16 Horsepower: Hoarse (Checkered Past Records)
Whenever somebody asks what 16 Horsepower sound like, I say, “like Nick Cave with banjos.” They have that incredible religious intensity that Cave has, that same dark battle between good and evil clashing in their songs, and their sound. When Cave plays his music live at a piano, it's like an undertaker's cabaret, but 16 Horsepower's instrumentation is based on strings and accordion: Give me that gothic, howling, old-time religion. The first live album from this Denver-based quartet, Hoarse includes a variety of songs from their first three studio releases, as well as suitably ghoulish covers of John Fogerty's “Bad Moon Risin'” and Joy Division's “Day of the Lords.” Crawl into a hole and blast this one.
Producers: Bob Ferbrache and 16 HP. Recording, mixing and mastering engineer: Bob Ferbrache. FOH Engineer: Shane Hotle. Mixing/mastering studio: Absinthe Studio, of course (Denver).
— Barbara Schultz
Various Artists: Unwired: Africa (World Music Network)
There is no single “African” style of music, any more than there is an “American” style. Geography and culture have made it so that the music of Egypt bears little similarity to that played on the island of Madagascar. Yet there is a certain unity to the 14 tracks that make up this valuable compilation of acoustic songs perhaps it is something as simple as the joy and beauty evident in nearly every track. The instrumentation is mostly simple and uncluttered: acoustic guitars played in various styles, hand drums, and regional particulars such as the kora (a type of harp), mbira (thumb piano) and balafon (an African marimba). As a casual fan of African music, I was already familiar with a few of the artists Oumou Sangare (Mali), Mose Fan Fan (Congo), Toumani Diabate (Mali), Tarika (Madagascar), Oliver Mutukudzi (Zimbabwe), Abdullah Ibrahim (South Africa) but most were new to me; all are impressive in some way. There's plenty of variety, as you might expect, from spry dance numbers to lovely soft ballads to Abdullah Ibrahim's sober piano jazz turn that closes the album. I'm filing this next to The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, Africa Moves and A World Out of Time as an essential compilation of great African music.
Compilation Producer: Phil Stanton. No recording information provided. Mastering: Laurence Cedar.
— Blair Jackson
Stereomud: Perfect Self (Loud Records)
Put together the melodic guitar chords of Papa Roach, the screeching vocals of Linkin Park and just a dash of Ministry's “I hate the world and I hate you” vocals, and you've got Perfect Self, the 13-song debut album from Stereomud. Powerful, uncompromising and spitting out just the right amount of pissed-off anthems to rock-out to, this album is definitely addictive. Among the strong points of the album (and not often the case in many metal/rock releases) are the easy transitions from one track to the next the album incorporates everything from slow, tuneful hooks to hard-hitting, edgy jabs of unadulterated guitars that work well off of each other. Tracks like “Old Man,” which seesaws between rage and surprisingly smooth vocals, and “Pain,” which sponsors a gimmick-free undeniable raw grit, are the stand-outs on this outing. Collaborating with some of the best producers in rock/metal these days no small feat for a beginning band Stereomud's latest release has quickly become a favorite in today's metal boy bands sweepstakes.
Producers: Don Gilmore (tracks 1, 2 and 10), Rick Parashar (tracks 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,11), John Davis (track 12), and Howie Beno and Corey Lowrey (track 13). Mixer: Jay Baumgardner.
— Sarah Benzuly
Jah Wobble and Evan Parker: Passage to Hades (30 Hertz Records)
Since his highly visible days with Public Image, bassist Jah Wobble (nee John Warble) has taken the road less traveled on project after project, working with all sorts of fascinating players in every genre imaginable. A champion of various world music styles, as well as avant-garde and improvised rock, Wobble is a first-class collaborator who always has his hand in something unusual. I can't claim to have heard the bulk of his solo output (30 Hertz is his own label and he's quite prolific), but this one caught my eye because it features the very talented and adventurous British sax player Evan Parker. The four long pieces on this CD blend elements of freeform jazz, Middle Eastern trance and other unusual forms into a compelling and hypnotic whole. I particularly like the title track, which unfolds eerily, sprawls over 13½ minutes, and features the unusual combination of tenor sax, bagpipes, harmonica, bass and drums. Wobble and drummer Mark Sanders always keep the bottom strong on these tracks, which alternately float through the ether or are propelled briskly on bursts of saxophone notes and the steady beats of such unusual instruments as “stereo goathorns” and the “bass crumhorn.” Strange, but rewarding. Not for the squeamish.
Producer: Jah Wobble. Engineer: Cai Murphy. Studio: Intimate Studio. Mastering: Richard Dowling/Transfermation.
— Blair Jackson
Joe Flood: Cripplin' Crutch (Diesel Only)
This is bar-band fun. Flood is a fine singer/songwriter with considerable talent for playing guitar, mandolin and fiddle. The title track sounds very John Mellencamp (with a less humorless vocal), and it's no surprise that one of the artist's songs has been covered by The Band, because that influence is a strong presence as well in the interplay of honky-tonk piano and acoustic guitars. The album was produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, whose credits include the Bottle Rockets, Nils Lofgren and Mojo Nixon, which means lots of fun and no fluff.
Producer/engineer: Eric “Roscoe” Ambel. Studios: Power Station New England (Waterford, Conn.) and Cowboy Technical Services (Brooklyn, N.Y.). Mastering: Scott Hull/Classic Sound.
— Barbara Schultz