The Record Box for Sunday May 3rd

INTO THE WILDLIFE Halestorm (Atlantic) ***Last I heard they were working on their next album and now, suddenly, I have the 3rd full length album in my hands, the follow-up to this Grammy winning group’s 2012 epic The Strange Case Of…   Into The Wildlife doesn’t quite hit you between the eyes as their first couple of records did but by God this is a pretty tasty piece of rock & roll.“Into The Wildlife is not a departure” says Lizzy Hale, “it’s an invitation to all things Halestorm.  Lyrically and musically, we explore everything that makes us tick. We set a new standard for this record and gave ourselves no choice other than to be unapologetically ourselves in every way- let us drag you deeper into our world.”I was initially disappointed at not being bitch-slapped by a full on metal assault from front to back, but the band has wisely dodged becoming the next Nickelback by throwing in some changeups. Ballads on a Halestorm album?  Oh Please!  But EP’s aside, the third record is about the right timing for showing some growth and change, not just re-doing the same song over and over, that you have what it takes to go the distance- and the band is doing just that.A song like Bad Girl’s World would not have been possible on the last record, but now that Haelstorm has reached an impressive level of popularity, they’ve earned the freedom to stretch out and show different sides of who they are as a band.  A song like Mayhem gives you the Halestorm you’ve come to know and love, as does the first single Apocalyptic, and there’s a lot of ground being covered in between.My first run through Into The Wildlife left me thinking that I didn’t like it as much as their other stuff, but that changes a bit with each listen.  They didn’t just stick to ‘the formula’ on this one- time just might prove that it has the legs to become a classic.ESSENTIALS: I Like It Heavy, Bad Girl’s World, Sick Individual KINTSUGI Death Cab For Cutie (Atlantic) **** ½ Here is the 8th album for this popular Seattle band yet, other than the occasional song on the radio, it’s also my first real encounter with their music.  As I looked over the deliveries in my DMDS inbox I thought “Hey I’ve heard of those guys” and, on a whim, burned Kintsugi to CD to listen to in the car- the smartest thing I’ve done so far this year.The title Kintsugi refers to the Japanese art of repairing cracked ceramics with gold to highlight the flaws instead of hiding them, speaking to the way an object’s history is a part of its aesthetic value.  That philosophy speaks to things the band has been going through, and part of what makes this record such a powerful statement.Kintsugi marks the first time Death Cab have recorded with a producer other than their own Chris Walla, the guitarist and multi-instrumentalist whose talent on the board has helped shape their sound since the very beginning.  10 days into the initial sessions Chris said “I don’t think I’m the right guy to do this album, we should get someone else.”  Enter Rich Costey, known for his work with Foster The People, Muse, Vampire Weekend, Chvrches.  “We couldn’t have landed a better collaborator for this record” enthuses singer-guitarist Ben Gibbard. “He accomplished what we’ve always attempted, which is to make Death Cab sound on record how we do live.”Your state of mind when you put Kintsugi into the CD player for the first time (or roll it on your I-Tunes) will likely have a lot to do with how you react to the songs.  As I write this I’ll be having a birthday in another week, which always puts me in a contemplative funk, and songs like Black Sun and Hold No Guns feel like they were written just for me, and that’s fine by Gibbard.  “I know people will assume these songs are about certain things” he says, “And in some instances they’re going to be correct- but I’m not going to give them a road map.”  Bassist Nick Harmer says “I know the lyrics aren’t 100% fiction and they’re not 100% non-fiction, and only Ben knows what that blend is. But with this group of songs, I do think he is writing from a genuinely honest and vulnerable place.”Perhaps it’s that honest that makes Kintsugi so easy to connect with.  Gibbard’s casual vocal style helps too, and the grooves are easy to catch onto and ride. The albums doesn’t particularly make me want to get up and dance- in fact in may very well be illegal for someone of my vintage to do so- but it’s fine company when you’re in the mood to contemplate life, death and the great beyond.ESSENTIALS:  Good help (Is So Hard To Find), Black Sun, You’ve Haunted Me All My LifeA FOOL TO CARE Boz Scaggs (429 Records) *** ½ According to Wikipedia this is Scaggs’ 22nd album.  A Fool To Care is a classic, romantic, sublime treat that may catch fans of his 70’s stuff off guard. Produced by drummer Steve Jordan, this is one slow burning groovy affair.Boz first appeared on the map in the 60’s as a member of The Steve Miller Band, before going on to a successful solo career in the 70’s that peaked with the 5 times platinum Silk Degrees, powered by the singles Lowdown and Lido Shuffle. Instead of chasing the brass ring he’s been quietly building a career on exquisitely turned out records like A Fool To Care, released at the end of March.  This is a record of mostly covers, perhaps a love letter to the music that has lifted and inspired him, including songs by Curtis Mayfield, Al Green and Huey P. Smith.  More than a rock or pop album, I’d call this soulful, with elements of gospel and salsa, extremely groovy in the very best sense of the word.Drummer/ producer Steve Jordan (Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, the original drummer for the band on The David Letterman show) knows a thing or two about pulling a nuanced and inspired performance from the artists he works with, and that is certainly the case here. Even on a rocker like High Blood Pressure the performance is more joyous in a New Orleans sort of way as opposed to a bunch of yelling and screaming, but it’s when they jump down into a groove like Last Tango On 16th Street that the creative partnership between these two guys really shines.As a singer Boz Scaggs sounds pretty much like he always has, which is really saying something nearly 40 years after his most commercially successful work.  He’s not a flashy guitarist by any means but his sense of groove is impeccable, particularly on this new album.  I think it’s fair to say that A Fool To Care shows his gentler, more romantic side- it’s a record with a late 60’s/ early 70’s heart that makes you feel good. I’m a fan of his 70’s stuff and have Silk Degrees as well as a comprehensive Best Of on CD but honestly, A Fool To Care will be the one I return to most often.ESSENTIALS:  Gypsy Woman, Last tango On 16th Street, Rich Woman, M.P.B. PIER PRESSURE Brian Wilson (Capital) ****Gotta love the punny album title.  This, the latest solo record from the Beach Boys mastermind, is a mix of modern pop sensibilities and that surf magic he is so rightly famous for.  Despite everything Wilson has been through over the years, his gifts are obviously still intact.Up until recent years I hated The Beach Boys- not for their music so much as the various Mike Love-led lineups of the group that would go out every summer and play the same songs over and over again.  My buddy Dean (a co-worker) is a huge Beach Boys fan, and over the last few years I’ve begun to hear the group’s music and view their legacy through him.  He even lent me Brian Wilson’s biography to read and, after having done so, I could only marvel at the body of work Wilson was able to create.  If you catch the movie Love & Mercy, a Brian Wilson bio-pic due out June 5th, you’ll get a very good idea of what I mean.Pier Pressure feels like what could be considered a modern day Beach Boys record, with exquisitely constructed vocal harmonies and each song being a pop symphony in and of itself. In an interview with The Guardian Brian was asked if the new record took a long time to make and he replied “Well yeah because we were trying to perfect the album’s sound. We wanted a pleasant sound- pleasant and mellow.  Soft rock, not rock- my album isn’t rock & roll.”There are several vocal collaborators on Pier Pressure that help make the magic.  Beach Boy Al Jardine is on several cuts, and we also hear from Kacey Musgraves, She & Him, David Marks, Sebu, Mark Isham and more.  Brian doesn’t do a lot of the singing- at 72 his voice isn’t the delicate instrument it once was, but by God these 18 tracks will have you thinking of the 20-something genius that inspired, and was inspired by, The Beatles.If you love that Beach Boys sound- truth be told they made some of the best pop records in history- then you’re going to love Pier Pressure.  This isn’t an album of an aging artist trying to recapture former glories, but that of a supremely talented one doing what he does best.  Pop music just doesn’t get a whole lot better than this.ESSENTIALS:  One Kind of Love, On The Island (featuring She & Him), Guess You Had To Be There (featuring Kacey Musgraves)SLIDE GUITAR SUMMIT Arlen Roth (Aquinnah Records) *****This may very well be the most ecstatic blues album I’ve ever heard in my life.  14 tracks in all in which Roth, a slide master himself, hosts a number of other players in friendly duels that elevate the songs to an entirely different plane altogether.“(This album) was a longtime dream come true for me” states Roth. “It was like a group of old friends getting together for a great time that is rooted in our serious and mutual love for what we do.”   His session with Johnny Winter on Rocket 88 turned out to be the Texas guitar slinger’s very last. “Getting to work with the legendary Johnny Winter was such an incredible feeling, and it got the album totally off on the right foot” Arlen says.  It was hard to believe I was sitting there playing Rocket 88 with him, when I could remember being 16 years old and watching Johnny from the very front at Woodstock in 1969.  This album is, of course, dedicated to this slide and blues guitar master who always served to inspire us all.”Of course, Johnny isn’t the only other guitarist here; other songs also feature players like Jimmy Vivino, Sonny Landreth, David Lindley, Rick Vito and many more.  Produced by Tom Hambridge Slide Guitar Summit sounds best up loud and at highway speeds, which is how I heard it the first time.  But now, sitting at my computer in The Bat Cave, it sounds just as sweet.  It’s uplifting and lowdown at the same time, sublime and delirious all at once.  Some tunes (like the aforementioned Rocket 88) rock like crazy, then there’s the lowdown swamp groove of Poor Boy Blues (with Jimmy Vivino) that’ll make you want to sway with your eyes closed, and the CD player on ‘repeat’.All-star albums like this can be a real risk, often coming off like a dog’s breakfast or, at worst, insincere. But Slide Guitar Summit deftly sidesteps those pitfalls with a series of truly masterful performances that highlights one of the sexier/sleazier forms of the blues. The fireworks of Stevie Ray or Buddy Guy are exciting, but slide guitar is the stuff that’ll really hit you where you live, and I can’t recommend this compilation highly enough.  I seriously doubt there’ll be another blues album this powerful for quite some time.ESSENTIALS:  Rocket 88 (with Johnny Winter), Dust My Broom (with Lee Roy Parnell), Poor Boy Blues (with Jimmy Vivino)GUITAR HEROES James, Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett, David Wilcox (Stony Plain) *****It’s a friggin’ great week to be a guitar fan- first the Arlen Roth album, and now this, to be released May 4th!  This special live recording by these 4 ‘Telecaster Masters’ was recording at The Vancouver Island Music Festival July 12th 2013, and is full of incredible guitar playing.Backing each of the guys on the night was Albert Lee’s regular touring band;  Jon Greathouse on keys, Will MacGregor on bass, and Jason Harrison Smith von drums. This is also a truly live recording, as heard at the gig itself; no overdubs or post production sweetening, this is exactly how it went down- just 4 great guitar players having fun together.  Tracks in this 11 song set include explorations into blues, rockabilly, old time rock & roll with a touch of country on the side.Here we are treated to James Burton recreating his licks on Suzy Q as he did on the 1957 Hawkins original, Albert Lee’s amazing display on the album closer Country Boy, David Wilcox making the hair on my arm stand up during his solos on Comin’ Home Baby, and the sweet spot of the album (for me, anyway)Amos Garrett’s hypnotic treatment of Sleep Walk…. Inspiring turns in the spotlight by all 4.Burton, Lee, Garrett and Wilcox gathered together the day before the show at The Cumberland Hotel to rehearse for the show, and they knew it was going to work from the first note. “I remember standing out on our main street thinking how surreal it was to have James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and David Wilcox in our local watering hole in the middle of the day swapping licks” recalls festival director Doug Cox in the liner notes. “It was like a gunslinger’s gathering in an old saloon; one where all the survivors got together to enjoy each other’s company like only survivors can.  High-test, take no prisoners, expect no mercy guitar slinging at its best.”I’ve known since I started publishing album reviews in Kamloops in 1990 that, on occasion, words would fail me when it comes to writing about music, and this is one of those times.  Suffice to say that Guitar Heroes is a joyful noise, with masters of the instrument supporting each other and egging each other on as only they can.  The band grooves gracefully, and the playing ranges from sublime to volcanic.  When this hits shelves on May 4th, you really need to go out and get yourself a copy.   Next time I pick up my guitar (I’m a beginner), I’ll be copping some mojo and using the souvenir pick that came with my CD.ESSENTIALS:  Sleep Walk, Only The Young, Leave My Woman Alone LIVE & EXTENDED Brandon Santini (Vizztone) ***** +Recorded live at ‘Festival D’ete De Quebec’  Live & Extended is nothing short of a marvelous surprise.  Had no idea the album was coming, but this is some of the hottest live blues you are ever likely to hear.A hot band performance, a crowd that was clearly into it and some of the most soul-melting harp this side of James Cotton make this album sheer perfection, like the kind of roadhouse you stumble into on a Saturday and think instantly “I’m home”.  Santini sings each of these songs as if he’s lived them each a hundred times, even the tracks he didn’t have a hand in writing.  The band (Timo Arthur (guitar, backing vocals), Nick Hern (bass, backing vocals), and Chad Wirl (drums) have mastered the blues groove, giving the Brandon the perfect canvas on which to paint.Live & Extended is a mix of originals, and covers by the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters, that blend together seamlessly, so it would seem Santini has done his homework.  It’s also the right mix of upbeat stuff and the real down in the gutter blues, which so happens to be the stuff I really like.  As a vocalist his voice sounds familiar, reminding me of someone that I can’t quite place- no doubt it will occur to me minutes after I post this review!Live & Extended is one of the most engaging and spirited performances I’ve heard in quite a while.  As a front man Santini knows how to keep the audience engaged, and the songs themselves are huge fun- lots of party tunes here that make you want to keep up and move, others that reach right down into your heart and give it a good squeeze, a pretty good balance overall that I can’t wait to road test… fuckin’ great album.ESSENTIALS:  Help Me With The Blues, Elevate Me Mama, My Backscratcher HEAVY BLUES Bachman (Linus) *****Fantastic new album from Randy Bachman, a legion of guests plus legendary rock producer Kevin Shirley (Rush, Zeppelin), but what makes this album work so spectacularly well is that for the first time many years, Randy sounds like himself.“The genesis of this project began with Neil Young” Bachman says in the liner notes. “Randy, if you’re going to do a new album (said Neil), don’t do the same old thing and call it new.  Start from scratch and reinvent yourself and do something that scares and challenges you.  Be fierce and be fearless.”  Pretty wise words from a guy who should know.Heavy Blues is some top shelf sledgehammer rock & roll, I wish BTO could’ve been.  Bachman’s core band on this includes drummer Dale Anne Brendon- Randy and Pete Townshend had seen her playing in a stage production of Tommy at The Stratford Festival in 2013, both marveling at how much her playing reminded them of Keith Moon.  When bassist Anna Ruddick showed up for rehearsals wearing a John Entwhistle t-shirt, he knew things were gonna work out just fine.  Next ingredient is producer Kevin “Caveman” Shirley, whom Randy has known since the early 90’s.  “Kevin had only one proviso” says Bachman in the same liner notes. “I needed to trust him, and let him do his thing as producer.  In turn, I’d be free to create the songs and music.”The result of all this is a wild and hairy knuckle draggin’ rock & roll album with British blues power that could have come out in the late 60’s- it has that magic combination of simplicity along with melodies that you’ll remember after the first pass.  Lots of cool guests on this record too- Scott Holiday, Joe Bonamassa, Neil Young, Robert Randolph, the late Jeff Healey, Luke Doucet and Peter Frampton, turning in some really tasty solos.Fans of even Randy’s BTO stuff or later solo albums like Any Road (a personal favorite of mine) will be surprised by the heaviness of this record.  Blues themes mix with some big, fat guitar sounds for a record that is a whole pantload of fun to listen too.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all the stuff he did with The Guess Who, I’m old enough remember when those records first came out.  Really dug some of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s stuff too, though it felt like was phoning a lot of it in.  For a guy that’s already had an amazing run, in Heavy Blues Randy Bachman has just made the album of his career.ESSENTIALS:  Oh My Lord, The Edge, Heavy Blues TOKYO DOME Van Halen (Warner)  *The latest from Van Halen is a document of their 2013 show in Tokyo, and it’s pretty embarrassing.  I’ve listened to this album twice now, and I’m done.The original plan was to shine up the original demos from way back and release those, but Eddie says that tapes are gone.  Next was board recordings of early live shows, but the sound quality was crap.  Wanting to have something to promote before hitting the road this summer, a live album from their last tour was the last answer.  The band didn’t want to go over every single show (they record everything) so they left it up to Roth.  Eddie’s reasoning is sound; the band plays pretty consistent from night to night, whereas a singer can be affected by any number of variables- climate, sleep, health concerns… but I’m frankly shocked that Roth chose this show.The band’s performance is pretty good throughout, wanky solos notwithstanding, and the song selection over two discs is actually pretty good- they even put in the bridge that was missing from their original recording of Roy Orbison’s Oh Pretty Woman.  Roth’s repeated attempts to sing in a higher register are laughable and trying to stay in key seems to be his last consideration.  He’s not a 20-something Rock God anymore but he’s still trying to act like one and it’s embarrassing.  I don’t hate Dave, honestly- I’ve enjoyed all of his work with Van Halen, including 2012’s A Different Kind Of Truth and the extra tracks on the best of set The Best Of Volume One, plus I have all of his solo albums- but TD is a steaming triple coiler.Van Halen has made themselves hard to like in recent years, and Tokyo Dome In Concert does them no favors. Instead of leaping around and trying to talk to the Japanese crowd in their language Dave, work on your singing, man.  You’re working with one of the greatest guitar players that has ever been, plus Alex and Wolf Van Halen are a ferocious rhythm section.  Step up your game or you’ll blow it for everybody.ESSENTIALS: noneANYBODY LISTENING PT/ 1: MONOLOGUES Cecile Doo-Kingue (CDK)  *****An intoxicating blend of music, blues based, is what we have for consideration here.  Anybody Listening is one of the coolest albums you’re likely to hear this year, in any genre.Doo-Kingue Has lived in France and the US, and is a first generation Cameroonian that now calls Montreal home.  Her deep voice and expressive guitar work blend blues, soul and Afro-folk music for a lively, intoxicating brew that feels mostly like the blues.  Listening is a stark production featuring her voice, energetic acoustic fretwork, and sparse percussion- rarely more than a rhythmic tambourine.  She shifts effortlessly from English to French as she sings, giving songs lie Home an unexpectedly exotic vibe- well, to an old anglo like me anyway…As I write this review I’m thinking of the recent bad news about BB King’s health and am really feeling the blues today, and Anybody Listening is going in thru my ears and straight to my heart.  According to the inner sleeve this was “recorded, mixed and produced by Cecile Doo-kingue in the bedroom”, and it was mastered by Harris Newman.  The sound is intimate and direct, leaving virtually nothing between the listener and the songs.  They feel personal, but you’ll be able to see yourself or pieces of your life in them too- and isn’t that what the good stuff is all about?Doo-Kingue’s expert and occasionally thrilling fretwork will catch your ear and pull you in as her lyrics and smooth voice will make you want to hang around for a while.  Anybody Listening is the sort of record you’ll want to share with close friends, but its okay to listen to by yourself as well- I’m sure she won’t mind.ESSENTIALS:  Third World Child, Bloodstained Vodka, HomeLIVE IN 1967: NEVER BEFORE HEARD LIVER PERFORMANCES John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (Forty Below Records) ****Talk about your buried treasure!  Here is an archival recording of one of the best of the Bluesbreakers band lineups- John Mayall, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Peter Green- that was together for a mere three months, after which Fleetwood Mac was formed.  Despite the bootleg sound quality this is surely one of THE prized recordings from the era.Without the British blues scene of the 60’s, I seriously doubt that the blues as we know it today would even exist.  Bands like The Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones took in the Chicago blues that American audiences were ignoring and served it back to them with a British twist, resulting in a scene that exists and thrives to this day.  Mayall is considered one of the grandfathers of the British Blues movement, and many fine musicians have passed through the band’s ranks.  These tapes remained unheard until John Mayall acquired then recently and began restoring them with the technical assistance of Eric Corne from Forty Below Records.  “While the source recording was very rough and the final result is certainly not hi-fidelity” Eric notes, “it does succeed in allowing us to hear how spectacular these performances are.”Indeed we get to hear the beginning of the preternaturally linked rhythm section McVie and Fleetwood were to become and, as a blues guitarist, Peter Green had few peers at this stage, not even Clapton himself, whom he’d just replaced in the band.  Their repertoire at the time includes songs from the Bluesbreakers’ first couple of records, along with tracks by Freddie King and Otis Rush.  The energy and urgency of these performances is undeniable.Of course I’d prefer that Live In 1967 be of better sound quality, but the fact that it exists at all is a miracle in and of itself, and the performances of everyone involved (particularly guitarist Peter Green) are absolutely second to none.  As is, this disc is a spine-tingling pleasure.ESSENTIALS:  Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Double Trouble, Stormy Monday

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