Hundred Word Reviews: Vinyl Roundup for May 2013

Here’s another installment in my occasional series of capsule reviews; this time ’round I’m focusing on vinyl releases. My self-imposed limit for this particular exercise is 100 words on each album.

Hoff EnsembleQuiet Winter Night
It’s subtitled “An acoustic jazz project,” so don’t look for any Fender Rhodes or vibraphone. In fact, to my ears, it’s a bit of a stretch to classify this twelve-song LP jazz. Adult pop is more like it; with gentle textures that would please listeners who enjoyed the quieter moments on Sting‘s Ten Summoner’s Tales, it’s a low key, classy outing. Flawlessly recorded in a church in Norway, the six-piece ensemble (guitar, piano, percussion, upright bass, trumpet, fiddle and, um, “nyckelharpa”) is fronted by an assortment of six solo vocalists (mostly females) on most of the lovely tunes.

JT Habersaat & the Altercation Punk Comedy TourHostile Corporate Takeover
Comedy albums are an odd duck; no matter how great they might be, they rarely hold up to (nor warrant) repeated listening. That said, this collection – featuring stand up routines from five different performers – is entertaining. Some of the material borders on the offensive/misogynist, but this is small-club stand-up we’re talking about, not Las Vegas or the Catskills. Oddly, the best bits aren’t especially roaringly funny; instead, Mike Wiede‘s two-part “Bruce Story” is warm and real, and does elicit some genuine chuckles. The other four featured artists are best described as hit-or-miss, but definitely still worth hearing.

Marshall CrenshawStranger and Stranger (10” EP)
Maybe not forever, but for the time being Marshall Crenshaw’s approach to new music is via three-song EPs rather than full albums. The upside of this for artist and listener is immediacy: shorter time between releases. I discussed the project recently with Crenshaw in an interview, one of several I’ve done. Here, the man’s reliable sense of melody and arrangement serves him well on the breezy title tune (with great Crenshaw guitar solo) that finds him atypically singing in his upper register. A lovely, straight Bacharach/David cover (“Close to You”) and reinvented solo “Maryanne” round out this must-have platter.

R. Stevie Moore – “I Missed July” b/w “Trade My Heart for Your Parts” (7” single)
Moore has no peer in music; that doesn’t mean that you’ll enjoy him, as he always charts his own idiosyncratic path. He can be irresistibly tuneful on a par with the greatest names, or weird enough to frighten Residents fans. Asked to provide two songs for a single release on the indie label Sweaters & Pearls, he selected one from 1978 and another from 1994 for this red vinyl. The a-side shows his cracked approach to pop; it’s a sort of jangly, lo-fi Beatles-by-way-of-Todd-Rundgren, yet it sounds like no one but RSM. The flip is Jimmy Buffett meets XTC. Brilliant.

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