Other than the upcoming Graham Parker and Grinderman (Nick Cave) releases, these are the new albums that keep me pressing the Play button on the iPod.
The Holmes Brothers – State of Grace
The Holmes Brothers’ play a brand of country blues/gospel that really hasn’t been in vogue since the glory days of The Staple Singers. Here the brothers, along with guests Joan Osborne and Levon Helm, apply their trademark harmonies and funk rhythms to several sparkling originals, as well as covers from Lyle Lovett, John Fogerty, and Hank Williams. It’s not that difficult to imagine “Bad Moon Rising” transformed into a gospel vamp. But how about Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me”? Believe it. The wonder is that they pull it off, and pull it off marvelously.
Elliott Brood – Ambassador
Canadian sadsack trio Elliott Brood sounds like Being There-era Wilco – all banjos and ragged feedback – and writes songs about loners, drunks, and dead-end love affairs. Hey, I miss that side of Jeff Tweedy, and it’s a lot better than ten minutes of A Ghost is Born-era amplifier hum.
Paula Fraser/Tarnation – Now It’s Time
Paula Fraser was one of the last of the great 4AD artists, and like her old label mates Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins) and Lisa Germano (Dead Can Dance), she had a crystal-clear soprano that was generally used in service of ethereal, misty soundscapes. Tarnation, her alt-country band, added some needed heft, however, and after a decade-long hiatus to pursue an unappreciated solo career, Paula’s back with her old bandmates. She still has a gorgeous voice, and she has a morbid streak to rival Nick Cave’s, but this time she has a great band to serve as a gritty foil to her macabre but airy songs. It’s beautifully spooky stuff.
John Reuben – Word of Mouth
Okay, John Reuben isn’t doing anything Beck hasn’t done for the past fifteen years. But Beck has his pasty face (as seen in Paste Magazine) plastered on the covers of music rags worldwide, while John Reuben is a relative unknown. But I love the musical mashup that Reuben concocts, banjos colliding with John Lee Hooker samples, strutting, in-your-face rhymes backed by Bootsy Collins funk bass and the most saccharine of Mantovani strings. And although Reuben is a sometimes hilarious smartass, there’s no denying the weight of his lyrical themes, as he wrestles with image versus reality, the hype machine versus the mundane and far more significant tasks of getting along with spouses, friends, and enemies.
Mas Rapido! – Pity Party
Mas Rapido! is NYC-by-way-of-Seattle duo Frank Bednash and Donna Esposito. Frank and Donna alternate songs on this noisy power pop outing. Frank is clearly enamored with second-generation Beatles knockoffs such as Badfinger and The Raspberries, and his half dozen originals are fine homages to those bands. But the real revelation is Donna Esposito, whose breathy, little-girl voice masks a sarcastic wit and edgy, suicidal sentiments. The killer riffs, courtesy of the aforementioned bands, The Kinks, and The Who, help to make the doom and gloom more palatable.