CD reviews: Old tunes, old times, new music |

CD reviews: Old tunes, old times, new music

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Ryan MastroRhode Island band The Low Anthem has released its third album, "Smart Flesh."

produced by the Low Anthem (Nonesuch)A few years ago, Rhode Island’s The Low Anthem packed themselves into a Block Island, in mid-winter, and came out with the widely acclaimed album “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin.” More recently, the group took over an abandoned Central Falls space that had been a pasta sauce factory and recorded “Smart Flesh.” In a way, it all makes sense; these creaky, old spaces seem to naturally inspire the Low Anthem’s blurry, wobbling take on weird, old American music. On “Matter of Time,” the band sounds far away in both time and space; the vocal and harmonica seem as if they have traveled a great, hard roads to find the listener’s ears, and the keyboard sounds as if is balanced unsteadily on an ancient wooden table that is about to give way. Two tracks, then, are startling reminders that this music was made in the second decade of the 21st century: One song is titled “Boeing 737,” the opening line references 9/11, there are horns and crashing drums. And “Hey, All You Hippies” is similarly loud, designed to wake the listener out of the haze.

produced by Scott and Seth Avett (Brushfire)Singer-guitarist G. Love replaces one dynamic duo, his long-running rhythm section Special Sauce, with another, the retro-leaning Avett Brothers. Gone are the hip-hop and funk elements usually associated with G. Love & Special Sauce; “Fixin’ to Die” is Love’s stripped-down blues album. Love does some mining of the past for his blues. The title track is a cover of the Bukka White tune; the melody for “Katie Miss” is borrowed from Mississippi John Hurt’s folk-blues gem “Louis Collins”; and the concept behind “Milk and Sugar” – plainly using metaphors to stand in for talk of sex – as old as the blues itself. Love also digs into an older generation of rock ‘n’ roll, with covers of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and Lou Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes.” But the overall take on the blues is fresh, as Love gives a bounce to the rhythms, and always sounds like G. Love, rather than G. Love trying to sound like a 1920s bluesman.

produced by CC AdcockZydeco music and melancholy emotions don’t naturally go together; the music, driven by upbeat accordions, was designed for party time. But the Louisiana coast, where the music comes from, has been through a lot in the last decade, and sadness now seems like the natural expression. The cover of Steve Riley’s “Grand Isle” is a bird dripping in oil; inside, it states simply, “April 20, 2010, 4.9 million barrels.” Riley, a Cajun singer and accordionist, opens the album with “Dancing Without Understanding,” and while the song on its surface is about communicating with a lady who speaks a different language (the song is in both English and French), the line “Why is it that I’m singing?” has greater resonance. Especially when, later on, Riley sings “This Is the Time for Change” and “Waltz of Sorrow.” “Too Much” puts a fine point on the overriding emotion here: The beat chugs forward, but Riley’s words are pained: “Now it’s all ruined, it’s no use to cry/ This time is enough, and it’s too late to forgive.”

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