CD reviews: Bird is the word
‘Born Under a Bad Sign'
Albert King (Stax)
Two years ago, the folks at Stax introduced the music of blues legend Albert King to a new generation with the release of “The Definitive Albert King on Stax” two-disc set. They expand on that with this remarkable reissue of King's game-changing 1967 release “Born Under a Bad Sign.” The remastered versions of songs like the title track, “Kansas City,” “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “I Almost Lost My Mind,” “Laundromat Blues” and “The Very Thought of You” make this a worthy investment, but when you add in five previously unreleased bonus tracks, it's pretty much a no-brainer. Among the new tunes, King, who died in 1992 at the age of 69, shines brightest on alternate takes of “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Crosscut Saw” and “Personal Manager.” Highly recommended.
‘Memories & Birds'
Kenny Roby (Little Criminal)
North Carolina singer/songwriter Kenny Roby was a founding member of gone-too-soon alt-country outfit 6 String Drag in the late 1990s before going on to make solo records. We've heard nothing from Roby since 2006's “The Mercy Filter,” but he's back with a vengeance on “Memories & Birds.” True to his Southern heritage, Roby has injected the eight-track release with stark imagery of writers like William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy. The title track launches the set and is the clear-cut highlight, though Roby also scores with eerie gem “The Monster,” “Colorado,” “Tired of Being in Love” and “Me and the Monkey.” Hopefully we won't have to wait seven more years for his next album.
Depeche Mode (Columbia)
Has it really been 32 years since British synth-pop outfit Depeche Mode dropped their “Speak & Spell” debut? After peaking in popularity in the late 1980s and early '90s, the Dave Gahan-fronted trio has continued to churn out quality albums every few years. Latest effort “Delta Machine,” while not on par with Depeche Mode classics “Some Great Reward,” “Violator” and “Songs of Faith and Devotion,” is a worthy addition to their discography. There's no mistaking the Depeche Mode sound, and they deliver a series of keepers in “Angel,” “Heaven,” “Slow,” “Broken” and personal favorite “Should Be Higher.” At 58 minutes, the 13-track release overstays its welcome by about a third, but fans won't be disappointed.
‘The Big Other'
Fiction (Moshi Moshi/Cooperative)
While it's pure coincidence that I'm reviewing Fiction's debut album the same week as spinning Depeche Mode's latest, there's a connection that figures to be evident to even the most casual listener. These London-based newcomers are overtly influenced by the type of '80s electro-pop that Depeche Mode helped make famous, and “The Big Other” is a rock-solid first effort. Opener “Parting Gesture” sets the tone, and Fiction also score with “Museum,” “Big Things,” “See Me Walk” and “Vertigo in Bed.” Stellar closer “The Apple” reminds of another favorite band, Vampire Weekend, with its worldly rhythms and vocals. Good stuff.
‘Having a Beard Is the New Not Having a Beard'
The Beards (self-released)
Beards are all the rage these days — just ask the guys on “Duck Dynasty” — so I guess it makes sense that hirsute Aussie rockers the Beards have crafted an album that deals exclusively with facial hair. Despite the gimmick, there's something fun (and funny) about the Beards and their “Having a Beard Is the New Not Having a Beard” full-length. The 12-track release includes song titles like “I'm in the Mood ... for Beards,” “This Beard Stays,” “You Should Consider Having Sex With a Bearded Man,” “The Beard Accessory Store,” “Why Having a Beard Is Better Than Having a Woman” and, well, you get the point. Why, it's enough to make me consider tossing out my razor and letting the whiskers grow.
Pearl Necklace (Smalltown Supersound)
To be honest, I didn't expect to enjoy Pearl Necklace's “Soft Opening” debut. The Brooklyn electronic duo has generated some good word of mouth, but it takes something special to make me tolerate — much less enjoy — the genre. Yet pals Bryce Hackford and Frank Lyon put a twist on the formula and inject some added life with their playful use of samples on this mostly instrumental gathering of 10 tunes. Standouts include “Another Invocation of the Breath,” “Did You Feel It?”, “Leak” and “Pearlfriend.”
‘The Walking Dead: Original Soundtrack, Vol. 1'
Various Artists (Republic)
“The Walking Dead” recently wrapped up its third season and the zombie-themed show continues to set ratings records and frustrate even its most ardent fans. Its first soundtrack album, like “The Walking Dead” itself, is a bit inconsistent. An “Uncle Remix” of composer Bear McCreary's chilling theme song is the only orchestral piece on the eight-track, 29-minute release, which is surprising since music plays such a big part in creating atmosphere on the show. That said, there are awesome tunes on “Vol. 1” — Jamie N. Commons' “Lead Me Home,” Voxhaul Broadcast's sublime “You Are the Wilderness,” Of Monsters and Men's “Sinking Man” and Delta Spirit's “Running” — and cast members Lauren Cohan and Emily Kinney deliver a lovely rendition of “The Parting Glass.” Fans will be pleased, but I can't help but think “Vol. 1” could have been better.
Ron Sexsmith (Cooking Vinyl)
I've been a big fan of Canadian crooner Ron Sexsmith for the better part of a decade and the talented singer/songwriter turns in another terrific album in “Forever Endeavor,” his 12th full-length in 22 years. One of my favorite albums in his catalog was 2011's “Long Player Late Bloomer,” and this 14-track platter is almost as good. From the opening notes of “Nowhere to Go” clear through to the final strains of “Autumn Light,” Sexsmith misses nary a note. Keepers include “Snake Road,” “Blind Eye,” “Sneak Out the Back Door,” “Me Myself and Wine” and “The Morning Light.” Sexsmith is an under-the-radar gem.