Marco Benevento: Between the Needles and Nightfall


RIYL: Medeski, Martin and Wood, Stanton Moore, Trombone Shorty

Between the Needles and Nightfall If the term “Hipster Jazz” hasn’t already been coined by the folks at Pitchfork, allow me to beat them to the punch. Marco Benevento’s latest release, Between the Needles and Nightfall, sounds a bit like the bastard child of a ménage à trois between Radiohead, Trent Reznor and McCoy Tyner. It is also the definition of “Hipster Jazz,” featuring the carriage of timeless jazz themes and movements, adorned with the electronic post-production, complete with the obligatory blips and noise. It is also a mind-numbingly good record.

The tracks range from the traditional (“Ila Frost” and “Music Is Still Secret”) to avant-garde (“RISD”); and do so without losing Benevento’s unique sensibility. With many of the tracks on the record breaching the six-minute mark, the record can be a challenging one at times; but the experience is worth the investment. While Benevento’s vocabulary is clearly rooted in jazz, he steps outside with forays into pop and soul. There are moments where you can almost hear Elton John, or Joe Jackson seeping through the cracks, providing a familiar base to reference.

Speaking of familiar references, his cover of Amy Winehouse’s hit, “You Know I’m No Good,” imparts about as much grimy soul as the original; which is a hell of an accomplishment considering it is an instrumental track performed by a trio. While categorizing this as “hipster jazz” seems appropriate, the record is as well suited to headphone listening session as it is as background music for a dinner party; even if your guests aren’t hipsters. (The Royal Potato Family 2010)

Marco Benevento MySpace page
Click to buy Between the Needles and Nightfall from Amazon

Jonneine Zapata: Cast the Demons Out


RIYL: Concrete Blonde, PJ Harvey, the Dead Weather

Jonneine Zapata is a femme fatale out of LA’s famed Silverlake district, but she’s taking a much darker road than recent peers like Jenny Lewis or the Watson Twins. Zapata’s sound is much more reminiscent of LA’s early ’90s alt-rock breakout band Concrete Blonde. Zapata often sounds like she could be a sibling of Concrete Blonde vocalist Johnette Napolitano, which is classy territory.

zapata

But Zapata needs to crank up the rock factor a notch, because eight of the ten tracks here are ballads or slow blues. She has a compelling voice and powerful charisma, as evidenced on lead single “Good Looking,” a simmering tune where Zapata’s mournful voice grabs the ear. But the song never takes off, which is unfortunately the case with most of the songs. “Worry” has the same problem – the intro is entrancing, but you keep waiting for the song to kick in and it never does. Still, many of the tunes have a cinematic sort of appeal, as if taken from the soundtrack of some dark, twisted David Lynch flick.

A notable exception is “Burn,” a mid-tempo rocker composed of just a basic riff over a basic beat, but that’s all Zapata needs to propel her voice to a higher realm. The other rocker is “Cowboy,” which is downright heavy, features burning psychedelic guitar and has some serious punk attitude from Zapata. The smokey “2, 3, 4” is a highlight too, a slow burning blues song with some shimmery guitar that showcases Zapata’s mesmerizing quality when singing about what seems to be unrequited love.

Why there aren’t a few more rockers on this album is a puzzling mystery, especially considering the powerful set that Zapata and her band threw down at the Red Eyed Fly during Austin’s SXSW Festival in March. Zapata seems to come from a haunted place, so maybe she needed to cast these demons out before she can really open up. But it would be nice to see her hook up with a producer and/or creative partner who can help her fully realize the rock goddess that is clearly within. (Laughing Outlaw Records 2009)

Jonneine Zapata MySpace page

Anne McCue: Broken Promise Land


RIYL: Susan Tedischi, Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow,

On her second album, Broken Promise Land, Anne McCue delivers a tightly produced group of songs that is well paced and refreshing.  For the record, she’s backed by a rhythm section that consists of Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupleo, Wilco) on drums and Bones Hillman (Midnight Oil) on bass. Together, this trio creates a hard rocking sound that also pulls from the blues, country, and folk. It’s music that McCue calls “cosmic biker music.” On each track, the singer sings with a cool, lovely voice that draws you in. But it’s her killer guitar playing that keeps you coming back for more and her ability to write a catchy song that makes Broken Promise Land so memorable.

Bad ass songs like “Don’t Go to Texas,” “Rock ‘n Roll Outlaw,” and the title track show that McCue is staking her claim in the new blues movement that has made the White Stripes and the Black Keys popular. Elsewhere, on “Motorcycle Dream,” and “God’s Home Number,” a noirish, spooky number that reminds me of late night drives through the city, McCue uses crafty wordplay and a cool, slinky voice to lure you in until she unleashes a killer guitar solo.  Each track on Broken Promise Land flows naturally into the next, making this a complete listening experience and not just another album where you’re looking for the next hit single.

It’s easy to understand why McCue has gained fans in the likes of Nancy Wilson of Heart and Americana queen Lucinda Williams. McCue attacks her guitar on each song with a bevy of blues and classic rock that recalls some of the legends of the ’70s, including Wilson, while her songwriting and singing voice have an urgency and a haunted nature that recall the kind of passionate southern tales Williams has recorded during her storied career. There is a comfortableness about this music that makes it kind of timeless; no matter how many times you hear it, you never get sick of it. It’s the type of music that can form the soundtrack to peoples’ lives.  Broken Promise Land is a great listen and you’ll find yourself coming back to it again and again after your initial time through it. (Flying Machine Records 2010)

Anne McCue’s offcial website

Click to buy Broken Promise Land through Amazon

Sheryl Crow: 100 Miles from Memphis


RIYL: Shelby Lynne, Citizen Cope, Adele

To call 100 Miles from Memphis Sheryl Crow’s “soul” album would be a little misleading. It isn’t like the songwriter/songstress/Grammy favorite hasn’t always had something of a soulful streak running through her music. This latest effort just emphasizes that streak more explicitly than any of her previous albums. More importantly, it catches Crow (most of the time) in a playful, lighthearted mood. It’s a sharp turn from the heavy-handedness that’s made much of her last couple of albums a bit of a challenge to listen to, and it results in her best album in at least a decade.

Working with guitarist/producer Doyle Bramhall II, 100 Miles is a loose affair. In spirit and vibe, it’s the closest Crow has come to matching her charming 1993 debut, Tuesday Night Music Club. After focusing much of her material on personal and political issues for the past few years, it’s nice to hear her lighten up. The fact that she has lightened up a bit also makes the songs where she does turn serious (like the political “Say What You Want”) a lot easier to take.

The Hammond B-3 organ gets a major workout on 100 Miles. Not surprising, given that the instrument was a hallmark of the Memphis soul that Crow references in the album’s title. “Eye to Eye,” a standout track, matches an Al Green-type sound with a reggae beat. “Stop” is Crow’s most affecting ballad in quite some time, and she scores with big-name collaborators like Citizen Cope (on a cover of his “Sideways”) and Memphis native Justin Timberlake (on the album’s most surprising track – an effective cover of Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name”). As a tip of the cap to one of the people who gave her a start in the music industry, she adds a faithful cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” to the end of the album. It’s casual, and Sheryl sounds like she had fun doing it – an apt way to close a record that’s one of the loosest (and best) of Crow’s career. (A&M Records 2010)

Sheryl Crow MySpace page

Me, Myself, and iPod 7/28/10: Bayside High stole my record collection

esd ipod

Have a ton of stuff to do before heading off to Lolla next week, so this will be a short one.

Pete Yorn – Precious Stone
New track from Pete’s upcoming, Frank Black-produced album Self Titled. Sounds like Pete, but rawer, which is just what I was expecting.

Ex Norwegian – Jet Lag
Having reached out to me on MySpace a while back, these guys are quickly becoming a favorite around these parts. At the risk of tagging them as a throwback band – to the ’90s, no less – their sound is definitely not of this time. Big, ringing choruses, slightly dirty bass lines, horn-kissed verses…this would have been a #1 modern rock hit in 1995.

White Car – No Better
Holy Wax Trax, Batman. This Chicago industrial outfit has just made a track that will have fans of “Everyday Is Halloween” running for their Doc Martens.

Team Bayside High – No Sleeves Attached DJ Mix
In truth, this is not the most mind-blowing DJ mix you’ve ever heard. In fact, it’s pretty raw and basic, and when the drums kick in at the end of “Song 2,” I couldn’t help but wince a little. But I like their choice of songs, since they spend most of the time mixing rock songs, and I like the melding of rock and dance. Putting “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in here was a stretch (they had to speed it up to the point where it sounds unnatural), but we’ll still check out their DJ set at Lolla, schedule permitting.

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