Some bands have made such consistently good music for so long, I sometimes take them for granted. I haven’t posted about Tegan and Sara since before the great crash of ’04 wiped out Muruch’s early archives. Their new album, Love You to Death, is a vivid reminder of what made me love the Canadian singer-songwriter twins so much in the first place. Their trademark immersion of lyrical depth in summery dream pop, such as in “Walking with a Ghost” and “Where Does the Good Go,” is alive and well in new songs “Faint of Heart,” “Boyfriend,” and “Dying to Know.”
Fantastic Negrito’s debut full-length album, The Last Days of Oakland, churns classic blues, soul, and funk with modern garage rock like somebody spun Lead Belly, Buddy Guy, Otis Redding, and Black Joe Lewis records in a blender.
Fantastic Negrito, led by singer and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Dphrepaulezz, first caught my attention jammin’ with Jamal in a club on Fox’s Empire. At the time they only had a couple of EPs out, so I was very excited for this album’s release. It more than lives up to the anticipation.
The entire album is a nonstop brilliant and bombastic rumination on injustice and inequality of both social and economic natures. My personal favorite tracks…
“Working Poor” has a fiercely catchy guitar riff and twisted refrain of Little Richard’s “Keep on Knockin'” with lyrics about the working class’ struggle to survive despite working as hard as we possibly can.
When I was curating Muruch.com for RAINN, I tried and failed to arrange a worthy cover of the traditional Appalachian folk song “In the Pines” (aka “Black Girl” aka Lead Belly/Nirvana’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”), so my heart just about exploded when I saw the song title on The Last Days of Oakland‘s tracklist.
Fantastic Negrito not only delivers a magnificently revamped, reverberating rendition of “In the Pines,” they also composed a new, gut-punch verse envisioning the “Black Girl” as the single mother of a son shot by police. It is the most perfect cover, beyond anything I could have imagined.
Other highlights are “Hump Through the Winter,” which follows the same theme as “Working Poor,” “Rant on Rushmore,” and the song they jammed with Jamal, “Lost in a Crowd”…
If, like me, you love Rufus Wainwright and Shakespeare, then this album will make you very, very happy. If, however, you like neither Shakespeare nor Rufus, it’s probably not your cup of tea. This unique collection of Shakespearean sonnets set to theatrical rock music features guests Florence Welch, Martha Wainwright, Anna Prohaska, Siân Phillips, Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fisher and William Shatner. But the true stars are Rufus Wainwright and William Shakespeare.
The first two tracks are okay, but a somewhat lackluster start. The album truly begins with the dazzling title track, which is far more Rufus than the Bard.
The standout track is “Unperfect Actor,” in which Helena Bonham Carter gives brief poetic recitation before the song explodes into rock symphony featuring Martha Wainwright and Fiona Cutler.
Other highlights are “When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes,” which is sang as a lovely ballad by Florence Welch, and Anna Prohaska’s operatic “Farewell.”
The album also features new, alternative versions of three sonnets Rufus originally recorded for his Songs for Lulu album: “When Most I Wink,” “For Shame” and “A Woman’s Face.”
I won’t pretend to be unbiased here. Allison Crowe has been Muruch’s musical mascot for over a decade now and we at Muruch are thanked in the liner notes of her new double album, Introducing/Heirs + Grievances. So obviously I was excited and predisposed to love this album before I even listened to it. Still! It’s absolutely fantastic.
The first disc of this 2-CD set is Introducing, a live concert recording with lots of bubbly banter from Allison and a full set of songs performed with her new band.
The second disc, Heirs + Grievances, is a studio-recorded album by Allison and the band. Heirs + Grievances is a gorgeous, full circle showcase of Allison’s growth as a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Her extraordinary voice is unrestrained and beautifully accompanied by her bandmates.
Allison and her band’s choral rendition of “Tarry Trousers” is a standout with an almost Medieval folk tone, akin to Medieval Baebes (whom I love).
The final three tracks of the albums are the most capitivating and I’m happy to premiere the free, authorized mp3s below.
This new band rendition of “Words” is even more powerful than the Heavy Graces solo version. I may have cracked a rib gasping in awe when Ally roars “I am so angry!”
Then she split me like a wishbone with the volatile vocal finale of “Lisa’s Song.” It’s Allison at her very best, delving into the rich depths of her lower register then unleashing a banshee wail.
Allison masterfully uses her voice as an agile, spiralling instrument in the finale “Silence.” Her astounding, aerodynamic flourish at the end of the song enters operatic realms.
Brooke Waggoner just released her new album, Sweven. Brooke has gradually become one of my favorite artists after her beautiful debut, Go Easy Little Doves, and the exhilarating followup, Originator – not to mention her thrilling 2012 live performance at Mountain Stage. So Sweven was definitely my most anticipated album of the new year. I’m happy to say it exceeds even my high expectations of this singularly spectacular artist.
This glorious album somehow manages to marry old-fashioned player piano jauntiness with a futuristic, spatial – as in outer space as well as scope – flow. Think Scott Joplin meets David Bowie.
Even such lofty points of reference are tenuous comparisons at best. Brooke Waggoner’s music continues to be extraordinarily original. Even when you think you have her unique sound pegged down, she throws something even more unexpected into the mix.
Brooke’s deft, playfully beautiful touch on piano is especially distinctive and bewitching in “Proof,” the album’s title track and the exquisite instrumental “Egg Shells.”
The gorgeous song “Fellow” redefines the critically-overused adjective haunting.
“Cherry-Pick” is a spoken word poem set to music. The poem and melody are Brooke’s, but the voice is that of an elderly man. Said man is a geriatric patient of Brooke’s husband, his recitation was recorded by iPhone and his haggard voice is not dissimilar to that of William S. Burroughs.
Other tracks like “Widow Maker” and “Pennies & Youth” have a different kind of unusual juxtaposition, one of catchy pop and dark strings that is reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”
If Brooke Waggoner’s Sweven is not my #1 album of 2016, it’s gonna be a mind-blowing year for music. It already is.
Brooke will return to Mountain Stage on February 14th.
Download a free, legal EP comprised of 3 mp3s from the album and 2 alternative tracks at Noisetrade.