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Now playing: Four new CDs worth listening to

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Neil KrugJim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket, has released his first solo album, "Regions of Light and the Sound of God."
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OK, I may have my frontrunner for best album of 2013. Not that this is any surprise; singer-guitarist Jim James is the driving force behind the mighty My Morning Jacket, which straddles modern and traditional rock as well as any current band, and the prospect of James’ debut album under his own name had my antennae up.

As the title promises, James is delving into deep matters here. “Regions of Light” is apparently inspired by “God’s Man,” a 1929 graphic novel about a young artist seeking redemption, which James read while recovering from physical injuries. The music enters that sort of territory – meditative, holy, a mix of hope and darkness. James’ voice is beautifully hushed as he contemplates the states of humanity and technology, creation. It’s as mysterious as the heavens. But the music still moves, with guitars and strings appearing from underneath, tempos gradually building, drones turning into sweeter melodies.

James’ other solo project, the EP “Tribute To,” was all covers of George Harrison’s songs. Here the songs are all James’, but he borrows the former Beatles’ method of looking for God and peace in music.

produced by the New Orleans Suspects

Last week, in preparation for the Mardi Gras, I reviewed several New Orleans-related albums (and cooked big pots of gumbo and red beans and rice). Still, I didn’t quite get my fill, but this might do the trick. “Caught Live at the Maple Leaf” is a perfect combination of ingredients: musicians, material, venue, all quintessentially New Orleans. The players include bassist Reggie Scanlan of the Radiators, drummer and honorary Neville Brother “Mean” Willie Green, and guitarist Jake Eckert of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The group, which included a two-piece horn section for this date at the great Uptown dive, the Maple Leaf, dive into classic New Orleans tunes from the Meters (“Look-Ka-Py Py”), Earl King (“Big Chief”), and Professor Longhair (“Tipitina”) with gusto and freshness. They also bring out the funk from Stevie Winwood’s “Glad.” And they save the best for last, an infectious, nine-minute take on the Dirty Dozen’s “Blackbird Special,” that lets you feel the floor shaking.

The New Orleans Suspects make their local debut March 6 at PAC3 in Carbondale.

Martin Sexton knows how to look at the bright side. Just listen to “Happy,” one of the original songs he plays on this live, solo album. Sexton says he has the best job in the world, says playing the Fillmore in San Francisco is a dream come true – and that’s just in the intro. In the song itself, the 46-year-old singer-guitarist finds contentment in a cup of coffee, his kitchen table, his girl, the verse he whistles. He finishes the song with a few “amens.” But Sexton isn’t just candy-coating things. In “Failure,” he acknowledges life’s lesser moments, but adds a line about learning “how to smile when we’re all just being screwed.” The album closes with “America,” which is hardly a flag-waver, but reveals a faith in the promise of the country: “America, please come back home to us all/ We miss your dream.” There is also a take on the magnificent “Glory Bound,” with Sexton at his best, moving into falsetto to sing, “I’m taking a chance on the wind/ … Taking a mistake I gotta make/ Then I’m glory bound.” Soulful, moving stuff. And deep.

Martin Sexton plays a solo show Feb. 23 at Belly Up Aspen.

produced by Metheny (Nonesuch)

Part of me wants to say you can only appreciate Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion by seeing it in action. The project, years in the making, and which includes contributions from scientists and engineers, has Metheny playing an orchestra’s worth of instruments – pianos, marimba, tuned bottles – through his guitar. The sounds are not sampled; the physical instruments exist, and are activated by Metheny’s fingers, via his guitar. Metheny’s performance last September at the Wheeler Opera House included Orchestrion segments, and it was a sight.

The other part of me says the truly significant thing is the end product, the music Metheny makes with the Orchestrion. On the two-disc “The Orchestrion Project,” the music is pure Metheny – meaning a fresh, unique, distinctive take on jazz. And not the slightest trace of gimmickry. The recording spotlights “Orchestrion,” a breathtaking, five-movement suite, eight of Metheny’s older tunes reinvented for the Orchestrion, and a take on Ornette Coleman’s “Broadway Blues.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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