Friday, April 10, 2009

From Scarub & Very to Some Obscure Canadian Blues Session Man... It's the Rundown

What can I say? I have a wide variety of tastes when it comes to music...

A series of brief reviews of some shit I've been listening to lately, for better or ill (click on the artist's name for a full review; click on the title to hear samples or buy the album):

Scarub & Very, The Afro Classics EP - There's actually some debate as to whether the actual title for this is The Classic EP (on the cover) or The Afro Classics EP (on the album ON the cover). Regardless, they sample the drum break and bubbling sounds from Steve Miller Band's "Space Cowboy" on the first track, and that shit is HOT. Most of the rest of the EP is, too, save for a couple clunkers toward the end. Definitely worth checking out.

Flo Rida, R.O.O.T.S. - Despite "Right Round" being yet another shining example of why MCs should never, motherfucking EVER, rap over triplets, this is a pretty decent album. While there are a few ganstafied, trap-rap tracks, the glossy production is at its best when the tempo is up and Flo is singing. I would call it a Nelly impression, but it's probably better than most Nelly.

Alice Peacock, Love Remains - It's hard to hate a country album that kicks of with "I'd like to get stoned/Never come home/I'd like to be free/Not do what I should/Do what feels good/With whomever I please." For someone like me, who really can't get into any kind of country from about 1980 on, it's a testament to Peacock that I actually kind of enjoyed this album. It's country without being too modern, plus there's a song about a schizophrenic homeless woman! And it's good!

Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics, Inspiration Information - The Heliocentrics' disgustingly awesome debut, Out There, is one of my favorite jazz-based hip-hop records. Malcolm Catto's neck-snapping drumwork and the future-analog sound of the nine-piece band churned together dark, funky jazz grooves track after track. So I'm definitely digging their collab with African jazz musician Mulatu Astatke. There's plenty to hold your attention: "Blue Nile" is a slow burner, as waves of distorted guitar and droning horns wash back and forth, "Chik Chikka" is a paranoid rhumba, and "Addis Black Widow" is what jungle-techno music might sound like if it was played with all analog instruments. The closer, "Anglo Ethio Suite," is a perfect example of what Inspiration Information is all about: a heady mixture of African scales, hip-hop breakbeat aesthetic and American jazz.

Neil Young, Fork in the Road - Neil Young is the Great Ragged Guitar Player. At first, his riffs sound like some kid practicing in the garage, until you listen a little closer, and you realize that they're always moving forward, and really, when you put 'em together with his yowling, wheeling tenor wail, they sound damn good. So while the only thing about Fork in the Road that's groundbreaking is its subject matter - it's basically about the '59 Lincoln Continental that Young has been converting into a green hybrid, and why we should all be driving these things already - it's still really good. Young is the master of taking a chord progression you've heard a bazillion times before in rock music and putting a rough-edged, fresh-sounding spin on it.

Rocky Marsiano, Outside the Pyramid - The name Rocky Marciano probably only strikes a chord with old-school boxing historians, but there's a much younger Rocky on the block. He spells the surname differently ("Marsiano"), he's from Europe, and using '40s-'50s orchestra and jazz instrumentation as a jumping-off point, he builds an impressive album of quirky, slightly-dark instrumentals that could serve as the backing for any number of rappers.

Kankick, Beautiful: Opus of Love Deeper Than Flesh - I love me some Kankick. He's like Madlib's laid-back cousin, crafting the perfect beats for blacking out on the couch or rolling around at 2 a.m. Beautiful is no different. Piano figures heavy, and some of Kankick's best work throughout the disc's 58 minutes is anchored on lilting, mid-range keywork ("NightTime Beauty," "Serenade the Outdoor Visitors," and what kind of sounds like an electric piano played in reverse on "OX Coming at Ya").

Colin Linden, From the Water - This dude kind of reminds me of Gordon Lightfoot, if he loved the blues instead of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It's not surprising that Linden was involved with the mini-folk revival pioneered by the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack sessions; From the Water actually sounds a little like O Brother with a modern update on the lyrics. There are some neat moves: a little rockabilly echo on Linden's voice gives it an eerie similarity to the title character of "John Lennon in New Orleans," the title track is a upbeat shuffle with some red-hot slidework, and the classic blues porch-stomp of "Devilment" could be Sonny Boy Williamson's little brother.

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