Dr. John: Ske-Dat-De-Dat … The Spirit of Satch (Concord) Occasionally an album comes out and your jaw drops because it does virtually everything right. That’s the case here, with this exceptional set that answers a question so broad that maybe you never asked it—what the heck is the deal with this whole New Orleans music thing?—by paying tribute to jazz immortal Louis Armstrong via a wealth of stellar performances and musical guests that almost profoundly resonates. Song classics abound—“”What A Wonderful World,” “Mack The Knife,” “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams”—and with well-selected participants like Nicholas Payton, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Bonnie Raitt and Shemekia Copeland, there’s an overall musical and thematical unity on display that simply leaps out at first listen. The main man here, Dr. John, is as always a brilliant player—that’s never changed—but the warmth and charm of his vocals here make this one of his most appealing albums in memory. Absolutely classic.
Ace Frehley: Space Invader (eOne Music) Speaking as one who was never especially enraptured with Kiss from the get-go—and one who saw them during their very earliest days—I’m not sure what it was that drew me to playing this, maybe the sixth solo studio album from former Kiss lead guitarist Frehley, aside from a tinge of masochism and mild curiosity about what he would sound like right about now. I am mildly surprised to report that what I’m hearing here sounds much better than anything I’ve heard from his former famous bandmates since Frehley first departed Kiss in the early ‘80s. While the songs aren’t overly clever, they rock, they are melodic, they aren’t excessive, they seem acceptably produced, they don’t seem to pander, and were it not for a completely idiotic and unnecessary cover of the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker,” they’re very good at what they attempt to do. What’s most fascinating, at least to me, is that this may be the first time I’ve every considered any Kiss-related product on the basis of its content rather than its packaging. Which is a nice way of saying this doesn’t suck. Imagine that!
Bebel Gilberto: Tudo! (Portrait) A gorgeous and very welcome return here from Bebel Gilberto, daughter of renowned Brazilian bossa nova giant João Gilberto. Produced by Brazilian-born (and ultra-hip) Mario Caldato, Jr., the album sounds exquisitely tasteful, linguistically diverse (songs in Portuguese, French, and Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”—which sounds completely at home here), and likely to appeal to fans of jazz, soft pop, and songs in languages they can’t possibly understand. While she could not have a more famous or musically influential father, there’s enough on display here to yet again demonstrate Bebel is pursuing a musical style and shading very much her own.
JJ: V (Secretly Canadian) It’s fascinating how much of today’s best music dwells in deliberate levels of facelessness and obscurity. In a world where people generally deal with files rather than objects—CDs, say, or vinyl, and liner notes—and a Swedish duo such as JJ can make as much of an impact in Boise as a bar-band playing to packed houses there this weekend, everything is sort of up for grabs. If you come across it and it sounds interesting, you do a little research—maybe read one of the band members saying such things as “We have never really had any other plan than to make this V s**t happen and at the same time we never knew what it was—the story presented itself to us—and it’s a story that’s always been clear”—and you wonder what in the hell it exactly is you’re reading. There’s a lot here to like—sonic textures, Elin Kastlander’s raspy, intimate vocals, raw mood—and if you hear it, you probably will like it. Seek this one out.
Phil Ochs: Live Again (Rock Beat) Seemingly dropping in out of nowhere is this enthralling acoustic live set by late folk troubadour Phil Ochs, recorded at a small club in East Lansing, Michigan in May 1973 and generously offering up many of his very best songs. Recorded near the tail-end of his career (he’d die three years later at the age of 35), the performance shows him in fine vocal form and offering up humorously acerbic stage patter that—at least this week—hasn’t seem to have dated in the least. For stripped-down versions of “Flower Lady,” “Changes,” “Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends” and, of course, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” look no further. This is a great reminder: There have been very few figures as interesting in popular music, and if you haven’t heard much by him, here’s your chance.
Buckcherry: F**k (F-Bomb) If Buckcherry were bratty young troublemakers looking to cause a stir by giving their new record the most offensive name possible, they wouldn’t be worth mentioning. But let’s take a moment here and give them our respect: They’ve been around for nearly 20 years, gone from major label to indie, watched the music industry nearly roll over and die, and have absolutely no reason to have a hit record for the remainder of their lives. (Of course remaking Icona Pop’s “I Love It” here and retitling it “Say F**k It” could change everything, but…nah.) Used to be you couldn’t get a record bearing a name like this in any record store out there; now, there simply, are no more stores. So kick back, relax, and imagine a time when you could walk up to a record store counter and ask, in all innocence, “Do you have F**k?”
Elvin Bishop: Can’t Even Do Wrong Right (Alligator) With its wonderfully surrealistic, accusatory cover by Paul Thorn, and the impeccable and spirited playing by legendary guitarist Bishop—joined here by a cast including Charlie Musselwhite and Mickey Thomas, who sang the original Bishop Band hit “Fooled Around And Fell In Love”—we’ve got an album ranking among Bishop’s very best: Good playing, good singing, and, most notably, good spirits. A fixture in the popular music scene since his ‘60s stint in the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bishop has never been less than a highly skilled, engaging performer with a characteristic knack for winning stage banter. With “Everybody’s In The Same Boat” here, Bishop takes on looking in the mirror and seeing a 71-year-old “gray-haired dude” but comes up, inevitably, a self-rationalizing winner. A great showing for a distinguished American player, and much recommended.
The Posies: Failure (Omnivore) A nice reminder of that early time in the Pacific Northwest, late-‘80s, early –‘90s, when something new was brewing and nobody knew what would ultimately result. These days most people think Seattle and grunge, but back then, had things worked out a little differently, they might be thinking of the Posies. A reissue of the very first album—a batch of demos, really—recorded by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow in late 1987, this set sounds just as good now as it did then: Refined, Hollies-esque pop, sophisticated hooks, in the same tradition of Blue Ash, the Raspberries, and of course Big Star, with whom Auer and Stringfellow would eventually play in that legendary band’s reformed configuration. Featuring a big batch of bonus tracks and excellent, contextualizing liner notes, Failure is another fine Omnivore reissue well worth your time.