By Mike Jurkovic
By way of an intro, I want to let you know what you won’t find here. You won’t find reviews of music by American idles, Survivor rejects, or artists who demand more time in rehab or on Hollywood gossip shows than CD players. You will find reviews of regional talent as well as new releases by some of our heroes who have, because of age or fad, fallen off the radar. With that said, here we go:
The Trapps – Cheap Seats
Driven by the fully formed and finely honed songwriting of guitarist/vocalist Sean Schenker and the glorious old school roots rock of his brothers-in-arms – lead guitarist Warren Gold, bassist Jason Sarubi, and drummer Seth Moutal – ‘Cheap Seats’ is not only a defining follow-up to their ‘06 debut ‘Good Luck or Goodbye’, it is a in spades confirmation of all that first disc offered.
You won’t find pandering homage to any particular musical brand here. The Trapps are too intelligent for that and too determined to mark their own territory, which is why the Middle Eastern flavor of Chasing Bees feels as normal to the heart and soul of this disc as any of the brilliant Band-like songs that precede or follow it. In a better world where song once ruled out over celebrity, the jammy, anthemic Hope, and the soaring Everything Good Is Gone would be playing far and wide, loud and clear over the majestic Shawangunk Mountain Range that the band calls home.
As my closing argument to how natural The Trapps sound next to the classics, I offer this. The other day while driving, I had ‘Blood On The Tracks’ cued up to play after ‘Cheap Seats’ and it felt like I had been listening to these two grand discs all my life. www.thetrapps.com
Pearl Jam – Live On Ten Legs (Sony Legacy)
Fierce, ferocious, and more resilient than all their grunge peers rolled into one, PJ stormed North American stages last year and this is what it sounded like. I know this absolutely ‘cos I was at the tour finale at Madison Square: a three hour wrecking ball tremblor of faith affirming rock n roll. And speaking of after shocks, check out the recently released, expanded and remastered 3 CD deluxe set of their second & third blistering discs, Vs. and Vitalogy, which includes a roaring 1994 show from the Orpheum Theater in Boston.
Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel (Sony Legacy)
If some recorded version of this landmark disc isn’t already in your collection, then nothing I say here will convince you of its must-have-ness. This 40th anniversary release includes a sonic upgrade and a great DVD on the making of this generational, indelible music (The Boxer, So Long Frank Lloyd Wright, Cecilia, the epic title track). The DVD also includes the once broadcast and then controversial ‘Songs of America’ – virtually S & G’s take on the chaotic end of the 60’s, which sadly reflects the beginnings of the very troubled decade we now inhabit. www.simonandgarfunkel.com
Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What (Concord Music Group)
With the release of ‘So Beautiful or So What’ we have our first serious contender for Album of The Year and easily Simon’s finest and most rewarding disc since 1990’s ‘The Rhythm of The Saints’. Effortless, funky, jaunty, ebullient, and full of the lyrical images only Simon can conjure (“A pilgrim on a pilgramage/Walked across the Brooklyn Bridge”); (“Oh the music may be merry/but it’s only temporary/I know Santa Claus is coming to town”), ‘So Beautiful or So What’ features three songs The Afterlife, Dazzling Blue, and Rewrite that arguably stand alongside many of his classics, and how many of his peers can say that or even dare to surpass their glory days? www.paulsimon.com
Brad Mehldau – Live In Marciac (Nonesuch)
Recorded in 2006, this 2 CD/1 DVD set highlights his deft touch and creative depth riding high in southwest France. Playing triumphantly between his two major influences – the brilliantly improvisational Keith Jarrett and the whispery melodicism of Bill Evans – Mehldau’s twists and turns on Lennon/McCartney’s Martha My Dear,Kurt Cobain’s Lithium, and Roger/Hammerstein’s quintessential My Favorite Things are joyous re-inventions,while his own compositions – Storm, Trailer Park Ghost, and others, reveal a musical range few dabble in. If you’re not familiar with his work, may I also recommend ‘Largo’, ‘Live In Tokyo’, ‘Brad Mehldau Trio’,‘Live at The Village Vanguard’, and last year’s expansive ‘Highway Rider’. www.bradmehldau.com
Sumi Tonooka – Initiation (Artists Recording Collective)
‘Initiation’ finds Beacon resident and Hudson Valley educator Sumi Tonooka in high creative and collaborative drive, turning what she has learned rhythmically from piano masters Kenny Barron, Thelonious Monk, and McCoy Tyner, into her own spirited, luxurious, and melodically complex, but never un-nerving, textures.
Saxophonist, composer, and fellow educator Erica Lindsay may be the second voice, but it as clear, resonant, and challenging as Tonooka’s. Veteran bassist and Sumi stalwart Rufus Reid is, as always, a rock and a revelation as is the propulsion and swing of late drummer Bob Braye. www.sumitonooka.com
The Grand Slambovians
Though the rousing and uplifting The Trans-Slambovian Bipolar Express kicks things off ‘The Grand Slambovians’ unlike a trio of unforgettable, DIY predecessors - 98's ‘A Good Thief Tips His Hat’, 04's supreme double-set ‘Flapjacks From the Sky’ and 08’s ‘The Great Unravel – takes a while to gather steam and its emotional core.
But when it does, ‘The Grand Slambovians’ takes that full gale and sets its rootsy psychedelica for a truly grand, and certainly spiritual sail, with several of the songs rivaling any in their rich, intensely original, and defiantly quirky canon. With all its Slambovian variations on musical history and the human heart, Lost Highway; the elegiac The Invisible, the deep blue, stark hollow stomp of the reverberating title track; the impish pop of Who Is This Girl and The Quiet Beatle homage Ravenous Ways all, on first listen mind you, become vivid watermarks of why these Hudson Valley based myth-makers are loved and heralded around the world. www.slambovia.com