Cool Spins

Solas Reunion: A Decade of Solas (Compass) The name sounds vaguely Hispanic, but folks in the know will tell you that Solas is among the most original

Reunion: A Decade of Solas (Compass)

The name sounds vaguely Hispanic, but folks in the know will tell you that Solas is among the most original and creative purveyors of traditional Irish music of any U.S.-based group. (Indeed, their self-titled Shanachie debut from a decade ago is among my favorite discs in the genre.) The key to their success is they work from such a broad palette, mixing elements (and instruments) from other folk traditions — from American old-time to central European styles — yet they never seem to be too far from a spry reel or jig or a heartbreaking ballad that drips Ireland green. Reunion is a wonderful, spirited live album, recorded in their home city of Philadelphia, that brings together players from various incarnations of the band, all anchored by leader Seamus Egan. The CD features 17 selections that range from traditional instrumental and vocal pieces to group originals by Egan and Antje Duvekot, and even Woody Guthrie's lovely “Pastures of Plenty.” The presence of piano, drums, electric and acoustic guitars, and bouzouki are indications that, Toto, you're not in Dublin anymore, but it all still feels somehow like it's rooted in Irish soil. But wait — there's more: Also included is a DVD with an expanded, nearly two-hour version of the concert, plus interview footage, 5.1 surround mixes and a photo gallery. It's a great way to get to know what has always been a very special group.

Producers: Egan and John Anthony. Recorded at Indre Studios (Philadelphia) by Ivan O'Shea, Mike Comstock and Pete Girgenti. Mixed and Mastered by John Anthony/Maja Audio Group.
Blair Jackson

The River in Reverse (Verve Forecast)

June's “Cool Spins” included Elvis Costello's classical-jazz My Flame Is Blue. This month, he reappears in another of his musical multiple personalities: New Orleans soul singer. Costello collaborated with artist/composer/producer Toussaint and producer Joe Henry on an emotional tribute to Toussaint and his hometown. New Costello/Toussaint songs, Toussaint classics and one by Costello were recorded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, giving new meaning to Toussaint's themes of personal loss and human-rights struggle. Henry also has a talent for showcasing singers. Layers of arrangements enlivened by Toussaint's piano and Steve Nieve's B3 draw back like theater curtains to reveal Costello's passionate voice. Am I the first reviewer to think of Joe Henry as the T Bone Burnett of soul?

Producer: Joe Henry. Engineer: Husky Hoskulds. Studios: Sunset Sound (L.A.), Piety Street Recorders (New Orleans). Mastering: Gavin Lurssen/The Mastering Lab (L.A.).
Barbara Schultz

Living With War (Reprise)

Neil Young's much publicized anti-war polemic is worth some ink not because it was made in less than a week from start to finish (that used to be typical), but because it's one of his better albums of recent years. Young is in gritty, heavy-guitar mode for most of it, but it's not a Crazy Horse record (Chad Cromwell plays the elemental drums and Rick Rosas the bass) and there's important augmentation from outside his droning rock formula: Trumpeter Tommy Bray adds some spice to several songs, and there's also a full choir on every track — sounds like a bad idea, but it works! One or two songs sound slightly recycled, but the overall effect of the album is quite powerful, and the best songs — “Families” and “Flags of Freedom” — are deeply moving.

Producers: Young and Niko Bolas. Engineered by Bolas, with John Hausmann, John Nowland and Steve Genewick. Recorded at Redwood Digital and Capitol Studios. Mastering: Tim Mulligan.
Blair Jackson

Wolfmother (Modular/Interscope)

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to some high school stoner kid's bedroom, circa 1971. Close your eyes and prepare to use your air-guitar and head-banging skills as Wolfmother expertly revives late-'60s, early '70s hard rock a lá Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The Australian trio's debut album has monster power chords, fuzzed-out guitar riffs and heavy psychedelic keyboards. The album's opener, “Dimension,” begins with a crazed scream and launches into a dark guitar rhythm that will send chills down your spine. “Apple Tree,” the album's only modern-sounding track, delivers a White Stripes — esque punk vibe. “Witchcraft” has a Jethro Tull — style flute solo that's not at all out of place with the feel of this album. So kick back with your vice of choice and bask in this retro delight.

Produced and mixed by D. Sardy. Engineer: Ryan Castle. Studios: Sound City, Sunset Sound, The Pass and Village Recorder. Mastering: Stephen Marcussen/Marcussen Mastering.
Lori J. Kennedy

West of the West (Yeproc)

Dave Alvin has been a champion of American roots music since his early days writing and playing rockabilly songs with his brother, Phil, in The Blasters. On West of the West, he narrows his focus, covering a stellar selection of songs written by other native Californians, including Merle Haggard (“Kern River”), Tom Waits (“Blind Love”) and Brian Wilson (“Surfer Girl”). These unexpectedly sultry versions compose an homage to Alvin's home state, and with his cigarette-fueled baritone and tuneful guitar work, he artfully transports the listener to a smoky club, a lonely highway, a beach at twilight. Alvin's strength as a performer is so impressive; not many singer/songwriters could own these songs and fit them together so beautifully.

Producer: Greg Leisz. Recording engineers: Greg Parker Adams, Bill Dashiell. Mixing: Jim Scott. Studios: Winslow Court (Hollywood), Plyrz Studio (Santa Clarita, Calif.), Leon Haywood's Eve-Jim (L.A.). Mastering: Joe Gastwirt/Joe Gastwirt Mastering (Oak Park).
Barbara Schultz