CD reviews: The latest from bands headed for Aspen
ASPEN – Some of the musical acts rolling into the valley over the next few months are bringing not only their instruments, road crews and supplemental oxygen canisters. They’ve got new albums to pitch, new music to play. Here’s a look at what they did on record before they hit the stage.
produced by Steve BerlinYou figure that a band with a circus-like stage show – stilt walkers, belly dancers, fire eaters – might neglect the musical side, or at least pay less attention to what they do in the studio. But “Magnificent Beast,” by the Oregon-based MarchFourth Marching Band, succeeds without the visual parade. Even on CD, the horn-heavy MarchFourth comes across as colorful and dynamic. “Magnificent Beast” – produced by Steve Berlin, the saxophonist from Los Lobos – struts through the sounds of India (“Delhi Belly”) and the Latin world (“Sin Camiseta”). But they are at their best when they’re at their most inventive: “Lesley Metal” has an off-kilter rhythm that should sound awkward, but instead shows a mastery of beat; “Skin Is Thin” turns the tough trick of being part ballad, part funk, part ’50s nostalgia trip.(Strange footnote: “Magnificent Beast” opens with “Lesley Metal.” The wonderful new album by Feist – whose real name is Leslie Feist – is titled “Metals.” Coincidence or extremely obscure and probably pointless marketing maneuver?)MarchFourth Marching Band plays Belly Up Aspen on Friday, Oct. 21.
produced by Greensky Bluegrass (Big Blue Zoo Records)Michigan’s Greensky Bluegrass looks very much like a bluegrass outfit – five not particularly well-groomed guys on acoustic instruments. Drop the needle on the right spot on “Handguns,” and they’ll sound just like a bluegrass band. “Better Off,” for instance, opens on a hot bluegrass lick, and charges ahead into dobro and mandolin solos. The lyrics, about the uncertainties of romance, are delivered in harmony. But listen to “Handguns” beginning to end, and it’s clear that Greensky Bluegrass is intent on pushing bluegrass boundaries out in numerous ways. “I’ll Probably Kill You” is the most obvious example, as the string-band foundation is joined by a three-part horn section, and the fusion is done with a deft, light touch. “Jaywalking” mixes contemporary folk and gypsy licks into the sound. “Bring Out Your Dead” is tinged with a psychedelic rock feel, echoey, choppy and experimental. And throughout, the lyrics sidestep the usual bluegrass topics in favor of topics more introspective and dark.Greensky Bluegrass plays Oct. 27 at Belly Up Aspen.
produced by Ben Ellman (Verve Forecast)Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews was raised in the thick of the New Orleans jazz scene – born in the Treme neighborhood, adjacent to Congo Square, where jazz was invented, and Louis Armstrong Park, he was playing in his brother James’ touring band before he was a teenager. He studied music at the New Orleans Creative Center for the Arts, and titled his 2005 album “Orleans and Claiborne,” after Treme’s central intersection.But the 25-year-old Andrews (who, despite the name, plays trumpet, keyboards and drums, and sings, along with trombone) looks for a bigger audience. His last album, “Backatown,” used rock and funk, and spotlighted guest players including Lenny Kravitz. On “For True,” Andrews makes a mighty effort to hang on to his roots, with song titles like “Mrs. New Orleans” and “Dumaine St.,” and more significant, rhythms and horn lines that instantly connect the listener to New Orleans. The album continually steps into outer regions, incorporating elements of hip-hop, rock and, most emphatically, pop-r&b. Warren Haynes, guest guitarist on “Encore,” nails a New Orleans feel for his part, and “Nervis” finds the place where modern funk is fed by Andrews’ Louisiana sensibility. But the seams sometimes bulge, as on “Do to Me,” which crunches together hard rock, a Jeff Beck guitar lead, soft rap vocals and more. Ambitious and talented, Andrews is still in search of a more organic blend of ingredients.Trombone Shorty plays Dec. 27 at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.
produced by Raymond Richards (Lost Highway)On “Billy Jack,” their second album, honeyhoney is, indeed, sweet – but in a different way than I would have imagined. Rather than sugary pop, the L.A. duo of Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe turns out rootsy country-rock, heavy on acoustic and steel guitars and a hint of Rickie Lee Jones-esque cool – and occasionally, as on “Let’s Get Wrecked,” an unabashed embrace of full-on Nashville country. At the center of the album is the voice of Santo, who is more intent on getting across the stories and emotions in these songs than blowing away the listener with power – which she seems most capable of doing.honeyhoney plays Nov. 3 at Belly Up Aspen.
produced by Jorge Gmez and Juan Cristobal Losada (Sony Masterworks)When the 30-somethings of Tiempo Libre were growing up in Cuba, American music was illegal. Which didn’t stop them from listening to the soul and r&b broadcast out of Miami. “My Secret Radio” uses original songs – “Mi Antena” (“My Antenna”), “”Prende la Radio” (“Turn on the Radio”) – and Afro-Cuban beats to pay tribute to the artists they favored: Earth, Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan. It’s nice but light – Cuba’s version of a boy band.Tiempo Libre plays March 14 at the Wheeler Opera House.
produced by Jeremy BlackIn my mind’s catalogue, Tea Leaf Green is filed under jam-band. I’m not sure why, but now I’m rethinking where to put the San Francisco quintet. “Radio Tragedy!” is tightly crafted, forward-looking rock, more smart arrangements than loose guitar excursions. And no band that can pull off the falsetto chorus of the catchy “Easy to Be Your Lover,” or that dips into ’80s pop for “Fallen Angel” can really be called a jam band. The references here can be a little close for comfort; I could have sworn I heard “Sleep Paralysis” on a Ryan Adams album, and that “Easy to Be Your Lover” was on My Morning Jacket’s “Evil Urges.” But I can’t deny that, after multiple listens to “Radio Tragedy,” I’m ready for another.(Footnote: I realize why I thought of them as a jam band. It’s the band name, of course.)Tea Leaf Green plays Jan. 12 at Belly Up.email@example.com
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Max Weintraub has been senior curator at the Aspen Art Museum since January 2019.