Album Reviews

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Evan Toth  |  Jul 30, 2020  |  5 comments
This year, Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks’ 1994 project, Orange Crate Art, turns 25 years old. To celebrate, Omnivore Records has reissued and remastered the album and brought attention and care to a somewhat disremembered historical artifact created by two musical luminaries. Of note, Omnivore’s campaign is the first time this album has been released on vinyl.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 28, 2020  |  13 comments
This previously unreleased March 9th 1959 session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack home studio is a “must have” for Blue Note “completists”, especially for those with an affinity for car and plane crash videos. If you are just getting into the rich Blue Note catalog, your money is best spent elsewhere as this session, despite the stellar group, often sounds listless and forced. Grooves get glossed over in favor of speed.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 24, 2020  |  7 comments
Suave, swinging and exuberant, Michael Weiss’s self-produced Soul Journey sounds something like a big band playing on a Blue Note Records date, but it’s really a small ensemble making like a big one thanks to Weiss’s deft, harmonically-rich, rhythmically neck-snapping arrangements and free-spirited yet tightly drawn, well-meshed performances by the three man veteran horn section of saxophonist Steve Wilson, trumpet and flugelhorn player Ryan Kisor and trombonist Steve Davis.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 16, 2020  |  2 comments
Southern "New Age" is a new musical sub-genre for me, but if this is a typical example of it, y'all can be sure I'm on board. Luke Schneider coaxes from the 1967 emmons push-pull pedal steel guitar (named for the pedal steel guitar great, the late Buddy Emmons) cosmic otherworldly, uplifting heavenly sounds that instantly engage the head and message the heart.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 03, 2020  |  47 comments
What better time than during a period of self-isolation and social distancing could there be to explore Bach’s “Suites For Unaccompanied Cello”? Arguably, there’s no finer recorded performances than the ones Janos Starker performed for Mercury Records April 15 and 17, 1963, September 7-8, 1965 and December 21-22, 1965 (though some may prefer other performances by Casals, Rostropovich, Yo-Yo-Ma, etc.). I'm not here to argue with you. The finest version of these historic recordings, is without a doubt, this latest one from Analogue Productions and the sound is unassailable.

Malachi Lui  |  Jul 01, 2020  |  187 comments
No matter your (likely misguided) opinion of him personally, Kanye West is indisputably one of the greatest artists of all time. While in certain occupations others come close, only Kanye has the wide scope and collaborative energy to succeed in everything. Whether it’s music, fashion, or film, he enlists world-class multimedia artists’ assistance, precisely executing most media (except opera). As the man himself said in “Kids See Ghosts,” “[I] don't like being less than any a competition in any of my professions/So I gotta guess then, I gotta stay the best man/What else you expect from, uhhh, Mr. West man?” He lives up to his word; despite the often delayed and cancelled album releases (through online groupbuys the material eventually leaks), within a matter of time he accomplishes everything he talks about. Currently, he’s working on a budget clothing line with Gap (fulfilling his 2015 promise to make YEEZY garments affordable), IKEA-type affordable housing developments, and creating American jobs through prison reform systems. His wide range of artistic disciplines and personal achievements make him without question “the greatest artist resting or alive.”

Evan Toth  |  Jun 29, 2020  |  2 comments
Great music doesn’t exist, nor is it created in a vacuum. It evolves from years of being influenced by composers, performers, producers and genres. We don’t reward musically mediocre derivatives; rather, we celebrate musicians who manipulate their favorite influences to create a composite that results in something new and exciting— like Black Pumas’ music.

Jeff Flaim  |  Jun 26, 2020  |  4 comments
Avant-garde trumpeter Jaimie Branch has a lot on her mind; racism, love, compassion and the state of our union. Tackling these issues is not an easy task, especially for someone who plays instrumental music. On FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise, her second album—recorded live over a few nights at London’s Total Refreshment Center—the New York based musician delivers a passionate, searing set of tunes.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 24, 2020  |  16 comments
Billed by his label as a “long lost masterpiece by Neil Young”, referred to by fans as “one of Young’s mysterious, great ‘lost albums’” and described by Young himself as “the one that got away”, Homegrown was recorded mostly between late 1974 and early ’75, with one track from late spring ‘74 and another from late summer of that year.

Malachi Lui  |  Jun 22, 2020  |  11 comments
A lawsuit. A specific club night. Films that you’ll never see. A stray cat. Extremely rare posters and promo items that probably ended up in landfill. An unrealized menstrual abacus egg timer. Several buildings.

Mentioned above are Factory Communications catalog items that frustrate completists; they’re unobtainable. Sure, you can get pieces of the buildings, or a picture of the cat, or track down people with (drug-influenced) memories of the party. But if you weren’t there, you really weren’t there and can’t go back. Only remnants of the Manchester label’s catalog oddities remain.

Evan Toth  |  Jun 03, 2020  |  11 comments
Jason Isbell might just be a genuine modern country legend in the making. After his early years (2001-2007) with the alternative country-rock band, Drive-By Truckers Isbell went solo, releasing several critically acclaimed albums: some under his own name and others with the support of his backing band, the 400 Unit. Isbell quit drugs and alcohol in 2012 and subsequently married his second wife: songwriter, backup singer and fiddle player, Amanda Shires. They had their first child in 2015. Most recently, Isbell worked with John Prine on his final album, The Tree of Forgiveness and following Prine's death in April of 2020 penned in The New York Times a moving and intimate opinion piece

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 01, 2020  |  34 comments
Last May 11th 2019 guest conductor Bernard Haitink conducted the BPO in his final performance with the orchestra. At the time plans were made to record the performance of Bruckner's 7th symphony "Direct-to-Disc" neither the orchestra nor the conductor knew it would be their last collaboration. Haitink announced his retirement shortly after the concert.

Michael Fremer  |  May 23, 2020  |  2 comments
Tucson Arizona-based minimalist synth, guitar and drum duo Trees Speak (with help from friends) released a limited to 100 edition white label 45 rpm single that quickly sold out. The story goes the action caught the attention of the U.K. based Soul Jazz Records label, which originally specialized in reggae, ska, dub and soul and later expanded its reach to include “world music”, mostly sourced from Africa and Brazil. More recently the label increased its reach to include electronica, which is probably how this duo’s full length album of minimalist, cinematic collages got a Soul Jazz release.

Malachi Lui  |  May 05, 2020  |  22 comments
Drake is now a walking corporation. Actually, he’s an entire industry. As he enters his career’s second decade, he’s invincible in a way unseen since Michael Jackson (to whom Drake frequently compares himself). He escapes every scandal unscathed: a secret kid with a porn star, accusations of sexual harassment, cultural appropriation, and using ghostwriters; Pusha T’s brutal diss track, and questions regarding contact with teen celebrities don’t harm the artist born Aubrey Graham. Just one of the above kills or greatly diminishes most stars’ relevance; Drake is so culturally omnipresent that he won’t go away anytime soon. Whenever he drops a somewhat mediocre lead single, I say “he’s struggling for relevance now, his reign is almost over.” And? Said single becomes an inescapable hit. The full-length project drops, and everyone walking the earth stops dead in their tracks to stream it. His music is meant to sound emotionally genuine, yet nowadays Drake and his OVO team carefully calculate his every word.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 23, 2020  |  2 comments
Cushioned by the Netherlands-based Matangi String Quartet, plus bass drums, percussion and occasional guitar, singer/songwriter/pianist Lori Lieberman delivers a tender, occasionally excruciatingly intimate song cycle replete with regret, heartache, abandonment, longing and loss.

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