Record Roundup

Peter Bernstein, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Gregory Hutchinson

Signs Live!

Smoke Sessions Records

About 20 years ago, jazz guitarist Peter Bernstein put together a quartet of up-and-comers – himself, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Gregory Hutchinson for a four-hour studio recording called Signs of Life. The album gained a kind of cult status over the years. Signs Live! gets the band back together (for the first time since) but this time it’s live—at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The 11 tracks include classics like “Pannonica” and “Crepuscule with Nellie” and original stuff. If you’re a fan of any one of these guys (McBride for me), you’ll be richly rewarded here.

– Bruce Collier

Chainsaw Kelly

Gone by the Light of Dawn


There seems to be a wonderful thing happening with bands. They are throwing out the rulebooks that are carefully crafted by suits and industry insiders to make genre-bending gems. Pensacola’s Chainsaw Kelly melds bluesy soul, bluegrass charm, and rock sensibilities into a certain kind of southern magic. If you like your country on the alternative side or Americana not afraid of an occasional faster tempo, this four-song EP feels like rare and delightful ear candy.

– Nikki Hedrick

Paula Cole


675 Records

To be fair, I was never a big fan of Paula Cole. I thought her style way too poetic, angry and overdramatic to be engaging. I enjoyed having my mind changed, though, with Ballads. Cole’s 20-track album is a treasury of jazz, blues and folk classics from the 1930s to ‘60s, including some lesser-known stuff. Her covers of “God Bless the Child” and “Ode to Billie Joe” are masterful. Her take on Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” has a chilling, dance-like quality that made me uneasy long after it ended. Paula, you were right all the time.

– Bruce Collier

Grizzly Bear

Painted Ruins


The fifth album by Grizzly Bear, and the band’s first release in five years, is a beautiful, dizzying work. Their folky pop feels more sonically expansive than ever, filled with rolling beats and entrancing riffs. There is a particular largeness to the feelings on the deeply personal album, wherein lyrics about interpersonal relationships, grappling with mistakes, and internal conflict inadvertently feel like they were written as meditations on the state of the world. There is an inherent pleasure in the chaos of the songs, whether they are interpreted as personal or universal. Painted Ruins is a soothing force in troubling times.

– Jane Morgan

Harold Little


Uniqek Sound Records

D.C. trumpeter Little’s album Akoben appears to be his second as a leader. He debuted in 2009, has a lot of credits as a sideman, and grew up steeped in funk and R&B/soul. Akoben (a symbol meaning “war trumpet”) offers 12 tracks that include standards like “Take Five” (which I’d never heard played on trumpet), plus a load of straightahead and chunky-style funk. Some of the titles, like “Stanky Weed,” are right out of ‘70s fusion albums. Other tracks are tailor made for dancing or just truckin’. His tone alternates—sometimes bold and commanding, other times muted and subtle.

– Bruce Collier

Queens of the Stone Age


Matador Records Limited

It’s been nearly 20 years since Rated R, the album that made QOTSA a world-renowned band—a diplomatic way of saying the band has a little age on them. Yet Villains proves their music is anything but old. There’s dance rock well as easily recognizable classic QOTSA like “The Way You Used to Do” and “The Evil Has Landed.” And then there are some quirks. Josh Homme seems to channel his inner David Bowie on “Domesticated Animals,” while the openings of both “Fortress” and “Villains of Circumstance” sound like they could have been cut for a Broadway-style score. But it works well. Overall, this much-anticipated album delights and doesn’t disappoint in any way.

– Joni Williams




The three-song EP was recorded before the heart of the band, Hope Given and Christian Mayes, hopped aboard a cruise ship for a musical adventure. If you have yet to see them live, their sound is hard to properly pigeonhole but there is an underlying sense of joy. It has been said that the best art is art that makes you feel something, anything…the mere act of it affecting you. Safe travels, guys, and thanks for sending some music for when I need to feel that joy.

– Nikki Hedrick

Michael J Thomas


Perry Music Group

Our own well-known saxophonist has a few surprises up his sleeve. Thomas has built a name for himself as a fixture in the smooth jazz world, but on his newest album, he dabbles in some soul-pop vocals and funky rhythms which are sure to appeal to a new audience. Congratulations to Thomas for being daring in his approach to Driven.

– Nikki Hedrick

The War on Drugs

A Deeper Understanding


Adam Granduciel is one of the most dynamic and consistently stunning contemporary makers of rock music. A Deeper Understanding, the latest from his band the War on Drugs, is the most emotionally moving and exciting rock album in recent memory. The album is one of intense inward reflection, examining feelings of sadness and loneliness without ever fully succumbing to their power. It is entirely transfixing, providing an escape from our innermost thoughts, but never ignoring or undermining them. A Deeper Understanding invites you into Granduciel’s deeply layered world and offers gorgeous rock and a therapeutic release in return.

– Jane Morgan
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