianship never loses its luster through either song, but it burns hotter on this track than its predecessor does. The guitar work and drumming has an urgency suggesting pain of death if they lighten the intensity for even a second. This is vital, impressive stuff.

Neither track gives off the sense that this is some sort of diversion from other, more important work. Quality like this isn't accidental and makes it apparent the participants are focusing on matters at hand. Nothing feels forced or patched together piecemeal. Never believe the cliché that the best bands come about organically or need a bunch of young, hungry musicians to succeed. The Rock Masters Band proves that even longtime veterans never lose the fire to create or the creativity to leave an impact on us.

<![CDATA[22. Miles Davis - The Best Of Miles Davis ]]> There is a wide variety of music to choose from in the Davis catalogue.

This collection covers the gamut. I found this disc surprisingly invigorating all the way through.

Even the cut from the controversial "Bitches Brew" is excellent. One asset is the playing of Miles', which is well featured on "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down."

He's certainly one of the great jazz musicians of all time. His rock legacy is more mixed, but he made some amazing albums. I've been  a fan of  Tribute to Jack Johnson. Now it looks like I'll have to check out the preceding disc in depth, as well.

Still, I'm partial to Davis' jazz. This makes tracks such as "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "So What" appealing.

The contributions from John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Tony Willams and others make this essential, also.

I'm wary of a cut called "E.S.P." But listening to Hancock's piano playing, along with Davis's contributions ease my reservations.

I'm not rushing to listen to every Davis record. But his skills as a bandleader are without parallel.

This album is a good starting point or a refresher for anyone in the jazz listening group. Those who aren't should start here, as well.  

<![CDATA[23. Grey Agents - Classified Misinformation ]]> The more things change, the more they stay the same. The music world, circa 2015, is rapidly evolving, shifting away from old paradigms, and redefining itself in a brave new world. Despite these mammoth changes, intrinsic truths hold. The art of songwriting and performance, at its zenith, remains one of the species' most effective methods of producing an immediate emotional response from its audience. Artifice can work. Entertainers are part of popular music's story. However, the songwriters and musicians who will survive posterity's judgment are aiming for something different and sincerity coupled with skill marks their best work. The Grey Agents, a five piece hailing from West Virginia, are clearly striving to write, record, and perform music that matters and their debut album, Classified Misinformation, fits the bill.

One of the early highlights, "City of Gold", succeeds on multiple levels. The title is a clear nod to the traditional spiritual and invites comparisons. If there's any connection, it exists as a lament for the fall of the ideal, an elegy of sorts for a once prosperous world in steep decline. The lyrical content is unusually sharp; it's impressive to hear how the song pronounces a subtle judgment on those guilty of this decline without ever naming any one figure outright. Small but significant songwriting decisions like that are hallmarks of material destined for long relevance. The arrangement doesn't remake the wheel and has comfortable familiarity, but the band plays with sharp, seasoned authority.

The song "You Gotta Be With Me" benefits from John Forester's jaunty mandolin and bright organ lines embellishing the breezy tempo. It's a straightforward entry in the tradition of love songs with the twist of a narrator looking to woo the object of their affections. A defining trait of this collection is its emotional breadth. The Grey Agents' aren't songwriters content with exploring one range of feeling or thought and the upbeat mood powering this song has infectious appeal. "First It's Fast" highlights the band's vocal strengths as bassist John Farmer's turn emphasizes this track's clever conception. The verbal wordplay is a strong suit, but musical merit isn't in short supply with noteworthy parts like the harmony vocals and solid guitar work.

"Oh, Hannah" utilizes an inventive bluegrass arrangement, particularly vocally, and features a strong lead vocal from Brian Cottrill.  Once again, The Grey Agents opt for an uncommon songwriting approach; this is an "advice" song where the narrator urges the "Hannah" to not treat or see life in such a negative way. Forester's banjo is another appealing element in this performance. Credited to the entire band, Cottrill handles lead vocals again on "The Alley of the Unknown". This relatively short song has a lyric dense with detail and information, but despite complexity, it is powerfully efficient writing never wasting a word. It is a rollicking, kaleidoscopic musical ride boasting the album's most vivid characterizations. The Grey Agents flash deliciously black humor with "You're Gonna Die" while startling listeners with their first foray into outright rock. The vocals are treated with effects that help accentuate the manic, unhinged quality of the song's narrator.

The Grey Agents' debut is not just a reminder of abiding truths in popular music, but resounding artistic success incorporating a variety of musical voices. Songwriting and playing of this caliber is the end result of years honing their craft and, without exception, each band member contributes key components of the larger whole. Wholeheartedly recommended.

<![CDATA[24. Tomas Doncker - Big Apple Blues ]]> Collaborations like this are rare. Big Apple Blues has the highly respected Tomas Doncker Band working with Pulitzer prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa to produce a layered, sophisticated work. The author of poetry collections I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head, Magic City, and Talking Dirty to the Gods, among others, Komunyakka is one of America's greatest poets, a teacher, and a creative whirlwind whose immense talent adds distinction to any project he pursues. Doncker is every bit his equal, in his own way. Few song stylists have emerged from popular music in the last twenty-five years capable of expressing themselves through such a wide range of musical "voices". The work on this album strongly embodies his vision of "global soul" music.

The title track opens things. "Big Apple Blues" kicks off with an anguished rave-up, but when the dust settles, the listener hears nothing but Doncker's smoky baritone, understated guitar, and ghostly organ misting the horizon behind him. If anyone fears inaccessibility or a verbal avalanche from this marriage of poet and music, their concerns never materialize. This is a masterful piece of lyrical understatement, a complex lament, in turns grieving and defiant, for the gradual waning of youthful powers. "Hellfighter of Harlem" has a memorable lubricous midnight slink framing this admiring mediation on men and women who sacrificed for a nation often subjecting them to dehumanization and disrespect. Doncker's tour de force vocal is a riveting listen that conjures up ferocious emotions; he reminded me of a young Richie Havens, inflamed with commitment.

The band continues pursuing the bluer side of the musical spectrum on "At This Midnight Hour". This atmospheric track recalls a late night stroll through city street distressed by blues the narrator can scarcely name. It strikes me as a fragile song. It refurbishes a number of long-standing blues music tropes in clever ways, but multiple hearings made it clear to me that finding the right musical balance here is challenging. I hear songwriting and performance in "At This Midnight Hour" aiming to hit the appropriate emotional note without underplaying the song's potential or tumbling into overstatement. One of the album's highlights.

Sly humor and a meaty groove give "Little Blue Room" tremendous appeal and freshness. Doncker's blues guitar shines throughout, but his band deserves mention at this point. It is likely a safe guess that Doncker's experience playing with these musicians is enormously gratifying. This is a band capable of anything that enlivens the most seemingly traditional, even clichéd, musical ideas with equal parts feeling and precision. "Ground Zero" is a wrenching, gutbucket blues delving deep into the chaotic heart of early 21st century New York City life. This is a howl of indignation and vision, a full-bodied reaching out for final accounting with the events of September 2001. Doncker breathes unflinching fire into Komunyakka's words when he belts out the track's insistent refrain, "There's no hero/At Ground Zero". If you accept the idea, as I do, that poets are, as the English poet Shelley once wrote, the world's unacknowledged legislators, this vision disguised as a song will ring true for you. The album's closer, "Fun City", is a supple slice of pure R&B bliss. The band locks onto a strong groove from the outset and the brass provides a welcome variation in musical color.

We live in diminished times. On every level, this is a work demanding serious attention as a major musical statement, not merely some retro-driven outing with nice lyrics, but we live in an era when an avalanche of trivia can bury important artistic contributions. Let us hope that Big Apple Blues escapes this fate.

<![CDATA[25. The Cry! - Dangerous Game Us Edition ]]> After the recent spate of articles and proclamations on rock music's health, or lack thereof, it's refreshing to hear a debut from young musicians revealing the lie behind that tired diagnosis with each chord. This American debut from Top Shelf Records, Dangerous Game, isn't setting out to remake the wheel, but it does look to reshape and reinvent. The Cry write and play like a band intent on pouring old wine into new bottles and reminding a new era exactly what five guys with guitars and attitude to burn are capable of.

The punk influence in "Smirk" is immediately apparent, but sailing that ship isn't a particularly impressive or audacious move alone. It is clear that they have a firm grasp on what this sort of music requires, but the truly impressive thing about The Cry's songwriting is its focus and melody. You can spin all the Ramones, Rancid, New York Dolls, et al, you please, but while it will certainly leave you familiar with the genre, it can't teach you melody and economy in songwriting. The band slashes through the song's changes but never cheats the listener. You won't miss the guitar solos, crazy fills, or vocal pyrotechnics heard from other outfits. Instead, The Cry plays "Smirk" with steady verve and zero self-indulgence.

"Discotheque" kicks off with perhaps the purest all-out rock and roll riff you'll hear in sometime. Though no one could label them a roots act, The Cry is taking things back to first principals. The image is there, the same preening youthful rebellion we've heard in countless other acts, but the melodies and riffs are at the bedrock for this band. "Hangin' Me Up" is five star pop punk with an irresistible tempo and energetic, careening guitars. "Waiting Around" initially kicks off as a retro-flavored light blues before the song turns into a forceful mid-tempo track. There's less melody here than heard elsewhere on the album, but The Cry show convincing rock and roll chops, particularly a rollicking guitar solo.

"Sleeping Alone" brings the band back to their melodic forte. The intense drum and bass duet starting the song draws you in like a thrilling movie opening. The intro is crucial in priming you for the show to come. However, the entire song has a confident stride and uncluttered songwriting that makes it an album highlight. The band slows things a notch with "Nowhere To Go" without any noticeable loss of energy. This song may be a variation on a well-worn theme, but that doesn't matter when the songwriting and playing harbor such urgency. Another side of The Cry emerges on "Last Thing That I Do" with the inclusion of acoustic guitars. However, the promise of a ballad soon fades as the music locks onto a stuttering, infectious groove spiked with biting guitar accompaniment.

The faint studio chatter and shuffling heard in the opening of "Modern Cinderella" is a great touch. The entire album has a very "live" feel, as if it were cut with all five members on the floor and banging out each song, so this added bit of sonic detail reinforces one of the album's strongest qualities. It wouldn't mean anything, however, if the songwriting didn't reach a high standard. This is a musically stylish and funny little rocker with personality to burn. Those last words are one of the keys to this band's success. The music is there, the songwriting has ruthless focus, and the vocals are seamless, but there's more. Full-blown rock star charisma leaps out at you from the first song on and utilizes everything in its arsenal to win over the listener. With Dangerous Game, The Cry succeeds. Spectacularly.