Tuesday, June 01, 2021

New Music Roundup: Billy F Gibbons, Del Amitri, Moby, Mark Rubin: Jew of Oklahoma, Dolph Chaney

Five new highly-recommended releases are featured in my column this week.

Billy F Gibbons
Title: Hardware (Concord Records)
You might like if you enjoy: ZZ Top, Billy F Gibbons
Tell me more: As lead vocalist and guitarist of Texas-spawned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame trio ZZ Top, Billy F Gibbons has enjoyed critical and commercial acclaim dating back to the band's 1970 debut for his work as a groundbreaking rock musician; what's more he won praise for his acting in seven episodes on the hit show "Bones," and is now enjoying a full-fledged third act with his solo recordings. On his third full-length solo album Hardware (set for release on June 4), the Texas icon shows no signs of slowing down and it's obvious he's having a blast. With his signature raspy vocals and distinctive guitar work he champions Southern blues rock via a dozen tracks recorded in the California high desert in summer 2020. Accompanied by drummer Matt Sorum and guitarist Austin Hanks, there is an energetic flow and strength across the fast-moving album. The deep blues rock opener "My Lucky Card" gets things started in a big way, Gibbons exploring a deep groove that builds as it zips along. On the speedy blues rocker "She's on Fire," Gibbons' fret work is particularly flashy even as it comes in service of the song's natural arc. The catchy "West Coast Junkie" evokes all kinds of retro atmosphere, all bolstered by Gibbons' smart vocal banter and brisk guitar play. The Calhoun, Georgia-spawned duo Larkin Poe (sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell) join in on the boogie rocker "Stacking' Bones," adding some killer harmonies and instrumental muscle to the track. A cover of the tuneful "Hey Baby, Que Paso" in enhanced by some blasting harmonica. The album's final cut is pure psychedelic blues; "Desert High" finds Gibbons using his spoken word delivery and nuanced fret work to delve into desert lore spanning the ghosts of Jim Morrison and Gram Parsons to the Salton Sea and critters who call it home. Information: BillyGibbons.com.

Del Amitri
Title: Fatal Mistakes (Cooking Vinyl)
You might like if you enjoy: Fountains of Wayne, Gin Blossoms, Crowded House
Tell me more: Del Amitri has just released Fatal Mistakes, the Scottish quintet's first new full-length album since 2002 (Can You Do Me Good?). To say this writer loves Fatal Mistakes is an understatement; the band's blend of power pop tunefulness and lyrical melancholy is fully on display across the 13-track masterwork. On the surface, the shimmering opener "You Can't Go Back" might well be about a couple determined to rekindle the romance of their youth, but the song's concealed power hints at life itself and how each moment is worth celebrating no matter the cost. Mortality, love and time are explored with artful candor by singer-songwriter/bassist Justin Currie, lead guitarist-songwriter Iain Wallace Harvie, drummer Ash Soan, guitarist-songwriter Kris Dollimore and keyboardist Andy Alston. The mood-swept "All Hail Blind Love," luxurious "Close Your Eyes and Think Of England," melodic rocker "Losing The Will To Die," stirring "Otherwise" and reflective "Second Staircase" are among the ear candy tracks that bewitch with a single listen. The Americana-flavored "Mockingbird, Copy Me Now" and "Missing Person" are among the other nuggets on a fantastic album. Information: DelAmitri.Info.

Title: Reprise (Deutsche Grammophon)
You might like if you enjoy: Moby, Dead Can Dance, Hans Zimmer
Tell me more: Moby isn't the first artist to revisit a celebrated catalog with orchestral versions; Sting, Peter Gabriel, A Flock of Seagulls, Berlin and America are among well-known artists who have released like-minded projects.  But to be sure, Moby's Reprise really hits the mark. With his own and several guests vocals immersed amidst symphonic arrangements, the power of the songs retain their experimental mystery and weight. "Extreme Ways" is particularly affecting, Moby's baritone rising with the strings in the song's potent finale. The reflective "Almost Home," anthemic "Lift Me Up," lovely "The Last Day," soaring "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?" and otherworldly "We Are All Made of Stars" (the latter with its creative use of piano and a human vocal choir) are among the other highlights on the ambitious set. Also noteworthy on the album is a deeply affecting cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" featuring soprano Mindy Jones and an instrumental version of "God Moving Over the Face Of The Waters" featuring acclaimed Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. Information: Moby.com.

Mark Rubin: Jew of Oklahoma
Title: The Triumph of Assimilation (Rubinchik Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Bad Livers, Bob Dylan, Americana and Jewish music
Tell me more: It's not easy to peg the sonic stew delivered by Mark Rubin: Jew of Oklahoma on the new album The Triumph of Assimilation  a forceful mix of folk, bluegrass, blues and Klezmer (an instrumental musical tradition of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe). Rubin – a native of Oklahoma who was reared in Texas and is now based in New Orleans – uses a blend of humor and forceful truth to share his experience of being Jewish in regions of America where they are few in number. What's more, the hybrid of Americana and European musical styles further seals the approach; the opener "A Day of Revenge" is based on a poem penned by Mordechai Gebirtig (the poet was shot by Germans during the Holocaust in 1942) – Rubin's message in the song is ultimately one of peace and love and how that will ultimately be payback against suffering. Accompanied by his banjo, Rubin continues with "It's Burning," interpreting another Gebirtig poem ("Es Brent") to revisit a 1936 event aimed against the innocent: "There ain't no rain, there ain't no flood / We'll quench these flames with our blood." There are other tracks more hopeful to balance out the album; the bright "Down South Kosher (A Dance of Hunger & Reconciliation)" looks at the challenges of keeping kosher in a location where just about every dish contains pork or shellfish.  The mesmerizing "Yiddish Banjo Suite" is a beguiling solo instrumental work where Rubin displays his command of the instrument; the bluesy rocker "Unnatural Disasters" takes a satiric look at those blindly looking to blame who is behind floods, tornadoes, tsunamis and global warming ("Whatever goes wrong, it's always the Jews" he sings). On the joyful "Good Shabbes," Rubin celebrates the arrival of the Sabbath. Rubin has a powerful and inviting baritone voice, and his approach deals honestly and forcefully with prejudice and hatred in all its ugly forms and hopes for a better tomorrow. The album's power is sadly enhanced by the rising wave of violent antisemitism seen in recent years throughout Europe, and more recently on the streets of big American cities including in California and New York. Information: JewOfOklahoma.com.

Dolph Chaney
Title: This is Dolph Chaney (Big Stir Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Matthew Sweet, Jason Falkner, The Armoires
Tell me more: Loaded with 13 indispensable originals, Dolph Chaney's aptly-titled This is Dolph Chaney boasts enough song craft and melodic pay dirt to fill a number of albums. His smart songwriting incorporating multiple genres and solid musical skills (he handles lead vocals along with bass and guitar) are on display across the disc.  Early album standouts abound on the melody-rich Nick Beetling-produced effort courtesy of the driving "I Wanted You," tender acoustic ballad "Beat It," New Wave-tinged "Cuddle Party," crunchy "Now I Am A Man" and experimental "Meaningless." The blissful "Pleasant Under Glass," rollicking "My Good Twin," jazzy "Under the Overpass" and ambitious closer "Graveyard Shift" keep the magic coming in the album's last half. Information: BigStirRecords.com.

Robert Kinsler

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