Bluegrass, Synth-Pop, Soul, Rock, Jazz, Americana CDs Rule

The title of Carolyn Fe’s blues-busting self-released self-produced all-original fourth CD, Sugat Ko, means “my wound” in her native Tagalog language in the Philippines. Every song, from “I Can’t Breathe” and “Prayer” to “Sugar” and “Jerusalem’s Thorns” plus the other six stand-outs, are cut from the same mold: strength, independence and righteous indignation. After four years of silence, she’s taken traditional Filipino folkloric melodies and rhythms and has shifted them around into rockin’ odes of female empowerment. You go, Girl!

Rest Heavy: The Sun Studio Sessions by Chad Elliott & The Redemptions has the Iowa renaissance man (singer, songwriter, harmonica player, producer, instrumentalist, painter, author, illustrator, sculptor, poet) soulfully singing up a storm, strumming his acoustic and blowing harmonica on 10 originals and one cover. Self-released, self-produced, recorded at Sun Records (now in Nashville) with his touring band, the cover is the 1928 Louis Armstrong hit, “St. James Infirmary.” The 10 originals reek with sawdust-on-the-floor, cigarette smoke in the air and spilt beer. This is Americana at its finest: “Shy Of Shameless,” “Cadillac Problems Buick Times” and “Dirty River Catfish Blues” are the highlights. Elliott has immersed himself in gospel, blues, roots-rock and white-boy R’n’B to the point where he comes across as a striking combo of Fogerty, Mellencamp and Springsteen.

Sugar Brown has put out the call. It’s a Blues World: Calling All Blues! Born Ken Kawashima to a Japanese father and Korean mother, the bluesman with the Ph.D from NYU in history is a college professor at the University of Toronto on his third album. Recorded in old-school analog, it sounds warm and inviting. He wrote it, produced it (with the help of Peter J. Moore who mastered Dylan’s Basement Tapes), arranged it, sings it, plays guitar (as does “Rockin’” Johnny Burgin, a veteran of the Chicago blues scene) plus harmonica and self-released it. If there was any musical justice in the world, “Lousy Dime” would be a big radio hit single.

Rosie The Riveter was a popular 1942 illustration with flexing biceps and a promise that “we can do it.” It was an American pep talk as men went off to war and women took over the jobs. Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters makes good on Rosie’s original promise by doing it themselves. The all-girl Oregon band’s self-titled debut on Home Perm Records absolutely ROCKS with 10 originals played and sung with ball-crushing intensity. Guitarist Nancy Luca can shred. This Floridian studied with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and sat in with Mudcrutch before Bo Diddley recruited her for his ‘90s touring band. Singer/Songwriter Flynn is a powerhouse. Highlight has to be the closing “Big Hat No Cattle” where they stop the rock for a lethal injection of stone-cold country.

Put on your Spacesuit and join Robert Walter’s 20th Congress on the Royal Potato Family label. It’s a science-fiction soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist utilizing all sorts of bubbles, blips, bleeps, sizzles and pops from Walter’s arsenal of keyboards, synthesizers and electronic toys. Inspired by a movie that was never made, the funk, the fusion, the dub reggae, the Krautrock, the Pink Floydian excess and the slight New Orleans tinge make this Spacesuit fit real nice, so nice, as the saying goes, you’ll want to play it twice. And then again.
More on the inspiration: movie director Alejandro Jodorowsky, from Chile, who brought the world the outrageous cult film El Topo in 1970, had planned a cinematic adaptation of the sci-fi classic Dune, by Frank Herbert, which was to star Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and Salvador Dali with music by Pink Floyd. It was never made. A documentary on the doomed project, Jodorowsky’s Dune, did see movie screens in 2013, though. This is what impressed Walter so much that he changed course for his new album, thus Spacesuit. The quartet is exemplary. Drummer Simon Lott and bassist Victor Little are one. Guitarist Chris Alford, after touring with Cassandra Wilson, is a funk machine. This one’s special.

You might say singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Arthur Nasson is a true died-in-the-wool renaissance man like Todd Rundgren, Eric Carmen, Lenny Kravitz or Jeff Lynne. Take his August Whack Mythology or his September Basement Glitter, for examples. Two records in 60 days! Both sound better than what passes for alt.pop these days. They used to call this kind of stuff power pop. Hell, on the latter effort he even rocks like Cheap Trick. Thing is, and what is most impressive about this eccentric eclectic independent artist, is that he puts out these records by himself, he sings lead and back-up vocals, he plays piano, lead and rhythm electric guitar, acoustic guitar, synthesizers, bass, percussion and assorted sounds that he wrings out of a multiplicity of studio toys. Call me a fan. You would do yourself a favor by checking out this multi-talented super-pop maestro at http://arthurnasson.com/.

This is some bigtime vintage soul! Homegrown (Louisiana Red Hot Records) by Erica Falls is sweet, sexy, syncopated, sassy and totally irresistible. This talented singer-songwriter takes from past decades of delicious R’n’B and infuses it with her unerring New Orleans wisdom, wisdom she’s soaked in to her pores by touring with Galactic. She’s obviously also digested Whitney, Aretha and Natalie. Traces come out in unexpected places, a hint of gospel there, a shout of fem-centric individuality there. She covers Saint Allen Toussaint’s “Old Records” and even “Dreams” by Stevie Nicks so sweet. And when she funks it up on album highlight “Don’t Stop Ya Lovin’,” you can’t stop shaking like jelly on a plate.

Thomas Dolby, 59, is totally Hyperactive on this impressive two-disc 28-song retrospective from the BMG Masters Collection. One tends to forget that the man who graced the world with the irresistible “She Blinded Me With Science” in 1982 is also a video director, author of the National Public Radio’s 2016 “Book of the Year” (The Speed Of Sound), and has added synth and production for the likes of Roger Waters, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Foreigner, George Clinton and Joni Mitchell. Plus, you can call him Professor Dolby as his John Hopkins University music course is quite the popular Baltimore class. He even recently put the finishing touches on a new under-graduate degree course at the Peabody Institute: 3D sound design for virtual and augmented reality, the first such course at any major American university.
Crank these tunes up real loud, though, and a whole new appreciation emerges of this forward-thinking singer-songwriter. Bowie fans, especially, should love this stuff as its angular rhythmic thrusts, alt.funk and weird pop constructions practically snap, crackle and pop out of your speakers in similar style to The Thin White Duke himself. Highlights include “Valley Of The Mind’s Eye,” “The Devil Is An Englishman,” “One Of Our Submarines,” “Budapest By Blimp” and the closing “My Brain Is Like A Sieve.”
Damn, I used to think of this cat as but a lightweight synth-popper. I was wrong.

Dennis K. Duff‘s Songs From Lyon County (Gracey Holler Music) is about as authentic as you can get when it comes to real died-in-the-wool Kentucky bluegrass. Duff’s surrounded himself with like-minded musicians and singers who make his nine vignettes about rural life come alive. Whether it’s the “Flood” or the “Night Riders,” Duff’s world is that hardscrabble existence between guzzling moonshine and getting your house repossessed. The vocals twang with syllable-bending accents. The music is rustic. Strings fly by with no drums. Wholeheartedly Recommended

About Mike Greenblatt

A longtime music journalist, Mike Greenblatt is a contributing editor with Goldmine magazine.

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