Tom Waits: Alice (Anti)
When I think of Waits in the studio, I can't help but recall the question posed in one of the songs on Mule Variations: “What's he building in there?” This album comprises the songs Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan, wrote in 1992 for an avant-garde opera about author Lewis Carroll's fascination with Alice Liddell (of Alice in Wonderland fame). Waits gets out all of his best tools and tricks to create Carroll's inner world of melancholy, longing and madness, so that the music alternates between (or sometimes combines) smoky jazz ballads, insane circus nightmares, sick jokes and dark dreams. Mix was told that Waits' engineering team was instructed not to reveal any of the artist's methods, so we can only guess at how all of the powerful vocal sounds and strange moods are achieved. All I know is that the combination of Chet Baker-esque trumpet, pump organ, alto viola, toy glockenspiel, circular violin, piano, train whistle, cello, etc., etc., makes for another Waits/Brennan masterpiece.
Producer: none credited. Recording/mixing engineers: Oz Fritz, Jacquire King. Studio: In the Pocket Studio (Forestville, CA). Mastering: Doug Sax/The Mastering Lab (Hollywood).
— Barbara Schultz
Solomon Burke: Don't Give Up on Me (Fat Possom/Anti)
One of Tom Waits' creations, a gorgeous song called “Diamond in Your Mind,” also finds its way onto the miraculous new album by the world's greatest living soul singer, Solomon Burke. On Don't Give Up on Me, Burke also covers previously unreleased songs by Van Morrison, Dan Penn, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan and Joe Henry, who also produced the release. Burke's beautiful voice is at its most expressive when he sings the way he does on this album: with as much passion in his restraint as in his scream. His accompaniment is a good old-fashioned Stax-style soul group, recorded live in the studio and augmented by guests such as producer Henry, Daniel Lanois, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Burke's brother Rudy Copeland, who is a church organist. Albums like this hardly ever come along anymore, and if there's any justice in this industry, Burke should receive some long-overdue accolades for this work of art.
Producer: Joe Henry. Engineers: S. Husky Hoskulds, Nathan Burden, Jeff Peters (one song). Studios: Sunset Sound Factory (Hollywood), Sonora Recorders (L.A., one song). Mastering: Doug Sax/The Mastering Lab (Hollywood).
— Barbara Schultz
David Grisman Quintet: Dawgnation (Acoustic Disc)
This edition of Grisman's group has been around for several years now and has shown itself to be perhaps the most versatile band the mandolinist has come up with yet. With flute (Matt Eakle) and Latin guitar (Enrique Corea) joining Grisman on the front line, this music doesn't wander into country and/or bluegrass spaces as often as some past Grisman ensembles — and I miss that. But they effortlessly traverse a wide world of styles: gypsy melodies, light Latin pieces, Arab textures, jazz excursions, a little reggae and, yes, some country flavors. There's a natural, reflexive quality to the group's interaction at this point — they speak the same musical language, you might say. The rhythm section of bassist Jim Kerwin and percussionist (and violinist!) Joe Craven is always playful and inventive and meshes beautifully behind the soloists. There are also three duets that feel remarkably fresh and different — “Mr. Coolberg,” a tribute to the Blues Project's Andy Kulberg, features mandola and flute in a peppy blues-inflected number; the ballad “Argentine Trio” finds Grisman and Coria exploring the guitarist's roots; and the humorous “Why Did the Mouse Marry the Elephant?” is a conversation between piccolo mandolin and bowed string bass.
Producer: David Grisman. Engineer: Dave Dennison, with additional engineering by David Grisman and Larry Cumings. Studio: Dawg Studios (Mill Valley, CA). Mastering: Paul Stubblebine.
— Blair Jackson
Pitchshifter: PSI (Sanctuary)
Pitchshifter's third studio release, PSI, is not for the faint of heart — it is rude, crude and a total metal rush. Part hip hop, punk, drum 'n' bass, electronica and metal, the group's latest outing shows them on a more mature, solid plane — taking the best parts of their last two albums to make one killer CD. While the guitars are stronger here than on their previous work, the essence of the CD lies within the extraordinary programming, replete with lots of breakbeats and grooves. And the vocals — perhaps the most defining characteristic of the group — are still heavy, aggressive and “in your face”; but this time around, the band was not afraid to add a bit of melody and subtlety to such tracks as “Shutdown,” “Shen-an-doath” and “My Kind.” Check out the hidden remixed track of “Shutdown” that appears six minutes after the last track ends. Fans will be most surprised by the addition of — are you sitting? — comprehensible lyrics: something you can actually sing hours after the CD stops spinning. PSI is full of energy and excitement — you can almost feel the sweat flying from the mosh pit filled with eager fans thrusting their fists into the air.
Producers: J.S. Clayden, Jim Davies, Machine. Engineered and mixed by J.S. Clayden, Machine. Studios: PSI/Hit, Run Studios (both Nottingham, England), The Machine Shop (Hoboken, N.J.). Additional programming done by Dan and Tim Drawbacks.
— Sarah Benzuly