Review: 'Songs Cycled' marks new phase in Parks' iconic career
Van Dyke Parks (Bella Union)
At age 70, legendary composer/songwriter Van Dyke Parks is embarking on a new phase of his career. The sublime “Songs Cycled” marks his first album of new material since 1989's “Tokyo Rose” and shows Parks to be as vibrant and relevant as ever. Coming 45 years after his near-perfect 1968 debut “Song Cycle,” this 12-track release allows Parks to comment on the financial crisis, terrorism, corporate oil interests and the Iraq war. The songs are poignant, but not preachy, with Parks especially effective on “Dreaming of Paris,” “Black Gold,” “Money Is King,” “Wall Street,” “The All Golden” and “Missin' Mississippi.” It's a pleasure to see one of the all-time greats still going strong.
The Cairo Gang (Empty Cellar)
The Emmett Kelly-fronted Cairo Gang has come a long way since its 2006 self-titled debut, an ambient gathering of tunes that I found to be a little on the boring side. Great strides were made with the band's last two projects (the Bonnie “Prince” Billy collaboration “The Wonder Show of the World” and “The Corner Man”), and latest EP “Tiny Rebels” continues that evolution. There are plenty of swirling 12-string guitars and overdubbed vocals, yet the six-track release never grows stale. The title track gets things off to a great start, and the Cairo Gang also scores with “Take Your Time,” “Shivers” and “Father of the Man.” Good stuff.
‘Back to Soft'
Coke Weed (self-released)
Having been enthralled with the 2012 sophomore set from Coke Weed, I had high hopes when third album “Back to Soft” came across my desk. The title is a little ironic in that this 10-track release is, in fact, a little louder and a lot more electrified than either of Coke Weed's earlier LPs. The new style works, as Nina Donghia's quirky — and occasionally grating — vocals are more effective in a psych-rock setting than a folk-rock one. After a so-so start with “Sunseekers” and the title track, Coke Weed hits its stride with “Desert Sleepers,” personal favorite “Maryanne,” “Blue Flag” and “Buckets.”
‘Love Your Dum and Mad'
Nadine Shah (R&S/Apollo)
Newcomer Nadine Shah has generated plenty of buzz in her native England on the strength of a pair of EPs and the daughter of a Pakistani father and Norwegian mother looks to build on that with the release of full-length debut “Love Your Dum and Mad.” Shah is a solid songwriter, but it's her compelling vocals — most effective on standouts “To Be a Young Man,” “The Devil,” “Floating,” “Used It All” and “Dreary Town” — that set Shah apart. Here's hoping “Love Your Dum and Mad” finds an audience worthy of its 11 songs.
Eric & Magill (Perfect From Now On)
Eric & Magill's latest album, “Night Singers,” didn't come together in the usual way. With Ryan Weber living in Kenya during a Peace Corps stint and pal Eric Osterman residing in Brooklyn, the two put their laptops to good use in creating the 10-track release. Finding a studio to mix the album was the biggest challenge, Weber notes, but the end result is a polished gathering of electro-pop tunes. “What I Say” is the perfect lid-lifter, and Eric & Magill also soar on “Baggage and Clothes,” “Calendars,” “We're the Ghosts” and “Peaks and Valleys.”
Jackson Scott (Fat Possum)
North Carolina singer/songwriter Jackson Scott seems wise beyond his 20 years on eclectic psych/pop debut album “Melbourne.” Incorporating everything from krautrock to surf punk to indie pop into his own sonic stew, Scott has crafted an intriguing — if flawed — 12-track debut. Despite a few too many missteps for my liking, there are moments of sonic brilliance on the record. Songs like “Only Eternal,” “Never Ever,” “Any Way” and “Together Forever” merit multiple listens and show that Scott has laid an impressive musical foundation.
‘Metrics of Affection'
Every so often I am forced to reconsider my initial impression on a particular artist. Such is the case with North Carolina-based indie outfit Bombadil. I recall not liking its 2008 release “A Buzz, a Buzz” very much, but I might have to rethink that stance. Because if it's half as good as latest effort “Metrics of Affection,” then it's a record that needs to be taking up residence on my iPod. This is a near-perfect gathering of 13 chamber folk/pop tunes that I've listened to a dozen times or so in the past week. From languid opener “Angeline” to closer “Thank You,” Bombadil doesn't miss a step. Along the way are keepers “Learning to Let Go,” “Isn't It Funny,” “Boring Country Song,” “When We Are Both Cats,” “What Does It Mean” and “One More Ring.” Can't recommend “Metrics of Affection” highly enough.
Zorch (Sargent House)
As I've noted on many occasions in this space, experimental music really isn't my thing. But Zorch happily proves to be an exception to that rule. The duo's “Zzoorrcchh” full-length debut is filled with a boundless weird energy that makes it far more enjoyable than I expected it to be. Multi-instrumentalists Zac Traeger and Sam Chown strut their stuff on the nine-track release and while some of the music might be too “out there” for some listeners, the bulk of the platter is terrific. Among the highlights here are “My Joy Is Explosion,” “We All Die Young,” “This Is the Way It Goes,” “Inopportune Sailing” and “Cosmic Gloss.” Kneel before Zorch!
Hunx & His Punx (Hardly Art)
Seth Bogart and Shannon Shaw, the guiding creative forces behind garage punk outfit Hunx & His Punx, have been very busy of late. Last year, Bogart (aka Hunx) dropped an excellent solo effort, while Shaw's Shannon and the Clams scored with “Dreams in the Rat House” a couple months ago. “Street Punk” is a solid sophomore outing, though it pales in comparison to their “Too Young to Be in Love” debut. The 12 songs speed by in 20 minutes and there's plenty of anger and attitude throughout. “Bad Skin,” “Born Blonde,” the title track and “It's Not Easy” are the tunes you'll remember.
Sara Hickman (Kirtland)
With more than a dozen albums to her credit, Texas singer/songwriter Sara Hickman has earned the distinction of being one of the “100 Most Influential Independent Artists.” Latest effort “Shine” ranks among her best, with the 50-year-old Hickman in her comfort zone throughout the 10-track gem. “Tasty Sweet” sets the tone, and Hickman finds her groove on keepers “Selfish Freak,” “Human Wish,” “Primitive Stuff,” “Rapture” and the title track. You might not know her by name, but Sara Hickman is one of the greats.
‘The Winery Dogs'
The Winery Dogs (Loud & Proud)
There's no disputing the rock pedigree of the Winery Dogs. With the three members having served time in Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, Mr. Big and Poison, these grizzled veterans aren't new to the scene. Their self-titled Winery Dogs debut reflects that experience and is a polished collection of hard rock tunes. Opener “Elevate” practically leaps out of the speakers and the trio also scores with “Desire,” “I'm No Angel,” “One More Time,” “Damaged,” “Criminal” and “The Dying.” Hard rock fans should get a jolt out of this 13-track, 60-minute slab.
‘That Fiddlin' Man' & ‘Play Buck & Merle'
Don Rich & the Buckaroos (Omnivore)
★★★★ & ★★★★½
Available for the first time on CD thanks to the folks at Omnivore, “That Fiddlin' Man” by Don Rich & the Buckaroos is a must for lovers of classic country. Recorded in 1971, the instrumental gem was culled from 10 tracks Rich recorded on a handful of Buck Owens & the Buckaroos albums. In addition to the album's original tunes — “Orange Blossom Special,” “Louisiana Waltz,” “Down on the Bayou,” “Cajun Fiddle,” “Dublin Waltz” — Omnivore has added a whopping 10 bonus tracks that showcase Rich & the Buckaroos at their very best. Highlights of the bonus cuts include “A Maiden's Prayer,” “The Way That I Love You” and “Fishin' Reel.”
Two of the Buckaroos' most acclaimed albums were 1965's “The Buck Owens Songbook” and 1971's “The Songs of Merle Haggard.” Those records have been combined for “Play Buck & Merle,” and the 22-track set is essential for those of us who love the Bakersfield sound. There's isn't a clunker to be found, though the Buckaroos soar highest on “Together Again,” “Second Fiddle,” “Act Naturally,” “Love's Gonna Live Here,” “Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man),” “Okie From Muskogie,” “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” and “Mama Tried.”
Doug Benson (Aspecialthing)
In a world of streaming video and YouTube, comedy albums don't seem as relevant as they once did. But don't tell that to noted “stoner” comedian Doug Benson. “Gateway Doug” is his sixth album in as many years and, not coincidentally, was recorded during an April 20 gig in San Francisco.
Those of you in the know will get the significance of the date. If you find Benson's shtick to be funny — and I do, usually — you're probably going to enjoy his riffs on Twitter, “Taken 2,” bees, getting high at work and assorted other chuckle-inducing tidbits.
‘The Hunting Room'
Her Royal Harness (Manufacture)
Norwegian songwriter Helene Jaeger and London-based instrumentalist Dylan Long have teamed up to make captivating indie pop as Her Royal Harness and debut platter “The Hunting Room” makes for an intriguing listen.
While HRH has some kinks to iron out, there is a solid foundation laid on this nine-track, 35-minute release. Opener “Mercenary Man” is the best song in the bunch, and Jaeger and Long also score with “Colour Me,” “Blood + Fire,” “Unseen” and “Your Heart Is Harder.”
Just 22 years old, Brad Oberhofer already has a handful of singles, one full-length and this intriguing EP on his résumé. With the release of “Notalgia,” there's no disputing the fact that this indie singer/songwriter's star is on the rise.
Oberhofer's greatest asset is songwriting chops that are wise beyond his years, and he puts them on display throughout the five-track release. The opening tandem of “You + Me (In the Future)” and “Got Your Letter” is flat-out terrific, and Oberhofer also scores with “Earplugs” and “Together/Never.” Keep an eye on this kid.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.