Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Classic Sounds and Stellar Songcraft Inspire the Art of Listening

Pioneering artists from a variety of genres including blues, rock, Americana and hard rock are celebrated via outstanding new releases.

Artist: Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa
Title: Black Coffee (Mascot Label Group)
You might like if you enjoy: Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart
Tell me more: When singer Beth Hart and guitarist Joe Bonamassa join forces it is best to listen up. The 2011 release Don't Explain was a rousing introduction to the musical chemistry between the two artists. The duo's 2013 Grammy-nominated collaboration Seesaw was one of the most exciting blues releases of the year and hit #1 on the Billboard Blues Top Albums chart. On the duo's latest highly-anticipated outing Black Coffee, the pair unleash 10 high-octane tracks across 44 minutes honoring the likes of Ray Charles, Edgar Winter, Ella Fitzgerald, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James and Lucinda Williams even as the two talented artists push modern blues music forward by reworking the classics. Producer Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Rush, Black Crowes) has helped craft an album where both artists shine brightly even while also ensuring their talents fortify the sound across the album; take the inviting power ballad "Damn Your Eyes" that features Hart's powerful soprano as the song's brilliant centerpiece even while Bonamassa's astounding guitar work magnifies the song's sway. The Southern swagger of the title track brings gospel stylings and sublime slide guitar work courtesy of Bonamassa into the brew. The torch song "Lullaby of the Leaves,"  horn section-adorned 1940s-styled "Why Don't You Do It Right," and playful "Joy" (the latter featuring some stellar guitar work from Bonamassa) are other standouts on a terrific LP. Information: HartAndBonamassa.com.

Artist: Chris Hillman
Title: The Asylum Years (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: The Eagles, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Desert Rose Band
Tell me more: For those who discovered (or rediscovered!) singer-songwriter Chris Hillman via his Tom Petty-produced Bidin' My Time masterwork in 2017, the release of The Asylum Years offers the chance to discover the earliest solo recordings from Hillman (who was founding bassist of the Byrds and then co-founded The Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons) that were released via two studio albums in 1976 and 1977. The breezy "Slippin' Away," lush "Falling Again," rocking "Take It On the Run" and exquisite "Love Is the Sweetest Amnesty" are early standouts on The Asylum Years. There is much to recommend on the last part of the collection: "(Take Me In Your) Lifeboat" is an explosive bluegrass blaster showcasing Hillman's virtuoso skills on mandolin and Herb Pedersen's banjo playing as well as some marvelous vocal harmonies; the lovely "Fallen Favorite" and "Hot Dusty Roads" recall the commercial country rock of The Eagles. The wonderful booklet that accompanies the audio CD includes a recent essay from Scott Schinder featuring a new interview with Hillman. The 20-track collection ultimately serves as a showcase and perfect introduction of Hillman's winning vocals and inspired strength in crafting material that blends country, rock, folk and Americana together. Information: www.OmnivoreRecordings.com.

Artist: Fu Manchu
Title: Clone of the Universe (At the Dojo)
You might like if you enjoy: Queens Of The Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, Black Sabbath
Tell me more: The 12th studio album from retro-leaning stoner hard rockers Fu Manchu titled Clone of the Universe is a glorious affair filled with heavy riffs, loads of distortion and dynamic time shifts, and even a guest appearance from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson. While the band's sound is a throwback to the 1970s, there is a contemporary power that has been a constant in the Southern California spawned rockers' recordings stretching back to the early 1990s. "(I've Been) Hexed)" features a head-banging groove and layered lead guitar textures; the heavy "Nowhere Left to Hide" fuses heavy vocals and thundering drums. The 2 minute 4 second sprint "No Panic" has the feel of a punk rocker, but the heavy layers of guitar and thundering rhythm section clearly showcase the sound of the so-called "fuzz rock" pioneers in all their glory. The high point of the disc is "Il Mostro Atomico," an 18 minute 8 second opus that is divided into four distinct sections and marks the quartet's most ambitious piece to date. Information: www.fu-manchu.com.

Artist: The Choir
Title: Artifact: The Unreleased Album (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: The Beatles, The Zombies, the Raspberries
Tell me more: The 10 tracks featured on the Choir's aptly-titled Artifact: The Unreleased Album were recorded back in 1969 and each bristle with a timeless energy and creative approach that will never be dated. Things begin with the stirring British Invasion-spirited "Anyway I Can" and quickly extend with sonic seams that include psychedelic (especially "Ladybug" and the instrumental "For Eric"), as well as art-, folk- and melodic- rock styles. The rollicking "If These Are Men," the lovely baroque-styled "Have I No Love to Offer," the majestic "It's All Over" and vertiginous "Boris' Lament" could have all been radio hits at the time. The Choir was among the leading artists in Cleveland during the 1960s, and several of the musicians in the quintet would soon go on to help form the Raspberries. How wonderful it is that Artifact: The Unreleased Album has found new life almost 50 years after its creation. Information: www.OmnivoreRecordings.com.

Robert Kinsler

No comments: