Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Genre Leaders Return via Outstanding Titles

A trio of new albums and a music documentary newly out on DVD and Blu-ray are all essential for rock fans.

Artist: A Flock of Seagulls (with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra)
Title: Ascension (August Day Records)
You might like if you enjoy: A Flock of Seagulls, The Cars
Tell me more: It's wonderful to hear all four original members of A Flock of Seagulls back together on Ascension, an album that finds the groundbreaking English quartet joining forces with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to offer up creative reworkings of many of the band's most-loved '80s hits. Brothers Mike Score (lead vocals, keyboards) and Ali Score (drums), Frank Maudsley (bass guitar) and Paul Reynolds (guitar) carved out a groundbreaking synth-pop sound during the early 1980s and released a slew of infectious songs (including three top 40 singles) that explored the synthesis of love, technology and science fiction during the dawn of the personal computer. It's no wonder the band was selected to perform at Apple co-founder Gary "Woz" Wozniak's US Festival in May 1983 (the event held at Glen Helen Regional Park in 1982 and again in 1983 is widely recognized as the predecessor of Coachella). Ascension is A Flock of Seagulls' sixth studio album, and the first since 1984 (the wonderful The Story of a Young Heartthat features all four original members. Among the early tracks that most benefit from the new symphonic arrangements are the pulsating "Modern Love Is Automatic," buoyant "Telecommunication," lush "Space Age Love Song" and intoxicating "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)." Later-disc standouts include the edgy "Nightmares" (which fully utilizes the fusion of band and orchestra), the driving instrumental "DNA" and sublime "The More You Live." Information: aflockofseagulls.org.

Artist: Gin Blossoms
Title: Mixed Reality (Cleopatra Records)
You might like if you enjoy: The Gin Blossoms, Matthew Sweet
Tell me more: Formed in Tempe, Arizona in 1987, the Gin Blossoms created a melodically-rich style of modern rock; the band's 1992 breakout disc New Miserable Experience resonated like few alt rock albums that decade and spawned four Top 40 singles (including "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You). Fast forward to 2018 and the talented troupe has returned with Mixed Reality, the Blossoms' first new studio album since 2010's No Chocolate Cake. The great news for Gin Blossoms fans is the group's timeless sound and strength as songwriters endures across Mixed Reality. Those looking to be swept up in the band's driving rhythms, shimmering guitars (courtesy of Jesse Valenzuela and Scott "Scotty" Johnson) and Robin Wilson's signature lead vocals will find all those outstanding elements on full display across the ambitious 15-track Mixed Reality. The highlights abound on the LP, with the harmonies-rich "Break," exhilarating,"Face the Dark," wistful alt-country ballad "Girl on the Side" and guitar-fueled jangle pop standout "Still Some Room in Heaven" among this writer's early favorites on the disc. The stellar track list continues with the lovely "Wonder," freewheeling garage rocker "Shadow" and melodic "Mega Pawn King" among the later treasures. Working with legendary producer Don Dixon (The Smithereens, Tommy Keene) and noted engineer Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Game Theory), Mixed Reality is a stellar return for one of power pop's most beloved modern-day heroes. Information: Information: ginblossoms.net.

Artist: Dave Matthews Band
Title: Come Tomorrow (RCA)
You might like if you enjoy: Dave Matthews Band
Tell me more: Despite years of success as a touring collective and a string of celebrated album releases, the Dave Matthews Band remains unique. Blending jam rock, roots, blues, jazz and a genre-defying eclecticism, DMB's timeless approach continues to radiate brightly on the newly-released Come Tomorrow, which is the troupe's first new studio album since 2012's "Away from the World." Take the lead-off track "Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)," with its mix of anthemic celebration and melancholy somehow locked in perfect unison. The affecting "Can't Stop" wins with its heavy use of percussion, sublime layers of vocal harmonies and a sonic cacophony throughout the song's latter half. "Here On Out" finds Matthews treating listeners to an almost-Baroque Pop treatment worthy of Burt Bacharach or Ron Sexsmith's most intimate material. "Come On Come On" is a beautiful expression of the power of love, and the song's soundscape captures that with power and sonic tone. The sonically diverse title track "Come Tomorrow" is propelled by both rhythm and symphonic swings; the closing track "When I'm Weary" features Matthews' most intimate singing voice, at times going into a falsetto and packing an emotional wallop in its brief two-minute span. My favorite track is "Virginia In the Rain," an expansive and beguiling song whose sway grows with each subsequent listen. The DMB will headline at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 10, 2018. Information: DaveMatthewsBand.com.

Artist: Jeff Beck
Title: Still On The Run  The Jeff Beck Story (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
You might like if you enjoy: Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour
Tell me more: Jeff Beck has long been recognized as one of the most talented and innovative electric guitar players on the planet. On the aptly-titled documentary Still On The Run  The Jeff Beck Story, a parade of musical greats help tell the story of the Surrey, England native. Over the course of the 90-minute documentary, old photographs and historic film and video clips showcase his development as an artist, and interviews with band mates, album producers and industry insiders help tell the story of the enigmatic artist. Highlights of the fast-moving and fascinating documentary include details on Beck's friendship with Jimi Page (the two met in their early teens and were bandmates in the Yardbirds), his success with several different incarnations of the Jeff Beck Group and his solo masterworks (including Blow By Blow and Wired). The scenes of Beck building and restoring hot rods add depth and seem to provide a comfortable setting for the admittedly-reserved Beck to open up on camera. Among the many great artists who help tell Beck's story are Eric Clapton, Slash, David Gilmour, Joe Perry, Jan Hammer, Beth Hart, Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. A bonus feature on the DVD is the performance of five previously-unreleased tracks from Beck's performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Information: eagle-rock.com.

Robert Kinsler

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