It's inevitable that I miss out on some terrific music and culture every year. The sheer volume of releases seems to increase every year, and the lack of time to listen to everything, the recommendations of fellow critics and friends, well, there's just so many hours in a day. Here then are some things that I finally got around to ingesting in the last few weeks. Even caught a few live shows in between all of the mounting work. And if that wasn't enough, a killer new tune from His Purple Badass - Prince!
Syd Arthur On An On (Dawn Chorus)
Prog is back! This young U.K.-based quartet -- guitar, violin, bass, drums -- borrows more from Gentle Giant than from the sound of its hometown of Canterbury, i.e., bands such as Caravan, Soft Machine, Egg, or Gong. I've not enjoyed a progressive rock record this much since I first fell in love with the art-prog of Hatfield & the North -- thanks, Harvey! -- back in the '70s and more recently the psych-prog of Porcupine Tree and the metal-prog of Mars Volta. Well played, lads.
"Screwdriver" Prince (20pr1nc3)
I'm stunned. Truly didn't expect this catchy-as-hell glam rock raveup from the Purple Dood. Restores all the faith I'd lost in him these past few years about the ability to write any memorable jukebox tunes. His new backup band is totally kickass and up to the task as well -- guitarist Donna Grantis, bassist Ida Nielsen, and drummer Hannah Ford all bring it. Kinda like Prince mugging Marc Bolan fronting the Dum Dum Girls. Swaggin'....
Duane Eubanks Quintet -- Smoke -- Upper Westside, NYC (1/8/13)
Tuesday night walk-in with my friend Liz from Roanoke, VA. Younger brother of guitarist Kevin and trombonist Robin. Freddie Hubbard comparisons are apt, but not the whole story. An early cool-jazz Miles vibe permeates tunes such as the homage to his son entitled "P". Saxophonist Abraham Burton, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis, and drummer Greg Hutchinson all swing and solo off of his dynamic, clean runs.
Anaïs Mitchell Young Man in America (Wilderland)
Didn't hear this folk gem until after the holidays. Wow. Vermont-based Mitchell is one of a handful of female singer/songwriters worthy of the Joni Mitchell comparisons. Sure, being smart and well-read doesn't always translate to being a competent songwriter, but not an issue with Ms. Mitchell. Some may be turned off by her voice, which has the reedy distinctiveness of Victoria Williams. In most instances it lends itself to her narrative, whether big-issue contemporary stories or simple, introspective moments. So very worth the effort and a very late entry for one of the best CDs from 2012.
Sun Blows Up Today" The Flaming Lips (Warner Brothers)
It's always a good day when there's a new Flaming Lips track to share. Everything you expect from Wayne C. and his merry Midwestern pranksters in this catchy punky alt-rock ditty. Syd Barrett would approve. New album is due on April 2nd, 2013. In the interim, don't get sunburned....
Bettye LaVette -- City Winery, NYC (1/11/13)
Hard to believe that Ms. LaVette is celebrating 50 years in the music biz. She and her four-piece (keys, guitar, bass, drums) from Detroit shared a cornucopia of cover songs by artists from A to Z including Tom Waits, The Who, Gnarls Barkley, Ringo Starr, Springsteen, and Dylan. It was a standing ovation performance with so many highlights I loathe to pick one. Okay, for me on this one night? Her stirring, bluesy-gospel rendition of "Isn't It a Pity" made me forgot the original. It's all about phrasing, and she's a master. Auteur, auteur!
Step Up for the Cool Cats" Palma Violets (Rough Trade)
These four young U.K. punk-garage rockers have London buzzing as they put the finishing touches on their debut album, 180. And rightfully so, given the tasty trash rock they serve up with this hot new single. Will they flame out quickly like so many critics' darlings or will they soldier on to bigger and grander stages? For fans of The Strokes, Libertines, and dare I say, The Clash. A band to watch...
Show Me Those Hands" -- Anna Rose
Playing second fiddle to famous parents ain't a fun thing for any artist. Thankfully, Ms. Anna Rose doesn't have to worry about her father Alan Menken's past success clouding her future success. They are two very different songwriters. Ms. Rose likes to rock, although she knows her way around melody and hooks, too. Sure the ol' man rubbed off a just a wee bit, but that's a good thing. Check her out in action at Gibson Guitars in NYC.
Needed to upgrade my speakers this winter. My wife wanted my loud, big speakers out of the living room and wanted to integrate a small, beautiful audio system into the space. Started listening to all makes and models of small stereo and 5.1 audio systems from the usual suspect (Bose, B&O). Space is a slight issue, too. My days of massive speakers shaking the foundation of my building are long gone. Happened upon Orb speakers quite by accident, and am I lucky. While I don't crank my music every day, I still wanted a 5.1 system that was small but mighty.
This article first appeared at CultureCatch.com