CD reviews: Pickwick, Ritter and Carrington

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesSinger-songwriter Josh Ritter has released the album, "The Beast in Its Tracks."

(Small Press)The old-soul revival is in fine shape, with bands like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Fitz and the Tantrums and Alabama Shakes taking classic soul and doing new and interesting things with it.Add to the list Pickwick. The Seattle sextet is led by singer Gallen Disston, whose voice at times echoes the great soul shouters, especially Wilson Pickett. On the band’s debut album, after a handful of EPs dating back to 2008, Disston’s voice is backed by something that sounds very analog, old-school. But Pickwick has more than a touch of modern rock to it, heard in the instrumentation, the songwriting, Disston’s vocals, the production. A song like “Hacienda Motel” thumps along on a familiar Motown-ish bass line, with Disston’s staying well within soul boundaries. But “The Shadow” stirs indie-rock elements into the mix, while “Lady Luck” is a touch of soft rock, with the vocals moving into a distinctly higher register.Pickwick makes its local debut March 18 at Belly Up Aspen.

produced by Sam Kassirer (Pytheas)In the liner notes to “The Beast in Its Tracks,” Josh Ritter tells of how he got divorced late in 2010, went through a rough spell of drinking, sleeplessness, wearing a cowboy hat. And of course, writing songs, because that’s what songwriters do. The songs, though, were angry and self-pitying and didn’t feel right. So Ritter kept on writing till he got the right combination of distance and perspective and an understanding of what he’d been through.Someone who’s as great a singer-songwriter as Ritter (his last album, “So Runs the World Away,” was my favorite of 2010) and who gets as much joy from music as he does (I won’t forget the smile he wore onstage at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival a few summers back) shouldn’t be making dour music. “The Beast in Its Tracks” is another measure of Ritter’s greatness. He hardly buries his anguish – “New Lover” opens with the line, “I can’t pretend that all is well” – but the album is so comforting and wise, even hopeful, it makes severe heartache seem almost attractive. You want to endure it so you can come through it with this much grace.

produced by Carrington (Concord Jazz)rummer Terri Lyne Carrington first heard Duke Ellington’s 1963 trio album “Money Jungle” after buying it from a music store discount bin. That’s poignant: Ellington’s album was a statement on the tension between money and art.Carrington, with keyboardist Gerald Clayton and bassist Christian McBride comprising her core group here, stands up for artistic integrity here. The opening title track features a spoken-word snippet – “People are basically vehicles to just create money, which must create more money to keep the whole thing from falling apart” over Carrington’s drum beats; the album continues with more words, from Martin Luther King, Bill Clinton and others, on the subject of money.We hear other voices as well, as musicians including trumpeter/singer Clark Terry, trombonist Robin Eubanks and flutist Antonio Hart add their art to the proceedings. Vocalist Lizz Wright chimes in with a gospel strain on “Backward Country Boy Blues,” before the tune turns from blues to fusion. “Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue” covers a lot of jazz ground, all of it anchored by Carrington’s drumming, which is deep, rather than flashy. The 28-year-old Clayton, a former student at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ educational program, also stands out.Carrington – and Ellington – would probably object to putting any dollar figure on this music. So let’s call it