October 14

The Sword : Low Country


2015’s High Country saw the Austin, Texas-based doom metallers switching gears and toning down the distortion for a spooky, backwoods rendering of their Sabbathy goodness that hewed closer to classic rock, invoking names like Blue Öyster Cult, Cream, and Thin Lizzy. Instead of moving on to the next album, the band decided to tinker with the formula even further, and headed back into the studio to render 10 of the 15 tracks from High Country into campfire-ready singalongs — of the darkest kind — without the aid of too much electricity. Unsurprisingly, the swampy, low-key, psych-rock nature of High Country lends itself well to a more stripped-down format, allowing for some added nuance in the musicality, and helping to crystallize the band’s occult-heavy lyrics into more profound, though no less sinister exercises in Lone Star State-kissed, moonlit desert macabre. High Country standouts — “Empty Temples,” “Mist & Shadow,” and the road trip-ready title track — remain high-water marks, retaining all of their cryptic, retro-pop mystery while allowing the songs to breathe at a more measured pace. Others, like “Seriously Mysterious” and “Ghost Eye,” feel a bit weightless bereft of their sonic heft — set closer “Bees of Spring” transcends that predicament via a spooky combination of spaced-out vocals and hypnotic ukulele — but for the most part, Low Country delivers on its promise of “The Sword: Unplugged,” emitting its own curious current of intimacy, leaving the listener both transfixed and uneasy.

Released: September 23, 2016
Recorded: June–August 2015
Studio: The Bend (Austin, Texas) The Berry (Taylor, Texas)
Length 32:16
Label: Razor & Tie
Producer: Bryan Richie

John D. Cronise – vocals, guitar
Kyle Shutt – guitar
Bryan Richie – bass, synthesizers, production, engineering
Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III – drums, percussion
J. Robbins – mixing
Dan Coutant – mastering
Richey Beckett – artwork

Track Listing:

1. Unicorn Farm 0:52
2. Empty Temples 3:53
3. High Country 3:05
4. Mist & Shadow 5:20
5. Seriously Mysterious 2:21
6. Early Snow 4:46
7. The Dreamthieves 3:52
8. Buzzards 2:41
9. Ghost Eye 2:14
10. The Bees of Spring 2:12

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August 28

Scroobius Pip : Distraction Pieces

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 10.48.25 PM

Taking a brief hiatus from his usual partner in crime, Dan Le Sac, socially conscious street poet David Meads, aka Scroobius Pip, has used his newfound freedom to pursue a more rock-oriented but equally no-holds-barred sound on his debut album, Distraction Pieces. With news stories providing a never-ending stream of inspiration, the London rapper is just as angry and no-nonsense as ever, as he attempts to hold the world bang to rights in his own unique, humorous, and thought-provoking manner. “Death of a Journalist” combines droning synths, spoken word samples, and beats borrowed from Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” with satirical lyrics addressing the national news’ over-reliance on the internet (“I do more research than them when I’m penning a verse”); “Soldier Boy (Kill ‘Em)” is a controversial diatribe against the role of the military (“if we’re stopping tyrants, why the f*** aren’t we in North Korea”) set against a backdrop of minimal but aggressive percussion; while Steve Mason provides a Depeche Mode-goes-country production on the dissection of celebrity culture that is “The Struggle.” The former Beta Band vocalist isn’t the only star collaborator on a record which also includes Radio1 DJ Zane Lowe, XL founder Richard Russell, and Nine Inch Nails’ Renholder, and it’s this impressive roll call which ensures that Distraction Pieces is an entirely different beast from Pip’s usual hip-hop fare, as evident on the crunching Led Zeppelin-esque riffs of “Try Dying,” a satirical look on society’s obsession with living as long as possible; the dirty, scuzzy riffs, clattering percussion, and nu-metal chorus of “Let Em Come,” and the suitably ominous, plucked guitar hooks and contrasting child-like chanting of opener “Introdiction,” whose effortlessly witty lines (“you see a mousetrap/I see free cheese and a fucking challenge”) justify his comedic reputation. A dark, twitchy, and claustrophobic cover of Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside album track “Feel It,” featuring the ethereal vocals of newcomer Natasha Fox, perfectly, if rather unexpectedly, rounds up proceedings, but it’s this left-field finale which leaves you longing for more than its rather slim nine tracks. Like his previous offerings, Distraction Pieces may be a little too aggressive, and perhaps a little too honest, for some, but it’s undoubtedly a captivating listen which shows that Scroobius Pip is certainly capable of going it alone.

1.     “Introdiction” 3:27
2.     “Let ‘Em Come” (featuring P.O.S and Sage Francis)      4:43
3.     “Domestic Silence”      3:58
4.     “Try Dying”            2:59
5.     “Death of the Journalist”  5:11
6.     “Soldier Boy (Kill ‘Em)” (featuring B. Dolan)  3:05
7.     “The Struggle”  4:13
8.     “Broken Promises”   5:02
9.     “Feel It” (featuring Natasha Fox)  3:17

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August 7

Radiohead : Moon Shaped Pool


A cursory glance at A Moon Shaped Pool may suggest a certain measure of indifference on the part of Radiohead. Its 11 songs are sequenced in alphabetical order — a stunt befitting a Pixies concert or perhaps a Frank Black box set, not a proper album — and many of these tunes are of an older vintage: the group began work on the opening “Burn the Witch” at the turn of the century, while the closing “True Love Waits” first appeared in concerts way back in 1995. These are the elements of a clearinghouse, but with Radiohead appearances are always deceiving. A Moon Shaped Pool doesn’t play like an ill-considered collection of leftovers; it unfurls with understated ease, each silvery song shimmering into the next. The pulse rarely quickens and the arrangements seldom agitate, yet the album never quite feels monochromatic. Sly, dissonant strings grace some cuts, acoustic guitars provide a pastoral counterpoint to an electronic pulse, Thom Yorke’s voice floats through the music, often functioning as nothing more than an element of a mix; what he’s saying matters not as much as how he murmurs. Such subtle, shifting textures emphasize Radiohead’s musicianship, a point underscored when this version of “True Love Waits” is compared to its 2001 incarnation. There, Yorke accompanied himself with a simple acoustic guitar and he seemed earnest and yearning, but here, supported by piano and strings, he sounds weary and weathered, a man who has lost his innocence. What he and Radiohead have gained, however, is some measure of maturity, and with this, their music has deepened. Certainly, sections of A Moon Shaped Pool contain an eerie, disconcerting glimmer, usually attained through power kept in reserve — nothing stabs as hard as the sawing fanfare of “Burn the Witch,” while the winding, intersecting guitars that conclude “Identikit” provide the noisiest element — yet the album as a whole doesn’t feel unsettling. Instead, there’s a melancholic comfort to its ebb and flow, a gentle rocking motion that feels comforting; it’s a tonic to the cloistered, scattered King of Limbs and even the sleek alienation of Kid A. Radiohead are recognizably the same band that made that pioneering piece of electronica-rock but they’re older and wiser on A Moon Shaped Pool, deciding not to push at the borders of their sound but rather settle into the territory they’ve marked as their own. This may not result in a radical shift in sound but rather a welcome change in tone: for the first time Radiohead feel comfortable in their own skin.

Released     8 May 2016
Recorded     2014–16
Studio     La Fabrique Studios  (Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France)  /  RAK Studios (London, England)
Length     52:31
Label     XL Hostess
Producer     Nigel Godrich/Radiohead
Colin Greenwood – bass guitar
Jonny Greenwood – guitar, keyboards, ondes Martenot, analogue synthesisers
Ed O’Brien – guitar, backing vocals, percussion
Philip Selway – drums, percussion, backing vocals
Thom Yorke – lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, piano

Burn the Witch – 3:40
Daydreaming – 6:24
Decks Dark – 4:41
Desert Island Disk – 3:44
Ful Stop – 6:07
Glass Eyes – 2:52
Identikit – 4:26
The Numbers – 5:45
Present Tense – 5:06
Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief – 5:03
True Love Waits – 4:43

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July 24

Hellyeah : Unden!able


The fifth studio long-player from the veteran groove-metal supergroup, the Eleven Seven-issued Unden!able marks the first time that that Hellyeah’s current lineup, which consists of vocalist Chad Gray, guitarists Tom Maxwell and Christian Brady, drummer Vinnie Paul, and bassist Kyle Sanders, has recorded together as a full-on unit. Heavier and darker than 2014’s Blood for Blood, the 13-track LP includes the punishing single “Human,” as well as a blistering cover of Phil Collins’ “I Don’t Care Anymore” that features guitar parts from late Pantera shredder Dimebag Darrell.

Released     June 03, 2016
Genre     Heavy metal, groove metal
Length     45:26
Label     Eleven Seven
Producer     Kevin Churko

1.     !       1:19
2.     X       3:31
3.     Scratch a Lie       3:56
4.     Be Unden!able       3:13
5.     Human       3:33
6.     Leap of Faith       4:21
7.     Blood Plague       3:57
8.     I Don’t Care Anymore (Phil Collins cover)     4:41
9.     Live or Die       3:25
10.     Love Falls       4:34
11.     10-34       0:26
12.     Startariot       3:41
13.     Grave       4:48

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June 24

The Sword : High Country


2012’s Apocryphon saw the Lone Star State retro-metal spell-casters offering up another meaty, cosmos-minded set of mid-’70s Birmingham, England-blasted Sabbath worship, which would have been great had they not done nearly the same thing on their three prior outings. High Country, the band’s fifth and most compelling long player to date, is another beast altogether. While it shares its predecessors’ penchant for pairing thick Queens of the Stone Age-style stoner metal with vintage, tube-driven classic rock, it owes more to bands like Hawkwind, Thin Lizzy, Cream, Electric Wizard, Blue Öyster Cult, Sad Wings of Destiny-era Judas Priest, and even fellow shape-shifting Texans Midlake than it does the dark wizardry of Ozzy, Geezer, Tony, and Bill. What’s so immediately striking about High Country is how much fun it is. By eschewing some of the groups’ heavier doom metal tendencies for a more streamlined, almost singles-based (if it were 40-odd years ago) approach, the Sword have managed to not just update their willfully outdated sound, but reinvigorate themselves in the process. To be fair, they haven’t completely abandoned their sludgy, fantasy metal past, and psych-tinged boogie/space rock is hardly a contemporary concoction, but there’s a vitality to standout cuts like Empty Temples, Mist and Shadow, and the brooding, vibraslap-heavy title track that transcends their nostalgic trappings. As veterans of the scene, it’s their right to bring the stoner/doom genre back to its roots, and while High Country doesn’t always work, it’s constantly working toward moving the band forward, which means that were probably only a few albums away from a hair metal makeover.

Released     August 21, 2015
Recorded     March 16–April 12, 2015
Studio     Church House Studios (Austin, Texas) Level One Sound (Austin, Texas) High Country Atelier (Asheville, North Carolina)

Genre     Hard rock
Length     50:10
Label     Razor & Tie
Producer     Adrian Quesada

John D. Cronise – vocals, guitar
Kyle Shutt – guitar
Bryan Richie – bass, synthesizers, acoustic guitar (track 12)
Santiago Jimmy Vela III – drums, percussion

1.     Unicorn Farm (Instrumental)     0:50
2.     Empty Temples       3:55
3.     High Country       2:37
4.     Tears Like Diamonds       3:46
5.     Mist & Shadow       5:26
6.     Agartha (Instrumental)     2:23
7.     Seriously Mysterious       2:45
8.     Suffer No Fools (Instrumental)     2:43
9.     Early Snow       4:15
10.     The Dreamthieves       3:57
11.     Buzzards       4:13
12.     Silver Petals (Instrumental)     2:37
13.     Ghost Eye       3:15
14.     Turned to Dust       3:31
15.     The Bees of Spring       3:57

The Sword – “High Country” (Live @ The Culture Room, FT Lauderdale 05-10-16)

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May 23

The Revivalists : City of Sound


The Revivalists hail from New Orleans and it’s possible to hear the careening wobble on City of Sound, the group’s second album. Nevertheless, the scene the group most often recalls is that of the loose-limbed, eclectic jam band groups of the East Coast of the ’90s, and not just because David Shaw’s elongated phrasing brings to mind Dave Matthews. As a group, the Revivalists demonstrate a willingness to ride a groove to an extreme, embracing its funk and improvisational qualities, a tendency that’s evident even in these studio confines where most tracks weigh in at around four minutes. These guys sound like they’d be a blast to see live and they’re pretty good on record, too, sounding muscular but also lithe, able to play deftly with electronics (“Chase’s House”) and indulging in spacy folk (“Pretty Photograph”) as ably as they roll with Big Easy funk (“When I Die”). This versatility is what keeps the Revivalists from being, well, revivalists: they’re drawing from the past to assemble their own messy, teeming vision of the present, one where there are no borders between styles, one where a jam band can sound as alive on record as it does on-stage.

Release Date : March 4, 2014
Duration 01:44:11
Recording Date : October, 2010

David Shaw (Vocals)
Zack Feinberg (Guitar)
Ed Williams (Pedal Steel Guitar)
Rob Ingraham (Saxophone)
George Gekas (Bass)
Andrew Campanelli (Drums)
Michael Girardot (Keys/Trumpet)

1 When I’m Able 3:14
2 When I Die 4:09
3 Upright 4:22
4 Pretty Photograph 4:07
5 Navigate Below 3:57
6 Criminal 5:11
7 Chase’s House 3:39
8 Masquerade 4:58
9 Up in the Air 4:42
10 BTBD 6:35
11 Two Ton Wrecking Ball (Live at Harvest the Music)

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May 5

Middle Class Rut : No Name No Color


The Sacramento-based duo of guitarist Zack Lopez and drummer Sean Stockham dubbed Middle Class Rut uses the same spare instrumentation as the White Stripes, and for the most part, the two also ape that band’s approach, turning out hard rock stompers on their full-length debut, No Name No Color. The big difference lies in the vocals, which resemble Perry Farrell much more than Jack White, possibly as much a function of the echo and filtering effects applied to them as of the actual timbre. Like the White Stripes, Middle Class Rut often harks back to the sound of Led Zeppelin, notably on the “Kashmir”-like “I Guess You Could Say.” The lyrics detail a variety of complaints, many of them directed at a significant other, but also sometimes at the world in general. “What I get ain’t half of what I give,” the singer complains in the lead-off track, “Busy Bein’ Born,” adding, “give it back or I’ll take it.” So far, Middle Class Rut doesn’t seem likely to assume the mantle of the White Stripes, though the chart success of “New Low” suggests commercial potential.

Zack Lopez – vocals, guitar
Sean Stockham – vocals, drums

Released October, 4th 2010
Genre Alternative Rock; Indie Rock
Length 53:32 – 65:20 (Deluxe Edition)
Label Bright Antenna
Producer Self-Produced

1 Busy Bein’ Born 4:47
2 USA 3:33
3 New Low 4:16
4 Lifelong Dayshift 4:27
5 One Debt Away 3:23
6 Are You on Your Way 6:22
7 Alive or Dead 4:48
8 I Guess You Could Say 4:19
9 Sad to Know 4:08
10 Dead End 4:29
11 Thought I Was 4:38
12 Cornered 4:24

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April 19

Brent Jensen : The Sound of a Dry Martini: Remembering Paul Desmond


Educator, clinician, and A-one alto sax player, Brent Jensen honors one of the most self-effacing musicians in the history of jazz, Paul Desmond. The title comes from Desmond’s ambition to “sound like a dry martini,” probably very light on the vermouth. There are many “Desmond-isms” that he liked to use to describe his work. On the secret to his unique tone, he said “I honestly don’t know! It has something to do with the fact that I play illegally.” Desmond admired Charlie Parker’s playing, as well as the new paths he blazed. But he was determined to do his own thing. The result was a style and tone that were light, fluid, subtlety swinging, and expressive. This sense of artistry is captured by Jensen as he plays a set of tunes that Desmond either played as a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, such as “Tangerine” and “Alice in Wonderland,” or played in other settings, such as “Out of Nowhere.” A couple of Desmond originals are on the program, including “Take Five,” which has become a jazz staple. Playing Jim Hall to Jensen’s Desmond is guitarist Jamie Findlay, recalling those classic albums they made together between 1959 and 1965. Recordings that Desmond made in Toronto with Ed Bickert during the 1974-1975 time period will also be remembered as these two work through the play list. Joining the two main players are the restrained, but contributing, bass and drums of Zac Matthews and Dean Koba, respectively. Matthews gets in a nice solo on “Black Orpheus.” Dedication to Desmond notwithstanding, Jensen’s playing stands on its own feet. That he prefers to play in the manner of Paul Desmond is a credit to his taste and his respect for the melodies that come from his horn. Easily recommended.

Release date: January 17, 2001
Artist: Brent Jensen
Label: Origin Records

Jamie Findlay Guitar
Brent Jensen Primary Artist, Producer, Sax (Alto)
Dean Koba Drums
Zac Matthews Bass

1 Wendy 7:01
2 Tangerine 5:15
3 Black Orpheus 5:18
4 Things Ain’t What They Used To Be 6:43
5 Take Five 5:09
6 Audrey 3:18
7 Line For Lyons 4:22
8 Body & Soul 8:05
9 Out Of Nowhere 4:42
10 Alice In Wonderland 4:19

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April 14

Taft Jordan : Mood Indigo


Taft Jordan is someone who should have done a lot more recording as a leader, but regrettably, the swing trumpeter recorded only a handful of albums. One of them was 1961’s Mood Indigo, a tribute to Duke Ellington (Jordan’s employer from 1943 to1947). With sidemen including guitarist Kenny Burrell, pianist Richard Wyands, bassist Joe Benjamin, and drummer Charlie Persip, the album underscored the fact that Jordan was an expressive, highly accessible soloist who was as swinging as he was melodic. In fact, his lyricism on familiar Ellington pieces like “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mood Indigo,” “I Didn’t Know About You,” and “In a Sentimental Mood” is simply gorgeous. [A 1999 Fantasy reissue added six 1960 recordings from the Swingsville All-Stars, a sextet that united Jordan with tenor saxman Al Sears (another Ellington associate), alto saxman Hilton Jefferson, pianist Don Abney, bassist Wendall Marshall, and drummer Gus Johnson.]

Release Date 1961
Duration 01:08:15
Recording Date June 30, 1961

Taft Jordan Primary Artist, Trumpet
Don Abney Piano
Joe Benjamin Bass
Kenny Burrell Guitar
Hilton Jefferson Sax (Alto)
Gus Johnson Drums
Wendell Marshall Bass
Charlie Persip Drums
Al Sears Composer, Sax (Tenor)
Rudy Van Gelder Engineer
Richard Wyands Piano

1   Lost In Meditation 6:02
2   In A Sentimental Mood 4:04
3   Mood Indigo 6:17
4   Warm Valley 4:15
5   Sophisticated Lady 4:04
6   I Didn’t Know About You 3:50
7   Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me 4:39
8   New Carnegie Blues 5:39
9   Things Ain’t What They Used To Be 6:05
10  Li’l Darlin’ 6:33
11  Willow Weep For Me 7:09
12  Tenderly 4:57
13  Rockin’ In Rhythm 4:16

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March 21

Miles Davis : Porgy and Bess


The musical and social impact of Miles Davis, his collaborative efforts with Gil Evans, and in particular their reinvention of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess are indeed profound. However, the most efficient method of extricating the rhetoric and opining is to experience the recording. Few other musical teams would have had the ability to remain true to the undiluted spirit and multifaceted nuance of this epic work. However, no other musical teams were Miles Davis and Gil Evans. It was Evans’ intimate knowledge of the composition as well as the performer that allowed him to so definitively capture the essence of both. The four dates needed to complete work on Porgy and Bess include contributions from several members of his most recent musical aggregate: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (alto sax), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). Although the focus and emphasis is squarely on Davis throughout, the contributions of the quartet on “Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus),” “I Loves You, Porgy,” and “There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon for New York” are immeasurable. They provide a delicate balance in style and, under the direction of Evans, incorporate much of the same energy and intonation here as they did to their post-bop recordings. There is infinitely more happening on Porgy and Bess, however, with much of the evidence existing in the subtle significance of the hauntingly lyrical passages from Danny Banks’ (alto flute) solos, which commence on “Fishermen, Strawberry and Devil Crab.” Or the emotive bass and tuba duet that runs throughout “Buzzard Song.” The impeccable digital remastering and subsequent reissue — which likewise applies to the Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings box set — only magnifies the refulgence of Porgy and Bess. Likewise, two previously unissued performances have been appended to the original baker’s dozen. No observation or collection of American jazz can be deemed complete without this recording.

Released March 9, 1959
Recorded July 22 – August 18, 1958, at 30th Street Studio in New York City
Length 50:53
Label Columbia
Producer Teo Macero, Cal Lampley

Miles Davis – trumpet, flugelhorn
Ernie Royal, Bernie Glow, Johnny Coles and Louis Mucci – trumpet
Dick Hixon, Frank Rehak, Jimmy Cleveland and Joe Bennett – trombone
Willie Ruff, Julius Watkins and Gunther Schuller – horn
Bill Barber – tuba
Phil Bodner, Jerome Richardson and Romeo Penque – flute, alto flute & clarinet
Cannonball Adderley – alto saxophone
Danny Bank – alto flute, bass flute & bass clarinet
Paul Chambers – bass
Philly Joe Jones – drums (except tracks 2, 8, 10 & 11)
Jimmy Cobb – drums (tracks 2, 8, 10 & 11)
Gil Evans – arranger & conductor

Side one

Track Recorded Song Title Writer(s) Time
1. 8/4/58 The Buzzard Song G. Gershwin 4:07
2. 7/29/58 Bess, You Is My Woman Now G. Gershwin 5:10
3. 7/22/58 Gone Gil Evans 3:37
4. 7/22/58 Gone, Gone, Gone G. Gershwin 2:03
5. 8/4/58 Summertime G. Gershwin 3:17
6. 8/4/58 Oh Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess? G. Gershwin 4:18
Side two
Track Recorded Song Title Writer Time
1. 8/4/58 Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus) G. Gershwin 4:39
2. 7/29/58 Fisherman, Strawberry and Devil Crab G. Gershwin 4:06
3. 7/22/58 My Man’s Gone Now G. Gershwin 6:14
4. 7/29/58 It Ain’t Necessarily So G. Gershwin 4:23
5. 7/29/58 Here Come de Honey Man G. Gershwin 1:18
6. 8/18/58 I Wants to Stay Here (a.k.a. I Loves You, Porgy) G. Gershwin 3:39
7. 8/4/58 There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon for New York G. Gershwin 3:23

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