New and noteworthy
MUSIC | Reviews of four albums
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Live at the 2023 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
This undeservedly unsung supergroup—a Bangle, a Cowsill, a dB, a Dream Syndicator—finally gets the live album that it deserves. Semi-highlighted by a version of Richard Thompson’s “You’re Going To Need Somebody,” it’s a rough-around-the-edges, rock ’n’ roll romp. Audience-shot footage of some of the set exists on YouTube, but for cracking sound you’ll want these recordings, which, appropriately enough, draw heavily on the band’s best album, Vermilion. That it was turning 25 as the Drifters played probably accounts for some of the celebratory vibe. Robert Maché’s noisy lead guitar accounts for a good deal of the rest.
Everything Is Alive
One song is called “Chained to a Cloud.” Another contains the phrase “chained to the clouds.” Two mention “ghosts.” Another mentions a “ghost.” You think maybe these three guys and a gal are trying to tell us something? Patient and longtime practitioners of the gauzy alt-pop known as shoegaze, they’ve perfected the art of layering ethereal effects—vocals among them—atop euphonious chord progressions. That the lyrics barely matter barely matters.
In the Book of Bad Ideas
These Ohioans aren’t smug, and they aren’t brothers. But they sure have a winning recipe: Crumble 1 cup 1970s Dwight Twilley and 1 cup 1970s Shoes into a bowl. Sprinkle the pieces into a pan liberally greased with ’60s phase shifting and garage-rock echo. Cook on medium heat anywhere from one to five minutes or until the lyrics fully emerge (whichever comes first). Season with a piquant snare drum, and squeeze the line “The sky will only look like this once” for all it’s worth. Raspberries optional.
Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations
Some of this propulsive modern rock-pop merely demonstrates the kind of competence you’d expect from a quartet that has survived since 2010 with only incremental lineup changes. It’s the fresh (or freshly recycled) combinations of beats, hooks, and lyrics that stand out. Rare is the long player on which you’ll encounter an exhortation to be yourself because “it does wonders for your health” (“Lunar Eclipse”) contextualized by a reminder as useful as “People like us think we’ve got all the time in the world, / but we ain’t got all the time in the world” (“Heartbreak Kid”).
Every once in a while, the rock community takes time to remember Badfinger’s Pete Ham, who took his own life at 27 in 1975 amid the collapse of his band’s once formidable prospects. The latest such memorial is Y&T Records’ two-disc, two-hour Shine On: A Tribute to Pete Ham, on which 34 mostly obscure acts have one go apiece at the Ham songbook. There are, of course, creditable renditions of the hits (Melanie singing “Without You”; Shelby Lynne singing “Day After Day”; Mary Lou Lord singing “Baby Blue,” as made famous again on Breaking Bad; and the Speaker Wars singing “No Matter What” twice), but what of the rest?
His dabblings in variety aside, Ham excelled at mid-tempo songs with melancholy-tinged hooks that made it easy to chalk up his melancholy-tinged lyrics to poetic license rather than to what Stevie Smith called not waving but drowning. Mediated by musicians with (as yet) no documented propensity for despair, such chalking up is easier still. —A.O.