Hundred-word Reviews: September 2017

Time for some more hundred-word reviews; new music from many different genres.

Linsey Alexander – Two Cats (Delmark)
A lot of modern-day blues has a sterility that makes it the sonic equivalent of a museum display: too perfect, too slick, soulless. Linsey Alexander is having none of that on Two Cats. The 75-year old blues guitarist and singer does a fine job on the album, backed ably by a band that includes a solid horn section. His voice is best described as ragged-but-right, and his lead work on guitar falls into the same category. Titles fall into the familiar-for-blues territory (“Where Did You Take Your Clothes Off Last Night?”) but it’s fun, well-done stuff throughout all fifteen tracks.

Charles Lloyd New Quartet – Passin’ Thru (Blue Note)
Not many serious jazz artists venture into the pop world and come away unscathed. But even though he was a longtime associate of the Beach Boys, for goodness’ sake, Charles Lloyd’s reputation remains sterling. Here, his highly lyrical and expressive saxophone is set against the music made by three exceptional players. “Dream Weaver” is nearly 18 minutes of exploration, and it veers from a kind of avant-jazz into much more catchy passages, and then back again. Passin’ Thru’ is a live set, but flawlessly recorded. Not for the faint-hearted, but the accessible parts will draw in the less musically adventurous listener.

Charlie Ballantine – Where is My Mind (self-released)
Ballantine is up-front about the fact that Bill Frisell is one of his chief influences. On Where is My Mind? Ballantine covers musical territory that – to my way of thinking, at least – is far more interesting that Frisell’s more recent low-key efforts. Perhaps it’s not fashionable to say so in 2017, but in his guitar work I hear some of Mark Knopfler’s lyricism. His lineup – guitar, bass, drums and sax/flute – gives the music a nice, unprocessed feel that one suspects is a good document of how he sounds live onstage. His leads are exceedingly melodic, too.

Gene Loves Jezebel – Dance Underwater (Westworld)
Thirty years may as well have never passed since Gene Loves Jezebel’s last appearance on the (UK) charts; the music on Dance Underwater sounds just like it did then. The 80s-era synthesizers, the danceable beats and the infectious melodies are all intact. There is a disconcerting, wholly inexplicable use of Autotune (Cher’s “Believe” style) on the opener, “Charmed Life (Never Give In),” but if one’s prepared to forgive that transgression, this is a decent album. “Summertime” is woefully – jaw-droppingly – short on lyrics, but it’s a catchy tune. That kind of good/bad duality is a hallmark of the disc.

Karla Kane – King’s Daughters Home for Incurables (Mystery Lawn Music)
For pop fans who are just joining us, Kane is a Bay area singer, songwriter and ukulele player with an unassailable musical pedigree (Corner Laughers, Agony Aunts, session work). This is her first solo album, and for anyone who appreciates razor-sharp (if off-kilter) lyrics, this one works a treat. There’s a bit more folk (American and British varieties) flavor to this record than one find in her group work; to my ears it’s a kind of modern, highly sophisticated rethink of Spanky and Our Gang. And if you know my tastes, you know that’s high praise indeed. Martin Newell guests!

Diamond Hands – Diamond Hands (Kool Kat Musik)
I’m a pushover for the chiming sound of a Rickenbacker twelve-string, especially when it’s joined by insistent rock drumming and high quality vocal harmonies. You’ll find all those and more on Diamond Hands. The riffs are solid; “Not the Same” is a wonderful cross of The Beatles’ “Taxman” riff and part of the melodic line from “If I Needed Someone” by, er, the Beatles. Elsewhere the lovely “Maybe Tomorrow” (not the song by Badfinger, a group discovered by, um, the Beatles) offers up some wonderful shades of Merseybeat, that musical style from Liverpool, home of (you guessed it) the Beatles.

The Greek Theatre – Broken Circle (Kool Kat Musik)
There’s nothing Greek at all about this outfit from Sweden. In places, the moody textures of Broken Circle strongly recall the Church. Somewhat out of character for an artist on power pop label Kool Kat Musik, the group makes a sort of melodic, progressive-leaning music that owes a debt to Steven Wilson. The widescreen windswept ambience also calls to mind the Waterboys. The songs are on the long side, but they offer more than enough to justify their length. It might seem lazy to suggest that The Greek Theatre’s music evokes the dark-blue feel of Sweden, but hey: it does.

Underlined Passages – Tandi My Dicafi (Mint 400)
Imagine shoegaze with an uptempo, insistent beat added to it. That’s at least part of the musical recipe at work on this strangely-titled release from the indie-rock duo based in Baltimore. The vocals are mixed in such a way that they function at least as much as a sonic element as any kind of delivery medium for lyrics. There’s a pleasingly hypnotic vibe to the songs that will draw in the listener who allows it. The album has a timeless feel; there’s nothing abut its sound that pins it down to any era, but it still sounds fresh and modern.

Double Naught Spy Car – Moof (11 Foot Pole)
It’s difficult to know exactly what to expect from this collective of experimental musicians. Their 2015 project with Stew (of The Negro Problem) was fascinating. This sounds not in the least like that album. Weird title and weirder cover art aside, what we have here – sort of – is a collection of atmospheric, guitar-led instrumentals, each featuring a guest musician. Some are uber-catchy; Nels Cline’s work on the surf ‘n’ spy “Tale of the Comet” is worth the price of admission. Other places it’s proggy, punky, metallic … all over the place. Buckle up and enjoy the crazy ride.

Esmark – Māra I / Māra II (Bureau B)
Throbbing, thumping motorik is what’s on offer within this pair of releases from this German duo recording in Scandinavia. Analog machines are the primary tools used, and one imagines that the icy, bleak and monochromatic winters had an effect on the music made by Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau. There’s the expected cinematic quality, and the textures sound like the more adventurous end of the early 1970s synthesizer experimental. For those – like this reviewer – who revel in such things, Māra I and Māra II will be a pair of delights. For others, let’s say … not so much.