CD reviews: Bands worth listening to, live or recorded |

CD reviews: Bands worth listening to, live or recorded

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesKeyboardist Marco Benevento has released the album "Tiger Face."

(Royal Potato Family)

Marco Benevento has shown a taste for small-scale endeavors. The act that started his career was the Benevento-Russo Duo, a tight twosome of himself and drummer Joe Russo. When the Duo went into inactive status a few years ago, he re-emerged with a keyboard trio, with Benevento backed by the standard drum-and-bass rhythm section.

But on “TigerFace,” the 35-year-old Benevento shows a flair for going big. And not just because the album features contributions from some 20 musicians, or that Benevento performs on nearly as many instruments (Stylophone and Baldwin FunMachine in addition to piano and organ). There is something grand about the music here – the sound is spacious and deep; the compositions touch not only on jazz, rock and dance-pop, but also classical. It’s surprising to see that most of the tracks clock in at under four minutes; they seem to take you on far longer journeys than that. The first two tunes, “Limbs of a Pine” and “This Is How It Goes,” are the only ones to feature vocals – by Kalmia Travers, who also contributes flute and saxophone – and they launch the album with a propulsive, dreamy texture. But even as the album moves into all-instrumental territory, the sense of big thinking doesn’t fade.

produced by Thomas Bartlett (Anti-)

Glen Hansard displayed his knack for drama with his starring role in the unexpectedly excellent film “Once.” And Hansard has no problem transferring that grasp of drama into music. “Rhythm and Repose,” the 42-year-old Irishman’s debut album under his own name, has, like “Once,” an overall low-key temper. This allows for the occasional big bursts of emotional flair to have a major impact.

“Bird of Sorrow” begins typically somber, Hansard basically whispering over soft piano chords. But the swell is coming: He shouts the charged protest, “I’m not leaving here,” then cranks it up another notch for the cry, “Hangin’ on, hangin’ on.” But Hansard doesn’t need such overt dynamics to reach emotional heights. The lovely “Maybe Not Tonight” maintains its meditative vibe throughout, but gets across the point – how difficult it is to give up on a relationship – on Hansard’s thoughtful, impassioned voice. On “The Storm, It’s Coming” – well, the drama’s right there in the title.


“Portraits” opens with the song “Long Hard Road” – an odd and possibly disingenuous choice given that this is the debut album by the Wheeler Brothers, a quintet from Austin. To their credit the band, centered around brothers, Nolan, Tyler and Patrick Wheeler, has the potential to stick around long enough to see things from the far end of the long, hard road. On “Portraits,” which was released last year, the band takes rootsy rock (of course it’s rootsy rock; the Wheelers are natives of Austin) and add intriguing textures of glockenspiel and banjo. And on tunes like “Home for the Holidays” and “Portraits,” they show some taste for contemporary pop to go with the country-rock shuffles. Not that it needs it, but Austin can count one more distinguished rock quintet to its population.

Wheeler Brothers play Sept. 19 at Belly Up Aspen on a bill with Dead Winter Carpenters.

produced by Paul Butler (Interscope)

Even before Michael Kiwanuka begins singing the first notes of the first song on his first album, you hear the Van Morrison influence. The jazzy guitar chords and the flute trills on “Tell Me a Tale” echo Van’s “Astral Weeks” almost precisely. Then Kiwanuka begins singing in an old-school soul style and the Morrison connection deepens.

By the end of “Home Again,” Kiwanuka hasn’t quite shaken the shadow of Van. But he has added some other well-chosen influences: D’Angelo, Cat Stevens, Sam Cooke. So Kiwanuka doesn’t arrive as a startlingly original artist. But he’s got time to develop (he’s 24), a background (born in London to Ugandan parents) that suggests interesting possibilities, and a voice that, while derivative, is still the kind that can stop you in your tracks.

Michael Kiwanuka plays Sept. 30 at the Fox Theatre in Boulder.

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