Hundred Word Reviews, May 2023 Part 2

Hey hey – it’s time for some more succinct surveys of superb sounds. Hundred-word stylee. Here we go.

Ransom and the Subset – Perfect Crimes
It’s been nearly a decade since I reviewed music by RanDair Porter’s Seattle-based project, Ransom and the Subset. In Late 2014 I called No Time to Lose “great stuff.” I don’t know what he’s been up to in the interim, but whatever it is hasn’t diminished his skills. On the contrary: these Owsley-ish songs are as strong as ever, with indelible and razor-sharp hooks, crystalline production, intelligent songwriting and high melodic quotient. It rocks, too, balancing oomph and ear-candy approaches for a winning combination. I cold tell you about the great guest players, but Porter himself makes this set essential.

Ron Sexsmith – The Vivian Line
Superb songwriting is no easy achievement. Some can write lyrics that resonate with listeners. Others can craft a sharp melody; others still know how to put together a compelling arrangement. Combining two of those virtues results in something special; checking all three boxes is as rare as it is remarkable. Canadian Ron Sexsmith falls into that last category. He’s often namechecked by fellow songwriters, and by in-the-know critics. Me, I somehow missed his work for a long time. The Vivian Line is as good an entry point as any into his defiantly unclassifiable body of work. Don’t miss this one.

Roy McGrath – Menjunje
At its best, Afro-Caribbean jazz is emotionally resonant, tuneful in the extreme and musically adventurous. This album grew out of a Chicago live event paying tribute to “El Topo” (Antonio Caban Vale). Roy McGrath sextet was a central component of that event. Augmenting that outfit with two Puerto Rico-based players of note (Eduardo Zayas on piano, drummer Efrain Martinez), McGrath cut this collection of El Topo classics and originals in a similar vein. The music is fun, alluring and impeccably arranged, with the soloists blowing atop a foundation that’ll get the most resolute armchair listener up and on their feet.

The Black Watch – Future Strangers
I’ve remarked before (and likely more than once) upon the prolific nature of John Andrew Fredrick. I’m completely at a loss to understand how he has time to eat, sleep or anything else; the frenetic pace at which he releases new music form The Black Watch is astounding. And unlike some other staggeringly prolific artists (no naming manes), Fredrick has yet to display a dip in the quality of his output. The relentlessly tuneful alternarock of “We Know Nothing” is enhanced by the flutey Mellotron and squalling lead guitar. That’s just the first track, and the greatness never lets up.

Dren McDonald – Pterous
At times, I’m a pushover for idiosyncratic artists: give me something unexpected, something that either (a) you haven’t done before or (b) nobody’s done before. To wit: Just about a year ago I was fascinated by Polyhedren, an atypically accessible avant garde project. Polyhedren’s prime mover is Dren McDonald, and he’s back with a solo release. It’s inspired by the work of Steve Reich, but I also hear the kind of mindset that informed Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists. The instrumentals are hypnotic and alluring, passionate and placid, lush and layered. Word is, there’s a Dolby Atmos version, too.

More tomorrow.