Category Archives: ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC

Essential New Music: Sun Ra And His Arkestra’s “Thunder Of The Gods”

It’s only appropriate. Some long-lost/for- gotten space-age recordings left behind by avant-garde jazz boffin Sun Ra are finally unearthed, and we dutifully listen. The most noteworthy of the three “new” tracks provided here is a lengthy live performance of “Calling Planet Earth—We’ll Wait For You,” probably recorded in 1971 at Slug’s Saloon in NYC. This tune captures Ra’s formidable Arkestra bursting at the seams, including squalling saxophones, the knowing vocals of Ms. June Tyson, high-velocity improvisation, slow serious arrangements and a synthesized sonic maelstrom to boot. The two other tracks included here are less essential, consisting of droning tones and percussion interludes, with Ra leaving his musicians to scratch away at the various stringed instruments that they’d picked up on the road. This particular free-jazz conception was accomplished to greater effect on Ra’s 1966 recording, Strange Strings, but it’s nice to appreciate the freedom one more time.

—Mitch Myers

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Essential New Music: Ecstatic Vision’s “Raw Rock Fury”

Ecstatic Vision guitarist and founding principal Doug “Snake Sustaine” Sabolick spent (most of) 1998 to 2013 in the same essential seat for metalcore giant A Life Once Lost, whose final dispatch, the post-hiatus Ecstatic Trance (2012), toyed with as many psych and ’70s prog accents as the parent style would allow. Sabolick’s second act isn’t so much the Hawk- wind, heavy krautrock or early-’70s proto-punk love letter the promo copy claims, but it does bear a resemblance to the late-’80s-through-early-’00s cross-sections of Monoshock, Li- quorball, Temple Of Bon Matin, Brainbombs (in “gentler” mode), Vermonster, early Comets On Fire, Tono-Bungay, Vokokesh, the Mike Gunn and Japan’s P.S.F. Records roster that renders “uncanny” a gross understatement. Raw Rock Fury, the sophomore follow-up to 2015’s Sonic Praise, packs a convincing energy and wall-to-wall pummel that suggest the live show, make for a sentimental reminder of the aforementioned forgotten (relative) obscurities and completely negate the psych-rock 101 dilettantism of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

—Andrew Earles

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Essential New Music: Various Artists’ “Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years Of The Story: An Album To Benefit War Child”

The Story was Brandi Carlile’s breakthrough second album, and the title track, written by her bandmate Phil Hanseroth, has turned up in numerous television shows and commercials. This covers album celebrates its 10th anniversary and benefits War Child, an organization that helps children who are victims of political conflict. Although Adele included the sparse “Hiding My Heart” as a bonus track on her own 21, most of these tracks were recorded specifically for this album. The Indigo Girls, who did the backing vocals on the original “Cannonball,” take the lead this time. Carlile herself sings backing vocals on Pearl Jam’s rave-up version of “Again Today” and on Torres’ delicate “Until I Die,” and she plays banjo on the Secret Sisters’ melancholy “Losing  Heart.” There’s a strong country/bluegrass core on Dolly Parton’s stunning version of the title track and on cuts by Old Crow Medicine Show, Kris Kristofferson and Shovels & Rope, but stylistic coherence isn’t the point. Jim James turns “Wasted” into a reverb-drenched abstraction.

—Steve Klinge

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Essential New Music: Jessi Colter’s “The Psalms”

In 2007, while ghostwriting Waylon Jennings’ bio, producer Lenny Kaye heard Colter (Mrs. Jennings), sitting at the piano singing an Old Testament hymn. She was improvising the tune, and Kaye was impressed. He hired a studio and recorded her singing 12 Psalms, accompanied only by her piano and, occasionally, himself on guitar. Over the years, he added a few more minimal tracks, supplied by studio veterans such as Al Kooper and drummer/composer Bobby Previte. “Praise Ye The Lord” opens the album on a dramatic note, with Previte’s cymbal work adding power to the ardent lyric. Kaye’s undulating guitar opens “Mercy And Loving Kindness,” played as country waltz with a slight Latin tinge. Jenni Muldaur provides subtle harmonies to support Colter’s lead, with John Jackson’s mandolin weaving in and out of vocals that tremble with consecrated emotion. The most familiar Psalm, “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” gets a taste of R&B from Kooper’s organ and Colter’s hushed vocal.

—j. poet

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Essential New Music: Wooden Wand’s “Clipper Ship”

Clipper ships were the FedEx of their day, the high-priced, high-speed shipping option for merchants who needed to get their tea or opium from one corner of the globe to another in a hurry. It’s an ironic title for an album of mid-tempo or slower songs that follows its predecessor by a good three years, but it does capture something of the grace that Wooden Wand main man James Toth’s melodies express. While it looks like a continuation of the methods that generated its predecessor, Farmer’s Corner—poetic singer/songwriter records with a cast of ringers who’ve written names like Tweedy and O’Rourke on their collective CV—the process this time was enacted in reverse. The words came after the music, which may explain their economy. But Toth’s spare lines still keep you listening and wondering, reeling you in to music that starts out gently lyrical and ends up as immersive as the sea.

—Bill Meyer

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Essential New Music: Ornette Coleman And Various Artists’ “Celebrate Ornette”

Jamaaladeen Tacuma, an original member of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, once said that the saxophonist’s theory of harmolodics—a place where melody, harmony and rhythm are equal to and independent from each other, at once—“is a small glimpse of a natural, organic way of executing sound; where sound was more important than notes.” Harmolodics, then, is a lifestyle, one lived to its fullest by Coleman, son/drummer Denardo and their acolytes during a summer 2014 all-star concert held in Ornette’s honor at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, as well as at Coleman’s 2015 funeral. Featuring adventurous punks (Patti Smith, Nels Cline, Thurston Moore), experimental electronic musicians (Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, Bill Laswell) and virtuosic crushers (Branford Marsalis, Cecil Taylor), no moment is more transformative than Ornette showing for his last-ever reverie. A surprise to all, Ornette came out with his white alto sax, waited, then hit the ground running with one 30-minute moment of blowing/dreaming/concentrating that pulled from his own bluesy past compositions “Ramblin’” and “Turnaround” to (proactively) mesmerize the already-hypnotized crowd with a high cutting wail.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Essential New Music: Various Artists “Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Deluxe Edition”

Long before Amazon’s takeover of the South Lake Union neighborhood caused Seattle to similarly ponder its existential fate, Singles emerged in 1992 as both a significant moment (the advent of grunge, the emergence of a Seattle scene) and as something of a signal that the end was already near. Twenty-five years later, two things are clear: Seattle’s mass transit system is still a joke (one of the film’s main characters is professionally obsessed with a “supertrain” that never passes public muster), and the music has aged much better than the somewhat flimsy rom-com to which it was attached. Given the frequent appearances of various local scenesters in cameo mode—Pearl Jam makes an appearance in the film, directly on the soundtrack (“Breath,” a terrific non-album tune) and indirectly as one of the characters’ backing bands, Citizen Dick, covering Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” in jokey fashion)—unsurprisingly, the two heroes of this soundtrack are former Seattle roommates.

Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and late Mother Love Bone frontman Andy Wood form the album’s emotional center. Cornell contributes amazingly diverse solo work on the gorgeous “Seasons,” plus a batch of cutting-room-floor material added to this deluxe edition, the best of which—“Flutter Girl,” and an early acoustic demo of “Spoonman”—should’ve been included on the original. Wood’s best song (“Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns”) and biographical inspiration (Alice In Chains’ “Would?” conveys Wood’s struggles with dope) serve as the spiritual backdrop for the film and soundtrack, which went on to platinum status and a top-10 chart placement. Other songs, such as the Wilson sisters’ Lovemongers cover of Led Zep’s “Battle Of Evermore” and Hendrix’s “May This Be Love,” make plain the grunge scene’s debt to classic rock.

Unfortunately, the only thing that keeps this disc from 10-star status is Paul Westerberg’s solo work, his first post-Replacements, which features some of the same slight romantic flaws as the film itself. A classic totem of those times, given just enough new life to merit a repurchase for original fans, and an exploration for those who weren’t there.

Corey duBrowa

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Essential New Music: Mark Lanegan Band’s “Gargoyle”

Mark Lanegan has peppered the 33 years since his musical debut with equal amounts of wild abandon and measured wisdom. His earliest work with Screaming Trees was ferocity personified, but it was Lanegan’s sonorous baritone croon that anchored the sonic storm, and every project he’s headed or collaborated on over the past three decades—his solo output, Queens Of The Stone Age, Mad Season, his work with Isobel Campbell, Duke Garwood and Greg Dulli—has offered some variation on that theme. The beauty of it is that Lanegan has created his diverse catalog from a roiling creative core that, even at its most subdued, writhes, twitches and sparks like a downed power line.

For Gargoyle, his 10th album, Lanegan and his collective simultaneously ratchet up the intensity and return to the swirling psychedelic crunch of his earlier solo work. Elements of the synth-pop-tinted Blues Funeral and Phantom Radio remain in place, particularly on the burbling Roxy Music-esque “Blue Blue Sea” and “First Day Of Winter,” as well as the majestic and sprawling “Drunk On Destruction” and “Old Swan”; but for the majority of Gargoyle, Lanegan careens through the album’s 10 visceral tracks with bullet-train speed and hallucinogenic power. “Death’s Head Tattoo” and “Emperor” evoke Iggy Pop in his second-act prime, “Sister” slinks with Doors-like menace, and “Nocturne” burns with the quiet vehemence of Nick Cave, but as usual, filtered through Lanegan’s kaleidoscopic experience and exquisitely melancholic expression, to once again create a soundtrack that hits with the force of a well-timed punch and soothes like the ministrations of a doomed romantic poet.

—Brian Baker

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Essential New Music: Wavves’ “You’re Welcome”

Wavves have returned, minus the major label, with You’re Welcome, and if the endeavor has been working toward something, proper album number six (the voluminous side-narrative of other projects and collabs is worth noting but too complex to unpack here) is it. Following an opening pair of songs that are extremely identifiable as Wavves but also a stylistic next step from what essentially defined V (and I don’t mean the media pile-on re: label disputes), track three (“No Shade”) is circa-now experimental noise pop without historical precedent, and that’s coming from someone who’s put 20- plus years of the stuff into his ears. And this is essentially where things get interesting until the album ends. With its predecessor being the only Wavves LP to even partially justify the lazy journalistic “pop-punk” cop out, You’re Welcome is far more adventurous and all over the (weirder areas) of the pop map without any sense that it will alienate fans (anyone who considers this the clichéd “difficult” album needs to listen to more mu- sic). Not many bands release their best work six albums in, yet this could very well be the story here.

—Andrew Earles

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Essential New Music: Willie Nelson’s “God’s Problem Child”

It’s a crazy time, and chances are the song that’ll get the most attention here is the post-Trumpocalyptic “Delete And Fast Forward,” about electing a president who’s ready to “blow the whole world back to where it began.” God’s Problem Child has plenty of high points, like Willie Nelson singing the title track with Jamey Johnson, Leon Russell and Tony Joe White or joking about his premature obituary on “Still Not Dead.” But the album’s greatest treasures are sadder and subtler, finding their place within the Willie trifecta of love, loss and loneliness. There’s “Your Memory Has A Mind Of Its Own,” where all the smoke in the world won’t help him forget the past, and “It Gets Easier,” where he’s gotten so old he doesn’t have to do “one damn thing I don’t want to do/Except for missing you/And that won’t go away.” Best of all is “True Love,” where he swears to keep following his heart to hell and back, even now at 84, with more than 100 albums behind him and no sign of slowing down.

—Kenny Berkowitz

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