Here’s the final installment of the year (and the decade!) of my quick, condensed album reviews. Ten titles, 100 words each. Seven are new releases; the remaining three are archival and/or reissue releases. There are some SERIOUS gems in here.
Sweet Lizzy Project – Technicolor
When most people think of Cuban music, their thoughts turn to Buena Vista Social Club, Xavier Cugat and (shudder!) maybe Desi Arnaz. But despite how it might seem to U.S. citizens prohibited from visiting the Caribbean island nation, Cuba isn’t isolated. It has a varied, vibrant music scene. Yet even knowing that, this album is a surprise and a revelation. To be fair, Sweet Lizzy Project is an expat band, now U.S.-based and championed by the Mavericks. With a few exceptions, Technicolor is modern rock with only a hint of Cuban flavor. That said, it’s quite good. Very strongly recommended.
The Mighty Mocambos – 2066
Recombining musical genres has become so commonplace that we tend to take it for granted. Merging the styles of different music isn’t always easy, and it requires a level of creativity beyond the ordinary. The Mighty Mocambos sound like some out-of-time mash-up of ’70s blaxploitation soundtrack music, modern boogaloo a la the New Mastersounds, a British take on soul, and a sprinkling of hip-hop. I don’t dance, but this album makes me nod my head and uncross my folded arms. It’s not exactly retro, but it does evoke music from years gone by. 2066 is a kinetic, groove-a-licious good time.
Resolution 88 – Revolutions
From the same label that brings us the Mighty Mocambos (see above) comes UK-based Resolution 88. This outfit does the musical hybridization thing as well, but in this case it’s funk, jazz, soul and the like. If you’ve heard the Midnight Hour then you’ll have at least a touchstone for what this urbane, sophisticated and soulful record sounds like. I hear hints of Steve Wonder (specifically in the band’s use of clavinet). The songs are alluring, hypnotic and cinematic in scope and execution. If Isaac Hayes had ever hooked up with Miles, it might have sounded a bit like this.
Lannie Flowers – Home
Right up front I shall confess that I had concerns about this one. The press kit characterizes Home as “decidedly not Power Pop” (emphasis theirs). Now, another power pop purveyor made a stylistic departure album a few years back, and while it was good for what it was, it fell flat among the artist’s core audience. Fans of Flowers’ sublimely tuneful, hooky and heartfelt brand of rock need not be concerned. He does stretch out a bit – more piano, for example – but all of the elements that make his work so enduring are here in delightfully full flower.
A Girl Called Eddy – Been Around
It takes some truly special and immediate music to make my spine tingle. But within seconds of starting a spin of Been Around, that’s exactly the reaction I had. And when Erin Moran (A Girl Called Eddy is her nom de musique) stated singing, I was completely won over. If you appreciate Carole King’s best work – Tapestry and her songwriting for others – then you’ll luxuriate in this 21st century take on the singer-songwriter style. With lush production that always serves the song, it’s simply jawdropping. (Fun fact: associate Daniel Tashian is the son of the Remains’ Barry Tashian.)
Frank Wyatt and Friends – Zeitgeist
Who is Frank Wyatt? You may well ask. Well, he was a member of under-the-radar American progressive/art-rock band Happy the Man. He played keyboard and win instruments on all of the group’s albums, and composed a good bit of their material. On this, a solo album featuring an ex-bandmate and other talented friends whose names you’re unlikely to recognize (I don’t), Wyatt weaves a complex web of tuneful yet ambitious music. Fans of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis are likely to dig this; it’s unpretentious yet musically accomplished and accessible. Vocalist Stan Whitaker’s nearly a ringer for Gabriel, which certainly never hurts.
Fernando Perdomo – The Crimson Guitar
If Fernando didn’t exist, I might have had to invent him. He’s one of few artists who can work confidently in both power pop and progressive rock; in that sense, he’s sort of a shaggy Todd Rundgren. Like the Wizard, he’s also a bit of a chameleon; it’s difficult to know exactly what is signature “sound” is. A skilled original composer, musician, arranger and producer, he’s as effective when paying tribute to the work of others. Here he presents solo classical guitar arrangements he came up with three decades ago, focusing on the earlier works of King Crimson. Very nice.
Humble Pie – 1973 Complete Winterland Show
Humble Pie was one of the most reliably hard-rocking bands of the early 1970s. The band’s 1971 tour-de force, the live Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore is an enduring document od just how exciting the band could be live. The band started to run out of steam by the time of 1973’s Eat It, but you’d never know it listening to this incendiary performance from that year. This King Biscuit Flower Hour set has been released before as Live ’73, but now includes a missing track (“Stone Cold Fever”) and is paired with a documentary, Life & Times of Steve Marriott.
Modern English – Mesh & Lace
It’s part and parcel of musical rich eras that a good deal of very good (and sometimes great) music goes largely unheard. And I’m not even speaking here of challenging music; I mean material that has all the hallmarks that would make it commercially viable. That’s the case with Modern English, a band you know only for “I Melt With You.” This, their first album from 1981, made nary a ripple in the U.S., though it fared well at home in the UK. The new reissue adds six “bonus” tracks, though they were on a 1992 CD reissue as well.
Modern English – After the Snow
The album above doesn’t even include “I Melt With You.” That song – better than you remember – is here on Modern English’s second album (1982), and the songs surrounding it are nearly as good. The group has a vaguely gothy vibe mixed in with its new wave characteristics; they were sometimes compared to New Order, which isn’t completely out of line. This is their finest effort, an essential part of any collection that aims to represent that era. That said, the “bonus” tracks (see above comment) are mostly inessential remixes. (And if you didn’t know, Modern English still tours.)
More of these in 2020, I’m sure. Stay tuned and stay tuneful.