CD reviews: Bruce Cockburn, Panda Bear and more | AspenTimes.com
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CD reviews: Bruce Cockburn, Panda Bear and more

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesBruce Cockburn's 29th album is "Small Source of Comfort."
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produced by Colin Linden (True North)In the liner notes to “Small Source of Comfort,” Canadian Bruce Cockburn explains that he had a desire to make this album – his 29th! – something noisy and electric. In other words, a departure.That’s an admirable instinct, for an artist to want to switch things up. But in this case, I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way, and that Cockburn went to his tried-and-true mode of folky, acoustic-based music. At 65, Cockburn has the full package of tools in his hands – superior guitar skills, vast vision as a composer, a confident voice, imagination – and he pours them all into “Small Source of Comfort.” Cockburn touches, as is his custom, on the socio-political: “The Iris of the World,” which opens the album, addresses modern-day paranoia and global warming; “Each One Lost” spotlights the shame that is modern warfare. But he brings it to life with emotion, poetry – and wit: “Call Me Rose” is about the resurrection of Richard Nixon – as a girl, without power or money.There are also several instrumental numbers here, each one telling a story as effectively as if they had words.Bruce Cockburn performs May 29 at PAC3 in Carbondale.

Following his magnificent 2007 album “Person Pitch,” and 2009’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” by Animal Collective, a band in which he is a member, Panda Bear (born Noah Lennox) states that a change in direction is in order. He’s going to go easier on the samples, dive back into the r&b he favored as a kid, employ guitars and drums.It’s proof (as with Cockburn) that you can’t easily get away from what you are. “Tomboy” may have steadier beats and more guitars, but it’s got Panda Bear’s prints all over it – especially that faraway, dreamy sound snitched from the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” Anyone expecting even a vague relation to r&b will be disappointed; anyone looking for a continuation of what Panda has done in and out of Animal Collective, will have “Tomboy” in frequent rotation. Preferably with headphones.

produced by Jamey Johnson, Chris Goldsmith, Kevin Grantt and Chad Cromwell (Saguaro Road)The Blind Boys of Alabama take a new path with “Take the High Road.” The album fuses the group’s deep gospel vocals with the sounds of country – twanged-up guitars; guest singers Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack and Hank Williams Jr.; the occasional two-step beat. They go full-tilt on the sonic side, bringing in rising country star Jamey Johnson to produce, and add vocals to one track. But for material, the Blind Boys are walking as close as ever to their Lord; songs include “Jesus Built a Bridge to Heaven” and “I Saw the Light.” Nothing along the lines of “She’s Actin’ Single, I’m Drinking Double.” Or “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tony Angels.” Heaven forbid.

Alexander is Alex Ebert, leader of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, which suggests that “Alexander” is more of the psycho-folk that the Zeroes play. Accurate – but incomplete. Ebert, who earlier fronted the ska-rockers Ima Robot, has more facets to show off here, combining the folk-freakiness with other elements. On “Glimpses,” it’s a Sam Cooke-inspired vocal; “In the Twilight” and “A Million Years” lean toward Paul Simon. It’s never quite as catchy as the Zeroes’ hit, “Home” – what is? – but it shows that Ebert is a singer and record-maker with many facets. All of them falling somewhere on the eccentric continuum.stewart@aspentimes.com


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