Jazz/rock/world music fusion pioneers Weather Report were so forward-looking in their approach and sound that 35 years after their debut album, and more than 20 years after they disbanded, they still seem remarkably fresh and innovative. This long-overdue career-spanning box set treats the group with both respect and affection. The three CDs chart the band's course from the year before keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter started the group (including selections from a Shorter solo LP, Zawinul's tenure with Cannonball Adderley and their stint together in Miles Davis' group), up through their final album in 1985. At least one, and usually more tunes from each of their regular releases, are included, plus a few treats: an exciting 13-minute live version of “Nubian Sundance” from 1974; a fine, previously unreleased take of Zawinul's “Directions” from a 1971 session; and a solid contemporary remix of “125th Street Congress” by DJ Logic. The set is careful to give nearly equal consideration to all the group's different phases, and though the period with bass phenom Jaco Pastorius and drummer Peter Erskine was their commercial apex, each lineup was stellar in its own way. Passionate fans will no doubt complain about certain omissions (No “Jungle Book”? Where's “Volcano for Hire”?), but mostly they've gotten it right. And perhaps best of all is the inclusion of a full two-hour DVD of a concert from Offenbach, Germany, in 1978, with the Pastorius/Erskine lineup in full flower, captured in magnificent audio and crystal-clear video. There will never be another band like Weather Report!
Producers: Bob Belden, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul. Many different engineers and studios. Mastering: Mark Wilder, Maria Triana, Woody Pornpitaksuk/Sony N.Y.
— Blair Jackson
I have to admit, I was shocked to read that Switchfoot's latest release is actually their sixth studio album — seems like only yesterday I first saw them performing their melodic hard rock/punk-tinged material onstage. The band hasn't swayed much from its signature sound, yet has ramped up its rock leanings: vocal inflections reminiscent of Foo Fighters, lyrics that scream and punch out of the somewhat dreary landscape of guitar lines, and a much-needed tighter drum track. Some of this can probably be attributed to working with producer Tim Palmer (The Cure, Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone and U2) for the first time. Intrigued? Though this fabulous album doesn't drop until December 26, you can whet your appetite with a free digital download of “Dirty Second Hands,” now available on the band's site and any of your fave digital music stores.
Producers: Tim Palmer, Switchfoot. Executive producer: Steve Lillywhite. Studio: Big Fish Recording (Encinitas, Calif.).
— Sarah Benzuly
Friends of Old Time Music: The Folk Arrival 1961-1965
Friends of Old Time Music was the simple name of some American folk-music champions who staged a series of concerts in New York City in the early 1960s. Dozens of influential blues, mountain music, country and bluegrass musicians performed. For Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt and others, FOTM arranged concert debuts. Established artists, such as Mother Maybelle Carter and Bill Monroe, exposed the East Coast crowd to songs of the rural South. This year, Smithsonian Folkways has released a three-CD box of FOTM performances, respectfully restored and accompanied by extensive liner notes that include Alan Lomax's artist photos. In addition to serving as a historical document, this set is packed with stellar roots music.
Producer/recording/mastering engineer: Peter K. Siegel (exceptions noted in booklet). Mastering studio: Henry Street Folklore Studio (New York City).
— Barbara Schultz
This is the best World Party album since Egyptology in 1997. Guiding light Karl Wallinger has lost none of his knack for writing catchy pop, rock and soul-inflected tunes that get into your head and stay there. He wears some of his influences (The Beatles, the Rolling Stones) on his sleeve, but he's always playful about it, and he certainly has his own sound, too. A few of these songs are clearly in the tradition of World Party's classic Goodbye Jumbo album; others continue to break into new and interesting areas, as on the searing closer, “Always on My Mind.” A fantastic bonus DVD offers more than a dozen strange and wonderful music videos and acts as a sort of World Party Greatest Hits album at the same time, from “Ship of Fools” to the present. Very cool indeed!
Producer/engineer: Karl Wallinger. Studios: Seaview (London), and on location in Antigua and St. Paul de Vence, France. Mastering: Tim Young/Metropolis (London).
— Blair Jackson
DAROL ANGER'S REPUBLIC OF STRINGS
One of the founders of the eclectic “new acoustic” music movement with David Grisman 30 years ago (and as part of the Turtle Island String Quartet later), violinist/mandolinist Anger has never stopped making strong, vital music. His current group includes the acclaimed guitarist Scott Nygaard and various others on string bass, cello, fiddle and more, and they cover typically broad stylistic terrain, from old-time fiddle music to jazz to rock and soul, sometimes including vocals. You might not think that versions of Aretha Franklin's “Chain of Fools” and Buffalo Springfield's “Bluebird” would sit comfortably with tunes by the Swedish group Vasen, The Yellowjackets and Ornette Coleman, but you'd be wrong. The Republic of Strings pulls it off and makes it all feel completely natural. A wonderful disc.
Produced, recorded and mixed by Darol Anger at Fiddlistics (Oakland, Calif.). Mastering: Dave Sinko/Nashville.
— Blair Jackson