A few CD reviews | AspenTimes.com

A few CD reviews

A bit on some new discs to come across my desk…

Georgia jam-band Widespread Panic kicked off their recording career with a bang, debuting in 1988 with the much-loved “Space Wrangler.” For several years, they evolved as a studio band as much as a monster live act; albums like 1999’s “‘Til the Medicine Takes” displayed adventure and skill.

Since then, as Panic has released more live albums ” usually quite good ” their studio work has deteriorated. The presence of new guitarist Jimmy Herring, new producer Terry Manning, and accompaniment of horns and strings doesn’t help the slide on “Free Somehow.” Like 2006’s “Earth to America,” it’s flat and dull. The songs will most likely pan out fine in concert, but apart from the final track, the horn-fueled “Up All Night,” the album will have fans hoping that Panic can turn the studio clock back a decade. Somehow.

Morcheeba is not exactly the band it was in the late ’90s and early ’00s, when singer Skye Edwards brought a deep soulfulness to brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey’s trippy, ambient sound. Edwards departed after 2002’s “Charango,” leaving the Godfreys to search for another vehicle to complement their instrumental trip-hop.

The Morcheeba sound is wildly eclectic to begin with, mixing folk with techno. On “Dive Deep,” the Godfreys go with a rotating guest list of singers, and the result is an album that pulls in so many directions it’s lost its center. Virtually all of the tracks are strong, but the transition from the soft-rap of “One Love Karma,” to the folky “Au-delà,” with vocals ” in French by the whispery-voiced Manda, to “Blue Chair,” with neo-soul vocals by Judie Tzuke, can be abrupt.

In its first two albums, Australian six-piece The Cat Empire showed a desire to take ’80s-style ska and build on it with a variety of other influences. On “So Many Nights,” they bring in British producer John Porter, whose work ” with Taj Mahal, the Smiths, Los Lonely Boys and moe. ” represents similarly broad interests. It’s a brilliant match; the album is highly energized by the ska foundation, but the potential repetitiveness of ska is held off by touches of Latin, soul rock and roots reggae. The single, “No Longer There,” is actually a shot of pleasant soft rock, with barely a trace of ska. It’s not the best track, but it does show their versatility.

Austin, Texas country-rock quintet the Band of Heathens sounds right at home on the concert recording “Live at Antone’s.” As well they should. Their previous album, their debut, “Live at Momo’s,” was also a live album, also recorded at one of their hometown clubs. And for a sound, they borrow heavily from the tried-and-true roots approach already perfected by Little Feat. (The opening song, “Unsleeping Eye,” even features a refrain ” “Dontcha fail me now” ” that recalls Little Feat.) Almost all the songs on “Live at Antone’s” are originals, but I swore I’d heard them all before, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. To be fair, the Heathens add bigger doses of country and acoustic guitar than Feat ever did. And their sound is a good one, wherever it comes from. The package includes a concert DVD.

The Dead’s new “Road Trips” series makes no sense to a Deadhead. While fans prefer concert recordings in their entirety ” the better the replicate the live experience ” and have bushels of such material at their disposal, this series compiles highlights from specific tours. But this being the unparalleled fall ’77 tour, when the band was running on all cylinders, the music is spectacular. The 17-minute “Sugaree” here may have been the high point of the Dead’s odd, lengthy trip.


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