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Saturday, May 20th, 2017
Music Reviews

Willie Nelson, Casey Kearney, Trombone Shorty and More... Beachcomber’s Record Roundup

Musicians: Send your CDs, vinyl and/or cassettes to Beachcomber, P.O. Box 5707, Destin, FL 32540-5707. Email MP3s and streaming links to chris@beachcomberdestin.com.


Willie Nelson

God’s Problem Child

Legacy Recordings

Beachcomber requested that I submit a review of Willie’s new album, and since I’m not known as a music critic, I’m gonna presume that my perspective as a transplanted Texan in Walton County might be the reason.

As I was entering Big Bend in west Texas last week, I saw notice that a tune penned by Mark Sherrill and Sonny Throckmorton, “Butterfly,” was on the new Willie release. I pushed play and was immediately overwhelmed at the pure Willieness of the track. It’s a loving, esoteric ballad, with Mickey Raphael’s unmistakable harmonica playing and the unmistakable tone of Willie’s fingers on Trigger. I immediately pulled over and downloaded the entire album to use as a soundtrack for my entry into the wilds of the Big Bend. The further I got off I-10, the more at home I felt, and the more Willie’s new tunes felt like a warm welcome home.

This is Willie’s 61st studio album and a true expression of a musical giant facing his own mortality. He sings about going home to a “Little House On The Hill” and comes to terms with the body not keeping up with the mind on “Old Timer” and “It Gets Easier.” He sings of “True Love” and “A Woman’s Love” with a perspective of wisdom only a man who has lived his life fully can share. Alison Krauss’ beautiful harmonies add another layer to a number of the tracks.

“Still Not Dead,” perhaps one of the funniest Willie songs I’ve ever heard, reflects his own amazement and gratitude for waking up to greet another day and pokes fun at the premature death rumors that thrive on the internet these days. Likewise, “Delete And Fast Forward” presents a template for navigating the information overload age, playfully preparing for the end of times.

On the title track, Leon Russell, Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson face up to past transgressions in a delicious slow blues. Hearing Leon’s voice one more time brought a tear to my eyes and filled my heart with gratitude for his music. And Willie’s picking is particularly stellar on this one.

Willie winds up the session with a tribute to his dear friend Merle Haggard, “He Won’t Ever Be Gone.” As he sings of their deep musical friendship, Willie could easily be referring to his own legacy. We are left facing the sad fact that Willie won’t be here in his corporeal form forever, but his music will live on.

God’s Problem Child is one more jewel in the American musical canon. God bless you, Willie, and from the bottom of my musical heart, thank you.

- Bruce Salmon


Blondie

Pollinator

BMG

When you’ve been creating music for more than four decades, the challenge with each new album is deciding whether to stick to well-traveled paths or stretch your creative wings. Blondie takes a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road approach. A few new pop trends, trendsetters and unexpected creative choices are liberally sprinkled through Pollinator while never completely drifting from the new wave that propelled Debbie Harry and Blondie into icon territory.

- Nikki Hedrick


Bush

Black and White Rainbows 

Zuma Rock Records

I’m not sure why “Dystopia” is the track most promoted from Bush’s new album, because it isn’t the best. Nor is “Peace-S,” which clunks instead of rocks. The strength of this album is in some of the more introspective tracks like “Mad Love” and “Lost in You”—downright beautiful, enticing enough for repeat listening. It isn’t head banging, earsplitting rock by any means, but the authentic sound of these songs and several more make the album worthwhile.

- Joni Williams


Kevin Eubanks

East West Time Line

Mack Avenue Records

Guitarist and former Tonight Show band music director Eubanks pulled together an A-list combo for East West Time Line (a Tonight Show reference, maybe?). Sitting in with Eubanks are Jeff “Tain” Watts (drums), Orrin Evans (piano), Rene Camacho (bass) and Nicholas Payton (trumpet), among others. At times you’d think you were listening to some vintage ‘50s West Coast small-combo fare. Then it takes off and gets more modern, with fast-paced straight-ahead and even a little Latino (“Cubano Chant”). It’s a tribute to the unselfishness and synchronicity of the musicians that you come away thinking each one was the leader.

- Bruce Collier


Feist

Pleasure 

Universal 

Pleasure, Feist’s first album in six years, finds the Canadian singer-songwriter deeply in touch with herself both emotionally and musically. These delicate, nuanced songs explore searching and settling, keeping secrets and telling them, tenderness and strength. The sugary infectiousness of Feist’s earlier hits is purposefully absent on this record. In its place are surprising moments of bold rock and, more often, stunning whispery ballads with informal choirs and field recordings to match the organic ways through which Feist considers love and growth. Pleasure is a beautiful guidebook for finding the extremes of our emotional selves, and learning to be content with them.

- Jane Morgan


Casey Kearney

Faster

Independent

Full of twang and heart, Kearney finds her niche as a down-home gal who sticks to classic country elements while bringing humor and a dash of style to the table. This country songbird is a welcome new voice in Beachcomberland.

- Nikki Hedrick


Diana Krall

Turn Up the Quiet

Verve 

I bought my first Krall record in the late 1990s; I haven’t missed one since. It’s been interesting to follow her as she’s moved from modest but polished tributes to Nat King Cole and the Great American Songbook, into bigger combos, more jazzed-up arrangements, and efforts to turn her into some sort of Canadian sex-kitten (check out the cover photo of Glad Rag Doll—Ms. Krall does not look comfortable). On Turn Up the Quiet (much more subdued cover photo), she returns to the basics that made her great—warmly self-possessed takes on classics, with added assurance and maturity.

- Bruce Collier


Kendrick Lamar

DAMN.

Interscope / Top Dawg Entertainment

Lamar is beyond having to prove himself, and yet he continues to challenge his greatness and expectations more consistently and skillfully than any other working musician. On Lamar’s fourth album, the world is looking at him as a prophet, and he is vocal about the pressure that comes with that role as he raps and sings relentlessly about his concerns with humanity, humility, and fate. Lamar is one of the greatest storytellers of our time, and he continues to look to his roots in Compton as the base of his work and selfhood. DAMN. is an energizing force full of declarations on the human condition, the public eye, and survival as a black man in America.

- Jane Morgan


MCC

The Demon King 

Lovely

There is an incredible back-story to this EP, and it implies the reformation of the supremely talented Swedish rock band Ghost. That band has won numerous Grammy Awards, has a cult following all over the world, and all the members have remained virtually anonymous since 2009. Martin Persner, Ghost’s lead guitarist, revealed himself earlier this year and announced his departure from the band and the return of Magna Carta Cartel. The Demon King includes Persner, his brother Arvid on drums, and Par Glendor on guitar and synth. Two tracks, “Sway” and “Turn,” are re-recordings with new lyrics, and both sound better than ever. “Jennifer” is a haunting psychedelic ballad that sounds like something straight out of the ‘70s. The whole EP recalls Pink Floyd, and Persner’s writing and playing remind me of David Gilmour. The band refers to their music as “magic rock.” If this is what we get in lieu of Ghost, it’s not a bad deal.

- Chris Leavenworth


Francie Moon

So This Is Life

Land Bridge Records

Music, like most art, is one of the most gloriously subjective topics. Trends come and go, old becomes new again, but there is always this elusive “it” factor. Passion has this way of being transferred to from the performer to the listener in unexplainable ways. Francie Moon doesn’t just sing these songs, she attacks them. This is a fantastic raw garage blues recording full of breath and vocal flutters—passion, not polish.

- Nikki Hedrick



The New Pornographers

Whiteout Conditions

Concord Records

Dan Bejar’s quirky influence may be noticeably MIA, but that doesn’t mean the New Pornos’ latest album isn’t good. Whiteout Conditions oozes high energy, along with plenty of synths and harmonies in a style that has come to define yet another wave of the poppy alt-rock trend. Immediately out of the gate, the album opens with its best songs—”Play Money,” “Whiteout Conditions,” “High Ticket Attractions” and “This Is The World of The Theatre.” Those alone are worth the price of admission, but that’s not to say the remaining seven aren’t ear ticklers.

- Joni Williams


William Parker & Stefano Scodanibbio

Bass Duo 

Centering Records

Bass Duo was just released a few weeks ago, but the actual (live) recording was made in 2008 at a jazz festival in Udine, Italy. Bassists Parker and Scodanibbio brought comparably impressive musical résumés to the gig, their one and only session together (Scodanibbio died in 2012). The five tracks (numbered I-V, in good ancient Italian Free Jazz fashion) bring the players together right away, and they stay hitched throughout, riding without apparent effort over a pulsing, grooving, tapping surface. It’s a real conversation of peers, by turns talking, arguing, growling, strolling, and occasionally even skipping and dancing.

- Bruce Collier


Perfume Genius

No Shape

Matador

No Shape is the fourth album from Mike Hadreas, who records and performs his dynamic and distorted pop under the moniker Perfume Genius. Hadreas’ work has always been intrinsically tied to his identity as a feminine, gay man with a chronic illness, seeing him searching for and finding confidence and catharsis within himself. Through a navigation of his queerness and physicality in contemporary America, No Shape ultimately becomes a statement of transcendent love with Hadreas’ boyfriend and bandmate Alan Wyffels. No Shape takes self-reflection and relief to a new level, easily becoming Hadreas’ most immediately affecting and complete release to date.

- Jane Morgan


Shamir

Hope

Self-released

Hope is the product of one weekend of recording alone in a bedroom with nothing but a four-track—a weekend Shamir entered thinking he would quit music forever. The album, which he surprise released for free on SoundCloud, is a major departure from 2015’s dance-pop sensation Ratchet. Shamir describes Hope as his coming-out story—a lo-fi declaration of who he is as an artist and person, and an admission of how taxing music and expectations can be. His emotional release is tangible in the rawness of his voice and the buzz of the guitar amp. Hope is a lesson in looking inward and working through hopelessness to create your own freedom.

- Jane Morgan


Bo Springs Band

Bo Springs Band

Independent

From just up the road in Port St Joe, this Americana band knows how to dole out a slow southern ballad and jazz-backed New Orleans vibes making you want to move your feet. Americana music should be about taking all of American music influences to help tell stories—not being afraid to tackle just how faceted our roots music is. Bo Springs Band conquers any style they take on. It’s a stellar debut album from the band.

- Nikki Hedrick


Smoke Mountain

Smoke Mountain

Independent

This Tallahassee band’s debut is a jewel. The three-song EP is about heavy and low doom metal. The trio is led by a female vocalist, and her clear tones blend beautifully with layers of fuzz. With a debut this strong, you can only imagine the sonic power that Smoke Mountain will continue to amass.

- Nikki Hedrick


Trombone Shorty

Parking Lot Symphony

Blue Note

New Orleans multi-instrumentalist Trombone Shorty (a/k/a Troy Andrews) debuts on Blue Note with Parking Lot Symphony. That he can do pretty much anything is evidenced by the album’s notes— Shorty is credited on “trombone, trumpet, tuba, vocals, guitar, piano, Rhodes, Wurtlizer, Hammond B-3, drums, percussion, snare, tom-toms, glockenspiel, vibraphone.” The album starts out sounding like Track One of a packaged Big Easy score, but quickly jumps the track, stopping at funk, straight-up Motown and even dipping into vaguely soul-jazz quotes. If you don’t think you like what you’re hearing, wait a minute. Mr. Andrews will be making another stop soon.

- Bruce Collier


Nathan Worthey

Looking Back

Independent

Worthey’s smooth soulful voice is a welcome addition to the Beachcomberland music scene. The five-track EP artfully showcases his adult-pop sensibilities with songs about new love and life’s winding journeys. While each song has its own flavor and instrumental flair, together they create a pitch-perfect snapshot of Worthey as an artist.

- Nikki Hedrick