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New and noteworthy

MUSIC | Four new albums reviewed

New and noteworthy
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A Little Goes a Long Way

The Castellows

It’s disingenuous to pretend that the first impression made by these young neo-trad (i.e., banjo-inclusive) country women isn’t visual—almost as disingenuous, in fact, as pretending that their wholesome approach strikes a mighty blow against the left. Musically, they’re too slight. They do, however, have pleasant voices and harmonize like the sisters they are. And as long as they keep not taking themselves too seriously, they should be worth a listen. Question: The “fields of West Virginia” in “I Know It’ll Ever End” should be “hills,” no?

So Far, So Good

Lance Cowan

That his clients currently include the Americana stalwarts Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Michael Martin Murphey, and the Flatlanders tells you everything you need to know about the music that the longtime publicist Lance Cowan is making now that he’s branching out as a performer: sharply etched character sketches and vignettes that pack subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) emotional wallops. Some of his subjects are sad, but none of them are dark or haunted, not with Sam Bush’s mandolin and Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel among the support. And just when you think you’ve settled on the song that will perfect your next singer-songwriter mix disc, another one comes along to make you reconsider.


Brion Gysin

The verbal funster Gysin had a field day with what he called “permutations,” short sentences in which he’d rearrange the words as many times as possible, achieving linguistically cubist results. In the early ’80s, with the help of the jazz musicians shown on this album’s cover (and special guest Don Cherry), he set two of those and a few other texts to skeletal funk of surprising and enduring infectiousness. The one that goes “This is the cough that carries you off. / This is the coffin they carry you off in” is called “Stop Smoking.” He died of lung cancer in 1986.

Loss of Life


You know that Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser have turned a corner when their latest psychedelic-pop offering at 45 minutes beats all 79 minutes of their Apple Music Essentials collection (and not just because the new one contains only one F-word and says “baby in the womb” instead of “fetus”). One suggestive catchphrase after another takes root amid melodies and sounds synthesized as much from folk as from Brian Eno. There’s even a useful PSA: “Here’s the thing about drugs, / they’ll sink your mind and steal your friends.”


As one might expect, Beatles tribute albums have begun appearing to mark the 60th anniversary of the Fab Four’s conquering of America, and two (so far) offer reasons besides nostalgia to tune in: Cleopatra Records’ The Magical Mystery Psych Out and the veteran noise-rock band Medicine’s self-released On the Bed.

The former focuses on 1966-1969 and boasts 12 little-­known acts coolly reimagining the Lennon-McCartney (and in one case the Harrison) songbook from the perspective of the ’80s underground, and, “Come Together” aside, the track selection cuts deep. On the Bed, on the other hand, begins with five seldom-­if-ever-covered cuts summarizing 1962-1967 then veers into solo obscurities by Harrison and McCartney before concluding with Ringo’s chart-topping “Photograph.” The penultimate track—a spooky, 10-minute, stream-of-­consciousness original called “The Beatles Story”—is the biggest magical-mystery psych-out of all. —A.O.

Arsenio Orteza

Arsenio is a music reviewer for WORLD Magazine and one of its original contributors from 1986. Arsenio resides in China.



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