The Moody Blues: Live at the Isle of Wight Festival

This is going to make a small group of people very happy. Taken from the last of the original Isle of Wight Festivals before its resurrection 22 years later – the crowd that attended was estimated to be over 600,000 – the 1970 concert was videotaped for posterity, and now, nearly three decades later, comes an audio recording of the set from Moody Blues, who were as big as any band in England at the time. It’s a fascinating listen, both from a sonic perspective and a historical one. “Minstrel’s Song” explains the origins of half of the Stone Roses’ debut album, and it’s fun to hear a band known for its pristine studio recordings let rip on songs like “Tuesday Afternoon” (where singer Justin Hayward forgets the words) and “Question.” In retrospect, the Moodys weren’t much different from their harder-rocking peers when it came to playing live. As for the overall sound quality, well, it’s 1970 and it’s live, which means it’s really, really tinny. It’s a sweet dose of nostalgia, but for completists only. (Eagle)

Click to buy The Moody Blues: Live at the Isle of Wight Festival on Amazon

Johnny Flynn: A Larum

Combining a sturdy stance with a penchant for swagger and sway, newcomer Johnny Flynn borrows heavily from Brit folk forebears like John Renbourn and Bert Jansch through his authoritative debut. Relying mostly on the strum of an acoustic guitar, an occasional fiddle, hints of brass and a melodious vocal that commands attention on first hearing, he’s too trad to be labeled nu-folk, but too much of an upstart in attitude to be classified as old school, either. Mainly he’s an artist that gravitates towards piercing melodies and an affecting delivery, one whose songs reflect a somber stance. “Tickle Me Pink,” as its title implies, reveals a rare moment of giddy delight, while the driving tempo of “Eyeless in Holloway” will likely entice the pub crawlers. Mostly though, this a steady, unwavering set of tunes, one that reflects a workingman’s outlook and approach. Indeed, Flynn sounds wise beyond his 25 years (“A Larum” is middle English for “Alarm” it turns out, a bow to scholastic aptitude no doubt), but his rollicking rhythms hint at a youthful zeal that’s barely repressed. (Lost Highway)

Johnny Flynn MySpace page

Inara George With Van Dyke Parks: An Invitation

A reconnection in ways more than musical, Inara George’s collaboration with the legendary Van Dyke Parks takes her into new terrain but, in a sense, brings her back home. Parks was a pal of her dad, the late Lowell George and was even there at her birth. Still, the biographical details will likely get less attention than this current outing, a swirling collage of orchestration, pop opera vignettes and contemporary classical motifs. Consequently, the sound checks proved equally ample, given influences that name check Kurt Weill, Edith Piaff, Aaron Copeland, Gilbert and Sullivan, Annette Peacock and Carla Bley. The lack of distinctive melodies and an overall flow that finds sets of strings dominating the musical landscape makes passive listening a bit of a challenge, at least for those who like their songs simple and succinct. Still, those looking to hear more from the man who helped bring Brian Wilson his Smile will find this Invitation worthy of an RSVP. (Everloving Records)

Inara George MySpace page

Red State Update: How Freedom Sounds

Say this for Jonathan Shockley and Travis Harmon, the two men behind Red State Update: they are walking as slippery a slope as you will find. Pretending to be what is traditionally thought of as blue-collar Republican voters, without either pandering to blue-collar Republican voters or having fun at their expense, is not an easy feat, but Shockley and Harmon do the balancing act quite well. The problem with not taking sides, though, is that you deny yourself the opportunity to do something extraordinary, and that is what ultimately prevents How Freedom Sounds, Red State Update’s debut (and likely swansong) album, from being something special. The songs won’t reinvent the satire wheel, but some genuine smarts are lurking within the redneck accents; “If I Was You” recommends that the subject of the song should just start drinking heavily in order to forget how miserable their life is, while Dunlap (Shockley) daydreams about the elusive “Stripper without a Kid.” Best of the bunch is “Get the Hell Outta My Store Hippie,” where Jackie (Harmon) complains about the Bonnaroo crowd freeloading in his store. It’s cute, but it’s just that: cute. The best humor is incendiary, not cute, and Shockley and Harmon are clearly capable if doing something incendiary. (Dualtone)

Red State Update MySpace page

Pork Pie: Transitory

Packaged in a cool mini-LP sleeve replica, complete with gatefold cover, liner note insert and a CD that looks like a tiny vinyl record (even the plastic is black), Promising Music’s MPS reissue series takes some cues from those collectible (and pricey) Japanese LP-sleeve reissues in feting the catalog of the German jazz label. Dutch keyboardist Jasper van’t Hof has one of the more obscure titles in the series, with his Pork Pie group’s Transitory album, though any ‘70s fusion head will be glad to hear it. Recorded and released in 1974, the music reflects much of what was going on in jazz at the time – the rock and world rhythms that supplanted the swing of old, the appropriation of rock guitars and funky electric pianos, and compositions that defied categorization. The “world rhythms” truly are international here – each member of the collective hails from a different country (the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, the United States, and a guest percussionist from Brazil round out the collective), culminating in a sound that, when not venturing into ambient territory, provides an interesting window into a time when “fusion” was not yet a dirty word. (MPS/Promising Music 2008)

Jasper van’t Hof MySpace page

Wilkins: No Expiry Date

Family group Wilkins has created a pleasnt pop album on No Expiry Date. The trio mixes a bit of everything from smooth pop (“Easy”) to classical (“.79″) to torch songs (“Just a Memory”). Throughout the playing is tasteful and the performances are tight, which can only come from years of playing together (indeed, the inside of the disc’s booklet features pictures of the husband/wife/son unit through the years). It’s just hard to tell if this kind of work will appeal to a wider audience. What’s here is good, with “Love Is Gone” featuring a folksy/country vibe with its mandolin and “P.E.I.” treading into Carole King and Carpenters territory. And those are the same things that might limit larger appeal overall. As great as King and the Carpenters were, sometimes some of these tracks come off as a little sappy. And with so many of the 13 tracks here slower numbers, sometimes the whole thing begins to sound the same. Still, you have to give Wilkins credit for doing what they want to do and doing it well. (self-released)

Wilkins’ official web page.

Brandie Frampton: What U See

I’m not the world’s biggest pop country music fan by a long shot, but even I have to admit that 16-year-old Brandie Frampton has a lot going for her on her album What U See. The young artist shows an uncanny command of working a song into a tasty froth without getting into cornball or cliched territory. The gal’s already won some awards for her work, and one listen to this disc will prove why. “Ain’t That Life” is one of the best pop country tunes to come along in years by anyone, period. “I Want You 2″ sounds like something that could easily climb the charts with Frampton’s throaty vocals at the fore and her down-home attitude shining through. “Colours” shows off Brandie’s softer side and once again it comes off impeccably, with beautiful production. What Frampton really has here is a true pop and country album, straddling the line easily between both. What’s more, she isn’t doing kiddie fluff or tackling subjects that might be too “adult” for someone her age. This is simply just good stuff through and through. Look out, Miley Cyrus. (DLF Records)

Brandie Frampton MySpace page.

Mars Arizona: Hello Cruel World

Pinpointing the exact locale of one Mars Arizona may be difficult, but the Berkley-based duo that appropriates these fictional environs as their moniker offers up an assured sound for their superb third outing. Banjos, fiddles and mandolins – not to mention the participation of legendary veteran session players David Grisman and Al Perkins — fuel their tales of hard-bitten heroes and steely glimpses at the nation’s current malaise. Fortunately though, the blues in their bluegrass never sounds so downcast as to deter from the album’s unabashed exhilaration. Intriguing covers of Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away,” T Rex’s “By The Light of the Magical Moon,” Loretta Lynn’s “Blue Kentucky Girl” and back porch standard “In The Pines” reflect the band’s diversity and should help turn heads their way, but the originals are equally embracing, a reflection of their down-home charm and rousing, rambunctious technique. Suffice it to say, there’s enough life on Mars for all. (Big Barn 2008)

Mars Arizona MySpace page

Richard Frankz: The Traveler

Richard Frankz explodes out of your stereo with his good-time honky tonk/blues-country cookin’! It’s true, people. Frankz is a solid songwriter and The Traveler is a fine CD packed with journeyman type songs. “Just Being Me” swings with steady assurance with tight production and rock solid playing by Frankz’ band. “More Each Day” has a smooth kind of ’70s professionalism to it, while the same rings true for “Just Spending Time (With You).” Then there’s the pop side of Frankz, which is best experienced on a track like “I Could Never Fall” that sounds like something Chicago might have done when Terry Kath was still alive. Good stuff, indeed. “Southern Summer Nights” recalls Little River Band as well as Glen Campbell. And on “One Step Forward” Richard Frankz shows off his abilities at melding country and bluegrass with much panache. The Traveler is certainly a rock-solid album that fans of older country stars and just plain good songwriting and performing will like. It’s certainly nice to hear this style of music at this quality being made today. (Richard Frankz Music)

Richard Frankz’ MySpace page.

Biography of Ferns: Pastel Gothic

Biography Of Ferns is a Seattle-based band who formed in the late ’90s, but they obviously want to be a British post-punk from the late ’70s. One listen to Pastel Gothic and you’ll be sure to pick up hints of Public Image Ltd., Wire, Joy Division and most obviously Gang of Four. That’s cool, those are good bands to use as a starting point (God only knows more bands should), but there’s a difference between “being influenced by” and “trying to sound exactly the same as,” and Biography of Ferns far too often fall into the latter category. It’s not that they’re bad; there are a quite a few good tracks here. The first half of the album is especially strong; “Join the Barber,” “The Charmer” and “Accidental Town” all deftly combine the dance-friendly vibe of Gang of Four with the general insanity of more experimental acts from the time like Public Image Ltd. But Pastel Gothic is one top-heavy record, and the steam runs out quickly. By the time things wrap up with “Ring of Oaks” and “First Kiss” the catchy melodies are long gone and all that’s left is a boring excursion into post-punk masturbatory shoegazing. And someone needs to slap the hell out of their lead singer until he dumps the ridiculous fake British accent. On a completely unrelated note, these guys should tour with Unicycle Loves You. Not because they sound anything alike, but because they’re both two of the stupidest band names you’re likely to hear. (Tellous 2007)

Biography of Ferns MySpace page

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