Electronica Album Reviews
Nídia shines in her new, more meditative album, showcasing a breadth of dance genres with a keen eye for emotion and turmoil
Conceived almost a decade ago, the Príncipe label burst out of Lisbon’s poorer outskirts and onto an international scene enriched by burgeoning global sounds. While the song Danza Kuduro and acts such as Buraka Som Sistema took kuduro to car sound-systems and festival tents worldwide, Príncipe were keen to expand on the genre’s potential and break down racist, sexist and classist barriers holding it back locally. There are hints of house, techno and hip-hop in their music but the African-diaspora sound of Príncipe primarily incorporates Angolan kizomba’s intoxicating rhythms, melodic tarraxinha and the more skeletal, hard-hitting tarraxo. Few on the roster capture the sheer breadth of these styles as well as Lisbon-via-Bordeaux producer Nídia, whose repertoire shines across party-starters and darker tracks. Following a joyous debut EP, her first album for the label landed in 2017, pulling no punches with its heady, high-octane batida.
The Italian producer charges the euphoria of dancefloor anticipation with punk spirit in these joyous, poignant tracks
‘Where’s the drop?” This was a complaint often howled at festivals or in YouTube comment sections during the EDM years (usually by a hench guy in a vest), when mainstream dance was all about extreme peaks and troughs. They would get annoyed if a track just simmered without delivering a thunderous pay-off, accompanied by a blast of confetti, which in turn was annoying, because for many people the simmering – the coiling tension as a track builds or is allowed to just be – is the best bit.
This musical piece of civil engineering was assembled from recordings made under a bridge in Cologne
New York composer Lea Bertucci made her name as an unorthodox saxophonist – some of her most compelling performances see her playing alto sax or bass clarinet, using assorted looper pedals and tape effects to create improvisations that are pitched somewhere between the hypnotic drone music of La Monte Young and the ecstatic free jazz of Evan Parker. But her most adventurous work fits into the rather nebulous category of “sound artist”.
For several years, she has been exploring the acoustics of unusual venues, including an underground lake in upstate New York, a nuclear plant in Stockholm and a former military base in Paris. Instead of describing her work as “site-specific” (which implies that a listener needs to be present for it to work) Bertucci prefers “site-responsive”, tapping into each space’s unique acoustic properties. She starts by establishing the “room tone” – the point at which the space resonates – and uses that as the harmonic basis for what she plays.
The London-based duo serve up retro-tinged experimental pop in a fantastical second EP
Bands often have names that summon up their sound, but not Jockstrap. Far from a macho, musky proposition, they write fantastically eccentric songs that are often about sex. They consist of Georgia Ellery (vocals/violin) and Taylor Skye (vocals/electronics), who met at London’s Guildhall School of Music in 2016 and formed the band a year later.
Jockstrap’s music is experimental pop cast in a retro sheen; ghosts of bygone bands such as Black Box Recorder and Broadcast can be heard in Ellery’s vocals and lyrics. These songs are more radical, wonky things altogether, however. Melodies warp and distort on naive-sounding analogue synthesisers. Rhythms and arrangements shift constantly. Glimmers of hip-hop, techno and rave also lurk in odd corners.
Python’s deft, dancefloor-friendly explorations add deep-house chords and ambient susurrations to dembow, to heady effect
From dembow’s influence on Justin Bieber’s Purpose to the rise of international reggaeton superstars J Balvin and Bad Bunny, tresillo rhythms have been a dominant force in pop for a few years now. Dancehall and reggaeton have featured more and more across the global electronic underground circuit, too – yet even here, the music of “deep reggaeton” pioneer Brian Piñeyro stands alone. Producing and DJing as DJ Python, he combines the swinging percussion of reggaeton with deep-house chords and ambient techno textures. It’s a concoction that seems so natural and almost obvious in retrospect, though that notion owes itself to the quality of Piñeyro’s lithe compositions. With an EP, remixes and considerable touring experience in between, this new record follows his 2017 full-length debut to plunge even deeper into the sound.
Structured like a mix, Mas Amable is an album meant for listening all the way through. Piñeyro refers to it as a soup, cooked by taste rather than recipe. This analogy rings true from its beatless beginnings to the various elements intuitively stirred in or stripped out along the way, defining sections beyond the tracklist’s delineations. The record’s first beat is introduced on scratch-heavy roller Pia, then inverted into a teetering stutter on its successor. Introspective, ensnaring lead single ADMSDP features ASMR-like susurrations from guest vocalist LA Warman, rumbled only by the introduction of a bassline reminiscent of Voices from the Lake. Cohesive and seamless, Mas Amable reaches the heart of the rhythm and the soul of the drum, aspiring to a meditative quality and tranquility that almost feels sacred.
Metal Album Reviews
Rock Album Reviews
Behemoth made the surprise announcement of a new EP coming at the end of May only a few weeks ago and it’s definitely the kind of news we all needed to hear at that moment. Tomorrow the EP comes out via Metal Blade Records, but today we are here with a quick review. The EP …
BPMD are a supergroup made up of Bobby Blitz (Overkill), Mike Portnoy (Sons Of Apollo), Mark Menghi (Metal Allegiance), and Phil Demmel (Vio-lence). Their debut album, American Made, is a compilation of covers of classic ’70s rock songs done with new energy coming from these huge names in metal who do a great job at …
Paradise Lost stick with their winning formula of gothic doom metal with their sixteenth album, Obsidian. It has a consistent tone of sadness throughout which is depicted by the lower tempo of a majority of the songs on the album, as well as the guitar and vocal melodies throughout. Paradise Lost have always been a …
Exit, a Swiss death thrash band who formed in 1995, tend to take their time to record albums, but they never disappoint. Their upcoming fourth album, Traces Of Human Existence, is fast paced, heavy, and has a lot of killer riffs that are gonna have you wanting more. The songwriting has a lot of different …
Formed back in 2007, the death thrash band Lined are coming out with their second album and first in 11 years, Soulcrifice. Lined definitely used those 10 years to their advantage, creating some killer riffs and guitar melodies that really stand out in the overall sound of the album. The intro track “Bad Omen” and …
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Jazz & Blues Album Reviews
Jeff Fetterman – Southern Son
Self-Release – 2020
12 tracks; 62 minutes
Pennsylvania’s Jeff Fetterman returns with his third album, this time recorded with Kid Andersen at his famed Greaseland Studios. Kid often presides over West Coast jump blues and roots music but this album is more in blues-rock mode with all the songs bar one originals written by Jeff. Jeff’s regular touring band (Jeff and Eric Brewer on guitars, Ralph Reitinger III on bass and John McGuire on drums) is supplemented by Kid on keys, guitar and backing vocals and a horn section of Doug Rowan on sax, John Halbleib on trumpet and Ric ‘Mightybone’ Feliciano on trombone appears on the first two tracks.
Opening cut “I Don’t Want To” is a full-on blues-rocker with Jeff’s gruff vocal explaining that the relationship he is in has become toxic, the horns in declamatory mode and Jeff hitting the wah-wah in his solo. Jeff revisits the story of Robert Johnson’s ‘deal at the crossroads’ in “49/61” which has an intense rhythm and lots of good interplay between the guitars, the horns underlining the chorus, before Jeff drops the pace and plays some fine guitar on a tender ballad which references Springsteen in the first verse and has something of the wide open spaces style of The Boss’ writing in lines like “if you want to take a chance go ahead baby and roll the dice, together we can dance tonight under the stars of a Memphis Sky”. The tour of the South continues with good time rocker “Goin’ Down To Nashville” which makes great use of the classic Elmore James slide riff before the slow “Living With The Blues” to which Kid adds some atmospheric electric piano.
The next two tracks have familiar titles though both are originals. “Ain’t Got You” uses the tune of “Smokestack Lightning” and the sentiments expressed are very much in line with Calvin Carter’s song made famous by Jimmy Reed, Billy Boy Arnold and The Yardbirds; “Feels Like Rain” is a mid-paced Americana rocker with a catchy tune and good guitar interplay. “Tell Me Baby” is a solid shuffle and is followed by “Blues For Charlie”, a beautifully played instrumental ballad dedicated to Jeff’s late father. When you buy the CD be sure to read Jeff’s emotional tribute to his Dad which underlines what a fine job he has done with this tribute. The sole cover is Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” which adopts a different approach with a latin-tinged intro with percussion, weeping guitar and a prominent bass line though once the familiar refrain comes in the band follows Hendrix’s approach to the song, including guitars going across your headphones. That should probably have been the finale but there are two bonus tracks, both instrumentals: “Voodoo Funk” and “Southside Blues” do pretty much what the titles suggest but do not add a great deal to the album.
This is a solid album which ranges across blues and other styles, including a couple of noteworthy songs, making it a good listen.
Mick Kolassa – Blind Lemon Sessions
Endless Blues Records MMK012020
12 songs – 33 minutes
An inventive songwriter and picker as well as a former member of the board of directors of the Blues Foundation, acoustic guitarist Mick Kolassa follows up on his well-received 2018 CD, 149 Delta Avenue, with a heaping helping of what he likes to call “free-range” blues – apt nomenclature when you consider that he traveled all the way from his home in Mississippi to lay the groundwork for it in Germany.
A former member of the board of directors for the Blues Foundation, Kolassa spent a lifetime in the business world. As “retirement” approached, however, he began focusing his energies more and more toward the music he’s loved since childhood. This is the sixth album he’s produced since his 2014 debut, Michissippi Mick – a labor that’s involved solo work as well as recordings with his Taylor Made Blues Band or in partnership with Florida-based guitarist/bassist Mark Telesca.
Mick plays six- and 12-string guitars as well as baritone guitar and ukulele, banjulele and provides percussion on this one backed by guitarist David Dunavent and bass players Seth Hill and Bill Ruffino on this one aided by Eric Hughes on harmonica and Alice Hasen on violin. All of the instruments are delivered throughout absent of amplification.
The project began after Kolassa was invited by Thomas Schlelken to perform in Bremen and record a few songs for a pair of compilation albums he was planning to release on his Blind Lemon Records, the European home for several top acoustic musicians, most notably American blues historian David Evans. The idea for a full CD developed as Mick’s free-range approach mixed favorite covers with new material.
Recorded at Horwek Tonstudio in Ganderkesee, Germany, and Farmhouse Studios in Moscow, Tenn., this collection mixes eight covers with four originals, a pair of which, Kolassa admits, are best considered to be Americana, not blues.
Lonnie Johnson’s “Jelly Roll Baker” opens the action with Mick’s warm baritone sprightly delivering new life into a song he’s been performing for about five decades. The blues flow strong through “Text Me Baby,” an original that deals with a thoroughly modern concept, but built atop a traditional chart, delivered on banjulele and featuring Hasen’s fiddle.
“Keep on Truckin’” – originally titled “Ja-Da” and recorded in 1918 by The Original New Orleans Jazz Band, which included a young Jimmy Durante – is up next before Kolassa moves forward to the ‘50s for Peggy Lee’s “I Want to Be Seduced,” played on baritone uke. The sexual overtones continue in the slow-and-easy original, “Mr. Right” — in which Mick insists: “I ain’t never done it wrong!” – and an acoustic take on Jace Everett’s “Bad Things,” which some folks might recognize as the theme for the HBO series True Blood.
Taj Mahal’s “Cake Walk into Town,” the traditional “St. James Infirmary” and Blind Blake’s familiar “Diddy Wah Ditty” follow before Kolassa switches gears with the delightful original ballad “Recycle Me,” a sweet request for renew a former romance that isn’t quite blues – but who cares? A cover of Lennon and McCartney’s “Help” follows before “The Space Between Us” – a 95-second reflection on folks growing apart – brings the action to a close.
Available through Amazon, iTunes and CDBaby, Blind Lemon Sessions is a perfect set for anyone who appreciates acoustic blues.
Ruthie Foster Big Band – Live At The Paramount
Blue Corn Music – 2020
14 tracks; 65 minutes
Ruthie Foster has established herself on the blues scene with a succession of fine albums, regular appearances at festivals and on the Blues Cruise but this live album captures a further stage in this talented singer’s development as she is backed by a huge band of ten horn players, a four piece rhythm section and three backing singers. The personnel are Seth Carper on alto sax, Russell Haight and Joey Colarusso on tenor, Paul Baker on baritone and bass clarinet, Eric Johnson, Adrian Ruiz and Jimmy Shortell on trumpet/flugelhorn, Jon Blondell, Michael Mordecai and Andre Hayward on trombone, Mitch Watkins on guitar, Jeff Helmer on keyboards, John Fremgen on bass and Tom Brechtlein on drums; Sheree Smith, Tamara Mack and Torri Baker are the backing vocalists. The whole band was conducted by John Mills with arrangements mainly by John Beasley. Recorded on home turf at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, the album features a selection of Ruthie’s own songs, a couple of covers and two traditional gospel tunes.
After a short introduction by daughter Maya Ruthie launches into “Brand New Day”, an original but clearly based in the gospel traditions as the song starts acapella with the band joining in for the final minute. Ruthie then introduces “Might Not Be Right”, a song she wrote with William Bell and we are straight into Memphis soul territory with a lovely, gentle arrangement. A brilliant adaptation of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” moves the familiar song from country to soul ballad before Ruthie’s own “Stone Love” which starts with a solo piano exploration before developing into a joyous soul romp with great horns and a superb vocal performance. “The Ghetto” was written by Bonnie Bramlett, Bettye Crutcher and Homer Banks and is not to be confused with Donny Hathaway’s identical title. The song was originally recorded by The Staple Singers and subsequently by Delaney & Bonnie and Joan Baez. Ruthie’s quiet version pays full respect to the socially conscious lyrics as the horns sit this one out and features the backing vocalists to good advantage.
The traditional “Death Comes A’ Knocking” develops from a gospel opening into a trumpet-heavy, full band presentation with a wild guitar solo thrown in. A run of three originals follows, starting with the lilting soul sounds of “Singing The Blues” which includes the line “a little Bobby Blue Bland never gets old” – who could disagree with that? Two songs from Ruthie’s 2002 breakout album Runaway Soul follow: the title track continues in the soul vein, the horns exuberant with sax man Joey Colarusso given an extended feature towards the end of the song; Ruthie takes us to church as the organ is the only instrument behind her vocals for the start of “Woke Up This Morning” before the band joins in for a joyous piece of gospel music. A second visit to The Staples Singers fits perfectly at this point and “Joy Comes Back” is given a New Orleans arrangement, appropriately featuring the trombones. Ruthie’s setting of Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman” to music has remained a staple of her set ever since she first recorded it for The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster back in 2007. It remains a superb piece of music and this version is as good as any, the subtle arrangement fitting Ruthie’s vocal perfectly, making it an absolute highlight of this album.
When you have a band as good as this at your disposal why not take on a couple of classic songs from the great era of Big Bands? Ruthie does just that to close the show with great versions of “Fly Me To The Moon” and “Mack The Knife”, the latter preceded by her story of having to choose between heating the house or buying tickets to see Ella Fitzgerald – no prizes for guessing which Ruthie opted for!
Ruthie proves herself to be as good at this type of music as she is in soul, blues or gospel styles with her wonderful voice and warm personality. This outstanding album will also be available as a DVD though this review is based solely on the audio CD version.
Mark Telesca – Higher Vibrations
16 songs – 51 minutes
One of the brightest lights on the South Florida music scene, Mark Telesca celebrates his victory over cancer with this stellar collection of acoustic blues – nine originals that mix flawlessly with six blues and gospel covers culled from the pre-War era and one reinvention of a soul hit.
A singer, songwriter, guitarist, bassist and bandleader as well as an author, Telesca regularly hosts the best Monday night blues jam south of Atlanta at the Funky Biscuit nightclub in Boca Raton when not gigging regionally the rest of the week.
A survivor of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, he spent most of his downtime composing the music you’ll hear here as well as finishing his second book, Love Music Hate Cancer. Away from the stage, he’s popular on the lecture circuit, recounting the lifestyle changes brought about by his illness as well as the healing power of music.
Telesca’s been an area favorite through his early work with Blues Dragon and he’s known nationally through his work with Mick Kolassa, the Michissippi Bluesman, with whom he released the well-received You Can’t Do That CD, which reinvented Beatles tunes as acoustic blues numbers and which was released at the height of his cancer battle.
This is Mark’s second release and first solo acoustic effort, following Heavy Breathing, which appeared in 2016. A powerful, pleasant vocalist, he’s also an exceptional traditional fingerpicking guitarist and storyteller with a spot-on sense of time and rhythm. The only assistance he gets on this one is from producer Bob Taylor, who provided snare drum.
“99 Years” opens the action. It’s a new tune with timeless feel sung from the first person view of someone trapped behind bars for something he didn’t do. Telesca dazzles, mixing single-note runs and slide. The pace quickens for “Black Dress,” a plea for his lady to get dressed because they’re going to be late for a show, before slowing dramatically again for a take on Doctor Clayton’s “Murderin’ Blues.”
The mood brightens with “Lookin’ for Some Gold,” an optimistic wish for a better future, before the haunting, minor-key “Turn on a Dime” is an introspective number about how life can change in a heartbeat.
Covers of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Louise” and Robert Johnson’s “Come On in My Kitchen” and Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues” and “Papa’s On the House Top” serve as two-tune bookends for the funky original “It’s All Right” picks up the pace and brightens the mood while putting a positive spin on death and more minor problems. The Telesca original “Life in the City” provides a sprightly, microscope view of Manhattan before things quiet again for “The Electric Chair,” which revisits the prison theme as the convict plans an appearance before a judge to request a speedy end.
Blind Willie Johnson’s familiar “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’” feels fresh before flowing into the original song of lost love, “Been a Long Time.” The disc ends with an interesting take on Al Green’s song of desire, “I’m a Ram,” and the percussive original, “Somethin’ Just Ain’t Right,” in which the musician returns home late, finds his bed empty and clothes on the floor.
Available from Amazon other online retailers, if you’re a fan of acoustic blues, you’ll love this one. I did!
Tony Holiday – Soul Service
8 tracks; 30 minutes
Memphis-based harmonica player Tony Holiday came to Blues Blast’s notice in 2019 with his Porch Sessions album, a semi-acoustic project in which Tony visited other musicians, notably fellow harp players, and it ended up as a nominee for the Live Album category in the Blues Blast Awards. This time around Tony has stayed home in Memphis, recording at the Dickinsons’ Zebra Ranch studio with Ori Naftaly (Southern Avenue) in the producer’s chair, alongside Landon Stone on guitar, Max Kaplan on bass/B/V’s and Danny Banks (John Nemeth) on drums; Victor Wainwright adds keys to a few tracks and Ori also adds additional guitar. The eight songs here appear to be Tony’s originals with Ori and John Nemeth mentioned as collaborators; indeed, some of the album reminds you of John in the mix of influences. Tony plays harp and handles the lead vocals capably, as producer Ori places plenty of reverb on both vocals and guitars.
“Payin’ Rent On A Broken Home” is a good Rn’B style opener with a nagging guitar riff over which Tony adds some keening harp, the sharp lyrics taking a modern slant on the age-old break-up scenario. The next track “She Knocks Me Out” shares a title with an early Anson Funderburgh song but is an original, albeit with a definite Texas feel, assisted by Victor’s great piano work and some slide accents, presumably from Ori. The album takes a turn into the country with “It’s Gonna Take Some Time” which has good harmonies on the chorus and some harp that sounds like it could fit into one of those campfire scenes in an old Western. Tony looks back at the “Good Advice” that his Grandma gave him, including some cross-references to Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover” in the lyrics sung over a rolling tune.
The CD cover shows the eight tracks divided into ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’, the latter starting with “Checkers On The Chessboard” which has a slightly jazzy feel from the bass lines, a light guitar solo and Victor’s electric piano stylings before “The Hustle” takes us back to more of a blues/Rn’B feel. “Day Dates (Turn Into Night Dates)” opens with a gentle bass line over which harmonies are layered and the two guitars play off each other underneath Tony’s lyrics which deal with strained relationships in which “someone’s gonna get hurt”. To close the album Tony ups the pace with a pounding train song “Ol’ Number 9” which rather reminded this reviewer of John Nemeth’s “Elbows On The Wheel”. Tony blows some good harp here, as he does throughout.
As much EP as album, the title Soul Service might be considered a bit misleading as there is more Rn’B than actual soul but it is all enjoyable stuff.
Pop Album Reviews
Without the burden of reinvention, Ware’s fourth album of defiantly sexy, plush post-disco is a flirtatious joy
The comfort zone has a bad reputation. No artist wants to be seen to be creatively complacent, or uncompetitive, a state of affairs that’s much more acute for women, as Taylor Swift once observed: “Reinvent yourself but only in a way that we find to be equally comforting and a challenge for you.” It’s worse yet again for older female musicians, expected to prove that they’re still as ambitious as their younger peers or to gracefully disappear into Radio 2. That dynamic plays out vividly in Jessie Ware’s career. Made with cutting-edge dance producers, her debut album, 2012’s Devotion, earned her comparisons to Frank Ocean’s elegant R&B. She was keen to maintain tastemaker approval on 2014’s Tough Love, but by 2017’s Glasshouse – released after the birth of her first child – she was shooting for the mainstream, hiring blue-chip songwriters and laughing off her old ambitions as a cocktail of snobbery and fear. The ensuing gigs were so disastrous that her mum told her to quit.
The Lowdown: It feels strange listening to dance music at a time when dance clubs themselves, nights out with friends, and, for many, friends in general are impossible to access in person. Like so many of the joys people have managed to find in quarantine, kitchen-floor dance parties and celebrations…
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Although Mutable Set is his fourth album, Los Angeleno Blake Mills is best known as a name in the credits. He’s produced Alabama Shakes (they won a Grammy), Laura Marling and Perfume Genius, among others.
Atmospheres are key to Mills’s output and Mutable Set is not so much a set of songs – recalling everything from Elliott Smith (May Later) to Spiritualized (Money Is the One True God) to his helpmeet here, Cass McCombs – as an exercise in humid world creation. Everything feels like it is pulsating away within an amniotic sac – in a good way – as instruments wander across the songs, as though orchestrating themselves. Mills can get the celebrated Pino Palladino (the Who) in on bass, and then subdue him to a low thrum.