CD reviews: Gates a band on the rise
‘You Are All You Have Left to Fear'
Gates (Pure Noise)
New Jersey rockers Gates showed their musical prowess on 2011's “The Sun Will Rise and Lead Me” EP and took a huge step forward vocally on last year's second EP, “You Are All You Have Left to Fear.” The latter gets a national re-release courtesy of Pure Noise and has been expanded to include a seventh track. The music still takes center stage — most notably on instrumental “To Those Who Fell ...” — but frontman Kevin Dye's improved vocals are evident on keepers “Cast in the Pattern,” “... And to Those Who Carry On,” “The Sound of Letting Go” and bonus track “Skyline.” Gates are a band on the rise.
‘Stars Are Our Home'
Black Hearted Brother (Slumberland)
Black Hearted Brother's Neil Halstead, Mark Van Hoen and Nick Holton aren't new kids on the musical block. Collectively they've served time in Slowdive, Mojave 3, Seefeel, Locust and Holton's Opulent Oog, which probably explains why BHB's “Stars Are Our Home” debut is so polished and assured. It's an experimental album, but not overly so, and the guys deliver the goods on the title track, “Got Your Love,” “UFO” and “My Baby Just Sailed Away.” With 12 tracks unspooling over 62 minutes, “Stars Are Our Home” overstays its welcome. But absorbed in smaller pieces, it's a record worth exploring.
Indie five-piece Calhoun have made a steady climb up the ladder of success since 2006's rock-solid self-titled debut album. The Tim Locke-fronted outfit gained exposure with placement of their music in shows like “Chuck” and “One Tree Hill” and followup albums “Falter Waver Cultivate” and “Heavy Sugar” had them on the cusp of stardom. Exhausted from recording and touring, the guys took a break but continued swapping ideas for new material via email and, before you knew it, had the six-track “Paperweights.” More poppy and synth-reliant than its predecessors, the EP is a nice addition to Calhoun's résumé. “Fatal Flaws,” “Trapped,” “Song on Songs” and the title track are the standout tunes from a band who has redefined itself without abandoning what made them good in the first place.
Frontman Ryan T. Jacobs describes Melville's music as falling somewhere “between Radiohead and Americana.” I'm not sure how accurate that is, but I can tell you the quartet's debut EP is promising. Jacobs dominates the six-track release with his haunting vocals and it's easy to see why Melville are kind of a big deal in their hometown of Portland, Ore. The 26-minute release serves as a nice introduction to the outfit and features keepers in “Pics/Lies,” “Einleitung,” “Forked Tongue” and “Questions.” I'm curious to hear more.
The Mission UK (Slimstyle)
Pioneering goth rockers the Mission UK celebrate 25 years as a band with the sprawling “Silver,” a two-DVD, one-CD set chronicling the band's 2011 performances in London, Cologne and Frankfurt. Original members Wayne Hussey, Craig Adams and Simon Hinkler were joined by drummer Mike Kelly to deliver stirring renditions of the Mission UK's classic songs. It's a testament to the band just how well songs like “Beyond the Pale,” “Hands Across the Ocean,” “Sacrilege,” “Wasteland,” “The Crystal Ocean” and “Like a Child Again” hold up all these years later.
‘Somewhere Between Here and Nowhere'
The Black Hollies (Ernest Jenning)
When New Jersey neo-psychedelia outfit the Black Hollies dropped third album “Softly Toward the Light” four years ago this month, I was convinced their modern spin on the British Invasion sound would make them stars. But that was the last we heard from the Black Hollies until “Somewhere Between Here and Nowhere.” And though the band still sounds terrific, I can't help but think that taking so long between albums was a mistake. I wish they'd better capitalized on their momentum, but they've given us some standout tunes in “Unless It's My Imagination,” “Daydreams,” “Here Comes the Rain” and the three-part “Lunatic Influenza” suite.
‘The Family Tree: The Branches'
Radical Face (Nettwerk)
Ben Cooper, who records under the Radical Face moniker, loves concept albums. His 2007 “Ghost” debut was about houses retaining memories and 2011's “The Family Tree: The Roots” tells the tale of a fictitious American family in the 1800s. That saga continues in “The Family Tree: The Branches,” the second in a planned three-album cycle, another dynamite collection of folk/pop tunes anchored by Cooper's vocals. After a so-so start to the 12-track release with “Gray Skies,” Radical Face hit their stride. Keepers “Holy Branches,” “Reminders,” “Summer Skeletons,” “Chains” and “Southern Snow” have me eager to learn how the story comes to a close. Highly recommended.
The Melismatics (Pravda)
Minneapolis-based rockers the Melismatics have proven, over the course of a decade and four full-length albums, that they are a good band. What they haven't shown yet, however, is reason to believe that they can be a great one. And that's a shame because the Ryan Smith-fronted quartet flirts with greatness on “Rising Tide,” a concept album that follows a man from birth through the ups and downs of his life. It could have devolved into a mess in less capable hands, but the Melismatics come darn close to pulling it off. Songs like “Halo,” “Close 2 the Vest,” “Gravity” and “Night Vision” are terrific and have me hoping that the band figures out a way to take the next step.
You might want to keep an eye out for Big Apple indie outfit Bardot. With the talented Ariel Aparicio, whose 2011 solo release “Aerials” was outstanding, at the helm the four-piece make a nice first impression with this self-titled EP. Had their ill-advised cover of Led Zeppelin's “D'yer Maker” been left on the cutting room floor, I'd be singing Bardot's praises even more. That's because the rest of the EP is really, really good. Dive into keepers like “Sylvia, My Love,” “History of Ferris Wheels,” personal favorite “Satellite” and closer “Little Face” to see what I'm talking about. From here on out boys, let's leave Zeppelin's back catalog alone. Fair enough?
The Proctors (Shelflife)
British indie pop collective the Proctors burst onto the scene in 1995 with their warm, jangly “Pinstripes & Englishmen,” but then pretty much disappeared. Thirteen (!) years later, the Proctors are back with an enjoyable sophomore set in “Everlasting Light.” It's a nice enough gathering of 15 tunes (including two bonus tracks on the CD version of the album) that finds the band in their guitar pop wheelhouse. “Trouble With Forever” is the best song of the bunch (and the ideal album opener), and the Proctors also score with “Perfect World,” “Fall Down With You,” “Dream as I Dream” and “Fun Sunday.” Hopefully we won't have to wait another 13 years for the next one.
‘Sammy Hagar & Friends'
Sammy Hagar (Frontiers)
Even at age 66 (gulp!), rocker Sammy Hagar knows how to have a good time. “Sammy Hagar & Friends” is a better-than-it-should-be party record, with Hagar joined by an impressive roster of his famous pals on the 10-track release. Fellow legend Taj Mahal joins him on sizzling opening track “Winding Down,” Journey's Neal Schon and former Van Halen mate Michael Anthony help him cover Depeche Mode's “Personal Jesus,” Kid Rock shares lead vocals on “Knockdown Dragout,” country crooner Ronnie Dunn brings some twang to “Bad on Fords and Chevrolets,” and we can forgive Toby Keith's turn on a subpar reading of Jimmy Buffett's “Margaritaville.” Party on.
Cold War Kids (Downtown)
It's puzzling to me that Cold War Kids have never hit it big. Their 2006 “Robbers & Cowards” debut is phenomenal, but they didn't quite match those heights on three subsequent long players. New EP “Tuxedos” gives me reason for optimism. The six-track release features two new tunes (“Romance Language #2,” “Pine St.”), two songs from April's “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” full-length (“Tuxedos,” “Bottled Affection”) and stellar covers of both Antony & the Johnsons (“Aeon”) and the Band (“You Don't Come Through”). Good stuff.
‘Shoot the Dog'
The Cloak Ox (Totally Gross National Product)
“Shoot the Dog,” the debut album from Minnesota indie rockers the Cloak Ox, might take a while to grow on you. That's mostly because the lads open the record with nine-minute slow burner “Yesterday's Me,” a tune that reminds me of Girls' awesome “Vomit,” but requires patience from the listener. The Cloak Ox then jump into infectious first single “Josephine” and you'll swear it's a totally different band. The keepers continue with “Don't Listen,” “Hot Hands,” “King Rope” and the set-closing title track.
‘The Ellington Suites'
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra (Concord)
I've become a big fan of Concord's Jazz Classics Remasters series and this gem by legendary bandleader Duke Ellington doesn't disappoint. “The Ellington Suites” combines three of his best compositions — 1959's “The Queen's Suite,” 1971's “The Goutelas Suite” and 1972's “The Uwis Suite” — into a single, must-have album. The remastered version adds previously unreleased track “The Kiss” to “Suite” standouts like “Single Petal of a Rose,” “Something” and “Loco Madi.”
‘Dizzy's Big 4'
Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Ray Brown & Mickey Roker (Concord)
Originally released in 1974, “Dizzy's Big 4” is an undisputed masterpiece. Featuring bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Ray Brown and Mickey Roker, the near-perfect seven-track original is augmented by a pair of bonus cuts on this stellar reissue. Among the highlights are “Hurry Home,” “Be Bop (Dizzy's Fingers),” “Birks' Works” and “Jitterbug Waltz.” Alternate takes of “Russian Lullaby” and “Jitterbug Waltz” are icing on the cake.
Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli (Concord)
Jazz piano wizard Oscar Peterson and violin great Stephane Grappelli joined forces in 1979 for a live performance in Copenhagen, Denmark, and “Skol” chronicles that magical night. This entry in the Jazz Classics Remasters series includes the six original cuts — highlighted by “Nuages,” “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Makin' Whoopee” — plus three previously unreleased tunes from the same performance. Sublime new tunes “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Solitude” and “I Got Rhythm” elevate “Skol” to essential status.
‘Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers'
Zoot Sims (Concord)
Zoot Sims might not be a familiar name to casual listeners, but his legacy is cemented among jazz aficionados. He shows off his mastery of the tenor saxophone on “Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers,” the 1975 album that gets a face lift as part of the Jazz Classics Remasters series. With source material courtesy of George and Ira Gershwin, Sims soars on “The Man I Love,” “I've Got a Crush on You,” “I Got Rhythm,” “‘S Wonderful,” “Summertime” and the previously unreleased “They Can't Take That Away From Me.”
‘The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces, Vol. 1'
Art Tatum (Concord)
In December 1953, Art Tatum ambled into a Hollywood recording studio and when he emerged two days later, he'd recorded 69 masters, nearly all on the first take. He died less than three years later at age 47, but his piano virtuosity lives on. The 16-track reissue “The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces, Vol. 1” combines the original album with “Masterpieces, Vol. 9” and the expanded package is amazing. Keepers abound, most notably “Love for Sale,” “Body and Soul,” “My Last Affair,” “Willow Weep for Me,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “I'm in the Mood for Love” and “Embraceable You.”
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