This year yielded over 40 album submissions conceived and created right here in New Mexico. There were so many, in fact, that we had to bring in guest writers like blogger Jonny Leather, Rumelia’s Alysha Shaw and SFR publisher Jeff Norris to lend a hand. We also begin a new feature wherein a special jury of musicians, writers, promoters, etc. helped to select three albums of the year, and the artists behind these standout releases will play SFR’s Music Showcase on Sunday, June 12 at 2 pm. You can read about the jurors below. Some of the records reviewed within are incredible and some are downright awful. Regardless, all were undoubtedly the product of hard work. There’s a lesson in there about pride, probably.
The Guest Jury
Jessie Deluxe currently plays in two bands: Fox White and her solo project, Jessie Deluxe. On Tuesdays, Jessie hosts a night at Skylight called Revolver Tuesdays, a showcase of local and national artist, DJs, bands and pop up galleries. Along with rocking and promoting, she’s also working on a massive festival to take place in 2019 close to Santa Fe. Deluxe has worked in the studio with Dave Jerden (Jane’s Addiction, Poe), Chris Goss (Masters of Reality, QOTSA), David Rowntree (Blur), Kim Fowley (The Runaways) and Geza X (Sonic Youth). She has shared the stage with artists such as Lil Kim, Amanda Palmer, Fu Manchu, HR of Bad Brains, Mondo Generator, The Donnas, Abby Travis, Rooney, The Dollyrots and Fatso Jetson.
David Geist is a concert pianist, cabaret performer, composer, conductor and educator and has enjoyed an illustrious career working on Broadway shows such as Cats, Les Miserables, The Lion King and many more. Geist has performed with and coached such world-renowned singers as Sarah Brightman, Michael Crawford, Betty Buckley and Rita Moreno, and composing legends Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber have engaged him to perform their music in concert and theater settings. He performs regularly at his cabaret room, the Geist Cabaret, located inside Pranzo Italian Grill.
Jonny Leather spent over a decade in New York City writing about music for such publications as New York Press and Brooklyn Vegan and often documenting live performances with his camera. His music photography has graced the pages of New York Magazine, SPIN, Billboard, Paste, Village Voice and Magnet. A passionate supporter of the underground, he founded indie label/music collective Mecca Lecca Recording Co. in 2010. In early 2015, Leather abandoned the suffocating steel and concrete for the open space and slower pace of Santa Fe. Soon after, he began immersing himself in the local scene. Over the past year his music blog, meccalecca.com, has shifted focus toward this region with artist interviews, concert listings, live photos and more.
Jono Manson is a prolific singer-songwriter and veteran performer, with a long track record that includes major-label releases as both recording artist and producer. He is the owner of The Kitchen Sink recording studio in downtown Santa Fe. During a career spanning four decades, he has performed everywhere from the local dive to Madison Square Garden. His songs have been recorded by Grammy-winning artists and have been featured in major motion pictures, on network television and in national advertising campaigns. Since moving to Santa Fe in 1992, Manson has collaborated closely with many local and regional recording artists and has been the recipient of numerous New Mexico Music Awards including Album of the Year, Best Producer and the Norman Petty Producer Award.
Pascual Romero grew up playing folklorico and flamenco around Northern New Mexico, but gained notoriety after relocating to Los Angeles and launching a 16-year career in metal. He is most known for being in Southern California bands In This Moment and Pathology, as well as his live performances with Fear Factory. He toured extensively with bands such as Between the Buried and Me, Intronaut, Moonspell, Enslaved and Divine Heresy, to name a few, and currently serves as lead guitarist for Santa Fe doom band Devil’s Throne. Between tours, Romero found himself working in TV/film, which prompted him to found Kronos Creative, a boutique production and events company. Romero is currently trying to decide whether or not he likes the new Doom game.
Alysha Shaw is a musician, interdisciplinary artist and sensitive provocateur. She founded and co-manages Zephyr, a community arts studio for music rehearsal, performance, art exhibition, workshops and collaborations as of yet unseen. Shaw coordinates the Lifesongs program at the Academy for the Love of Learning, a program that facilitates intergenerational musical collaborations between elders, youth and artists over the course of months, culminating in high production value community concerts of original co-authored works. Shaw performs and teaches music from the Balkans and Mideast in the all-female ensemble, Rumelia. She’s interested in the role and power of music in society.
Heather Tanner makes music for strangers and friends with her band, The Bus Tapes. Her guitar is bigger than she is, and her voice is one she found along the way while performing for audiences in the Southwest. She collects notes left in tip jars, the odd NM Music Award, old guitars and stage selfies. She’s shared the stage with music icons and people falling over into her monitor, and enjoyed almost every minute of it.
3 Weeks Later
Guitarist Chris Riggins might just out-shred every other six-string samurai in town, and there is almost too much to dissect when it comes to his technique. So rather than point out the quarter-notes and arpeggios and finger-tapping and other blistering insanity that blasts out of every corner of W.A.R., we'll just point out that anyone who can say they like Jason Becker or Paul Gilbert should pick this thing up, like, yesterday. The downside of this, however, is in how so much effort has been put into getting the guitar work just right that it overshadows the other elements. Were there vocals of any kind? Yeah, but did you hear that totally bonkers run on track 3? Riggins has definitely distanced himself from any competition in a town full of accomplished guitarists, but on 3 Weeks Later's next effort, they might want to bring that level of attention to the other instruments. Still, it's one hell of an album that'll absolutely delight any metalhead who goes in for that shredder shit, by which we mean all metalheads. (Alex De Vore)
Alien Space Kitchen
Some of This Is True
Some of This Is True comes out of nowhere as a killer set of rock and fucking roll songs played by obvious fans of the less-than-serious side of their chosen genre. Shades of punk a la X, Descendents, Sex Pistols or even Santa Fe acts like The Floors (RIP) mesh with Breeders-esque vocals and a silly aesthetic that importantly reminds us that music needn't be emotionally devastating to be valid. Yes, ASK is goofy and fun, but they've got the chops to back it up and may have one of the most solid bassists this region has ever heard. Standout tracks like "Rock A Go Go" and "Better Daze" overshadow missteps like undermixed vocals by showcasing the band's obviously encyclopedic knowledge of '90s alt.rock (the good kind), and it's basically a certainty that they're a whole hell of a lot of fun live. Watch out for Alien Space Kitchen; they'll sneak up on you and actually make you enjoy music on a level other than cerebral. And in case it wasn't clear, that's a good thing. (ADV)
Can You Feel It?
I never imagined I would hear Native American flute paired with a reggae beat, nor would I have ever expect I'd like it. Luckily, Frederick Aragón's Can You Feel It? surprised me. Feel It? is unbelievably, stylistically varied and musically adept, and Aragón dabbles in electronic, pop, reggae, folk, Irish, orchestrated, R&B and other musical styles to take you on sonic journeys. Holding it all together is his rich voice and soulful flute playing. The whole record puts you at ease quickly and unexpectedly, all the while engaging your ears in something unexpected and unique. This record exemplifies Aragón's innovation, risk-taking and creative exploration, and it's inspiring. Go listen, and get a little out of the box. (Alysha Shaw)
I listened to David Berkeley on one of those fortunately rare Santa Fe days when the clouds were low and the futility of wishing for summer seemed more real than ever. It was a perfect record for such a day. Songs like "Hole in My Heart" and "Brighter Day" seemed written especially for the frustrating, slow drift from spring to summer.
Cardboard Boat is warm, well written and a nice friend on a gray day. (Jeff Norris)
Big Swing Theory
Big Swing Theory
Did you know that Taos is home of a truly righteous swing band? No? Well, now you do, and their name is Big Swing Theory. Now that you know this, go get their self-titled debut album. All but one of the pieces on it are original works, but that might not be apparent on a first listen, as this group is so good at emulating the jump blues and swing styles of the 1940s, they sound as if they were from that era. If you like what you hear and get inspired by the secret dance moves you explore in your living room when no one is looking, take a drive up to Taos and try out said dance moves at one of their regular live performances. (AS)
In Case of Revolution
Brian Botkiller is pissed off in a way very similar to how KMFDM used to be pissed off. The electronics/live instrument/DJ-ish performer’s new album proves this really hard in its disappointed-by-the-goverment aesthetic. It’s a call to action shouted through a hard-hitting industrial filter that basically announces to everyone that they’ve got to do something, anything, if they want our country to progress in positive ways. And though the harsh noise and punk rock attitude would be perfect psych-up music for anyone from the candiest of ravers to the spikiest of the spiked jacket set, it may not be the kind of thing that works for everyone. And that’s just fine, because you really have to exist within a certain socio-economic strata to get the full effect of Botkiller’s sound and lyricism. A limited run of albums came with a cinder block—y’know, in case of revolution—and Botkiller really nails the overall presentation. Just be aware that you’ll probably need to already like his brand of electronic-driven insanity and its ilk to get the most out of the experience. (ADV)
and the Goat Heads
Cactus Slim and the Goat Heads
The ultimate issue with this self-titled album of blues-rock covers from the Sandia Park trio is not just in its boring execution and bafflingly mixed vocals, but in how it comes across as endlessly self-indulgent. From one moment to the next, it's hard to tell if Cactus Slim is too far away from the mic or shouting through a megaphone or what, but someplace between the wanky solos and unintelligible singing, it becomes clear: At the end of the day, the only people this band is really going to impress are inebriated baby boomers more interested in shouting over the music to their companions that they totally know that Chuck Berry song as they prove, once again, that some people around here much prefer dancing—genre irrelevant—to anything truly musically worthwhile. Neil Young's "Down by the River" is a surprise diamond in the rough (though that might be more due to how hard Young rules rather than this particular version), but the rest is pretty much forgettable before you've even come to the final track. (ADV)
It's almost a shame that
The Way proves to be little more than just OK, as the cast of backup musicians Lisa Carmen enlists is quite impressive, and the frontwoman herself can clearly play and sing. With local heroes like Justin Bransford, Eryn Bent, Kevin Zoernig and more, one might assume we'd have a masterpiece on our hands, and in the moments that recall the female heroes of music like Carole King and Joni Mitchell, it comes so very close to that that it's all the more frustrating when Carman veers into Amy Grant-like territory (read, kind of church-y) and derails the whole dang thing. Now, nobody is faulting anyone for their faith or anything, and there is certainly something to be said of talented musicianship—
The Way has that in spades—it's just that the overall feel is more akin to someone having the money and guts to rent out a studio rather than an actual, palpable knack for songwriting. A sad mom might like it to listen to during some morning affirmation ritual she uses while she drives to work and the darkness of her solitude closes in, but for those of us who want something slightly new or rocking or even just interesting, this ain't the place to look. (ADV)
Caroline and the Carolines
Caroline and the Carolines debut release sounds like they come from a haunted ghost town filled with ethereal folk sirens, armed with otherworldly guitars, singing of desert adventures and the mysteries of the universe.
Time is an utterly pleasant aural experience. It's deep music that sounds like country and is seasoned with humor and sass. The vocal harmonies make you feel as if you are being led out to the vast empty sea of the desert by sweet cowgirl barbershop quartets promising rich barbecue and whiskey. Get your hands on this album to be transported to a different time of slow, soulful, dreamy country dances, a place where women's voices heard in such lovely original musical expression isn't such a pleasant surprise. (AS)
Danny T and the Stealing Thunder Band
Danny T and the Stealing Thunder Band’s special brand of blues-rock isn’t to be missed, even if Santa Fe can occasionally burn out on blues-rock.
is full of energy and sincerity that can be lacking in mainstream music, and the album is comprised of original songs that are insightful, real, heartbreaking, funny and even a bit political. The musicianship and creativity of the band shines alongside Danny Talache’s guitar which, throughout the album, stands out significantly as storyteller in its own right. Between that guitar, the walking bass lines, the gentle yet driving drums, the pleasant vocals and the occasionally biting verses, this record demands a listen. (AS)
Chaos Terrain is the coming together of so many local metal masters that there's basically no way it could go wrong. Carrion Kind's Augustine Ortiz on bass, Devil's Throne's Zac Hogan on guitar, Future Scars' Ben Durfee on drums and vocalist Pascual Romero (of more bands to even begin to list here) is a pretty sublime match-up, even if it does stray into repetitious territory now and then. Romero is to be congratulated for commanding a guttural growl through which lyrics are actually discernable, and Hogan's guitar setup and tone are so absurd that live shows—now few and far between, and without Romero—are the kind of affair that reach into your chest and grab hold of your heart with some kind of brutal, icy death grip.
Terrain contains a mere six tracks, but this means they cut the fat to keep it in that sweet spot between loving it and metal fatigue.
Songs do tend to bleed into one another after a while, but Durfee's fabled prowess not only keeps it varied, it proves he lives up to the hype and more. This one's for the stoners and head-bangers, a cerebral journey for crossed arms and angry frowns. Metal fans, unite under your new idol and listen. Then listen again. Then one more time. Then maybe listen to something else. (ADV)
Wind and Water
Classically trained guitarist Miguel DeLuca definitely has chops. The dexterity of his nimble fingers is put up to the challenge on
Wind and Water, as he takes aim at the work of past virtuosos such as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Joao Guimaraes and Django Reinhardt. It's no easy feat, and in an often-hypnotic display, DeLuca proves he's no butcher. The resulting collection of songs is the kind of pleasant disc you can throw on during a Sunday afternoon, sit back and relax.
Wind and Water does, however, lack that very special inviting warmth that can be found within the finest of comparable albums. DeLuca's performance, while certainly skillful, is also not without flaw, and the raw solo presentation offers him no room to hide even the slightest of imperfections. (Jonny Leather)
Hotend: The Do Tell Plays the Music of Julius Hemphill
The best jazz players remain loose, even when tackling the compositions of their most respected elders. The trio of Dan Clucas (coronet), Mark Weaver (tuba) and Dave Wayne (percussion) masterfully pays homage to the great saxophonist and composer Julius Hemphill over the six thoughtfully chosen cuts on
Hotend. A great improviser, Hemphill's works leaves space for the trio to freely showcase some of their own personality while holding true to the mood of the originals. Without a conventional or predictable structure, free jazz can be too heady for some, but Do Tell presents these songs with an approachable vibrancy that finds balance between complex, engaging artistry and listenability. By presenting the tunes using different instrumentation from Hemphill's own recordings, Clucas, Weaver and Wayne are able to provide a fresh perspective while highlighting Hemphill's case for warranting more widespread notoriety. (JL)
Live Without Warning
Drastic Andrew is comprised of some of the best musicians in Santa Fe, and their album,
Live Without Warning, is well-played, well-engineered and well-mastered. The themes and messages are certainly uplifting, and the intentions are good, but you may need to wade through a few tracks to really get into the swing of things. If you do stick with it, you may be pleasantly surprised. One of the more musically interesting tracks is "Alien Creature." The addition of synth and sax makes for a funky beast of a song that gets your ass shaking, and it's followed by the very prog rocky "Evolution," which makes me wish this whole album started with these tracks. "Send Him Back" is also a winner. It's conveys a rockabilly Elvis thing that makes you wanna wiggle. (AS)
When a local DJ is able to make music a full-time job, there's almost no question it's because they know what the fuck they're doing. Feathericci proves that for the bazillionth time with his newest release,
Sza Geow, a tight, three-track EP that encapsulates his trademark desert-dance feeling and serves as a breezy reminder that electronic music need not be a painfully harsh and unnerving series of terrifying noises. Feath knows the importance of how to build toward something dancey, and he does so through seamlessly layering one catchy track over another, with airtight pacing and a knack for never over-stuffing a song. Everything is in its right place, nothing feels like it's too much and the fidelity of this thing is off the charts. Even for the "We love instruments!" set, there's plenty here to fall in love with, and the bouncy progression that begins with "Mushdoum" and then comes to a head someplace in the middle of the closer, "Cloudy," may as well grab your arm, lean over and whisper in your ear, "You didn't think you liked this kind of stuff, and yet here we are." And yet here we are. (ADV)
It's quite possible that Stavo Mustang Craft is a sort of new wave incarnation of Jad Fair. In his 30-plus years, Fair has continuously released worthwhile records in which his unbridled desire to create and his childlike imagination overcome any limitations within his own musical ability and lo-fi production. A totally DIY effort, Galactic Witchcraft's second album,
Strange Birds, possesses a uniquely personal characteristic highlighted by Craft's own vibrant and playful personality. Drawing from precursors such as early Depeche Mode and Gary Numan, in a dry, partially spoken baritone, Craft delivers 10 sociopolitical anthems with varying degrees of success. The title track hints at a far less sinister version of Suicide's "Girl." "Evermore" is a delightful sophisti pop ballad. And there's something innately clever and insightful about the opening lines of the poppy "Mirrors." which finds Craft noting that, "People pick up a cell phone like they used to reach for a cigarette/to transfer social anxiety and personal attention to an object." With
Strange Birds, Galactic Witchcraft has presented an idiosyncratic experience, but also one that's undoubtedly still very rough around the edges. (JL)
Woah. Joaquin Gallegos can play the shit out of a guitar, and his passion is so thick on this thing that it's hard to miss. Gallegos is that local guy who trained in the States and in Spain and who kind of shirks that weird flamenco mandate that tradition be considered above all else. Yes, you will recognize this as flamenco, and you will be blown away by his masterful technique, but where Gallegos shines is in his rock background. It lends a sort of dangerous feel to the 10 tracks collected here and proves that even though tradition is important, progress is, as well. Each moment shifts from beauty to downright
impressive and all points in between, and it's hard not to get swept up in the soulful rhythms and rhythmic clapping. One can only dream, however, of a day when Gallegos hires some kid to walk in front of him with a fan so his hair is never without a gentle breeze in which to blow majestically. (ADV)
Lost in the Collision
Sorry, dude. Hate to break it to you, but someone stole your favorite Killswitch Engage record. Ease up. It wasn't me. No, seriously. Back the fuck off! You've really got an unhealthy amount of rage pent up inside of you. Here, take this new Hate Engine CD. Maybe it'll help.
Lost in the Collision may not be up to your usual standards, but it's still a relentless chugging caterwaul of thrash-meets-grindcore. You'll have an impossible time making out any lyrics from Mike del Rio's indecipherable combination of barks and screams, but I'm not sure that's really such a problem. They may not be rewriting the rules of metal, like your cherished Neurosis or Gorguts, but they're also taking enough chances to make themselves more interesting than your run-of-the-mill Anthrax wannabes. You're looking for something pulverizing enough to exhaust that aggression of yours, and you're not a total metal snob, so I have a feeling this will do the trick. (JL)
Stephanie Hatfield returns with her first set of recorded songs in some time, and while
Traces, which was produced by Hatfield at Frogville Studios, is certainly a representation of growth and maturity for the songwriter, it's just not a complete winner throughout. Songs like "Stay Lover Strong" do indeed highlight Hatfield's exquisite voice, and the Linda Ronstadt/Roy Orbison-esque melodies found on standouts like "Wrap My Limbs" or "Talking to the Dead" carry an emotional depth and weight that set up a stunning tune like "Confession" with an almost mathematical precision. Elements new-ish to Hatfield's sound, like bright trumpets layered over a much darker feel than her previous Americana-ish songs, are a welcome addition to her repertoire. That said,
Traces features a number of less enticing songs that fade from memory almost immediately. Of course, Hatfield has proven she has gas in the tank and is willing to embrace new ideas, and we're willing to bet whatever she puts together next will be the true standout record in her career. (ADV)
A Memory of Time
In the late '70s, Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" set off a wave of sax-infused soft rock.
A Memory of Time originates from a terrifying alternate universe in which that classic smooth-as-silk nightclub sax was never thwarted from its invasion of rock and roll. It's no surprise that Loren Haynes has embraced that somewhat-dated sound. His first album since shedding the "Ashton Jones" moniker is deeply indebted to a Springsteen legacy that prominently featured Clarence Clemons. With the assistance of Frogville's Bill Palmer and an excellent cast of musicians, Haynes has conceived an album that is impeccably crafted but falls into the trap of sounding like a team of skilled musicians coming together to unearth the remains of one of Bruce's lost records. If that's what they were shooting for, it's an admirable attempt in which pulling off the Boss's lyrical depth is their greatest challenge. (JL)
Daniel Isle Sky
Waiting for You
Leave it to someone who studied for a week under the tutelage of Donovan to infuse your mind with a set of wriggling earworms, one of which happens to be about a magical unicorn. And yes, “magical unicorn” is a redundancy—but by the time you’re 12 songs deep into Daniel Isle Sky’s
Waiting for You,
it’s understood that simple and catchy has reigned victorious over anything of a deeper variety. Sky applies the lessons of his mentor over a set of breezy pop folk tunes that carry forward much of Donovan’s peaceful spirit, without sounding like a facsimile. While Sky still has a ways to go before writing anything with the breathtaking beauty of “Catch the Wind,” many may find sublimity within the sunshine-tinted jangle of the title track or the heartfelt, cello-accented “Sister Valerie.”
Waiting for You
could benefit from a shorter run time, especially if it leads to the removal of this head-scratching verse from “City of Faith”: “What kind of candy is the world made of/Does it melt in your mouth or wash away/Picture perfect postcards everywhere/Where once a bloody massacre.” (JL)
Albums of the Year
Colossal Swan Dive
Colossal Swan Dive
For Santa Fe punk royalty like Nick Mares and Gabe Archuleta of Knowital (one of the finest bands that Santa Fe has ever seen) to reunite and pick up bassist David Goldstone and then record at producer Augustine Ortiz’s up-and-coming studio, The Decibel Foundry, is a godsend to pretty much anyone who looks fondly on their first forays into heavy post-punk way back when. Mares’ screamed vocals display a mad passion that he’s actually proven to the local scene tenfold, just don’t call it a comeback. Over 10 furious tracks, the band takes us on a tour of the good old days when acts like Cave In or Snapcase inspired a generation of emo kids who had grown sick of being emo and just wanted to slay, and this trio of absolute monsters still knows when to pull it back just enough, and at the right moment, to set up a completely crushing breakdown you almost won’t believe. You’ll be shocked they’re a trio and even more blown away by how the hell you’ve never heard of ‘em before now. Mathy tracks like “Into the New” compliment the insanity of numbers like “Die with a Man’s Gun” in a way Santa Fe has seen maybe never and the rest of the world has missed desperately since Botch called it quits and formed other bands that nobody loves anywhere close to as much. It doesn’t really matter where your tastes fall on the heavy music spectrum; so long as you’re looking for something that lives between the faster and thrashier aspects of punk rock and the more intelligent side of metal, Colossal Swan Dive has it for you. If we were forced to name a downside, it’d be that 10 tracks still doesn’t quite seem like enough, but it’s exciting to think about whatever these guys will bring to the table next. All we know is that it’ll have us headbanging like there’s no tomorrow. (ADV)
Another terrific Frogville Records/Bill Palmer-produced record by a guy I had honestly never heard of but want to hear again. I was expecting heavy Stevie Ray Vaughn influences (and there are a few) on this album—and there is plenty of that bluesy guitar rock, for sure—but this is good moody stuff. Great playing, great voice and a pleasure to listen to. The music is clean and direct and real. This guy has got to play Santa Fe more often! (JN)
Kodama Trio’s debut album is an excellent exposition of original jazz music. Some of the album flourishes on the more abstract end of the jazz spectrum, which may be difficult for those new to the genre, but novices will find more accessible pieces, if they wait for them. Aficionados, however, may be surprised that a record as fabulous as this lives in Santa Fe. This record features three distinctive songwriting styles, which give it an engaging ebb and flow, and the ensemble’s musicianship is demonstrably stellar. The recording captures some of the frenetic energy that is inherent to the live improvisational performance of jazz. (AS)
Darkness & Light
Many pianists possess the technical ability to play the works of the master composers, but more often than not, their performances possess a certain undeniable sterility. On
Darkness & Light, Grisha Krivchenia doesn't simply recite the works of Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt, he delivers them with impact and emotion. From the fluttering keys of Chopin's "Etude, Opus 25 No. 1" to a trio of movements from Beethoven's powerful "Sonata No. 14," every note is presented with an endearing admiration and appreciation. What's most impressive about
Darkness & Light is that when Krivchenia transitions from Liszt's "Vallee D'obermann" to his own "Concert Etude No. 1," there's no sudden drop-off in quality. In fact, Krivchenia's three compositions included here are all rather gorgeous and fit beautifully within the overall stunning melancholy that ties together the works of the masters. (JL)
An American in Texas
Kudos to Kuncicky for registering the super-apt website domain, “oldfiddleguy.com,” and double-kudos for absolutely slaying, old fiddle guy or not.
An American in Texas
not only weaves in and out of styles so deftly it’s mind-boggling, the entire production is absolutely perfect. From the Spanish-sounding opener “Old Stoat” and the oh-so-bluegrass movements of “Snake in the Grass” to the Irish-esque “Bending the Dragon” and the gorgeous closing title track, the entire album is so jubilant that Kuncicky’s absolute love of fiddle-driven numbers practically jumps off the album and hugs you tight. In a sea of emulators, the man has gone all-original amid an old-timey style of music, and this is no small feat. Like fiddle? You need this. (ADV)
Lifesongs: Love Is Here
Songs and Poems from the Heart
When I was a teenager growing up on Boring Court, a very appropriately named street in Atlanta just off Boring Road, I had a friend named Scott whose dad drove a massively long baby blue Mercury Marquis. He always had a lit filterless Camel he tapped into a little sandbag ashtray on the perfect dash of the Marquis, and he would take us to this and that in his car, which glided effortlessly through the suburbs. Lifesongs is the kind of music he listened to: easygoing but somewhat confused about whether it was music or just trying really hard not to be threatening. This record, a cross-section of the Lifesongs program which matches elders with songwriters to create original compositions based on their lives, is perfect for someone like Scott's dad: ready to slide through suburbia and let things go in one ear and out the other. (JN)
Albums of the Year
Tell Me Now
Back in the seventies in the small-townish (then) Atlanta, my mom listened to one station and one station only—WPLO. It was AM radio, and it was the kind of country Dwight Yoakam rescued in the eighties and Sturgill Simpson is reviving yet again today: boozy, sad, straight-up country with none of the rock and roll flashiness that ruined the scene for years.
Santa Fe’s Greg Butera is standing rank with the old school with “Tell Me Now,” produced and recorded by Will Courtney. Santa Fe seems to have quietly become more than half a glass of good bourbon when it comes to recording great country music, and Butera stands shoulder to shoulder with the Frogville-recorded Jim Keaveny’s “Out of Time” and 2014’s “The Lights of the Chemical Plant” by Robert Ellis. The record oozes pure country and keeps going with an intensity that makes Butera and his band sound like they might need to pack up a van and head east for Nashville. Highlighted by Butera’s lyrics and the steel guitar of Ryan Little, this album is a gem and perfect accompaniment to a PBR on the back porch while watching the tomatoes grow this summer. (JN)
Trio Nuevo Mexicano
Setting aside for a moment the culturally accurate portrayal of New Mexican Hipsano folk music found on Lone Piñón's debut release, can we just say that these guys slay? The musicianship on this album is off the charts thanks, in part, to the deep reverence displayed by its members. Jordan Wax, Greg Glassman and Noah Martinez are all studied musicians who embed themselves into the muscial cultures they espouse, and it's in this intensely passionate means of operation that they completely nail their sound. Vocals sung in Spanish highlight the high-energy musicality of each and every track, and we've even heard they've received the blessing of New Mexican folklorico legend Cipriano Vigil. This would be an excellent entry point into a long and proud muscial tradition and is a must-own for any fan of this type of music—especially that fiddle work on opener "La Petenera." It's actually mind-blowing. (ADV)
O' Fair New Mexico
OK, so what’re we listening to here, you guys? One song? OK. And it’s from 1915? Rad. That’s great. We love old songs, and we love Nuevo Mexico, too, and McCarroll is clearly a great vocalist. But where’s the rest of the album? Oh dang, this is it? Allright, cool. I just hope we didn’t, like, pay anything for it because c’mon … it’s just one song. Maybe it’s the kind of thing that can be handed out in gift bags at some luncheon for friends of the mayor, or maybe we’ll find a free stack of these babies at the front desk of some downtown hotel. Either way, it’s hard to really know what the endgame is here, and ultimately, we don’t actually care because we already forgot what we were talking about. (ADV)
Paula Rhae McDonald
Six songs are packed into this record like a fully loaded pistol. All of them are hot, strong and ready to strike at the head as well as the heart. It's got the Bill Palmer engineering touch that seems to work well with women like McDonald and Stephanie Hatfield, and Palmer brings out powerful voices and the passion of women who believe in their music.
This is a good record for listening by yourself with a nice glass of bourbon or sitting with a friend you are more than a little fond of. All of the songs are great, but "Broke Down Fool" was my favorite. Check out the drum track with the wonderful Mick Fleetwood-esque off-kilter beat to it. (JN)
If you've ever been to a club in Nashville, Coco O'Connor's
Turquoise will sound familiar. This album is full of well-produced country pop songs, and it was actually recorded in Nashville, which lends itself to a certain recognizable style. O'Connor sings with power and a gritty voice that's laced with twang. "Empty in California" is the best track on the album—it's catchy and dancy, and the hook really gets to you. The surf rock guitar makes one think of lowriders and palm trees, and then it surprises with bits of country heft.
Turquoise was produced by Grammy-nominated Margaret Becker (who is responsible for 21 No. 1 hits on Christian radio) and features five collaborations between her and O'Connor; you can hear her influence a bit in the album's aesthetic. The songwriting, musicianship and production value of this album are all solid. (AS)
We can all agree that an album written by robots would be the coolest thing ever, right? Yeah, that's what I thought. And the good news is that Philip L Maddux's Octaveleven comes so effing close to that and is, honestly, brilliant.
This Hyperlink plays out like Yes (and I'm talkin' Rick Wakeman Yes) was hired to write the soundtrack to a dystopian video game about the killing of all humans. Maddux's off-kilter and alternate-timeline-futuristic rhythms pile up amid complex time signatures courtesy of Future Scars drummer Ben Durfee, and Paul Wagner (of DIY artspace, Zephyr) rounds out the madness with hog-nosed bass sounds so chunky and excellent they wouldn't seem out of place on a funk record. The bad news is that Octaveleven isn't likely to play live anytime soon, and that's a damn shame. The good news, however, is that Maddux and company's bizarre EP is here to blow minds, and it is easily available to people who can dig the very interesting, albeit aimed toward specific tastes, style at play.
This Hyperlink could easily be divisive, but for those who do or will get it, it'll become a mainstay of keyboard insanity they'll cherish forever, or at least until the next album comes out. Until such a time, think of it as a companion piece to
Close to the Edge and be so pumped you're the kind of genius who can dig on some proggy shit. (ADV)
Yes! This is the one. Like,
the one; that one album that fully marries the older metal style of Lemmy with the '90s excellence of Sepultura and then throws in all kinds of thrashy punk and black metal for good measure before it practically makes you shit your pants because you also are way into Sick of It All. Ol' Dagger doesn't reach across genre lines—it downright wrecks and rewrites them courtesy of Ben Brodsky's impeccable percussion and the interplay between guitarists David McMaster and Corbin Pfeffer. Bassist Dex Valdez knows where the rhythm lives and beefs up the overall sound in that perfect jud-juddy way, and singer Dave Ahern-Seronde pulls from so many eras of punk and metal vocal work that it's nearly impossible to believe he's just one guy. Each and every track is a stunner, but if ever there were a defining song for this salty band of fucking swarthy dogs, it's in the power-violence opus of "Vulture Culture," a brilliant dissection of their many influences wrapped up in one neat package and shoved down your throat with reckless abandon, just like you like it. (ADV)
Picture a movie wherein a lot of montages take place in roadhouse bars; where tough guys with bandanas on their heads park their motorcycles nearby and where women in cutoff shorts wriggle suggestively to a band that plays from behind one of those chicken wire cages designed to prevent thrown bottles from injuring anyone. Did you think of ZZ Top? OK, good. Now imagine that Billy Gibbons and crew were busy, and they had to bring in a similar enough band that, while definitely fine players with a sound not unlike the backing track of a truck commercial, was missing that special something that sets them apart from all the other bands in Austin or Nashville that sound just like them. That band, believe it or not, is Albuquerque’s Outside Agitators, and their self-titled album may ask important questions like “Why Are People Like That?” but the important thing to remember here is that none of us is going to remember this band as of the end of this sentence. (ADV)
The Whole Wide World
A shivering harmonica sets the scene of a tumbleweed drifting cautiously through the desert landscape to the feet of a weary traveller. Fred Shumate is that weary traveller, singing in a rootsy croon that might pass as a poor man's Leon Russell. The bluesy folk rock ballads move along at a gradual pace, guided by Shumate's aching piano. Bill Palmer, Arne Bey and Don Richmond flesh out the songs with the kind of understated sophistication expected from Frogville Studios. It's a familiar style of roots rock that has existed for decades, and Shumate manages to reveal his portrayal of the genre with a heartfelt originality that fills
The Whole Wide World with vitality. Two of the album's finest moments, the title track and "While Trying to Escape," are accentuated by Richmond's shimmering mandolin, and Shumate even pulls off an impressive cover of the Motown classic "Stop in the Name of Love." It's an album characterized by distinctly local origins that does not leave the outsider unwelcome. (JL)
If the name Nathan Smerage is familiar, it could be because he spent the last few years riffing it up as the guitarist for classic rock throwback act Venus and the Lion. On his debut four-track EP, however, Smerage leaves bluesy guitar fuzz behind in favor of ethereal, acoustic (mostly) beauty with barely noticeable, minimal effects laced throughout his songs. Think the incidental music from a Zach Braff film or, appropriately, the soundtrack to a rainy day; this music is very cinematic in its movements and hits a certain European flair a la music one might imagine when thinking of Paris. The only real problem with these instrumental numbers is that there aren’t enough of them, but that’s a small price to pay. The production on
is spotless but deftly avoids overdoing it in favor of being unobtrusive—Smerage’s playing is the star of the show, and ain’t nothing going to take away from that. Make a note to mentally congratulate Smerage for not only showing his stylistic range, but for being one hell of a guitarist. (ADV)
Albums of the Year
Ghosts in the Ground
Megan Burns is at it again, this time with another exploration of keyboard and synth-heavy weirdness, not unlike Bjork in her quieter moments, but with a retro
era Radiohead vibe. It remains an interesting direction for Burns’ Flamingo Pink! project which, until recent years, was all about whisper-quiet solo acoustic indie-folk, but it’s an exciting evolution nonetheless. Burns is clearly experimenting here, and to pretty amazing results, thanks to a noticeably new mastery of her relatively new equipment; if her previous stab at this kind of music,
, was the hypothesis, this is the proven result. Layered lo-fi vocals add endearing warmth to Burns’ flawed but gorgeous voice, a voice you can feel deep down in the pit of your gut, and there’s a lot more going on with
than we’ve seen previously from the local artist, as she cleverly takes poppy sounds into darker areas and seems to flirt with the exploration of death and dying, perhaps as an examination of transformation or transition? “You wrote me a letter/you made me this way/you know I’m gonna get better” she croons on the titular track, and we can feel her ache through what seems almost like gratitude toward whomever penned the missive. It doesn’t even matter what was in that letter, and we never think to ask. This actually showcases what may be the most important aspect of Burns’ lyricism: She’s mastered subtlety and emotion on a level most musicians work a lifetime toward but never quite reach;
is obviously teeming with feeling, but it is never overt or in-your-face; rather, Burns’ ability to slowly build to something magical while maintaining a grasp on what works from song to song is astonishing. She should be proud of this album, and the rest of us should be clamoring to own it. It is the very essence of songwriting distilled into six perfect tracks. Even audio blemishes have their part to play and work in sublimely human contrast to the electronics of the backing tracks. It’s hard to imagine how she’ll top this one, but if the progression of the Flamingo Pink! timeline can be used as a kind of guide, there’s only room to go up from here. (ADV)
The Swank Brothers
Lo Fi-No Fi
Know what’s weird? I was just thinking to myself how there aren’t enough albums that sound like a bunch of dads got together in a garage, put a 4-track in the corner under the thickest pillow they could find and then got down to some serious jamming. Thank God
Lo Fi-No Fi
came along, too, because otherwise I’d have had no choice but to listen to an album that sounded like it was the product of actual planning and effort or that took into account the valuable time of the listener. Like most music fans, my first goal when looking for records is to find something that seems to never end and that features nonstop noodling layered over some bastardized version of funk without the funk. By all means find this record if, like me, you love to furrow your brow in confusion over the point of an album before you slowly decide that it was 13 awesomely self-indulgent tracks to which a slideshow of your grandma’s trip to that one sea where everyone floats would be preferable. (ADV)
Welcome to My School
This is a hard one, because what kind of monster would dare give a poor review to an album produced by the Turquoise Trail Charter School and that features a band called The Thunderstorm Club Kids? Plus, have you seen the talent on this thing? Jon Gagan, Baird Banner, Char Rothschild … it's a veritable cornucopia of amazing local musicians. And it's cute, and that's fine. We might instead point out that it's a little sneaky to submit an album that heavily features elementary school kids, as it kind of forces reviewers to write with kid gloves (so to speak) so they don't break the hearts of the young tots. That said, "Things I Like to Do" is actually a super-fun tune and felt pretty good to hear. I mean, I like to eat ice cream, laugh all day and make new friends as well. One does wonder what would've happened had I just demolished this album for obviously being little more than a keepsake for parents to put in their box of kid stuff and one day open with a time capsule-like reverence, but like I said before—what kind of monster would I have to be? (ADV)
Trio Andaluz is at first glance predominantly Middle Eastern in style and instrumentation, but as you listen, you'll hear the influences of jazz and the avant garde.
Sights Unseen is comprised largely of original music that has a contemporary edge tempered with traditional roots. The combination of Middle Eastern percussion, oud, extraordinary lead vocals and harmonies expresses a sort of timeless, placeless wistfulness. It's perfect after-hours music, pairing nicely with wine, cigarettes and long looks at the stars. But it's funky, too. Meagan Chandler's voice boggles the mind: wispy, lilting, a hybrid of classical, Middle Eastern and experimental vocals. There are moments where she evokes a kind of mellower Kate Bush. Gregory Gutin's percussion is hypnotic, traditional, yet accessible. Jeremy Bleich's mastery of the oud is steeped in his unique musical and compositional style, which makes the work stand apart. Highly recommended listening. (AS)
Any review of Gregg Turner kind of needs to get the whole thing about how he was in Angry Samoans out of the way, and now that we've done so, we're happy to report that
Chartbusters! is so totally good it's almost unbelievable. Turner has always excelled in funny, witty lyricism and a decidedly tongue-in-cheek feel, but with his Roky Erickson meets
Ruben and the Jets-era Zappa musicality along for the ride, we may just have his best solo release to date. Whether he's dissecting the works of Kafka or singing a little ditty about a gal he once knew in Tucson, Turner's doo-wop melodies are as catchy as they come and as fun as it gets, and
Chartbusters! winds up being far more fleshed-out than 2013's
Gregg Turner Plays the Hits. Hell, there are even girl group backup singers, adding throwback melodies to the songs. Turner has already announced he'll release the album on vinyl, and he's cleverly bisected it by side, with the poppier tunes comprising Side A and the sadder numbers and weirdness of a track like "The Box" rounding out Side B. Maybe you don't realize what a big deal this guy actually is, and that's actually fine, but those who choose to do a little digging will find more than enough reason to pick up
Chartbusters! upon release. You can thank us later. (ADV)
Joe West's Theater of Death Official Soundtrack, Volume 1
If you're a fan of musicals and darkly funny macabre works of art, this album is for you. It's a soundtrack of Joe West's spooky, boozy, comedic musical experience that happens annually in Madrid at the Engine House Theatre around Allhallows Eve. Listening to the opening track alone in your house past midnight is not recommended, unless you like feeling just a little uneasy. The songs on this recording are a dynamic selection of original pieces that may elicit vivid, theatrical memories if you have attended previous productions of
Theater of Death. They also stand on their own without that context. They might make you laugh and feel just a little more haunted as you enjoy the musical intelligence and wit that underlies them. (AS)
Andrew Tumason has always brought an eclectic collaborative level of experimentation to his work within the Santa Fe music scene with bands like Evarusnik or even Luke Carr's Storming the Beaches with Logos in Hand. But now, for his first major solo release, Tumason strikes out on his own as Woven Talon, and his debut record does not disappoint. A solo acoustic effort that surely
could be classified as singer-songwritery,
Westlands differentiates itself enough from just about anything you've heard of late and stands in a league of its own in terms of style and uniqueness. Tumason proves to be a patient and careful curator of sounds on songs like "Tesu Tru," a bizarre instrumental journey that merges a somewhat Middle Eastern style with droning bass notes that make it almost sinister, if not for the beauty.
Westlands is like a sonic story or the backing track to a self-reflective meditation. As a whole, the album is borderline conceptual and is perhaps best digested in one straight listen, but if there were a standout track to be found, it's the Morricone-reminiscent "The Great Divide," wherein Tumason seems to channel the sadness and energy of composer Gustave Santoallala and pretty much announces that he's got some serious feelings. (ADV)
Santa Fe Reporter