Saturday, August 08, 2015

Masterworks fuel winning crop of new releases

Lovers of authentic Americana, blues and roots music, funk, as well as of the late Grammy- and Academy Award-winning composer James Horner all have reason to celebrate thanks to an outstanding crop of 2015 releases available this summer.

Artist: Michael Ubaldini
Title: Songster  The Acoustic Reels (Blackwater Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, Walter Clevenger, Bob Dylan
Tell me more: Discerning fans of the burgeoning Americana movement have been rightfully encouraged by the success of a slew of talented newcomers but worry about the parade of unceasing acts whose slick approach (notably Milk Carton Kids and the Lumineers) threaten the movement's delightfully-authentic rough edges that are at odds with modern country's cliché-heavy approach. Leave it to alternative Americana hero Michael Ubaldini to strip things down to their acoustic underpinnings, using nothing more than an acoustic guitar, harmonica and his emotive baritone to set free a mix of new originals, as well as reworked  standouts from his own rich discography and revisited traditional songs (the Celtic "Handsome Molly" and biting folk nugget "The Cuckoo") on the ambitious 21-track Songster  The Acoustic Reels. Ubaldini is never less than both literate and artful with his lyrical approach as evidenced by the playful "Jean Harlow," bona fide celebration of romance ("Sweet ole Riddle"), beautiful expression of loss ("Rosewood Night"), defiance and perseverance ("Walk Through Fire") and probing look at America's endangered freedoms ("Money, Bible and a Gun"). Information:

Artist: Rock Candy Funk Party
Title: Groove Is King (J&R Adventures)
You might like if you enjoy: Daft Punk, Mark Ronson, Prince, Joe Bonamassa
Tell me more: Music rarely gets funkier or grooves harder than the joyous Rock Candy Funk Party sophomore effort Groove Is King. Blending rock, funk, electronica, jazz, and R&B across its 16 tracks, RCFP offers up a mostly instrumental affair over its 70+ minute run; the wonderful exception is an amazing reworking of Peter Gabriel's "Digging in the Dirt" where Zia offers up some vocal shadings. Fans of guitar great Joe Bonamassa will want to wrap their ears around "Uber Station," where Bonamassa's masterful fret work is featured amidst the heavy grooves and a soulful horn section (featuring Randy Brecker, Ada Rovatti and James Campagnola); his graceful work on the heretofore noted "Digging in the Dirt" and speedy jazz licks on "Rock Candy" are a wonder. Everywhere the music making is outstanding, with performances that technically dazzle while simultaneously motivating the listener to move. The physical edition of the album comes with a bonus DVD that includes 50 minutes of in-studio footage of RCFP. Information:
Buy 'Groove Is King [CD/DVD Combo]' here

Artist: Lynyrd Skynyrd (and guests)
Title: One More For the Fans (Loud & Proud Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Peter Frampton, Robert Randolph, Gregg Allman, Cheap Trick
Tell me more: A full-length concert featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd and a cast of acclaimed guests was staged in Atlanta, GA on Nov. 12, 2014, and has now been thankfully released via a must-have deluxe package including the event presented on two audio CDs and on DVD. While the highlight may well be the band itself delivering an incredible marathon-length take of "Free Bird," the rest of the 19-track set is pure joy. Imagine no more what it would be like for power-pop greats Cheap Trick to tackle Skynyrd; the quartet delivers a fiery version of "Gimme Back My Bullets." Later Gov't Mule powers through an emotionally-charged Southern Rock-styled "Simple Man" while country great Jamey Johnson offers up a bluesy "Four Walls Of Raiford." Peter Frampton offers up great fretwork and top-flight vocals on a version of "Call Me The Breeze." Other sterling performances come courtesy of Alabama ("Gimme Three Steps") and Gregg Allman ("Tuesday's Gone"). Information:
Buy 'One More For The Fans' here

Artist: James Horner
Title: Southpaw (Sony Classical)
You might like if you enjoy: James Horner's previous soundtracks 
Tell me more: Whether enveloping the listener with tense and unsettling soundscapes ("The Preparations," "A Fatal Tragedy," "A Cry for Help") or touching our emotions at the deepest of levels ("A More Normal Life," "Dream Crusher," "The Funeral, Alone…"), composer James Horner's Southpaw is a compelling listen for lovers of modern-day soundtracks and contemporary symphonic music. With its mix of traditional orchestral layers and electronica textures (just listen to "Suicidal Rampage"), Southpaw demonstrates Horner's unique ability to bring additional depth in support of diverse film projects. Sadly, following the completion of this soundtrack, Horner died at the age of 61 when the single-engine plane he was piloting crashed into the Los Padres National Forest in Southern California on June 22, 2015. Among Horner's best-known scores were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982), Aliens (1986), Titanic (1995) and Avatar (2009). Information:
Purchase 'Southpaw (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)' here

Artist: The Pinder Brothers
Title: Melancholy Sea (Inner World Music)
You might like if you enjoy: The Fray, Ben Folds 5, America
Tell me more: Although The Pinder Brothers' wonderful 11-song Melancholy Sea was released in winter, the duo's bright melodic rock sound is ideally suited to summer. From the wistful "Same Mistake" (whose sound spans folk rock to psychedelia along its run) to the longing "Driving You Home," brothers Michael Lee Pinder and Matt Pinder have an innate instinct how to meld infectious melodies with heartfelt song craft. The lyrics, straightforward and earnest, are delivered amidst nice harmonies and creative arrangements. Information:
Get 'Melancholy Sea' here

Artist: Blinddog Smokin'
Title: High Steppin' (Silver Talon Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Billy Branch, Bobby Rush, Boxing Gandhis
Tell me more: Although high-powered funk collective Blinddog Smokin' earned a well-deserved Grammy nomination for 2014's Decisions (a collaboration with legendary soul-blues singer Bobby Rush), the seven-member troupe is still deserving of plenty more attention. The newly-released High Steppin' disc might just be the ticket. The nine-track LP is an inviting addition to the group's strong discography. The range of material is wide, with the songs all hitting the mark. Highlights include the infectious funk blast "Pimp Shoes," heavy Chicago blues song "Tell 'Em Shuffle" (featuring some incredible blues harmonica work from Carl Gustafson), New Orleans-styled "Don't Put No Money On Me," and the emotive "If I Died Today." Information:
Get' High Steppin' ' today

Artists: B.B. King & Eric Clapton
Title: Riding With The King (Audio Fidelity)
You might like if you enjoy: Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Robert Johnson
Tell me more: Originally released in June 2000, Riding With The King was the first and ultimately only  full-length studio collaboration teaming blues greats B.B. King and Eric Clapton. With Riley B. King's death in May 2015, the sterling reissue of the dozen-track collection via Marshall Blonstein's Audio Fidelity label as a limited edition Hybrid SACD (that plays on all SACD and CD players) is worth discovering again (or for the first time). The set originally earned the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, and time has only amplified the strength of the material and performances captured on the disc. Among the gems on the album are a rollicking cover of John Hiatt's "Riding With The King" featuring King and Clapton sharing lead and harmony vocals, King's original blues ballad "Ten Long Years," the buoyant rockabilly-styled "Days of Old" and the heartfelt "Marry You." Information:
Purchase Riding With The King directly via the Audio Fidelity Web site here

Artist: Lindi Ortega
Title: Faded Gloryville (Last Gang Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Nikki Lane, Whitney Rose, Emmylou Harris
Tell me more: When Lindi Ortega sings the title track on her most recent album Faded Gloryville, the songstress is recounting her own path while also singing for the countless other great artists who have created an amazing body of work while working mostly under the radar. A singer and songwriter of incredible depth, the Canadian native now based in Nashville had released a trio of albums before Faded Gloryville that earned uniformly-strong critical acclaim but failed to bring her much-deserved commercial success. Faded Gloryville continues to cast a bright light on the talented Ortega; the Juno Award winner has a voice capable of mining the deepest of emotions as evidenced by the confessional "Ashes," tender "Someday Soon" and a remarkable version of the Bee Gees' 1967 hit "To Love Somebody." Fusing rockabilly, alt country, folk and Americana into an original soundscape is the final masterstroke in Ortega's winning approach on the wonderful Faded Gloryville. Information:
Purchase 'Faded Gloryville' here

Artist: Whitney Rose
Title: Heartbreaker of the Year (Cameron House Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Kacey Musgraves
Tell me more: Produced by celebrated Mavericks frontman Raul Malo, singer-songwriter Whitney Rose's sophomore album Heartbreaker of the Year (available on Aug. 21, 2015) is a beautiful collection that straddles the worlds of neo-traditional country and classic girl group-styled '60s pop. There are gorgeous authentic country ballads ("The Last Party," "Lasso"), spirited pop-rock ("Little Piece Of You," "Only Just A Dream"), tunes that blend both styles ("My First Rodeo," "Ain't It Wise"), a touch of country blues ("The Devil Borrowed My Boots") and a captivating cover of the Ronnettes"Be My Baby" featuring Rose trading vocals with Ralo's tenor - all delivered with a contemporary energy that both celebrates and defies the wealth of retro influences that add luster to the rich collection. Information:

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