Cynic's New Year
(Kill Rock Stars sss)
With his penchant for slowly plucked banjo, his earnest, understated singing, and his uneasy, often grim lyrics, Justin Ringle sometimes impinges on Bonnie "Prince" Billy's weird, old Americana territory. But Ringle's Horse Feathers comes with strings attached: The Portland band—basically Ringle and violinist Nathan Crockett, plus loads of helpmates—is at its best when it contrasts his stark songs with luxurious orchestrations, and that happens often on Cynic's New Year, Horse Feathers' fourth album.
"Fire To Fields / Elegy For Quitters" blends violins, cello, trebly piano, and soft drums into a gorgeous suite; "Last Waltz" sounds like a chamber quartet remaking a Bon Iver song. Although Ringle can write a lovely simple acoustic guitar song such as the Iron & Wine-like opener "A Heart Arcane," Horse Feathers is at its best when at its most string-kissed.
Horse Feathers with Matt Bauer and Mount Morian play Thursday, May 10 at 9 p.m. at Johnny Brenda's, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. Tickets: $12. Information: 215-739-9684, www.johnnybrendas.com.
If you're the kind of person for whom most albums take too long, Off! is for you. All you need is 16 minutes, and you'll get some of the most highly-charged, old-fashioned, brusque punk rock that money, snot, spit, and a delicious pedigree can earn. Philadelphia expatriate guitarist Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides) joined forces with Circle Jerks founder/ Black Flag singer Keith Morris, Steven McDonald of Redd Kross, and Mario Rubalcaba of Hot Snakes to form a slippery, hardcore-ish supergroup for a few West Coast shows. They must have liked one another: They went on to record the four-EP set The First Four in 2011, followed by sold-out concerts across the States. For Off!, the band's full-length follow-up, 16 metallic songs rattle by with lightning speed. The harsh, hot Off! sounds like an in-the-red Black Sabbath at 45 r.p.m., with Morris coughing and carousing his way through not-entirely-mindless lyrics on songs such as the curt "Feelings are Meant to Be Hurt," the frowsy "Harbor Freeway Blues," and the blank, unholy "Vaporized."Off! is a welcome respite from any music that takes 20 minutes or more. More acts should follow Off!'s lead.
Music from the HBO Original Series Treme
Time to get in the mood for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which takes place over 10 days starting Thursday in The City That Care Forgot. The soundtrack for the second season of David Simon's music-filled HBO drama Treme does the job. Like the series, whose second season is newly out on DVD with a third slated for the fall, the soundtrack covers plenty of territory, from the live version of "From The Corner to The Block," with funk band Galactic, rapper Juvenile, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, to the Cajun swinger "La Danse De Mardi Gras," which pairs Steve Riley with country troubadour Steve Earle. By throwing together actors who are musicians (and vice versa) with name brands like Dr. John and Kermit Ruffins, plus lesser-known treasures such as John Boutte and Aurora Nealand, Treme creates a piquant, inimitably New Orleanian gumbo, full of musical truths cooked up for TV fiction.
John McCauley of the Providence, R.I.-born and now Nashville-based rock and roll band Deer Tick, which co-headlines Union Transfer tonight with Lucero, is a serial moonlighter. Last year, McCauley dabbled with Middle Brother, teaming up with members of Dawes and Delta Spirit for an album of Replacements-meets-Gram-Parsons country-flavored rock. Now, with Diamond Rugs, he's joined by, among others, members of Dead Confederate, Six Finger Satellite, the Black Lips, and, most interestingly, Abington's own Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, for an album of loose-limbed, ingratiating bar-band rock. The Rugs debuted this winter with the holiday standard-to-be "Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant," which is included here, and if Diamond Rugs isn't always that inspired and is occasionally lunkheaded (see "Call Girl Blues"), it's still consistently catchy, often amusing, and the product of more musical intelligence than hard-up titles like "Gimme A Beer," "Totally Lonely," and "Hungover and Horny" might suggest.
Deer Tick with Lucero, J Roddy Watson, and Turbo Fruits play 8 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at Union Transfer, 1012 Spring Garden. Tickets: $20-$22. Phone: 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com.
The Complete Epic Recordings
(Real Gone Music sss)
Two of the three albums on this two-CD set were never released before Rick Nelson's death in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1985. They were recorded from 1976 to 1979, long after Nelson had established himself as a more-than-a-pretty-face teen-idol hitmaker and had gone on to become a pioneering country-rocker before scoring a comeback hit with 1972's nostalgia-defying "Garden Party."
The first album,Intakes,showcases Nelson's strengths as a crisp rocker and folk-tinged balladeer. Only two of the numbers are originals, but "Something You Can't Buy" and "It's Another Day" are two of the strongest, showing again that Nelson was more than just an ace interpreter.
The ultimately shelved follow-up,Back to Vienna, has similar highlights, such as Dylan's "Mama, You've Been on My Mind" and the ZZ Top rocker "Getting It On." But in most cases you have to wonder what producer Al Kooper was thinking, as he surrounds Nelson with fussy orchestrations that don't suit him at all.
The real treat is Rockabilly Renaissance, which came out in 1986 in truncated and overdubbed form as The Memphis Sessions. Here are the original mixes of Nelson tearing through Buddy Holly's "Rave On" and John Fogerty's "Almost Saturday Night," adding some twang to Bobby Womack's "It's All Over Now," and getting soulful on Tim Krekel's "Send Me Someone to Love." Best of all is "Dream Lover," the yearning Bobby Darin midtempo ballad that Nelson makes thoroughly his own. That it didn't become a huge hit underscores the mostly ill-fated nature of his Epic tenure.
Seeds from the Underground
(Mack Avenue sss)
Tuneful moments intersperse with keening sheets of sound on the new CD from alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett. The Detroit native writes tunes that honor everyone from fellow reedman Jackie McLean to his high school band director Bill Wiggins. One tune, "Detroit," is made intentionally to sound like an old scratchy LP, with the dark melody reflecting the city's prospects. Venezuelan pianist Benito Gonzalez sounds much like McCoy Tyner, and the session, with bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Ronald Bruner, seems to veer between a blaring Coltrane modernism and a Pat Metheny airiness. The tunes are intelligent, though not very memorable. The occasional use of voices often proves a distraction. Still, there's no doubting Garrett's heart. In the frenzy of creation, he has few equals.
Jules Massenet Don Quichotte
Ferruccio Furlanetto, Anna Kiknadze, Andrei Serov; Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev conducting.
(Mariinsky, two discs ssss)
The opera world has long wanted/needed a good version of Cervantes' celebrated Don Quixote story. And although this amiable, late-period Massenet opera (1909) has long been an obvious candidate, the recorded evidence has suggested the piece is pretty thin soup — until now. Though not a masterpiece by any means, the opera is indeed reborn, and so engaging you don't question its quality.
Gergiev's characteristic electric-fast tempos and forthright Mariinsky chorus do wonders for the Spanish-flavored choruses, while also keeping the often-repeated tunes from wearing out their welcome. Over-the-hill casts have been a problem in past recordings, but these singers are wonderfully fresh-voiced, well cast, and dramatically adept. In the early scenes, I wondered whether a bass of Furlanetto's magnitude was best for the title role. But such questions disappear amid the depth of pathos he gives the role. The recording acoustic is radiant. This is one of the best opera recordings of the year.