lordnewbornI’m very much a fan of Shawn Lee’s work, so the idea of a collaboration between him, Money Mark and Tommy Guerrero sounded pretty great. And having now heard the results, I was not let down. The record features twelve tracks, largely instrumental, and is an eclectic, highly addictive and utterly entertaining mix of jazz, funk, soul, electronica and prog rock, with an array of world music influences added here and there, and there are some video game music and sounds to boot. The recording session for Lord Newborn and the Magic Skulls lasted just two weeks at Money Mark’s Los Angeles studio, amazing considering no aspect of the album seems tossed off or otherwise rushed. There is a sense of fun and playfulness about the whole proceedings, which adds to the enjoyment. If some of it sounds like elements of a soundtrack to a film you think you might have seen, it’s because all the composers have done film work. (Lee also scored the video game Bully.) Recommended for fans of the individual artist, and for those looking for moody, cool sounding theme music for their groovy lives. Standout cuts: “Astro Blue,” “Dime Bag Conspiracy,” “She’s My Melody” and “Crazy Apartment.”


elvisperkinsindearlandThough this is the second release from Elvis Perkins, Elvis Perkins In Dearland is the first release with him billed as part of his band. Though I enjoyed Ash Wednesday, Perkins’ debut, this second album is even better, as the songwriting on Elvis Perkins In Dearland is even more assured this time around. If there’s a single influence that comes through the most, it’s maybe Tom Waits, whose mastery at combining sentiment and sly humor with the most experimental of music surely inspired Perkins and his band here, especially on tracks like “I’ll Be Arriving” and “Doomsday.” The music, a sometimes lush, sometimes raucous mix of folk, Americana, rock and jazz, is first rate, performed by a band with an impressive range. Definitely recommended. Standout cuts: “Shampoo,” “I Heard Your Voice In Dresden,” “Send My Fond Regards To Lonelyville” and “123 Goodbye.”


thebadplusNew York and Minneapolis based jazz piano band the Bad Plus are back reworking contemporary songs for their latest album, For All I Care, though for the first time they’ve added a vocalist, Wendy Lewis, to the mix. She’s a perfect fit for the band, a strong, confident singer whose background is in indie rock rather than jazz. The songs themselves range from inspired (Nirvana’s “Lithium,” which seems designed to resist any listener attempts to keep time, and a particularly eerie and appropriately chilling version of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” both of which open the album) to somewhat dubious (Heart’s “Barracuda,” which I have to admit kind of works anyway, despite my dislike of the original). There’s also a spooky version of the Bee Gee’s “How Deep Is Your Love” that recalls Sonic Youth’s take on the Carpenters song, “Superstar.” The band also shines on the instrumentals they’ve chosen to include as well, György Ligeti’s “Fem (Etude No. 8),” Igor Stravinsky’s “Variation d’Apollon” and my favorite, Milton Babbitt’s “Semi-Simple Variations.” The album ends on a high note with a great version of “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” by the Flaming Lips. Hearing them work with a vocalist takes some getting used to, but in general, For All I Care is a success. Standout cuts: “Lithium,” “Comfortably Numb,” “How Deep is Your Love” and “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate.”



Typically solid release from London based American multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee, this time in collaboration with California based fellow traveler Clutchy Hopkins, who, according to Lee, gave Lee his trademark tiger mask. The emphasis on the 12 instrumental tracks contained here is on funk and soul, with a little jazz and various world music influences thrown in as well. Their collaboration is a little more low key than I had expected, but it’s still pretty tasty stuff, and as per usual with Lee’s releases,very smooth and great fun to listen to, the soundtrack to the groovy life you’re planning on having. This is the first music I’ve heard from Hopkins: He’s got two previous releases out, Walking Backwards from earlier this year, and 2006’s The Life Of Clutchy Hopkins, both of which I intend to listen to now. Standout cuts: “Full Moon,” “Dollar Short,” “Bad Influence” and “Indian Burn.”



For their latest release, Radio Retaliation, Washington D.C. based Thievery Corporation (Rob Garza and Eric Hilton) decided to make an album with a more overtly political bent, and towards that end, they collaborated on tracks with an impressive roster of international musicians. The roster includes, to quote their press, “Nigeria’s afro-beat heir Femi Kuti, Brazilian star vocalist and guitarist Seu Jorge, Indian sitar virtuoso Anushka Shankar, Slovakian chanteuse and violinist Jana Andevska, and Washington D.C.’s own go-go originator Chuck Brown.” The results are mostly good and often great, though, no doubt owing to the broad range of their musical collaborations, Radio Retaliation sometimes loses a sense of cohesiveness and stops seeming like a Thievery Corporation record. Nevertheless, enough of their trademark masterful blend of electronica, downtempo, dub, jazz, lounge and world music elements can be heard here to make this rank as a good, if not great Thievery Corporation release. Standout cuts: “Radio Retaliation,” “Vampires,” “Beautiful Drug” and “La Femme Parallel.”


Au – Verbs

July 20, 2008

Though Portland based band Au’s second album Verbs has been touted as psychedelic, that description doesn’t much prepare listeners for the music that’s actually in store for them. It’s experimental music that will appeal to fans of Animal Collective and Panda Bear and bands like them, but the tracks here are largely influenced by classical music and fusion jazz, and it’s frankly refreshing to hear a band working in this genre that isn’t all about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Verbs is a work that allows itself to wander from joyous sounding songs with big choruses and harmonies, to songs punctuated by ambient touches and then marching band style music. Sometimes the album feels a bit aimless, but it always finds itself again, introducing elements that are interesting, engaging and sometimes surprising. Though it wasn’t designed to repeat seamlessly, I found that when the album started again, I thought another song had just begun. Verbs is an album you can wander through a few times, discovering new things. Standout cuts: “Are Animals,” “rr vs. d,” “Two Seasons” and “The Waltz.”


Adele – 19

June 15, 2008

19 is the excellent debut album from London based singer/songwriter Adele, a soulful singer reminiscent of contemporaries India Arie and Alana Davis, but also past peers Dusty Springfield and Roberta Flack. One of the virtues of 19 is its unwillingness to let her amazing voice (not to mention her intelligent, incisive lyrics, impressive considering she’s just 20) get buried in slick production values. In fact, I’m so enamored of her voice that I would have listened to an entirely a cappella version of this album and would have been just as enchanted. Not all the material on 19 is standout stuff, but it’s a good enough mix of pop, soul, R & B, jazz and blues that one hopes that this is the start of a long and accomplished career for Adele. Standout cuts: “Chasing Pavements,” “Cold Shoulder,” “Crazy For You” and “Hometown Glory.”


“People tell me I look like hell / Well, I am hell…”

T Bone Burnett’s new album, Tooth Of Crime, includes songs originally written in 1996 for the Sam Shepard play of the same name, here described by Burnett himself:

Tooth of Crime is a prophetic play that Sam first wrote in 1972, and it takes place in a time very much like now,” Burnett explains. “It’s a time when there are zones of fame that flare up and people can become incredibly famous in their own zones and nobody outside that zone can know anything about it. When the zone completely disappears, the famous person doesn’t realize it, the only way to even find the zone being to hook up a toaster to a television to a microwave to a piano, then possibly you can tune it in. That was the initial inspiration for the album.”

The central conflict between the play takes place between two musicians, each vying for dominion over the other.

After over a decade of working with the material, and adding some new material, Burnett has released Tooth Of Crime, a dark, foreboding, menacing but then also surprisingly beautiful album. You needn’t know the play to appreciate the album, either, as the songs work as stand alone pieces. Though Burnett is probably best known as a producer of albums like the recent Raising Sand collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, or the Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, he’s long been a musician in his own right, with solo albums dating back to the early 80’s. His own work is often highly experimental sounding, as it is on Tooth Of Crime, which mixes up the Americana and roots rock he’s known for as a producer, but also jazz, blues and whatever else strikes his fancy. A musical collaboration between Tom Waits and Angelo Badalamenti, the Twin Peaks soundtrack composer, might give first time Burnett listeners an idea of what to expect, but longtime listeners will hear the kind of musical alchemy that Burnett has worked with all his career. Standout cuts: “Anything I Say Can And Will Be Used,” “Dope Island” (features a guest vocal by Sam Phillips), “The Rat Age” and “Sweet Lullaby.”


Since this latest “greatest hits” Frank Sinatra compilation was coming from something called “Frank Sinatra Enterprises,” I was hoping it’d be a more comprehensive collection of his work than past releases like it, one that spans the recording he did for Columbia, Capitol and Reprise. Alas, though, this is another Reprise collection, the label he formed after he decided to leave Capitol, so you’re getting music made between 1960 and 1984, a good chunk of his career, with some great songs, but not exactly the 50 year-plus career spanning retrospective a title like Nothing But The Best might indicate to some listeners (like me). All that said, if you happen to be new to Sinatra’s work, or are wondering why some people regard him to be the major figure in 20th century American popular music, Nothing But The Best makes a pretty strong case for both his artistry and his popularity. (Plus you get the Frank Sinatra US postal stamp that went on sale on May 13. Bonus!) It’s got some obvious inclusions among its 22 tracks, like “Summer Wind,” “Strangers In The Night,” “My Way” and “Theme From New York, New York,” but it’s also got cool versions of “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Somethin’ Stupid” and a previously unreleased version of “Body And Soul,” done in 1984. If you dig on this, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t, you can try some of his earliest work, done for Columbia from 1943 through 1952, on the single disc collection, Frank Sinatra Sings His Greatest Hits, then move on to what many consider to be the pinnacle of his career, Classic Sinatra: His Greatest Performances 1953-1960. (Both are single disc collections. Multi-disc collections are also available.) Those collections, in tandem with Nothing But The Best, should make you a Frank fan forever, unless, of course, you’re a square or something. (Just kidding…sorta.)


Foals – Antidotes

April 12, 2008

If you combined The Bad Plus with Vampire Weekend and threw in some Haircut 100 and some Cure-like vocals, you might get something like Oxford, UK based band Foals, who find fresh and inventive ways to mix up art rock, jam band music, jazz, ska, and Afrobeat, among other influences, for their debut record Antidotes. The album starts out strong, but really the band really comes into their own on the second half, with tracks like “Balloons,” “Big Big Love (Fig. 2)” and “Hummer,” the latter being a bonus track on the U.S. release. Antidotes is an album that really grows on you with repeated listens, and I have to think that it’s going to be on a lot of “best of 2008” lists at the end of the year. Standout cuts: “Cassius,” “Electric Bloom,” “Big Big Love (Fig. 2)” and “Hummer.”