Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, May
2018, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for May, 2018. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore, After Caroline (Northern Spy) The bass clarinet is a fine instrument, but it is too seldom played. Thankfully, Chicagoan Stein excels on this difficult horn in a variety of contexts; along with a fine mess of co-leader/ sideman sessions, there is his astounding 2009 solo set for Leo, plus two killer quartet albums for Delmark. Locksmith Isidore is his trio (prior releases on Not Two and Clean Feed), which features bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Mike Pride (both heavyweights). While consonant with the avant-garde, the group is versatile, opening with a complex yet almost funky rhythmic platform beneath Stein’s at times quite tenor sax-like improvising. Along the way, there’s some free-bop, a nice hunk of balls to the wall group heave, and even a ballad. A

Sarah Louise, Deeper Woods (Thrill Jockey) As half of House and Land and additionally solo, guitarist Sarah Louise is noted for skillfully bringing Appalachian tradition into the here and now, and with nary a cobweb as part of the equation. Her playing on this tidy, powerful LP is unsurprisingly superb, but it’s only part of what makes the whole so special. While her singing voice was heard on House and Land’s album from last year, it makes a much deeper impression across this batch of songs, and if accurately pegged as folky (not folksy), Deeper Woods is decidedly psychedelic/ experimental and unrestrained by form; for one track, the guitar drops out in favor of keyboards and synth. In terms of heft and ambition, this set is comparable to the work of her labelmate Haley Fohr, and that’s a fabulous development. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, The Complete Capitol Singles: 1967–1970 (Omnivore) This label’s prior Owens singles comp covered ’57-’66, and it established a difficult standard to equal (forget about topping). That this 2CD follow-up covers only four years rather than almost a decade is indicative of massive success, and if it’s not as consistently top-flight as what came before, that’s not due to Owens riding a stylistic horse until it collapsed from exhaustion. However, the branching out, if not always successful, doesn’t outright flounder, and that’s impressive. This’s mainly because he strove to revitalize rather than shapeshift. Even when briefly visiting a jangle-pop/ fuzz guitar zone (“Who’s Going to Mow Your Grass”), this is still recognizably Owens. And so, a sure bet. A-

V/A, ¡Desafinado! Spanish Bossa Nova (1963-1975) (Adarce) Bossa Nova is sometimes derided, mostly by unshaven grumps, as a fad that inspired an early ’60s stampede of vocalists and players toward studios with the desire to cash in before interest waned, but that’s a somewhat US-centric viewpoint of the phenomenon. This set illustrates that bossa nova’s impact was not only global but persistent for years (lingering around even in the States, mostly commonly in mainstream jazz), and this collection of Spanish records (taken from the Belter, Discophon and Olympo labels) offers a diverse sampling (from inside formal confines, natch). Some of this, both vocally and instrumentally, drifts into an almost Esquivel-like zone, which is cool with me. Not all is equally spiff, but that’s the way with comps. B+

Stephen Bishop, Red Cab to Manhattan (Blixa Sounds) To yacht or not to yacht? My answer to that question is almost always the latter. For some, yacht rock (and the like) remains a joke, but a few plays of 1980’s Red Cab underline Bishop undertaking serious biz; his writing chops are plain to see, in fact spotlighted in the handful of likeable bonus demos, and if this CD reissue is mostly not in my bag instrumentally, much of it carries forth the spirit (if not the sound) of late ’70s Steely Dan. But “Little Moon,” with its non-syrupy strings and Beach Boys touches (plus guests Clapton and Phil Collins), is alright by me. The brief “Sex Kittens Go to College” illuminates Bishop’s oddball side. For those lamenting the lack of wax, there are 100+ vinyl copies for sale on Discogs right now, so have at it. B-

Jean-Michel Blais, Dans ma main (Arts and Crafts) This is French-Canadian pianist Blais’ second full-length after an EP collab with his electronic producer countryman CFCF last year. Though Blais goes it alone here, an attention to synthetic elements remains, and it helps considerably in placing this effort into the worthwhile column. Blais’ playing is aptly described as post-classical, but where a number of his contemporaries dabble in atmospheres that can be tagged as Inspirational or New Ageist, the tone here is occasionally (a little more than that, actually) reminiscent of the Light Classical days of yore. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I greatly prefer it when the sound cozies up to Satie and Minimalism in general. The electronic textures are well-integrated and occasionally surprising. B+

Bombay Rickey, Electric Bhairavi (Cowboys & Indians) Combining neo-’60s surf-spy-noir-spaghetti western-Bollywood soundtrack moves with a little psych-rock (nothing too bent, however) and most distinctively, operatic vocals, the five-piece Bombay Rickey offer a strain of eclectic party music that’s mighty appealing. Members have played with John Zorn and Anthony Braxton, and the serious chops on display are crucial to success, as they move between styles with grace. When a few of these diverse elements get mingled (and never once did I find myself uttering “why?”), there’s no evidence of Frankenstein stitching. Speaking of Zorn, the slam-cut form action of “Frantic” is a tad reminiscent of Naked City (though nowhere near as disruptive). Kamala Sankaram’s vocals are a treat throughout. A-

Grouper, Grid of Points (Kranky) Liz Harris is Grouper, and since the mid-’00s, she’s amassed quite a discography. Making her mark with ’08’s Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill, she’s been regularly categorized as ethereal pop, but methinks that’s a shortchanging, as it overlooks her ambient and experimental tendencies. Those familiar with Dragging and nothing else will likely be expecting guitar, but the instrument is absent on Grid of Points; instead, the focus is on piano and voice (and at the end of closing track “Breathing,” a field recording of a train). Fans of ’14’s Ruins will recognize this as an extension, but the seven pieces, recorded quickly (a burst of creativity shortened by a high fever) and totaling just shy of 22 minutes, are strikingly intimate, with the mood enhanced by brevity. A-

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994 (Bizarre) This 2CD offers up Black Music for White People, Stone Crazy, and Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On, all cut for Bizarre (seemingly descended from Zappa’s Warner/ Reprise subsidiary). A fitting relationship, but by this late date somewhat schticky, though there are stabs at contempo relevance, e.g. a (not horrible) “dance” version of his signature tune (with guest rapping), songs about Sherilyn Fenn (and Amy Fisher), plus covers of Tom Waits. The backing alternates between adequate and too smooth/ gussied-up, and the overall thrust combines treatments of chestnuts (some straight, others twisted) and Jay’s still potent thing. An edited comp would’ve been way preferable, but a fair amount of fun is to be had here. B

Fred Hersch Trio, Live in Europe (Palmetto) Amongst other characteristics, the classic piano trio setting can flirt with innocuousness, and part of the appeal lies in hearing the great threesomes transcend the safety zone. This delightful CD of a Brussels performance by Hersch’s long-running group (dated last November) wastes no time in establishing seriousness of intent, though as is regularly the case with piano trios, there is an accessible nature, a lyrical side, and love of tradition. However, in this case, rather than Gershwin or Rodgers and Hart or the like, the touchstone compositions are by Monk and Wayne Shorter; they bookend a rack of strong originals, including terrific consecutive tributes to Sonny Rollins and Tom Piazza. Bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson shine throughout. A

Enter to win a pair of tickets to catch the Trashcan Sinatras in any city on their “One Night, Two Albums” North American tour here!

Samara Lubelski, Flickers at the Station (Drawing Room) As of late, the Drawing Room label has been dishing a series of cool ’90s-era reissues, but this one shows they simultaneously have at least one finger on the current pulse of worthiness. Not that Lubelski has just arrived on the scene, as her first solo recording In the Valley dates from ’97. She’s produced a bunch since, and along with playing in Tower Recordings, Hall of Fame, and Chelsea Light Moving (for just a sampling), she’s a notable contributor, having guested on records by Thurston Moore (Trees Outside the Academy and Demolished Thoughts), The Fiery Furnaces, etc. Her latest continues to fruitfully explore airy pop-psych, territory that’s aided by her pretty but not precious singing. A minor gem wrapped up with swell closer “Measure of Decline.” A-

OST, Alias Grace (Earth Recordings) Along with jointly recording in the Celtic style, siblings Mychael and Jeff Danna have, individually and together, chalked up a slew of soundtrack credits, from animation (The Good Dinosaur, Storks) to auteur works (The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus). They’ve also scored for television, with the 28 pieces included on this 2LP set accompanying the mini-series adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s historical fiction. How the music interacts with the images and story I cannot say, though even without watching, the decision to utilize a chamber group does much to evoke a 19th century setting. Furthermore, the darkness and tension nicely suggest the story’s act of murder. But if chamber-based, numerous deftly integrated modern scoring touches emerge. Solid all-around. A-

Les Saules Pleureurs, “Are You Loathsome Tonight?” b/w “Weeping Willow” (Wonderfulsound) I’ve made no secret of my belief that a high percentage of the current Americana field suffers from being too well-mannered. It’s like no matter how loud you turn up the knob it still feels like they’re trying to not wake up the baby. Thankfully, that’s not a problem here, though Robert Paul (vocals/ guitar) and Sophie Loyer (violin) aren’t striving to boot stomp the barn down, instead going for an achy-melancholy angle that’s deepened by the heavy bow and guest lap steel of Sam Soper. Hank Sr. and Gram are cited as inspiration, but I feel this one’s a good fit for fans of Oberst and Oldham. Of which I am one. There are apparently just a handful of lathe-cut vinyl copies available, so procrastination isn’t a smart move. B+

Soft Kill, Savior (Profound Lore) Based in Portland, OR and extant since roughly the turn of the decade, Soft Kill fall securely into the dark and gloomy side of the post-punk category, but with an emphasis on guitar texture and a sturdy rhythmic base that makes this, their fifth full-length, a welcome if not startling listen. Along the way they and others have cited a wide array of influences from inside the post-punk realm, but to my ear it’s really Killing Joke, The Cure, Magazine, The Sound, Joy Div, and The Chameleons (Mark Burgess guested on their last album Choke) that resonate most strongly in their material. Yeah, that’s a lot of names, but Soft Kill doesn’t lack focus. And while the tone of Toby Grave’s vocals surely fit the bill, he’s not mimicking, and the band’s travels on a well-trod road aren’t labored. B+

Vive la Void, S/T (Sacred Bones) Sanae Yamada is the co-founder and keyboardist in Moon Duo, and for the last couple years she’s been intermittently working on this solo effort. If you dig what she brings to her main outfit, smart money says you’ll probably enjoy this, too. But I’m not suggesting that Yamada isn’t doing her own thing here. The chilly retro-futurist (and somewhat Motorik) opener “Matter” provides an immediate flavor of distinctiveness, and there is depth to the piece that’s clearly the byproduct of time spent. Musically, “Red Rider” offers a vibe resembling non-cheese ’80s synth soundtracks, but the singing productively undercuts the tendency. Bookended by instrumentals, the rest features vocals. A few (like the dancy “Death Money”) sport vocals but are largely instrumental. B+

Wussy, What Heaven is Like (Damnably) If the name Chuck Cleaver brings visions of Cincinnati’s Ass Ponys to mind, then right on. But that was all a long time ago. Since 2001, he and fellow guitarist-vocalist Lisa Walker have fronted Wussy (also based in Cinci), each writing songs, with backing by bassist Mark Messerly, drummer Joe Klug, and pedal steel man John Erhardt. The byproduct has been bunches of gigs and a handful of albums that show no sign of creative fatigue. Not this one, either. Their rootsy-indie guy-gal tradeoff-blend can still occasionally remind me of X or Eleventh Dream Day (neither a prob), though they’ve been non-beholden to precedent for quite a while now. Walker’s “Gloria” is sharp, and the rest goes down sans hitch, including nifty covers of The Twinkeys and Kath Bloom. A-

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