Library - Artists that begin with the letter S

Saba - Jidka
Sabertooth - Dr. Midnight
The Sadies - New Seasons
Poncho Sanchez - Raise Your Hand
Jacques Schwarz-Bart - Soné Ka-La
The Screamin' Lords - Long Live Me
Señor Flavio - Supersaund 2012
Sexto Sol - Let There Be Fire
Shape of Broad Minds - Craft of the Lost Art
Rachel Sierra Project - Held Under the Knife
Sigur Rós - Hvarf/Heim
The Silver Seas - High Society
Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience - Live! Worldwide
Nina Simone - Just Like a Woman
Frank Sinatra - A Voice in Time (1939-1952)
Skafish - Tidings of Comfort and Joy
The Skatalites - On the Right Track
Sloan - Never Hear the End of It
Mindy Smith - My Holiday
Some Velvet Morning - Silence Will Kill You
Sonic Steel - Pieces of Pan
Sonora Carruseles - Somos Los Duros de la Salsa
La Sonora Dinamita - Cumbia Pa' Saborear
Rosalie Sorrels - Strangers in Another Country: The Songs of Bruce "Utah" Phillips
Sorta - s/t
Southern Culture on the Skids - Countrypolitan Favorites
Spanish Harlem Orchestra - United We Swing
Stalkers - Yesterday Is No Tomorrow
Mavis Staples - We'll Never Turn Back
Mavis Staples - Live: Hope at the Hideout
Dayna Stephens - The Timeless Now
Jo Kelly Stephenson - I See Flowers, You See Cars
Stereo Total - Paris - Berlin
The Story Of - The World's Affair
Sugar Bayou - Dance Hall Incident
Greg Summerlin - All Done in Good Time
Super Furry Animals - Hey Venus!
Mr. Symarip - The Skinheads Dem a Come

Saba / Jidka (Riverboat) World

Often when actors decide to express their musical aspirations, the results are disastrous (hello, Telly Savalas). For Saba, star of a long-running TV drama about a policewoman, her musical debut is not so much a vanity project as an exploration of her multi-ethnic heritage in a world where clashes between disparate cultures has come to define modern existence. Born in Somalia to an Ethiopian mother and Italian father, Saba’s family was forced to flee to Italy at an early age, but she has made a point of learning the language and imbibing the music of the country she left. And this disc, whose title translates to “The Line” defines and breaks down boundaries of language and music. Saba sings in both Somalian and English; her music combines contemporary urban beats and vocal styles with traditional African instruments, like the kora and djembe. And her songs explore such boundaries as well, such as the opening “ I Sogni” about a woman who leaves her village in search of a better life in the city. For those who prefer more traditional African sounds, “Boqoroda Meskin” (#10) features thundering tribal drums, high-pitched vocal ululations, and call-and-response vocals in a tribute to her grandmother. “Je Suis Petite” (#9) contains an intriguing mix of modern R&B rhythms, whistling, and Afrobeat vocals. “Yenne Yenne” (#7) contains a modern, funked up Afrobeat rhythm and striking male vocals from Taté Nsongan. Because her music is daring and focused on issues of the human spirit, Saba’s musical career should shine brighter and last longer than those of other film stars.
Paul Borelli 1/24/08

Sabertooth / Dr. Midnight (Delmark) Jazz

The jazz quartet Sabertooth has been around since 1990, anchored by twin saxaophonists Cameron Pfiffner and Pat Mallinger, with 5-year member Pete Benson on Hammond B3 and Ted Sirota on drums. This live recording captures their gig at the legendary Green Mill, where they have held after-hours sessions for 15 years. The opener “Blues for C Pfiff” begins with a fife-and-drum march but soon launches into greasy soul jazz with Benson and the two saxes trading solos like the classic sessions of Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott. “It’s Surely Gonna Flop If It Ain’t Got That Bop” (#2) is more classic post-bop of the 60s Blue Note variety. Then the group heads for the Caibbean with a cover of the calypso classic “Mary Anne” (#3), with Pfiffner and Mallinger playing the melody in tandem before splitting off for their far-reaching solos. “Tetemetearri” (#4) slows down the pace for a flute-led reverie, before the title track (#5) goes farther afield on a pseudo-spooky, free-ranging structural break-down. But then they return to the classics with a swinging cover of the Neal Hefti main theme to “The Odd Couple” (#6), which begins with the familiar melody but soon departs for more improvised soloing. Jerry Garcia’s “China Cat Sunflower” (#7) closes out the program on a more contemporary, groove-driven slice of funky jazz, which may come as a surprise for a band with such a pre-historic moniker. But Sabertooth has survived not only due to stamina but also versatility, proving that they can bring the jazz artist’s gift for creating to any style in any setting. That should keep on the bill at the Green Mill for decades to come.
Paul Borelli 2/14/08

The Sadies / New Seasons (Yeproc) Rock

The 8th album by the Toronto group once known best as Neko Case’s backing band finds them settling in, or becoming more entrenched, in their blend of country-flavored, spaghetti-western folk-rock. The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris twiddles the knobs and adds backing vocals on many tracks. Gone are the surf instrumentals, perhaps washed away in last year’s Tales of the Rat Fink, though the cavernous reverb still remains. And, in fact, instrumentals are few here—only the 40-second opening country picker, “Wolf Tones” (#10), which borrows more from Morricone than Dick Dale, and “The Last Inquisition (pt. V)” (#13), a haunting bookend to the vocal cut “The First Inquisition (pt. IV)” (#2), a denouncement of those who advocate killing in the name of religion. The best cuts here are those that break the spaghetti alt-country mold: “What’s Left Behind” (#3) is minor-key folk rock with hyperactive country guitar about a relationship that can’t escape the past. “Sunset to Dawn” (#4), with its queasy organ, bears a little resemblance to The Band’s brand of folk-rock. “A Simple Aspiration” (#9) has more garage rock in its approach, though still with the usual heavy helping of echo & reverb. “Never Again” (#12) emphasizes the country-rock side of the equation, much like the Byrds under the influence of Gram Parsons. “The Land Between” (#12) sounds like the jangle-rock offspring of the Byrds, such as early R.E.M., but with multipart harmony. It’s clear that New Seasons draws heavily from the past, both the Sadies’ and their influences.
Paul Borelli 10/21/07

Poncho Sanchez / Raise Your Hand (Concord) Jazz

The revered veteran conga player continues the pattern of his last few Concord releases in combining traditional Latin salsa & jazz with classic soul and continuing to upgrade the guest stars on each release. Here he recruits Stax icons Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, and Eddie Floyd to cover a pair of Floyd’s 60s hits, the opening title track and the closing monster classic “Knock on Wood” (#10). Sanchez actually sings lead vocals on both cuts and acquits himself nicely, as he also does on a cover of the Jr. Walker chestnut “Shotgun” (#3), backed by Maceo Parker. Parker also joins him on “Maceo’s house” (#6), a modern jazz composition with only the slightest touch of Latin flavor, written by Sanchez’s trombonist Francisco Torres. The group also tackles the modern jazz idiom but with a heavier Latin percussion element on “Gestation” (#8). But the Sanchez calling card is classic Latin salsa with an Afro-Cuban backbone, demonstrated here on the instrumental “Tropi Blue” (#2), a fast trombone-led number based on a blues progression, “El Agua de Belen” (#4) with guest vocalist Andy Montañez, “¿Donde Va Chichi?” (#7) with guest vocalist José “Perico” Hernandez, and “Amor Con Amor” (#9) with Sanchez handling the vocals on a song that has a brighter, sunshine character rather than the harder salsa feel of the other tracks. The instrumental “Rosarita” (#8) is a light Latin jazz piece that doesn’t really stand out against the stronger other tracks. And there are plenty of strong tracks here on another fine outing by the reigning king of Latin jazz percussion.
Paul Borelli 5/26/07

Jacques Schwarz-Bart / Soné Ka-La (EmArcy) Jazz

Jacques Schwarz-Bart first picked up a sax at the age of 24 and by 2000 was playing in D’Angelo’s touring band. On his third release as a leader, he says that he has finally achieved the sound he has been seeking for the last 16 years. That sound recalls Michael Brecker’s earlier solo work, but with a heavy world music component. The foundation lies in the gwoka rhythms of Schwarz-Bart’s homeland Guadeloupe, but layered with other world influences, like the Brazilian feel and mouth-drums of “Papalé” (#1), and effects on his saxophone, like the wah-wah sound in that same opener. He doesn’t blow with quite the same ferocity as Brecker did (few could), but his melodies still call to mind the influential tenor. The title track (#2) starts with chanting, hand-claps, and then drums before Schwarz-Bart enters first on acoustic guitar and then on sax on a Breckerish melody. “Love” (#3) veers toward smooth jazz territory, but “Toumblak” (#4), with Jean-Pierre Coquerel on vocals, yanks it back to a more African-inspired groove before Schwarz-Bart runs off an adventurous solo. He also gets in some good stop-and-start blowing on “Drum & Bass” (#6). More mellow are the flute-driven “Déshabillé” (#7) with Jacob Desvarieux’s raspy vocals or “Descent” (#11), which features a slower pace with Schwarz-Bart accompanied by Fender Rhodes and bongos. “Pé La” (#12) features the vivacious vocals of Admiral T on a reprise of the opening track. Schwarz-Bart has indeed found an alluring sound that brings together a variety of influences for a truly world jazz.
Paul Borelli 9/26/07

The Screamin' Lords / Long Live Me (Brannick) Rock

The debut release from this Los Angeles quartet successfully achieves bassist and founding member Jose Ferro’s goal of creating authentic 80 & early 90s hard rock with his bandmates and an extended set of guest contributors comprised of vocalists Kelly Keeling (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Lynch Mob, MSG) and Robin McAuley (Survivor, MSG), and guitarists George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob), Chris Poland (Megadeth, Ohm), Gus G (Firewind, Dream Evil), Loren Molinare (Little Caesar). The opening title track is a manic metal sprint with plenty of guitar and drum wailing. Gus G’s solo is particularly noteworthy—the best shredding on the disc. “Halo” (#2) turns the throttle down only slightly with some chord progressions reminiscent of Alice in Chains and a nice solo by Lynch. “Evil” (#3) slows down the tempo, though drummer Chris Collier gives the snare and kick drum a good pounding in the second half. “Fire in the Blue Sky” (#4) returns to straight-ahead rock and a pair shred-fest solos from Poland. “Out of Control” (#5) is a boozy AC/DC-style rocker, while “Say What You Will” (#6) leans more toward Z.Z. Top boogie. “Gladrags & Limozenes” (#7) features McAuley on vocals and veers more toward glam-infused arena rock than the others. While the Screamin’ Lords have expertly rendered vintage hard rock here, the lyrics don’t measure up to the music—more a grab bag of well-worn phrases stitched together incongruously. That will just give the boys something to work on for the next album.
Paul Borelli 1/31/08

Señor Flavio / Supersaund 2012 (Nacional) Latin

Señor Flavio, bassist for the Argentine genre-defining alternative Latin band Los Fabulous Cadillacs, begins his solo debut in familiar territory with examples of the Latin-flavored reggae (#1, 4) and ska (#2, 5) the group rode to stardom. But he’s also determined to show that he is a much more versatile writer and performer. “Polaroid 66” (#3) has the suave, cool sheen of retro Latin lounge, while “La Herida” (#6) sparkles like a mirrorball at a 50s-era sock-hop slow dance. “Opportuna” (#7) is a high-octane, Farfisa-driven slice of vintage garage with a surf back-beat reminiscent of ? & the Mysterians. “Lucha Libre Lovers” (#8) matches the Farfisa with a fast shuffle beat and heavily reverbed guitar. “Gaumont” (#9) begins with queasy organ and tremeloed guitar, veers into late 60s AM pop with trumpet on the first refrain, but then finishes with a more pounding beat and driving, nearly punk guitars. The two cuts with DJ Bochokemado (#11 & 12) bear some of the same trademarked cut & paste samples found in MIS and DJ Bitman productions, the former track dominated by dark reverb guitar, the latter by a thumping cumbia beat. The closing instrumental “Retrada Murguera Portena” (#13) begins with video game sounds before launching into spaghetti western twang backed by more Farfisa. This disc shows Flavio to have much broader tastes and abilities than displayed with the Cadillacs, a sign that, as in the works of the aforementioned sound collage artists, the globalization of alternative Latin music flows both ways.
Paul Borelli 2/14/08

Sexto Sol / Let There Be Fire (Tuck n' Roll) Latin

San Antonio’s Sexto Sol is a quintet that mines the sweet spot where Latin, soul, jazz, and rock meet in a way that reminds one of classic artists like War and early Santana. They also have a jam band’s ability to stretch out and give space to keyboardist Samuel Villela and guitarist Eddie Hernandez for extended solos. It’s very much a relaxed, summer-time vibe, evidenced by the opening “Sabiduria,” which urges the listener to “slow down” and “take love where you can get it.” “Chicano Superstar” (#2), the catchiest cut on the disc, begins with a “Low Rider” cymbal intro but quickly launches into a propulsive Latin rock groove. “You Know I Love You” (#4) begins with a Fender Rhodes vamp, some tasty soloing from Hernandez, and then Villela is joined on vocals by Crissy Bliss and Nakita Chapa Ortiz backed by some cool Hammond B3. The instrumental “Samba Pesada: (#5) features solos by Hernandez on fat, distorted guitar, James Moody on conga, and Villelas on Fender Rhodes. “Pentatonic Trip” (#9) begins like a 70s soundtrack with horn section & wah-wah guitar, then settles into a funky but breezy groove. And there are covers of the Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (#6), Frankie Beverly’s “Happy Feelings” (#8) at a much slower pace than the original, and Gerald Wilson’s “Viva Tirado” (#3). Now how many other rock groups have even heard of the big-band jazz leader and arranger, much less covered him? For me, that sealed their cool credentials right there.
Paul Borelli 9/5/07

Shape of Broad Minds / Craft of the Lost Art (Lex) Hip-Hop

Craft of the Lost Art comes to us from a group formed by Philly-based producer Jneiro Jarel (aka Dr. Who Dat?), featuring emcees Roc Run, Jawaad and Atlanta’s Panama Black. Tracks are generally excellent, with abstract ambient noise grooves or sugary re-formed disco beats pushing the vocals. The album also features some good guest spots from MF Doom, Stacy Epps, Count Bass D, and others, but the group seems to shine most when they are playing off each other. Try the Andre 3000-influenced vocals and harmonic groove on “Changes” (#4, 3:44). Also play “Electric Blue” (#14, 4:26) for a slow hypnotic beat and captivating rhymes. Don’t neglect the MF Doom cameo matched with disco on “Let’s Go” (#3, 4:24).
Leah Manners 11/4/07

Rachel Sierra Project / Held Under the Knife (Anthropoda) Rock

Rachel Sierra was schooled in classical music, so her background as a vocalist and musician is solid. She’s added Blair Shotts (rhythm maniac) on drums, Christopher Freeman on bass, and Tiffin Roley (session work for big timers like Macy Grey and Christina Aguilera) on guitar with his Gilmore influenced riffs. With her huge, sultry voice and moody lyrics, the band evokes the sounds of Nina Simone, the Beatles, the Doors, Tori Amos… Sort of a cross between Tori Amos with the sophisticated jive of Ricki Lee Jones as a songwriter/singer. The jumpy "One Last Hit" (#2) on which she arranged the horn section (wonderful and vibrant throughout) is delightful. "Cotton" (#4) has a rock guitar driven sound. "Lynnie & the Light" (#7) is piano driven, a story song. "In Search of a Sink" (#8) - bluesy jazz.

SJ Williams 10/08

Sigur Rós / Hvarf/Heim (XL) Indie

The 5th album in 10 years from the critically acclaimed Icelandic quartet bears a star-bright shimmer like their homeland’s winter nights, continuing the directions of 2005’s Takk. Though all the lyrics in their native tongue might be lost on an English-speaking audience, the pure, clear melodies and symphonic sweep of their wall of guitar effects and sometimes even a real string section can communicate in any language. At some level I am reminded of the prog majesty of classic Yes, though with none of that genres jerky time-signature changes or Jon Anderson’s sometimes pretentious lyrics. “Salka” (#1) begins with a single, bright-toned guitar line that soon adds drums, some shaky, angelic falsetto vocals, and then builds to a crescendo of sorts, like scaling a snowy mountain, before closing. “Hjómalind” (#2) most closely resembles indie pop with a standard drum rhythm pattern, vocals delivered in normal voice, varying between softer, crystalline melody and heavier, distorted guitar ascensions, a little in the U2 manner. “í Gær” (#3) is a slower, minor-key meditation with sliding-note vocals and ethereal guitar and keyboard atmospheres. The two pieces titled “Von” (#4 & 11) use the same pure, gorgeous melody, with the earlier version relying more on guitar and keyboard accompaniment and the latter using a string section. “Samskeyti” (#6) is a slow piano-driven instrumental with strings and another classic melody. It’s clear from this and their previous releases that Sigur Rós doesn’t know how to make ugly music.
Paul Borelli 11/21/07

The Silver Seas / High Society (Cheap Lullaby) Pop

The music of The Silver Seas is a bit like puff pastry—a sweet, tasty trifle not likely to sustain you for the long-term. The quartet of Daniel Tashian, John Deaderick, Jason Lehning, and David Gehrke combine for some gorgeous harmonies and Tashian’s song-writing mines the sweet melodies of late 60s & 70s AM soft pop. The lyrics and subject matter are all straightforward and simple, without the slightest hint at irony or complexity. That combination, plus the abundance of piano and 12-string acoustic guitar calls to mind groups like America, particularly on songs like “High Society” (#2) with its swooping synth and electric piano or the bouncy sad-sack song “Hard Luck Tom” (#9). “Ms. November” (#3) is a dead ringer for vintage Jeff Lynne/ELO with its straight-ahead 4/4 beat, melody, and choral harmonies. “The Country Life” (#1) is a rollicking late 60s folk-rock-pop romp with a touch of Motown melody thrown in. “Catch Yer Own Train” (#6) is a Dylanesque diversion with harmonica and a more nasal vocal, though it moves at a much-too-cheery clip. “Tativille” (#7) is a slower, lumbering piano & mandolin instrumental until the Brian Wilson-like choral “ah’s” slip in at just before the 2-minute mark. This is the ultimate ear candy—beautiful melodies, voices, and instruments all blended in an irresistible mixture that oozes like some kind of chocolate & caramel confection. You know it’s not good for you, but that won’t stop you from devouring the whole thing.
Paul Borelli 8/29/07

Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience / Live! Worldwide (AIM) Cajun

Eunice, LA accordionist Terrance Simien first rose to prominence when he was “discovered” by Paul Simon, with whom he recorded a little-distributed single during Simon’s Graceland period. He also co-wrote a song with and appeared with Dennis Quaid in the film The Big Easy. Both of these events reflect Simien’s approach in moving zydeco toward the mainstream, as he mixes various other styles with the Creole music that is itself a mix of cultures. Unfortunately, when he moves away from his zydeco base, the results suffer. The opener “Dance Everyday” (#1) sounds like the sort of bland piano-based “adult alternative” material Bruce Hornsby is known for. “The Pianist” (#8) and “Johnny Too Bad” (#10) add reggae to the mix—the former on a silly song, the latter on a solid, faithful, if not particularly memorable cover. He also offers two medleys of Lousiana standards for those who are only comfortable with the familiar—“Hey Pocky Way/Fire on the Bayou/People Say” (#6) and “Iko Iko/When the Saints Go Marching In/Brother John/Jambalaya” (#11). Which brings us to his straight, undiluted zydeco, best represented on “Zydeco Boogaloo” (#2), “Mardi Gras in the Country” (#7), “Pet De Kat Krewe” (#9), and the disc’s strongest track “Uncle Bud” (#3), which features a very enthusiastic female fan screaming in the background. I am not that excited by Simien’s take on this Louisiana dance-inducing style, even though this CD was nominated for a Grammy. It’s good, solid comfort food, but not something you’ll remember weeks afterward.
Paul Borelli 1/11/08

Nina Simone / Just Like a Woman (RCA/Legacy) Pop

Nina Simone was trained as a classical pianist; she came to singing almost as an after-thought when a night-club owner who had hired her requested that she sing along with her piano playing at his venue. And those who have lifted her to cult status always speak of the emotion, feistiness, and artistic interpretation she brings to her performances. No one, however, praises her for her technical gifts as a singer, and this collection won’t change that perception. Simone can be quite effective and moving when she takes a toned-down, soft, and sensitive approach to her material, as she shows here on Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” (#5, an imperfectly recorded live performance), Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (#11), and Judy Collins’ “My Father” (#14). Elsewhere, she is betrayed either by over-reaching beyond her abilities (“House of the Rising Sun, #10) or overwrought arrangements (“Just Like a Woman,” #1, & “Here Comes the Sun,” #2), which is a shame because it detracts from her excellent piano playing. Her stint with RCA in the late 60s and early 70s from which these recordings are drawn is not considered the high-point of her career. Fortunately, we do get a glimpse in a few recordings here of her strengths as a soulful and thoughtful interpreter and thus an inkling of why she is still considered a major figure today.
Paul Borelli 5/26/07

Frank Sinatra / A Voice in Time (1939-1952) (Legacy) Lounge

This 4-disc collection depicts the development of the Entertainer of the 20th Century up until he signed with Capitol Records, which led to the peak of his career. Still, he placed more than 100 songs in the top 30 over the period chronicled here, and each disc in this set is devoted to a phase of those early years. Disc 1 shows Sinatra as a big band singer for Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. Typical of the times, the band leader was the star, so on several numbers Sinatra does not make his entrance until after the band has taken the melody around the block. Particularly enjoyable are the songs in which the backing chorus makes musical jokes around Sinatra’s straight reading of the lyrics—Blue Skies (disc 1, #8) and “Blue Moon” (disc 1, #17). “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)” (disc 1, #5) is also a spirited take. Disc 2 shows the teen idol on romantic fare with sweeping strings and lush arrangements. Sinatra oozes sincerity, singing his lines completely straight. Compare his reading of “Five Minutes More” (disc 2, #7) with the Capitol version recorded years later with Billy May. Included are several live radio recordings, e.g., #1, 8, 14. Disc 3 centers on American songbook standards, largely tame affairs when compared to later Capitol versions of the same songs, though “All of Me” (disc 3, #1) swings at a good clip. Disc 4 is billed “The Sound of Things to Come,” and many cuts do anticipate his swaggering, swinging Capitol style, though the sweeping ballads return on tracks 10-16. The best swingers are “Walking in the Sunshine” (#18) and “It All Depends on You” (#8), which show a mature artist, so confident in his abilities that he can laugh and play with the lyrics, timing, and melody—the Sinatra we saw in his glory years.
Paul Borelli 10/7/07

Skafish / Tidings of Comfort and Joy (La Befana) Holiday

Christmas records have to be judged by a different standard than others, especially when they include the same old chestnuts that have been recorded ad nauseum. But this collection of classics from the jazz piano trio led by Jim Skafish is actually quite good. Skafish at one time was a pivotal figure on the Chicago post-punk scene, even recording an album for IRS. Here he tinkles the ivories and thankfully doesn’t play anything straight. Skafish isn’t all the way out on a limb, either—these covers don’t range as wide as something from The Bad Plus. But they do mess with the melody, in a good way. “Joy to the World” (#1) starts out sounding like typical swinging lounge jazz, but listen to the clashing chords Skafish comps underneath the melody. He also likes to tease the timing, slowing down “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (#4) to a meandering bluesy stroll. He plays with the chords again and gets some hip drumwork from Tom Hipskind on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (#6). And the slow blues treatment works well again on “Away in a Manger” (#10). For a faster trip, try the snappy read of “God Rest Ye Merry Gents” (#12), kicked off by Hipskind’s jungle toms. But the biggest departure is the 10+ minutes of “We Three Kings Fusion” (#11), which isn’t quite as wild as it sounds, though it is the lone track with electric bass and features a few time signature changes. This highly listenable collection may not top Vince Guaraldi for jazz piano Christmas albums, but it’s a welcome addition to the canon.
Paul Borelli 11/29/07

The Skatalites / On the Right Track (AIM International) Ska

The ska creators traveled all the way to the land down under to record only their second album of original material in their 43-year history. Featuring original members Lloyd Knibb on drums, Lester Sterling on alto sax, and Doreen Shaffter on occasional vocals (tracks 4 & 7), the band lays down its trademark rock-steady groove while individual members enter and exit for improvised solos amidst intermittent shouts and effects. “New York Minute” (#1) features a soul-influenced introductory melody with plenty of shouts thrown in. “Shock Trail” (#3) is a bright, cheery head-bobber with trombone & guitar solos. “Doreen Special” (#5) has almost an old-time R&B ballad feel to the melody to it, but goosed by the insistent ska rhythm. “Little Irene” (#8) strolls along to a calypso-inspired melody. “Uluru Rock” (#12) uses a dance-hall melody slightly reminiscent of Irving Berlin’s “To Keep My Love Alive.” The closing “Outback Dub” (#13) uses the expected cavernous echo & reverb, minor key, what sounds like a sonar device, and solos on trumpet, trombone, and alto sax. Other highlights are the bright, up-tempo “Divine Conception” (#6) and the slower-paced, loping, but still full of sunshine “June Rose” (#9). No doubt about it, after 40+ years of bringing Jamaican sunshine to fans around the world, the Skatalites still have an infectious energy and precise synergy no matter where they choose to record.
Paul Borelli 6/16/07

Sloan / Never Hear the End of It (Yeproc) Rock

Veteran Canadian pop-rockers Sloan return with their 8th studio album, containing an astounding 30 tracks, and judging from the opening number “Flying High Again,” they seem pretty jazzed about it. And well they should be—this is accomplished, confident songcraft and musicianship too often missing in today’s quest for ragged authenticity. Sloan isn’t afraid to slather on the gorgeous sugary harmonies (“I Understand” #14) or early 70s AM radio melodies (“Listen to the Radio” #5), but they can also deliver pounding hard rock with a message, as on “Ill Placed Trust” (#21). And then there’s the incredibly intelligent songwriting of “Set in Motion” (#18), which turns the Movie of My Life theme on its head, or the equally smart “Last Time in Love” (#27), which realistically traces the singer’s journey through failed relationships to a place of maturation and contentment. It may be only January, but this could well be Record of the Year for 2007. It’s that good. Paul Borelli 12/28/06

Mindy Smith / My Holiday (Vanguard) Holiday

The critically acclaimed up-and-comer on the country-folk/Americana scene delivers a Christmas album that dabbles in the classics but is more firmly anchored in her own original material. Smith counts among her influences Shawn Colvin and Alison Krauss, who joins her on a non-traditional reworking of “Away in a Manger” (#6), and at times her vocal style reminds one of Patty Griffin. She generally knows she doesn’t possess a big voice and so instead plays to her strength with a restrained, understated sincerity. Most of the tracks also feature tasteful acoustic instrumentation—the exceptions being the arena rock electric guitar on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (#9) and the Revolver-esque arrangement on the evangelically Christian closer “Come Around” (#11). But she shines on her originals that celebrate the simple gifts of love (“I Know the Reason,” #7 and “It Really Is [A Wonderful Life],” #10), child-like anticipation (“Santa Will Find You,” #3), and the good cheer of the holiday season (“My Holiday,” #1). She also expresses more vulnerability than the usual craftiness on the classic “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” (#5), and the slightly jazzy arrangement suits her, as it also does on “It Really Is (A Wonderful Life).” Had she been able to resist the temptation to rock and preach, this might have been a new Christmas classic.
Paul Borelli 12/06/07

Some Velvet Morning / Silence Will Kill You (Rhythmbank) Rock

Despite naming themselves after a Lee Hazlewood song, this UK band is more a part of the new-wave revival than anything the iconoclastic songwriter and producer ever did. But they are very authentic in recapturing the sound of bands like Duran Duran and early U2. Unfortunately, the songwriting is not consistent in terms of quality. The first three tracks set up the listener’s expectations, but the rest of the album fails to match that standard. “Let the Good Times Come My Way” (#1) slowly fades in with classic synths, piercing guitar, and disco beat on a deliciously jaded song about easy pleasure. Then we get a fuzzy stomper about going crazy and how to cope on “Lose My Mind” (#2). “One Day You’ll Love the Things You Hate” (#3) begins softly with clean guitar and gradually adds depth on bass and drums, heavier guitar, and more synths. But after that, the trite songwriting brings down the band’s musicianship. “Pretty Girl” (#4) is basically the pickup line “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” “Stolen Love Song” (#5) is just another variation of being in love with your best friend’s girl (see Rick Springfield, The Cars, et. al.). “Propaganda” (#7) and “Godless” (#8) preach against the easy targets of mass media and religious fanaticism. “The Madness of Crowds” (#11) at least has an interesting angle in coldly observing rock fan insanity from musicians who don’t believe the hype. Probably good advice for this talented but still not faultless band.
Paul Borelli 10/14/07

Sonic Steel / Pieces of Pan (self-released) Jazz

One rarely has the good fortune to hear a music endeavor that is truly new, but this disc qualifies as one of those rare occasions—jazz standards played by a quartet of steel pan musicians (backed by bass and drums) from Denmark. The steel pan, or drum, has historically been pretty much limited to Caribbean music, but in the hands of Sonic Steel it is used to render unique interpretations of Jobim (#2, 7), Gillespie (#9), Monk (#8), and Bill Holman (#6) as well as the samba standard “Brazil” (#4). The group does throw in one calypso composition by the legendary King Sparrow (#5), and it is a highlight, but the rest of the time they stick to Latin and jazz chestnuts. The one criticism is that at times the pans seem to be placed at the back of a large room without a microphone nearby, making them hard to hear, a liability since they carry the melody. On “Amantes” (#3) this seems intentional as the piece begins with the pans heard faintly and then becoming louder and more prominent in the mix as the track progresses. Arranger and cello steel pan player Sune Borregaard also plays with the rhythm of Jobim’s “Garota de Ipanema” (“Girl From Ipanema” #2), giving the first line of the melody a herky jerky, stop-and-start pace before settling into the more familiar bossa nova rhythm for the rest of the verse. Steel pans may not have the expressive quality of a trumpet, sax, or guitar, but hearing them take on a jazz standard like “Manteca” (#9) breathes new life into old forms.
Paul Borelli 10/14/07

Sonora Carruseles / Somos Los Duros de la Salsa (Miami) Latin

One of Colombia’s favorite current salsa groups, Sonora Carruseles was founded in 1995 by Mario “Pachanga” Rincon to recreate and re-record the classic hard salsa sounds of the 70s. The group is heavy on rhythm, featuring timbales, congas, bongos, campanas, maracas, and guiro in additional to bass, piano, trumpet, and plenty of police whistles. They also feature a lead vocal quartet, backing choral quartet, and guest vocals by Jo-L and Elaine Hernandez. As with most hard salsa, the music is up-tempo to encourage dancing, and listeners will not only be encouraged but forced to step lively to the 10 selections here. All the tracks are spirited and perfectly executed, but of particular note are “A Mi Divino Señor” (#3), which features Hernandez on vocals, and “Culebra” (#4), which includes reggaeton vocals against a salsa rhythm and a real party atmosphere. “Mosaico se Boto” (#7) is indeed a mosaic of three different songs with different rhythms stitched together. “Descarga En Do” (#8) features a brief vibe solo in its second half, while “La Rumbantela” (#9) emphasizes the timbales. And “Tres Tambores” (#6) has some nice organ soloing, something you don’t hear everyday in hard salsa. I don’t particularly care for the Carlos Santana-like guitar featured briefly in the opening track, but otherwise this is a purely enjoyable set with some nice variety by one of today’s top salsa ensembles.
Paul Borelli 7/14/07

La Sonora Dinamita / Cumbia Pa' Saborear (Miami) Latin

La Sonora Dinamita was originally founded in Colombia in 1959. The group has changed leadership and personnel many times over the decades, but they have had success with the cumbia since the 70s, and this collection continues in that tradition. Featuring a team of male and female vocalists, trumpeters and trombonists, percussionists on timbales and cowbell, and occasionally other instruments like accordion or keyboard, La Sonora Dinamita produce primarily high energy, fun dance music, which, as the picture on the cover of this CD should indicate, sometimes verges on the cheesy, but usually in a fun way (the exceptions are tracks 10 & 14—cheesy in a painful way). “Mi Mujer” (#1) starts things off with a bouncy melody, all-male vocals, plenty of bass, trumpet, and cowbell. “El Enterrador” (#2) is slightly slower, emphasizing sliding trombone, and some exaggerated male & female vocal give-and-take. “Da Que Te Vienen Dando” (#3) picks up the pace and features a female lead vocal with backing male chorus. “Gasta” (#5) has a real party atmosphere with male and female vocalists taking turns on the lead. “El Relato” (#6) mixes in some minor-key Cuban influence into the cumbia. “Te Casadte Toño” (#8) has some over-the-top raspy male vocals and cackling laughter. “Canto a Monterrey” (#9), mixes Colombian, Cuban, and Mexican accented with occasional accordion. “Vete al Diablo” (#12) has an almost pop melody (and backing female chorus) supported by a cumbia rhythm, trumpets, and a splash of accordion. If you’re looking for fun, Latin dance party music that isn’t afraid to wink at itself, La Sonora Dinamita sounds like dyn-o-mite.
Paul Borelli 7/14/07

Rosalie Sorrels / Strangers in Another Country: The Songs of Bruce "Utah" Phillips (Red House) Folk

Sorrels came out of retirement to record a tribute of her old friend’s songs & poetry about war, poverty, drunks, misfits, death, hobos & labor unions. This CD brings the songs & stories of an earlier era to life. I like the spoken word & acappella songs best. "Mountain Valley Home" (#2) - beautiful acappella. "Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia" (#3) has beautiful backups by the McGarrigle Sisters - the vocals on this CD are mixed perfectly. "Schofield Mine Disaster" (#6) - great production with just voice & banjo & doing her own backups. Banjo used for train song for change of pace - very cool. "God & the Garbage Man" (#8), "Will This World Survive" (#11), "Who Said This?" (#14) - incredible poems. Sorrels makes Phillips' words sound as if he’s an Old Testament preacher. She knows how to pause & point fingers with her voice when she sermonizes. "I Had A Mule" (#12) - sweet & funny with washboard percussion & jaw harp instrumental. CD includes legendary members of the folk world - Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Peggy Seeger, Bryan Bowers & Jay Ungar. This disc is meant to honor Phillips but also reveals how important Sorrels has been to the modern folk movement as a performer & as a carrier of traditions.

SJ Williams 12/08

Sorta / s/t (Fig) Rock

This is melodic, mellow, pretty rock & roll. Think Wilco, Elliot Smith, & even Dylan ("Fool’s Gold"). The producer/engineer is Stuart Sikes (White Stripes, Cat Power, Modest Mouse). These guys have multiple Dallas Observer Music Awards to their collective credit. They were in the middle of making this album when guitarist/keyboardist Carter Albrecht (who had worked w/ Edie Brickell, Paul Simon, Charlie Sexton) was shot & killed in Sept.07. After his death, they went back in and “cleaned up a few loose ends” with minimal overdubs. No more songs were tracked and Albrecht’s recordings were left untouched. Most of the lead vocals by front man Trey Johnson are original scratch/demo takes in to match the overall feel. I really like it - it makes for ragged but right performances. Production is sparse & heavy on melody and hooks. True to Sorta /Trey Johnson form, there is plenty of sadness. But "Poor Little Child" (#5) has an upbeat, country feel & "Fool’s Gold" (#3) is wicked, sly, & bouncy. "Soft Kisses" (#6) is great with lush harmonies at the front & turning into a solid rock pop song.

SJ Williams 11/08

Southern Culture on the Skids / Countrypolitan Favorites (Yeproc) Rock

The long-running white trash hillbilly rock trio is back with a record of covers, and it just might be their best work in quite some time. Rick Miller (who now looks like Colonel Sanders), Mary Huff, and Dave Hartman have been playing together so long that they are as tight as Jerry Jones’ face, and when they’re allowed to pick their favorite country and rock retro gems, the results are bound to be pure enjoyment. But don’t expect the lush strings and other finery of original countrypolitan producers such as Billy Sherrill. The country standards by and large are given a propulsive up-tempo goosing, from a rocking Don Gibson’s “Lonesome Me” (#1) to the yodel-enhanced “Wolverton Mountain” (#4), to the country pop “Rose Garden” (#5) to the swingers’ manifesto “Let’s Invite Them Over” (#6), and even a fairly swift reworking of Roger Miller’s originally languid “Engine Engine #9” (#12). More surprising is their reinvention of British mainstays like the Kinks’ “Muswell Hillbilly” (#2), Marc Bolan’s “Life’s a Gas” (#7), the one song that manages to take the pedal off the metal, and a hoe-down version of the Who’s “Happy Jack” (#15), complete with banjo. Also recommended are an echo- and reverb-drenched “Funnel of Love” (#3) sung by Ms. Huff, a southern-fried funky workout on “Te Ni Nee Ni Nu” (#8), and Ms. Huff again on vocals for a brisk, pounding reading of John Fogerty’s pre-CCR garage nugget “Fight Fire” (#13). No artistic pretentions here—this is fun, fun, fun dancing music with drive.
Paul Borelli 2/17/07

Spanish Harlem Orchestra / United We Swing (Six Degrees) Latin

The third release by one of NYC’s premier salsa dura outfits finds them continuing to serve up non-stop dance-worthy vintage salsa. Led by Oscar Hernandez, one-time pianist and musical director for Ruben Blades, the lineup features the usual salsa big band contingent of three vocalists, two trumpets, two trombones, sax/flute, piano, and the engines that drive this locomotive—timbales, congas, and bongos. One of the trombonists is none other than Jimmy Bosch, leader of a fine orchestra in his own right, which is featured on both of this year’s Rough Guide salsa compilations. The guest celebrity is Paul Simon, singing vocals on his composition “Late in the Evening” (#13), the weakest link on an otherwise perfect dozen salsa burners. Tops on my list is the incendiary “Sacala Bailor” (#5). “Que Bonita” (#7) begins with just a trace of too-sweet pop, but the taste is gone halfway through the number, which finishes strong. The opening “SHO Intro” (#1) is what you would expect when hearing the band live, a warmup piece that includes Hernandez introducing each member of the band. Then it’s off to the races, a full program of dance-floor shakers. As the album’s title indicates, this disc is a uniter, bringing anyone with a pulse to their feet.
Paul Borelli 7/28/07

Stalkers / Yesterday Is No Tomorrow (Dollar) Rock

This is good time guitar rock that shows an obvious affection for all things garage, punk, and pop. Lots of melody, catchy hooks and choruses, and muscular guitar riffs. Dictators, Ramones, Beach Boys, it’s all here. The fact that they base their tunes so much on their influences might be a weakness, but it is done with such conviction that we can look the other way and simply enjoy. Recommended cuts: 3, 5, 8, 9, and 11.
Scott Gardner 6/2/07

Mavis Staples / We'll Never Turn Back (Anti-) Soul

Pops Staples took his family gospel group out of the church and into the world singing “freedom songs” after hearing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in 1963. Forty-four years later daughter Mavis felt that it was time to bring that gospel spirit and the passion of the Civil Rights Movement back into the public consciousness in a time of war, hate, and the racial indifference of the response to Hurricane Katrina. Producer and guitarist Ry Cooder resurrects the same rootsy, bluesy gospel feel of his classic mid-70s albums in support of Staples, finding at last the perfect vocalist in the still gritty, soulful & sanctified voice of Ms. Mavis. Staples reminisces about her childhood and the signs of segregation around her in Mississippi on the opening track and “In the Mississippi River” (#4). The first 7 tracks maintain a consistently dark, bluesy stroll through hard times and the faith to overcome them. The last 5 tracks have a softer feel and lack the moving power of the earlier numbers. Staples and Cooder are particularly adept at wringing new meaning and modern urgency out of traditionals like “Eyes on the Prize” (#2), “We Shall Not Be Moved” (#3), and the surprising, rocking shuffle of “This Little Light of Mine” (#6), the disc’s best cut. This CD is far more than the typical rote-reciting gospel fare; for Staples and many in the Civil Rights Movement, their faith was a source of strength for effecting real change in the here and now. Whether or not we share the backstory of that faith, one cannot but helped be moved by its application here.
Paul Borelli 4/7/07

Mavis Staples / Live: Hope at the Hideout (Anti-) Soul

This was recorded live in June and will be released on Nov. 4th of ‘08. Fitting tha Mavis’ record should come out the same day that one of the most momentous elections in U.S. history will be decided, as her dedication to social justice and freedom spans over 40 years of modern history. She sings with her usual grit, power, and passion & the 3-piece band is stripped down, raw, and swampy (all recording artists & session players in their own right). The 3 backup singers include her sister and fellow Staple Singers member Yvonne. It is a fine sounding live recording and a pleasure to listen to. "For What It’s Worth" (#1) - outstanding cover/arrangement of the Buffalo Springfield classic by Richie Furay…"Down in Mississippi" (#3) by JB Lenoir. Gorgeous rendition…"Eyes on the Prize" (#2) and "Wade in the Water" (#4) - beautiful! "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (#11) just rocks with very cool guitar hook and instrumental. "On My Way" (#12) - beautiful - gospel at its best. "I’ll Take You There" (# 13) by Alvertis Isbell & #1 hit for Staple Singers in 1972 - a raw, stunning arrangement w/vocals, claps, and stuttering guitar. Like being in church and listening to a rockin’ choir.

SJ Williams 11/08

Dayna Stephens / The Timeless Now (CTA) Jazz

Impressive 29-year-old tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens has already racked up some noteworthy credentials—attended the Berklee College of Music, chosen for the Thelonious Institute of Jazz program at USC by Herbie Hancock, Terrence Blanchard, and Wayne Shorter, all of whom he has performed with in addition to Kenny Barron, John Scofield, and Christian McBride. And on this release, he surrounds himself with stellar players, including Scofield (on tracks 1, 2 & 8) and piano prodigy Taylor Eigisti. Stephens models his playing after Shorter and Joe Henderson, and like those two icons, he doesn’t feel the need to show off his virtuosity, instead using time, space between notes, and a warm tone to create a feeling yet pensive atmosphere. The opening “Beginning of an Endless Happy Monday” starts with a Shorter-esque melancholy crawl before shifting into a loping, swinging passage, alternating back and forth while Stephens and Scofield each offer thoughtful solos. The disc’s high points are the next two tracks. “Smoking Gun” (#2) begins with a herky-jerky time signature before slipping into a loping, extended solo by Scofield, followed by Stephens and then Eigisti. The group returns to the opening time signature but then makes way for solo riffs from drummer Eric Harland before ending abruptly. “Teeth” (#3), a moody ballad in the Shorter/Hancock mold, features Eigisti soloing impressively on Fender Rhodes. The disc closes with two covers, including the Burke/Van Heusen chestnut “But Beautiful” (#9). The playing throughout is tasteful, intelligent, and probing, showing that Stephens is a talent to be watched.
Paul Borelli 6/16/07

Jo Kelly Stephenson / I See Flowers, You See Cars (Sound Vault) Pop

Interesting mix of pop, roots, country, folk, blues, & jazz. Says it herself on "Slip Away" (#4) - ”Where the Jazz nuts tell me I’m ;not enough/the folkies tell me I’ve gone too far/ and the rock & roll boys, you know what they say?/What else can you play?” In reviews she’s been compared to Shawn Colvin, but I think she’s much more akin to fellow Aussie’s The Waifs - totally original & compelling. The rhymes are not always obvious--imbedded within lines & not always typical. Quirky view of the world and unique way of expressing herself. Vocally she is quirky with odd phrasing--quite good and distinctive. "Deep End" (#1) is great bluesy tune. "Flower" (#2) is kind of pop w/a ragtime feel. "Fruitless Love" (#3) is very jazzy & very fine. "Just Fine" (#5) is a sweet, positive song of self-realization. "Cool River" (#8) is innocently sultry with cool & hot minimalist lyrics: sung with (husband?/brother?) Paul Stephenson. Stephenson wrote/co-wrote all the songs & also plays guitar & piano with accompanying trombones, violins, & cellos with her (extremely competent) Dad on banjo & lap steel. Mike Rudd, Bill Putt and Peter ‘Robbo’ Robertson from the legendary Australian band Spectrum also played on the album.

SJ Williams 10/08

Stereo Total / Paris - Berlin (Kill Rock Stars) Indie

The eighth full-length by the French-German duo of Francoise Cactus and Brozel Göring continues their lo-fi revolution of breaking down all boundaries between countries, musical styles, and sexes. They mix instruments in ways that sound incongruous but expertly capture the attention; they sing in French, German, and English; and they offer controversial topics in songs like “Miss Hormone Rebellion” (#1), “I’m a Gay Hustler” (#2), and “Complex With Sex” (#4). And all of it is done with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “Miss Rébellion des Hormones,” despite its title, is very unrevolutionary, sounding like standard lo-fi indie pop sung in French. “Ich Bin der Stricherjunge” (#2) also has an unremarkable melody but stands out because of Göring’s disinterested vocal delivery, bubbling sound effects, and the worst trumpet accompaniment ever recorded—intentionally so. “Plastic” (#3) has a Ramones-like pop melody but with plenty of electronic effects and clopping percussion on a song about plastic surgery and other ways that humans become plastic. “Lolita Fantome” (#5) combines chanson and new wave on a mild melody continually interrupted by a jarring child’s squeak toy. “Ta Voix au Téléphone” (#9) has a sexy, funky rhythm with Cactus’ ahh-ing seductively behind clavinet and plastic synth. My favorite is the punk meets electro pop ode to “Chewinggum” (#13). The revolutionary pronouncements and basic melodies on this disc may be hackneyed (no doubt by design), but Stereo Total’s sense of humor and quirky arrangements make the disc a subversive success.
Paul Borelli 8/22/07

The Story Of / The World's Affair (Leroy Godspeed) Indie

The Story Of moved from Athens, Ohio to Austin in 2004 and The World’s Affair is their third LP. With this album, the group offers a slew of inventive guitar-based rock songs with a close affinity to that of The Arcade Fire and Smashing Pumpkins. The lyrics are intellectual, emotional, and often political while the sings drive toward definitive climaxes and engaging sound effects. Try the precise tempo change-ups of “Ransom for Rivercity” (#4, 5:01). Also try the lo-fi rock and smart lyrics of “Carry the Horizon” (5:12). KOOP listeners might also like the cheerleading-sample-meets-80’s-new-wave of “Wonderlust” (#7, 4:46).
Leah Manners 9/12/07

Sugar Bayou / Dance Hall Incident (Spare Parts) Country

Where has this band been hiding? Though most of this group having been playing over 10 years, this is their first CD release. A multi-versatile team of 5 stellar musicians, they excel in each genre that they try. Billing themselves as an eclectic acoustic Americana group, Sugar Bayou shine on this collection of 16 swing, folk, bluegrass, country, blues, and jazz numbers. April Rapier is 1 of a trio of lead vocalists, and has worked as a demo singer for 10 years in Nashville. Listening to all 16 tracks from this album was a treat and I advise other programmers to give this a trial in advance to figure which cuts work best for your show. Favorites: Galveston (#1) - western swing/jazzy number, Leaving For Austin (#3) - Up tempo bluegrass w/cool guitar, fiddle, and mandolin solos, He’s Just Weak (#5) - Looking for a blues track? Very strong sax and piano solos on this number. Salt Creek (#7) - this traditional bluegrass instrumental is fabulous. Funny Thing About Love (#9) - another example of Sugar Bayou’s versatility w/a smoky jazz vocal from April. A 4 STAR album.

Len Brown 6/08

Greg Summerlin / All Done in Good Time (Superphonic) Pop

Birmingham, Alabama’s Greg Summerlin was once in the alt-country band the Quinsonics but is now immersed in power-pop sounds and the Who’s rock opera Tommy. After becoming obsessed with Tommy and reading a biography of Keith Moon, Summerlin began writing his own power-pop song cycle with the story of Polly (named after Moon’s daughter), who rebels against her authoritarian father, falls for the shallow Timmy, who gets her pregnant, then abandons her, and finally reunites with childhood friend Johnny, who has loved her all along, and reconciles with her father. The story, much more common than the Who’s masterwork and thus perhaps easier to identify with, has a religious subtext brought to the surface in the songs “The Paintaker” (#9) and “The Final Plan” (#14), in which all the characters but Timmy learn that all is revealed in good time as part of God’s plan. Regardless of what one thinks about this sermon, the inescapable fact demonstrated here is that Summerlin writes and performs some pretty irresistible power pop. Songs like “Shine on Where You Want” (#2), “He’s a Faker” (#11), and “Just Listen Tonight” (#6) rock hard and melodically with an honest simplicity unlike Sloan and The New Pornographers. He also is adept at the majestic sweep of orchestral ballads, as shown on “Please Don’t Tell” (#7), and recalls new wave a bit with warped keyboards on “Unlucky in Love” (#5). A big dollop of Tommy, a bit Bat Out of Hell, with a dash of Jesus Christ Superstar, Summerlin’s third solo outing sounds like a classic.
Paul Borelli 9/26/07

Super Furry Animals / Hey Venus! (Rough Trade) Pop

This eighth release from the Welsh quintet known for their sense of quirky bravado sounds like it could have emerged from the era of early 70s AM gold—unabashed pop confections burnished with classic melodies, pretty harmonies, and just a dash of synth. And there’s still that SFA trademark humor evident on lyrically simple cuts like “Baby Ate My Eightball” (#7) and “Suckers!” (#9). Or there’s the opener “The Gateway Song,” which is just as it says a warmup to “the harder stuff” delivered as catchy, pounding power pop in 43 seconds. “Run-Away” (#2) turns the usual runaway theme on its head: here the singer is the one who ran away to avoid having to tell the truth in a difficult situation, about which he observes, “Those who cry and run away live to cry another day.” “Show Your Hand” (#3) is a bouncy, lushly produced plea to, as the title says, show your hand and get off the fence. Many of the other songs are harder to figure out lyrically, either due to an obtuse symbolism further shrouded by lead vocalist Gruff Rhys’ Welsh accent or because words are chosen more for their sound than their meaning, case in point—“Baby Ate My Eightball” (#7). “Suckers!” (#9) boils down to there are suckers everywhere, even in the mirror, but the line about a phoenix rising to start again is puzzling. No matter, though, as a pure listening experience the album is a hoot, and the use of repetitive lyrics seduces you to sing along, perhaps the intention of the Venus in the title and the track “Into the Night” (#6). If so, mission accomplished.
Paul Borelli 1/31/08

Mr. Symarip / The SKinheads Dem a Come (JumpUp) Ska

This reconstituted edition of Symarip pairs Swiss ska band Kalles Kaviar with legendary 60s & 70s British reggae singer Roy Ellis, who for a time had abandoned reggae and ska in favor of gospel music. That detour is evident here on songs like “Say When, Say When” (#7), whose introduction borrows the melody from the gospel standard “Amen,” and “I’m Gonna Knock, I’m Gonna Knock” (#6). “Come and Dance With Me” (#3), a version of Delroy Wilson’s “Dancing Mood,” slows down the tempo, allowing Ellis to show off his vocal abilities and a nice sax solo by Duke Butler. “Hog in a Mi Minty” (#5) has a noticeable calypso flavor and an unusual harmonica solo against the strong reggae rhythm track. “I Don’t Want You, I Don’t Need You Anymore” (#8) mixes its ska with a trace of classic soul and an almost country feel to the melody. That soul feel is also evident in “Take It as It Comes” (#9). The closing “Eastern Star” (#14) is largely an instrumental with Ellis speaking a few lines and yipping along rhythmically. The other tracks are all classic skinhead fare, with the exception of “My Caravan Queen” (#13), a remake of Brian Hyland’s “Gypsy Woman.” As is often true in other musical genres, it often takes an originator—in this case, Roy Ellis—to show all the pretenders how it’s done. Ska and reggae are rarely done any better than this.
Paul Borelli 7/28/07

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