Eliminating the threat of getting chucked into the “where are they now” file, British electro-funk combo Jamiroquai resurface with the aptly titled Dynamite, their first album in four years. A sick, fuzzed-out groove kicks off “Feels Just Like It Should,” a mix of organic funk, electronic beats and Lenny Kravitz-isms. The title track, “Electric Mistress” and “Don't Give Hate a Chance” keep that disco ball turning, while tunes such as “Seven Days in Sunny June” call forth vintage soul. In true Jamiroquai fashion, frontman Jay Kay and co-producer David Spencer add contemporary samples, scratches and bleeps to the group's retro fare, plus a bit more guitar, showing that they're back in force and far from a bunch of “has-beens.”
Producers: Jay Kay, David Spencer. Engineers: Rick Pope, Mike Spencer. Studios: Chillington Studios, Princes Risborough, UK. Mastering: Tom Coyne at Sterling Sound (New York City).
— Heather Johnson
Fleetwood Skynyrd (Hi-n-Dry)
Forget the strange title of this Boston duo's album; Perkins Parsons (as in Carl and Gram) might be more appropriate. Heygoods guitarist/singer/songwriter David Champagne (of Treat Her Right fame) has a serious rockabilly bent on some of his tunes, and his honey-voiced wife and co-leader, Katie, brings an appealing alt-country sensibility to this fine sophomore effort. With wonderful, instantly memorable hooks and a palpable chemistry between the two principals, the album has a real warmth and homey vibe to it. The duo's voices blend beautifully together, and there's tremendous variety to the guitar voicings throughout the album — each track sounds fresh. There's also a streak of humor running through much of it, like on David Champagne's faux redneck tune, “Doghouse.” A nice find. Check out www.heygoods.com.
Producer: David Champagne. Recording/Mixing: Tom Dube, Andrew Mazzone, Billy Conway. Studio: Hi-n-Dry. Mastering: Jon Wiswell.
— Blair Jackson
Fusion For Miles: A Guitar Tribute (Tone Center)
The tributes to Miles Davis are coming fast and furious now, but this one is among the better ones. It's essentially a “fusion” workout, with 10 top rock and jazzish guitarists wailing over a top-flight house band (Dave Liebman, Alphonso Johnson, etc.) on a nice variety of Davis tunes from different eras. Mike Stern manages to take “So What” to some new spaces; Bill Frisell brings his magic touch to “Nefertiti”; Jimmy Herring shines on a the funky “Black Satin”; Bireli Lagrene is just right in exploring the nuances of “Spanish Key”; and Warren Haynes does nice work on one of my favorite Miles tunes, “It's About That Time.” Kudos, too, to Steve Kimock, whose soaring slide elevates “Back Seat Betty.” A fine effort all around.
Producer: Jeff Richman. Engineers: Paul Tavenner, Ken Wallace. Studio: Big City Recording (Granada Hills, Calif.). Mastering: Paul Tavenner.
— Blair Jackson
PONCE DE LEON
Ponce de Leon (Thorn01)
Remember '80s pop music? The cheesy synths? The strangely jarring sounds of raw MIDI notes? Sounds kinda bad, right? Enter Greg McKenna, John Hogan and Dave Reich (aka Ponce de Leon), a band who has taken all that was bad about '80s music and turned it into a masterpiece of experimental, free-flowing fun. It's a difficult band to characterize — sort of a twisted blend of the Sex Pistols and Ween, with a sprinkling of Yanni for good measure.
The album's standout track, “Snap Goes the Gator Jaw,” starts with an ominous keyboard and quickly blossoms into a danceable, funky, percussion-heavy groove accompanied by hilarious Florida-themed lyrics. These guys are serious about making fun music, and that is an element too often overlooked in modern recordings. Snap!
Recorded by Wyatt Tuzo at his home studio. Mixer: Ponce de Leon. Mastering: Charlie Watts/Technovoice.
— Lori Kennedy
THE ARCADE FIRE
The Arcade Fire EP (Merge)
This new U.S. release from last year's indie splash, The Arcade Fire was actually the debut from the Montreal-based band, predating the 2004 critically acclaimed Funeral. While this EP certainly has its moments — a window into the promise that the band would later fulfill — this is a largely unrealized work, lacking in both lyrics and instrumentation. At times, it's like listening to the Polyphonic Spree on Quaaludes (them, not you). Still, the blueprint for a great album is there, as lead singer Win Bulter vocalizes some of the somber optimism that would make Funeral such a beautiful elegy. “I'm Sleeping in a Submarine” evokes a dreamy brilliance that would show up on their LP. There are pieces missing to this puzzle, and having already seen a completed work makes it pale that much more in comparison.
Producer: Richard Parry. Studio: Mt. Desert Island (Maine).
— Ryan Wilkins
THE PEASALL SISTERS
Home to You (Dualtone)
The young darlings of the old-time music set since their appearance on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack (“In the Highways”), Leah, Sarah and Hannah Peasall are the real deal. Their debut offers a fine selection of traditional country-folk and mountain gospel tunes (“Angel Band,” “I Never Will Marry,” “Carrick Fergus”) and three are written by Sarah Peasall, who clearly understands the genre, despite her youth. The girls were also arrangers on several songs. They have an angelic sister blend that will undoubtedly change as they age, though they'll probably only get better. These aren't just precocious kids; the music is genuinely deep and affecting. Instrumental support from the likes of Randy Scruggs, Jamie Hartford, Laura Cash and others is tasteful and tuneful.
Producer: John Carter Cash. Engineer: Chuck Turner. Studios: Cash Cabin, Scruggs Sound. Mastering: Jim DeMain at Yes Master.
— Blair Jackson