Lovers of authentic Americana and roots music, funk, pop, Southern rock and dance music, as well the late Grammy- and Academy Award-winning composer James Horner all have reason to celebrate thanks to an outstanding crop of highly-recommended 2015 releases available now.
Artist: Michael Ubaldini
Title: Songster – The Acoustic Reels (Blackwater Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, Walter Clevenger, Bob Dylan
Tell me more: Discerning fans of the burgeoning Americana movement have been rightfully encouraged by the success of a slew of talented newcomers but worry about the parade of unceasing acts whose slick approach (notably Milk Carton Kids and the Lumineers) threaten the movement’s delightfully-authentic rough edges that are at odds with modern country’s cliche-heavy approach. Leave it to alternative Americana hero Michael Ubaldini to strip things down to their acoustic underpinnings, using nothing more than an acoustic guitar, harmonica and his emotive baritone to set free a mix of new originals, as well as reworked standouts from his own rich discography and revisited traditional songs (the Celtic “Handsome Molly” and biting folk nugget “The Cuckoo”) on the ambitious 21-track “Songster – The Acoustic Reels.”
Ubaldini is never less than both literate and artful with his lyrical approach as evidenced by the playful “Jean Harlow,” bona fide celebration of romance (“Sweet ole Riddle”), beautiful expression of loss (“Rosewood Night”), defiance and perseverance (“Walk Through Fire”) and probing look at America’s endangered freedoms (“Money, Bible and a Gun”). Information: rocknrollpoet.com.
Tell me more: A full-length concert featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd and a cast of acclaimed guests was staged in Atlanta, GA on Nov. 12, 2014, and has now been thankfully released via a must-have deluxe package including the event presented on two audio CDs and on DVD. While the highlight may well be the band itself delivering an incredible marathon-length take of “Free Bird,” the rest of the 19-track set is pure joy. Imagine no more what it would be like for power-pop greats Cheap Trick to tackle Skynyrd; the quartet delivers a fiery version of “Gimme Back My Bullets.”
Later Gov’t Mule powers through an emotionally-charged Southern Rock-styled “Simple Man” while country great Jamey Johnson offers up a bluesy “Four Walls Of Raiford.” Peter Frampton offers up great fretwork and top-flight vocals on a version of “Call Me The Breeze.” Other sterling performances come courtesy of Alabama (“Gimme Three Steps”) and Gregg Allman (“Tuesday’s Gone”). Information: loudandproudrecords.com.
Tell me more: Music rarely gets funkier or grooves harder than the joyous Rock Candy Funk Party sophomore effort “Groove Is King.” Blending rock, funk, electronica, jazz, and R&B across its 16 tracks, RCFP offers up a mostly instrumental affair over its 70+ minute run; the wonderful exception is an amazing reworking of Peter Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt” where Zia offers up some vocal shadings.
Fans of guitar great Joe Bonamassa will want to wrap their ears around “Uber Station,” where Bonamassa’s masterful fret work is featured amidst the heavy grooves and a soulful horn section (featuring Randy Brecker, Ada Rovatti and James Campagnola); his graceful work on the heretofore noted “Digging in the Dirt” and speedy jazz licks on “Rock Candy” are a wonder. Everywhere the music making is outstanding, with performances that technically dazzle while simultaneously motivating the listener to move. The physical edition of the album comes with a bonus DVD that includes 50 minutes of in-studio footage of RCFP. Information: rockcandyfunkparty.com
Tell me more: Although The Pinder Brothers’ wonderful 11-song “Melancholy Sea” was released in winter, the duo’s bright melodic rock sound is ideally suited to summer. From the wistful “Same Mistake” (whose sound spans folk rock to psychedelia along its run) to the longing “Driving You Home,” brothers Michael Lee Pinder and Matt Pinder have an innate instinct how to meld infectious melodies with heartfelt song craft. The lyrics, straightforward and earnest, are delivered amidst nice harmonies and creative arrangements. Information: pinderbrothers.com.
Tell me more: Whether enveloping the listener with tense and unsettling soundscapes (“The Preparations,” “A Fatal Tragedy,” “A Cry for Help”) or touching our emotions at the deepest of levels (“A More Normal Life,” “Dream Crusher,” “The Funeral, Alone…”), composer James Horner’s “Southpaw” is a compelling listen for lovers of modern-day soundtracks and contemporary symphonic music. With its mix of traditional orchestral layers and electronica textures (just listen to “Suicidal Rampage”), “Southpaw” demonstrates Horner’s unique ability to bring additional depth in support of diverse film projects.
Sadly, following the completion of this soundtrack, Horner died at the age of 61 when the single-engine plane he was piloting crashed into the Los Padres National Forest in Southern California on June 22, 2015. Among Horner’s best-known scores were “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” (1982), “Aliens” (1986), “Titanic” (1995) and “Avatar” (2009). Information: sonyclassical.com.
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