Modern Sounds of…The Knitters (Rounder)
The Knitters were a short-lived alter-ego of X, the cream of L.A.'s ‘80s punk scene. When guitarist Billy Zoom left the band, Dave Alvin (then guitarist/co-founder of The Blasters) briefly married his roots-rocking guitar work to X's knock-out punk poetry, giving birth to one amazing album, The Knitters' Poor Little Critter in the Road. It was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but a sincere revelation to punks who hadn't yet found their roots. Twenty years later, The Knitters' second album comes as less of a surprise but no less powerful, with country remakes of X songs, a Dave Alvin ballad and revved up versions of traditional country tunes. Vocalists Exene Cervenka and John Doe sound even sweeter today than when they were young and hungry. This is great fun no matter what your musical persuasion.
Producers: The Knitters and JD. Engineers: Craig Adams, Mark Linett. Studios: Winslow Ct. Studio (Hollywood), Your Place or Mine (L.A.). Mastering: Joe Gastwirt, Joe Gastwirt Mastering.
— Barbara Schultz
Cost of Living (New West)
Would you believe me if I said that Delbert McClinton's latest album is the best of his more than 30-year career? No lie! He's always made fine, underappreciated albums that blend blues, R&B, honky-tonk and folk into a distinctive Texas stew. But with each passing year, his smoky voice acquires more authority and the emotional pitch of his songs about love, loss and heartbreak (the true “cost of living”) seem deeper and more heartfelt. There are several new classics here: “Kiss Her Once for Me” and “Your Memory, Me and the Blues” ache with sad resignation, while the mesmerizing “Down in Mexico” sounds like a catchy update of a Marty Robbins ballad. Every song feels like a story, and it all adds up to a “book” you won't want to put down.
Producers: Delbert McClinton, Gary Nicholson. Engineers: Matt Andrews, Ray Kennedy, Nicholson, Dave Sinko. Studios: Fearless, Sound Emporium, Room & Board (all in Nashville). Mastering: Jim DeMain, Ray Kennedy.
— Blair Jackson
Pretty Little Head (Columbia)
If you can get past the Broadway-inspired opening number on Nellie McKay's sophomore album, Pretty Little Head, then you've passed her test. McKay likes to take musical chances and she expects that her audience will, too, as well as ride out a few creative stabs in the dark. Thus, the new album, like her fine debut, is a test lab: A few songs act like exploding beakers, all chaos and smoke, but the overall effect of her mad science is a cure for pop mediocrity. In my mind, that makes her an artist to trust. The brilliance of songs such as “Pink Chandelier,” “There You Are in Me” and duets with Cyndi Lauper (vamping along with her distinctive cotton-candy vocals on “Bee Charmer”) and k.d. lang, who croons responses as McKay's lover on “We Had It Right,” make the outlandish first and last tracks easy to forgive.
Producer: McKay. Mixing and mastering: Walter Fischbacher at Lofish Productions (New York City) and Conway Studios (L.A.).
— Breean Lingle
Ravi Shankar's other talented daughter (besides Norah Jones) has followed in dad's footsteps by playing the sitar and writing within the Indian music tradition. However, there are many Western touches on this superb album, including electric bass, electronic keyboards (played by Ravi Shankar), some drums and Indian-inspired piano. Wonderful touches abound: the plucked piano strings on “Solea”; the vocal percussion and didjeridoo drone on “Sinister Grains”; Swarnima Gusain's haunting vocals on “Beloved”; V.M. Bhatt's flights on the guitar-like mohan veena; and intriguing little percussion and sound effects throughout. A real gem that will doubtless earn a Grammy nom.
Producer: Anoushka Shankar. Engineers: Gaurav Raina, Nishant Peralta, Kohinoor, Gautam Kaul, Akshay Pandit, Barry Phillips, Eddie. Studios: GR (New Delhi), Path (Santa Monica, Calif.), Audio Centre 3 (Calcutta), RSC (New Delhi), Barry's Cave (Santa Cruz, Calif.), Glam Slam (Mumbai). Mastering: Greg Calbi/Sterling (New York City).
— Blair Jackson
This sublime 2-CD live album — featuring guitarist extraordinaire Bill Frisell fronting two different trios (drummer Kenny Wolleson in both; the bassists are Viktor Krauss and Tony Scheer) — shows Frisell's amazing ability to explore and occasionally deconstruct melodies in fascinating and creative ways. Finding the unseen spaces in such well-worn numbers as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Shenandoah,” “A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall” and “Goodnight Irene,” Frisell and company put a unique stamp on everything they touch. He deftly integrates various loops and electronic touches into his playing, which moves from the most pristinely beautiful picking imaginable to dark, troubling rumblings. Of the handful of Frisell originals, I like the lovely “Boubacar” best.
Producer: Lee Townsend. Recorded at Yoshi's (Oakland, Calif.) by Claudia Englehart and the Village Vanguard (New York City) by Tucker Martine. Mixed at In the Pocket (Forrestville, Calif.) by Martine. Mastering: Greg Calbi/Sterling (New York City).
— Blair Jackson
With its soothing and sometimes dreamy piano, orchestral and mutating sounds, Christopher Bissonnette's debut album is hypnotic and infectious. While his pieces are similar in nature to those of New York City experimental media and loop pioneer William Basinski and Brian Eno's atmospheric and ambient work, Bissonnette creates his own niche by removing any trace of the original organic sounds that he collects and completely recontextualizing the samples, adding hints of reverb and other audio manipulations. “Proportions in Motion” features static clicks and pops and distant, creature-like scratching, mingled with soft, wavering tonal interludes. “Substrata” starts out with subtle orchestral tones, but as Bissonnette adds layers of new sounds to the movement, the piece turns intense and introspective.
Produced, recorded and mixed by Bissonnette at his home studio in Windsor, Ontario. Mastering: Bissonnette and Joshua Eustis at Benelli Sound Lab (New Orleans).
— Lori Kennedy