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New Recordings: Pat Metheny Unity Group; Angel Olsen; Laura Cantrell

Ratings: Excellent, **** ; Good, *** ; Fair, **; Poor, *

Pat Metheny Unity Group: "Kin (er)"
Pat Metheny Unity Group: "Kin (er)"Read more

Pat Metheny Unity Group

Kin (er)

(Nonesuch ***1/2)

nolead ends With his wild mane intact, it's difficult to believe 38 years have passed since jazz guitarist Pat Metheny's debut as a leader - harder still, considering that his annual release schedule finds him restlessly crafting one-man bands (Orchestrion) and bugged-out small ensembles (with the likes of pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Christian McBride) and covering modern avant-garde's most notorious composer, John Zorn. Couldn't Metheny do with a chill?

At first blush, his Unity Band's sophomore recording seems like that thing, a relaxed-fit vibe co-conjured by reeds man Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Ben Williams, and multi-instrumentalist/ vocalist Giulio Carmassi. Touched by the influence of maximal minimalist Steve Reich, waltzing gospel-ish ballads ("Born") and scintillating roomy sambas ("Sign of the Season") bristle with nervous calm. At times, the interplay of Metheny's cool blues and Potter's muscular reserve make for a tone that's gently intoxicating. There's constant energy between Metheny and his band - wild thought bubbles filled with frizzy rugged polyrhythms ("On Day One") and curtly angular electro-blips ("We Go On") driving the guitarist's most rigorously complex, yet contagious melodies in some time. With effusion and electricity, Kin proves that Metheny's sound is as mature as it is teasingly young.

- A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Angel Olsen
nolead ends nolead begins Burn Your Fire for No Witness
nolead ends nolead begins (Jagjaguwar ***1/2)

nolead ends Angel Olsen's first full-length, 2012's Half Way Home, was a hushed acoustic affair, intimate and riveting. Olsen had previously worked with Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and that album contained some of his old-time folk sensibility. Burn Your Fire for No Witness, on the other hand, is much more aggressive but no less riveting. The moments of sober quiet - the haunting "Iota" or the Leonard Cohen-esque "White Fire" - contrast with the bitter cries of "High & Wild," "Hi-Five," and "Stars," songs for reverberating electric guitars playing insistent chords.

"If there's one thing I fear / it's knowing you're near / but not with me here," Olsen sings in "Forgiven/Forgotten." Over the course of the song's brief two minutes, her voice veers from an accusation to a plea, from punk anger to girl-group desperation. These are songs of discomfort, but Olsen is at home in them, whether they're destabilizing garage rock or lonesome ballads.

- Steve Klinge

nolead begins Laura Cantrell
nolead ends nolead begins No Way There From Here
nolead ends nolead begins (Thrift Shop Recordings ***)

nolead ends "They're just working out who they are," Laura Cantrell sings in explaining the title of her new album's first song, "All the Girls Are Complicated." When it comes to her music, at least, this alt-country veteran already has her own fully formed vision.

On No Way There From Here, the Nashville-born, New York-based singer-songwriter uses country as a base for a beguiling sound that also draws on folk and pop. It's a good match for the grace and nuance of lyrics that never serve up trite emotion (the girls really are complicated). Cantrell delivers the songs in a clear alto that gets right to their heart, whether it's the yearning of "Driving Down Your Street" or the melancholy of the title track. And for all the gentle, beguiling nature of that voice, the brisk "Beg or Borrow Days" also reveals a steely resolve.

- Nick Cristiano

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SOURCE: SoundScan (based on purchase data from Philadelphia and Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, Chester, Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties). Billboard Magazine 2/22/14 © 2014

On Sale Tuesday

Babyface/Toni Braxton Love, Marriage & Divorce;

Lake Street Dive, Bad Self Portraits;

Angel Olsen, Burn Your FIre for No Witness;

Shocking Pinks, Guilt Mirrors