Casual Listening
A review of cool new music

By Jeff Pinzino

September 2, 2010

I've taken an unintentional vacation in August, and there's a bunch to catch up on.  Big new releases coming later this month: stay tuned

! Los Lobos - Tin Can Trust (rock)

Los Lobos are the most under-appreciated band in America.  This tour de force will fill you in on what you're missing.  Folk-rock, blues, country, nortena, cumbia - all of it turns to gold in their hands.  Every track is muscular, with a roadhouse rough-cut feel that won't fail to move you.

Listen to Los Lobos "Yo Canto"

! Shonen Knife - Free Time (rock)

The foremothers of Japanese teen pop music are still one of the coolest acts around.  Sunny harmonies and song titles like "I Eat Rock & Roll Cake" disguise a cutting punk edge with aggressive guitars.  Phenomenally energetic and fun.

Listen to Shonen Knife "Rock & Roll Cake"

! Esperanza Spalding - Chamber Music Society (jazz)

Spalding is the hottest new artist on the contemporary jazz scene, and her latest album is formidable.  With classical influences evident in both the use of violins and  dense harmonies, Spalding's vivacious spirit carries through in her vocals, bass playing, and her compositions.  There's some challenging music here - Spalding is in pursuit of new sounds not for the sake of being esoteric, but like jazz greats before her, she's got a unique vision of musical beauty.  It's well worth wrestling with.

Listen to Esperanza Spalding "Knowledge of Good and Evil"

! Locos Por Juana - Evolucion

Irresistibly groovy, Locos Por Juana twists a kaleidoscope of world influences - Afrobeat-en-espanol swirled with dancehall reggae.  A four-song EP is all they need to hook you.  This band is the summer of 2010: sweltering.

Listen to Locos Por Juana "Afro-Sound"

* Mitch Woods - Gumbo Blues (blues)

Add one more to the number of amazing styles of music connected to New Orleans.  Mitch Woods revives the New Orleans R&B of the 1950's, with a tribute to jump blues piano player Smiley Lewis.  Piano and horns dominate the band's sound, and you can see how this style inspired Little Richard in the earliest days of Rock & Roll.
Listen to Mitch Woods "Big Mamou"

* Eilen Jewell - Butcher Holler: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn (country)

A master recipe for musical success: Jewell's sultry voice, a killer backing band playing in classic retro style, and some of the best material country music has to offer.  This one'll put tears in your beer.

Listen to Eilen Jewell "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl"

The Budos Band - The Budos Band III (R&B)

Big band instrumental funk with heavy doses of Afrobeat.  The horn section packs a wallop, with psychedelic organ sounds weaving in and out of a pulsing beat.

Listen to The Budos Band "Rite of the Ancients"

Yo Gabba Gabba - Yo Gabba Gabba Music is Awesome! Vol. 2 (kids)

Picture Sesame Street getting gentrified by a group of twenty-something goateed rockers and you've got Yo Gabba Gabba.  The Nickelodeon TV show has big furry puppets and music from some of the biggest buzz bands on the scene today.  This compilation includes music by Weezer, the Ting Tings, MGMT, and The Apples in Stereo interspersed with lo-fi synthesizer tracks from the cast.

Listen to Weezer's "All My Friends are Insects"

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (rock)

While I tend not to be as enamored with this band as the rest of the musical crit-erati, this is a solid record.  A carefully crafted and orchestrated song-cycle about bucolic living, it's a cerebral journey that's worth the ride.

Listen to Arcade Fire "The Suburbs"

Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin - Let it Sway (rock)

Super-sweet pop-rock confections makes this band the modern heir to The Monkees.  Fun, head-bopping stuff.

Listen to Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin "Sink/Let it Sway"

Betty and the Werewolves - Tea Time Favorites

Betty and the Werewolves join a handful of bands emerging today that are defining a lo-fi, punk-inspired pop sound -- less riot, more grrrl.  This is still high-rev rock with a rough edge.

Listen to Betty and the Werewolves "Euston Station"

# David Garrett -- Rock Symphonies (classical)

About once a year I come across an album that is so incredibly bad you have to listen to it to believe it.  Garrett is laughably absurd, the insecure artist that wants to be treated like a rock star in the worst way.  The resulting Led-Zeppelin-meets-Mannheim-Steamroller mash-up is destined for the limbo of endless PBS pledge drive reruns.

Listen to David Garrett "Vivaldi vs. Vertigo"

There's also been a number of ambitious albums released recently that don't succeed.  On the A-for-effort list recently: Brian Wilson's Gershwin album, John Mellencamp's tour of historic recording sites, and Herbie Hancock's Imagine Project.

 all albums reviewed are recommended
* highly recommended
! highest recommendation

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