Issue September 25, 2007

CD Reviews 9-26-07

The Keepnews Jazz Collection, Second Series
Various Artists
(MILESTONE)

    Indie music labels and producers have provided valuable musical alternatives to the mainstream for decades. Orrin Keepnews, one of the most respected jazz producers, founded Riverside Records and later Milestone. Now 84, his work is honored with a valuable series of reissues that have been remastered with new liner notes by Keepnews and the original ones, and bonus tracks where available. The second set of releases provides a great overview of a variety of styles. Drummer Art Blakey’s soulful hard bop, with Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) and Wayne Shorter (saxophone), is an acknowledged classic recording. Bill Evans’ record was a breakthrough for the pianist and his introspective style. Trumpeter Chet Baker’s album is all ballads without his singing (an acquired taste). Saxophonist/composer/arranger Jimmy Heath is joined by brothers Percy (the Modern Jazz Quartet’s bassist) and Albert “Tootie,” as well as saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, among other greats for a swinging, “little big band” session. Flora Purim’s album features her drummer and husband Airto Moreira, bassist Stanley Clarke, keyboardist George Duke and flutist/saxophonist Joe Henderson in a Latin fusion album in the vein of early Return to Forever. —Martin Kasdan Jr.

Combinations
Eisley
(REPRISE/WEA)

    I hope this doesn’t sound mean, but the first track on Eisley’s second album, Combinations, sounds like what Evanescence could be if they were any good. The Tyler, Texas-based family band (The Dupree siblings Chauntelle, Sherri, Stacy and Weston, along with cousin Garron make up the quintet) write charming, accessible pop songs that will sway sweetly into your consciousness.
    Singers Sherri and Stacy’s dulcet tones are reminiscent of Cat Power and Sarah MacLachlan. There’s also something a bit Brit-popish in the sound, with hints of Travis threading their way in and out of “Come Clean,” one of the strongest on the record (along with the title track.)
    I prefer Eisley’s dreamier tones and find it a bit jarring when they start rocking out. But those who prefer the heavier Duprees will enjoy songs like “Many Funerals” and “A Sight to Behold.” Combinations is a darling sophomore effort that fans of Feist, Rilo Kiley or Regina Spektor should enjoy if they’re not already. —L. Park

Structure & Cosmetics
The Brunettes
(SUB POP)

    First, I’ll tell you what this band sounds like: Belle & Sebastian, The Cardigans. Rilo Kiley, Stars.
    Do you like them? Will you buy this because of that? Then buy this, and move along.
    Are you intrigued but need more insight into this New Zealand cute overload misfire? Here’s some:
    Throw in a thick load of Beach Boys, a smattering of J-Pop and ABBA and a little Go! Team; I’ll go on to tell you more about a band who would’ve been trendy in 1995.
    Do individual songs even matter? Yes, as always.
    OK: The opener, “B-A-B-Y,” aka “Brunettes Against Bubblegum Youth,” is the worst.
    In “If You Were Alien,” a women who sounds like Kim Gordon asks, “But what if the world went pop?” as if she were serious. In 1990, Kim Gordon and Chuck D traded lines on a Sonic Youth record about race and gender. The Brunettes declare, “Sha-la-la-la-la.”
    This is the kind of record that Laura Bush would like. —Peter Berkowitz

Dressed Up As Life
Sick Puppies
(VIRGIN)

    It’s difficult to categorize any punk-leaning band when they’re Australians. They often ratchet up the raucous while tucking the snottiness into neat little corners. That blurs the lines between, say, brash, charging brattiness and semi-sweet compulsive hugginess (which the Sick Puppies aligned themselves to in a recent video). Now on a major label, it shouldn’t surprise that the disc employs bright production and avoids gray-shaded wallowing. Self-pity and self-justification are often the common coin in this trio’s songs, but major sonic workouts are built up and play out to appeal to the quasi-mainstream. “My World” is a fine opening cry against abandonment, while “What Are You Looking For” gets genuinely complicated about love. By the time they hit “The Bottom,” there’s a melodic grab-bag of possibilities, showing that these pups have taken a shine to working with a big studio budget, and they’re ready to grow some more (and likely strain the bounds of punkness) if they’re allowed to stay. Sick Puppies play LRS Fest at Waterfront Park this Saturday with Sum 41 and Puddle of Mudd. —T.E. Lyons

Bring on the Comets
VHS or Beta
(ASTRALWERKS)

    Dance-postpunk may never die, but how does a band grow within it? For our boys VHS or Beta, the answer’s in tightening their focus with generally shorter tracks. The foundation is still strong guitars and club beats, but now no one’s going to wonder whether they’re listening to a remix. “She Says” is just one of many tracks that doesn’t dawdle on its way to beautiful soaring. And anyone who yearns for mixing-board alchemy will enjoy how synthesized, fast swirls intertwine with percussion on “Take It or Leave It.” As on previous albums, I’m left wondering why they can’t see how some elements occasionally flatten out — piano that just plays metronome, vocals that keep their charisma too far under wraps. But the finale plays up the dynamics, shows off the band’s full potential and makes great use of pedal steel guitar. VHS or Beta plays Headliners at 9 p.m. Saturday with Walter Meego and Follow the Train. —T.E. Lyons

Challengers
The New Pornographers
(MATADOR)

Five albums in, the skyscrapers of pop built by New Pornographers are holding steadily upon foundations that are damn near indestructible. Even the most cynical eardrums out there can sway to this catchy beast. Not a raw note sung nor rife with blatant evidence of borrowed tactics, Challengers can inspire driving, swimming, sleeping and/or spooning. A.C. Newman’s voice rings as reliable as ever, but one wonders what they will do for an encore. A turn left? A turn right? A strong departure would be the only way they could shatter audience expectations, but until then, enjoy the ride they’ve built and pray that it never breaks down. —Mat Herron