Beck: Mutations (Geffen) Beck is an artist who transcends genre byfiltering styles through his own identity in a way that makes them his.Mutations encompasses everything from country to psychedelic, from folkand moody rock to Brazilian, yet it's wholly of a piece. Recorded andmixed in two weeks last spring with Radiohead producer/engineer NigelGodrich, much of Mutations was cut live in the studio. It may seemstripped down compared to Beck's last release (the gonzo hip hopOdelay), but close listening reveals that there is, in fact, all kindsof stuff going on (headphones recommended). Instrumentation glides fromsitar to harpsichord, quica and strings without stumbling; liberaldoses of percussion and careful attention to vocals keep the wholething vibing. There's an omnivorous intelligence at work here, and areal playfulness that manages to be both humorous and earnest-Mutationsradiates an easy exuberance. Casually and supremely creative.
Producers: Nigel Godrich and Beck Hansen. Mix engineer: NigelGodrich. Studio: Ocean Way (L.A.). Mastering: Bob Ludwig, Gateway(Portland, ME).
Brad Mehldau: Songs: The Art of the Trio, Volume Three (Warner Jazz)There's a quiet, beautiful sadness to much of the music on thisintoxicating disc. Pianist Mehldau and his able Trio mates-bassistLarry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy-play with a tremendous graceand lyricism throughout, the melodies spilling out of Mehldau'sinstrument with a pleasing fluidity. The ten-song collection is splitbetween Mehldau's moody originals and cover tunes ranging from theRodgers & Hart standard "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" toRadiohead's haunting "Exit Music (For a Film)," which begins with apassage that sounds like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and then evolvesinto a swirling rhythmic river. There is also a Nick Drake cover("River Man") and a reading of the oft-covered "Young at Heart."Mehldau sounds like he has one foot in the conservatory and the otherat the bench with Bill Evans; it's an intriguing blend of the formaland the free. Mehldau is also prominent on saxophonist Joshua Redman'sexcellent fall '98 release, Timeless Tales for Changing Times.
Producer: Matt Pierson. Engineer: James Farber. Studios: Right Track(NYC), Sony (NYC, mixing). Mastering: Greg Calbi, Masterdisk (NYC).
The Pine Valley Cosmonauts Salute the Majesty of Bob Wills, the Kingof Western Swing (Bloodshot Records)
Led by the Mekons' Jon Langford, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts floatsomewhere between retro country and cowpunk. The playing on thisinspired release is for-real Texas Playboys swing, complete with asweet little horn section (Poi Dog Pondering's Paul Mertens and DaveMax Crawford) and a respectfully restrained assortment of bluegrassstrings played by John Rice (fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo), theBottle Rockets' Tom Ray (bass) and KMFDM's Mark Durante (pedal steel).Wills was also known for putting the back-beat behind country, andthat's capably handled by Mekon Steve Goulding. But the vocals on theseclassic songs, from the first track-y'allternative folk rocker ChrisMills on "Home in San Antone"-are offbeat in a great rock 'n' roll way.Other singers include roots country artist Jimmie Dale Gilmore, as wellas Robbie Fulks, Langford and fellow Mekon Sally Timms. The sound ofmodern, rough voices joyfully careering through Wills' catalog is whatmakes this a spirited tribute to one of country's, and rock 'n' roll's,pioneers.
Producers: Jon Langford, Mark Durante and John Rice. Engineer:"Kengineer" Sluiter. Additional recording: Baron Von Trumfio and MikeHagler. Studio: Kingsize Sound Laboratories, Chicago. Mastering: Notlisted.
The Band: Jubilation (River North) This third album by the mostrecent incarnation of The Band finds the Woodstock, N.Y., group movingaway from the big R&B sound of their previous disc, High on theHog, in favor of a more folksy and intimate approach that suits themvery well. The title of the CD, Jubilation, is somewhat misleading,because the disc's dominant mood is actually a wistful melancholy, andno one communicates that better than Rick Danko, whose lead vocals on"If I Should Fail" and "Book Faded Brown" ooze with weary resignation.Then again, the lovely "High Cotton" finds Danko optimisticallycrooning "The sun feels great, I can tell today it's gonna shine," sohe has the CD's happiest moments, too. Levon Helm's distinctive,backwoodsy growl gives every song he sings the classic Band sound, andkeyboardist/saxophonist Garth Hudson is, as ever, the most imaginativesupport player any group could hope for. Eric Clapton and John Hiattmake impressive guest shots, but it's the core sextet and a few oftheir Woodstock friends who give this fine set its textural richnessand downhome warmth.
Producers: Aaron Hurwitz and The Band. Engineer/Mixer: AaronHurwitz. Studio: Levon Helm's studio (Woodstock, NY). AdditionalRecording: Bearsville Studios (Bearsville, NY), The Clubhouse(Germantown, NY). Additional Mixing: NRS (West Hurley, NY). Mastering:Bob Ludwig, Gateway Mastering (Portland, ME).
Archers of Loaf: White Trash Heroes (Alias Records) The rollickingmarching band drum cadence, slashing guitars and inspired singing thatopen this record made me feel like a door was kicked open. Since thisdoesn't happen often, I dove in and was thrilled to be taken throughten completely different atmospheres in 42 minutes. It's a powerfuljourney through alternately hilarious and breathtaking rock, smart pop,quietly desperate old-South blues, noise, angular art-math music and somuch more. Hailing from Chapel Hill, N.C., this 7-year-old band ispegged as having a "collegiate" sound, but there is a blend ofraucousness and true emotional depth to the music that a wide range offolks could appreciate. There's some nice, crispy guitar and vocalsound processing, with judicious keys and electronics added foremphasis-and I could kill for the thick/present bass sound. A maturework that's bigger than the sum of its parts.
Producers: Brain Paulson and Archers of Loaf. Engineer: BrianPaulson. Mixers: Brian Paulson, Mitch Easter and Archers of Loaf.Studios: Ardent Studios (Memphis), Sound of Music (Richmond, VA),Reflection Studios (Charlotte, NC; mixing), The Fidelitorium(Kernersville, NC, mixing). Mastering: Roger Laim at Masterdisk(NYC).
Imogen Heap: I Megaphone (Almo Sounds) With record companiessearching high and low for the Next Alanis (seems like only yesterdaythey were looking for the Next Nirvana) this is a good time in themusic industry for tortured, confessional women singer/songwriters.Imogen Heap's CD has the requisite doses of anger, relationshipmiseries and personal insecurities, but her songwriting is actuallyquite original, and she has the vocal chops to put across her ideaseffectively. The musical settings for her musings are consistentlyinteresting, too, with quirky keyboard washes turning up in thestrangest places to punctuate her thoughts. There's some straight-aheadrock, too, but mostly it's a songwriter's album, so the vocal isparamount. If the CD has a major flaw it is that the songs arerelentlessly bleak, with no relief. An artist can get away with thatonce, but I, for one, want to hear more emotional colors from her nexttime out.
Producers: Guy Sigsworth, David A. Stewart, David Kahne. Engineers:David Kahne, Phil Bodger, Nick Addison, Roland Herrington, Pete Norris.Studios: Rak (London), Master Rock (London), Quad (NYC), Chapel (L.A.).Mastering: Greg Calbi/Masterdisk (NYC).