theblackholliesOn the followup to their stellar record, Casting Shadows, New Jersey band the Black Hollies slow the tempo down a bit and offer up more psychedelic pop than psychedelic rock this time, but the results are generally as good. The production once again sounds like the record was made in the 60’s, though, as with Casting Shadows, the tracks are all Black Hollies originals. I do favor their faster numbers, tracks like “Run With Me Run,” “Gloomy Monday Morning” and “Look What You’ve Done,” but they also score with slower songs like the closer “Don’t Be Afraid To Ask.” The music is a dynamic, infectious mix of psychedelic rock and pop, garage rock and a little bit of soul. This is a solid third release for the Black Hollies that demonstrates their versatility while expanding their rock and pop horizons. Hopefully, this record will earn them the wider audience they deserve.

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.”

brendanbensonFor music fans who became aware of Brendan Benson only through his involvement with the Raconteurs, it may come as a surprise that My Old, Familiar Friend is in fact his third solo album. But what nice surprise for those fans, as well as long time fans, as Benson’s new record is a career high. It’s a stylish, often lushly produced (complete with strings on some tracks) collection, somewhat of a paean to 60’s and 70’s pop and soul, with some psychedelia and some muscular power pop by way of Cheap Trick added to the mix as well. Most of the album rocks, though the handful of midtempo tracks are just as good, with “You Make A Fool Out Of Me” being a particular highlight. Definitely recommended for indie rock and pop fans, power pop fans, and fans of the Raconteurs who are curious about his solo work. The latter fan base will definitely get a feel for his influence inside that band. Standout cuts: “A Whole Lot Better,” “Garbage Day,” “You Make A Fool Out Of Me” and “Poised And Ready.”

portugalthemanForget the numerous album reissues being released in time for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock: Here’s your soundtrack for the Summer of Love circa 2009, Alaska based band Portgual. The Man’s latest record, The Satanic Satanist. It’s a potent blend of rock, psychedelic folk, soul and experimental pop, as evocative of the free spirited, groundbreaking music of the 60’s as any endlessly played and overplayed reissue. The Satanic Satanist is packed with musical ideas, so much so that it seems a longer album than its 35 minute running time would seem to indicate. And despite my retro comparisons, it’s a very modern sounding, forward thinking indie pop record, and one of the most enjoyable, addictive and listenable released so far this year. Standout cuts: “People Say,” “Work All Day,” “The Sun” and “The Woods.”

dianebirchNew York based musician Diane Birch, with her fine debut album Bible Belt, joins that burgeoning group of artists who have been shining a new light on old school funk and soul. While funk and soul has long been an inspiration for hip hop, rap and electronic music, artists like Birch, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and Amy Winehouse (when she’s actually performing) have been creating entire records of music that draw directly upon one of the great American musical forms of the 20th century. Birch, who sounds a bit like Carole King with a similar fondness for piano based music, takes a modest, unpretentious approach to soul, with sometimes remarkable and powerfully beautiful results, as on tracks like “Photograph,” one of my favorite songs on the album. The production is often lush, but not overblown, and the lyrics are warmhearted, direct and insightful. Birch is a real find, and hopefully her refreshingly subtle approach to music will find a wide audience. Standout cuts: “Fire Escape,” “Rewind,” “Photograph” and “Ariel.”

phbandFirst time listeners to the self-titled LP from New York City’s the Phenomenal Handclap Band may be forgiven for thinking they’re in for a prog rock fest based on the opening track, “The Journey to Serra da Estrela,” despite the presence of some funk and disco touches. Those funk and disco touches take over by the second track, “All Of The Above,” however, and are in full force by “You’ll Disappear,” which features a vocal by Carol C. that simultaneously recalls both the Fifth Dimension and the Tom Tom Club. The band, aside from the aforementioned genres, weave some 60’s influenced soul and psychedelic rock into the mix as well, and the result is some pretty sweet sounding, often slow burning jams, most hovering around the six minute mark, which gives the tracks ample room to breathe. The vocals are a mix of male and female, and the musicianship is inventive and top drawer, with some notably good guitar work. The album starts to run out of gas towards the end, but The Phenomenal Handclap Band is nevertheless an auspicious dance rock debut. Standout cuts: “All Of The Above,” “You’ll Disappear,” “15 To 20” and “The Martyr.” d

furthercomplications“And if I could, I would refrigerate this moment…”

When Jarvis Cocker released his solo debut back in 2006, titled Jarvis, I found myself thinking I should be liking it more than I actually did, considering my admiration for his work with Pulp. This is definitely not the case with his second solo album, the Steve Albini produced Further Complications, which is flat out a pretty fabulous album from start to finish. It’s the sort of album that keeps finding new ways to kick your ass with every track, as Cocker runs through 60’s inspired pop, garage and punk rock, soul and even some dance numbers to boot. Much has been written about Further Complications about Cocker’s supposed “midlife crisis,” but I think it’s safe to say that to the extent that the album is about that, the midlife crisis has seldom been taken up in modern music with such ferocious wit and brutal, often cringeworthy honesty. Startlingly, it all comes to a joyous close with “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong),” which, true to its title, is a nearly nine minute disco song, on which Cocker channels a little Barry White. Further Complications is the sound of a freshly inspired Cocker reasserting himself as one of the great music makers of his generation, and you really ought to hear it. Standout cuts: “Angela,” “Leftovers,” “Slush” and “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong).”

shawnleesoulintheholeIt’s good to be a fan of Shawn Lee, London based American multi-instrumentalist, since he’s prolific enough that each year brings at least two, sometimes three, Lee releases, some albums fully instrumental, some vocal, some a combination of both. His latest LP, Shawn Lee Presents Soul In The Hole, is 11 tracks of “old school soul,” to borrow Lee’s phrase, and, wow, is it good stuff. The time period Lee is emulating falls somewhere around the late 60’s to the mid 70’s, and the production is designed to sound like music released during those years, complete with horn sections and washes of strings. This is an approach to music not unlike Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and the Budos Band, with similarly excellent results. Lee provides the vocals on a handful of tracks, though he mostly leaves those up to a talented array of guest vocalists, including Nicole Willis, Fanny Franklin, Karime Kendra, Paul Butler, Darondo, even his wife, who is billed here as “Mrs. Lee.” For soul fans, I think this will be a true delight, for those new to Lee’s unique musical genius, this is a great place to jump on board, as this is his best vocal record yet. Standout cuts: “Jigsaw,” “Land Of Soul,” “Cruel Woman” and “The Stuff.”

Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid

February 11, 2009

danauerbachDan Auerbach, better known as lead singer and guitarist for blues rock band the Black Keys, makes his solo debut with Keep It Hid. Thirteen out of fourteen tracks are Auerbach originals, with most of the instruments played by the artist himself in his newly constructed home studio in Akron, Ohio. Genre-wise, the music on Keep It Hid hews pretty close to what the Black Keys specialize in, that is, blues and blues rock, but Auerbach layers on some country, folk, psychedelia, funk and soul influences as well, to often stunningly good effect. The album also shows off Auerbach’s considerable skills as a multi-instrumentalist as the music here is more expansive and layered than one would find on a typical Black Keys album, which is usually just Auerbach on guitar and vocals with bandmate Patrick Carney on drums. Though much of the album is dark and gritty, there are some moments of real beauty, “When The Night Comes” and the album closer “Goin’ Home” being prime examples. That Keep It Hid will be essential listening for Black Keys fans is a bit of a no brainer, but Auerbach stakes out enough new musical territory on his own for Keep It Hid to be an essential listen on its own merits. And did I mention it frickin’ rocks? Because it does. Just check out “My Last Mistake” and I think you’d be sold on the rest of the record. Standout cuts: “Trouble Weighs A Ton,” “I Want Some More,” “When The Night Comes” and “My Last Mistake.”

MP3s: “I Want Some More” and “The Prowl”

florenceandthemachinesingleIf you haven’t heard of UK based artist Florence and the Machine, don’t worry you soon will. The two songs included on this single, “Dog Days Are Over” and “You Got The Love,” sound like modern indie orchestral pop variations inspired by the music of the likes of Dusty Springfield, with a little funk and a lot of soul thrown in. This is her second single after “Kiss With A Fist,” with a full length hopefully coming soon in the next few months or so. For now, definitely check this out.