David Bowie: "Blackstar"

February 2016

ISO/Columbia 88875173862
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
*****

Any artist’s sudden and unexpected death alters our view of his or her final work -- whether it be Jimi Hendrix’s The Cry Of Love, Janis Joplin’s Pearl, or John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. No matter how hard we try, we can never truly divorce that final recording from thoughts of what went before or projections of what might have been yet to come.

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John Abercrombie: "The First Quartet"

January 2016

ECM 2478
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Reissues of early recordings from an established artist’s career are almost always instructive, and sometimes revelatory. While it is not unusual to gain a fresh perspective on the development of the artist’s music, it is much rarer to get insights into what factors influenced the musician’s personal growth.

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Billy Gibbons and the BFGs: "Perfectamundo"

December 2015

Concord 37886
Format: CD

Musical Performance
**

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
**

Starting in the mid-1960s, blues-based guitarists began to supplant lead singers like Mick Jagger and Keith Relf as the dominant frontmen in rock music. Players like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page were suddenly thrust into the spotlight, and once Jimi Hendrix made the move from showy soul sideman to rock god there was no turning back. Even guitarists who could not sing -- Duane Allman comes to mind -- were promoted as solo artists.

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Keith Richards: "Crosseyed Heart"

November 2015

Mindless Records/Virgin EMI 2361502
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

To hear Keith Richards tell the story -- as he does in a new Netflix documentary called Keith Richards: Under the Influence -- Crosseyed Heart came about because he said something outlandish to Steve Jordan, the longtime drummer for Richards’s side project, the X-Pensive Winos. What on earth could Richards -- who, for more than 50 years, has set the bar high for outlandish behavior -- have said to create such a reaction? According to Jordan, Richards -- having now documented his turbulent past in an autobiography and with the Rolling Stones spending more time off the road than on it -- mused about retirement.

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Blue Buddha: "Blue Buddha"; Dave Douglas Quintet: "Brazen Heart"

Blue Buddha: Blue Buddha

Tzadik 4010
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Dave Douglas Quintet: Brazen Heart

Greenleaf Music 1044
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

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Jason Isbell: "Something More Than Free"

September 2015

Southeastern Records
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Few things resonate in America as well as redemption tales. Alabama-born singer-songwriter Jason Isbell has a fine one to tell, bouncing back from an alcohol habit so bad it got him fired from the hard-living Drive-By Truckers in 2007, when he was just 28. Isbell's crash was particularly disappointing because he seemed to be living out the kind of disastrous self-destruction portrayed in some of the Truckers' darkest songs while proving himself to be the most promising young writer to come out of the South since Steve Earle.

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Ryan Adams: "Ten Songs from Live at Carnegie Hall"

August 2015

Pax Americana/Blue Note B002263402
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
***

Overall Enjoyment
****

In an earlier, less-cluttered musical era, Ryan Adams would be a much bigger star. He has the charisma and the songwriting chops of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, but, at 40, he is a generation younger and remains a cult favorite -- far from a household name (except, perhaps, for those who confuse him with Bryan Adams). In some quarters, he is best known as the romantic partner of quirky women like indie-film diva Parker Posey and actress-singer Mandy Moore.

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Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell: "The Traveling Kind"

July 2015

Nonesuch Records 2-548243
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***

Sound Quality
***

Overall Enjoyment
***

Close harmony lives at the heart of rural American music, a reflection of the fact that, in its early years, it was frequently created by family members or friends -- as much self-entertainment as anything meant to share with others.

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Laura Marling: "Short Movie"

May 2015

Ribbon Music B00R8SN5U4
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

At 25, and after creating five albums, British singer-songwriter Laura Marling is no longer the startling young ingénue she was when she scored three Mercury Prize nominations, but she can still stun you with the freshness of her music and the depth of her emotion.

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Ted Kooshian: "Clowns Will Be Arriving"

February 2015

Nostalgic, Fun Jazz

Summit Records DCD 644
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I have to admit that it was the cover of this CD that called to me. It seemed to say, "Play me first." I expected some sort of circus music, and it was there, but not until the clowns had already arrived on tracks 2, 3, and 4. Truth be told, this exceptionally amiable jazz set is about Ted Kooshian's nostalgia, which includes not only clowns but other fun memories too. This is a guy who still remembers the pleasures of boyhood. I relate.

Read more ...

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