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Richard Buckner - Our Blood (Merge, $11.90)

At an all-too-brief 38 minutes, Richard Buckner’s latest is a dense, brooding effort Richard Buckner Our Bloodthat continues the gentle, folksy sound he’s known for. The length of it can be forgiven if you know the back story. During work on Our Blood, Buckner’s recording equipment broke down, his laptop containing mixes was stolen (never to be retrieved) and the local police fingered him as a suspect in the case of a headless corpse turning up in a burned out car near his home in upstate New York. No surprise that a track like “Escape” exists, with its clear, acoustic guitar supporting Buckner’s search to exit a current, stifling situation. “Witness” chugs along at a brisk sing-able pace, as does the first track, “Traitor”, weaving a pedal steel accompaniment in between the lyrics. “Collusion” is a dreamy touch of poetry pondering when someone forsakes another. The one-word titles, “Confession”, “Ponder”, “Thief” and “Hindsight”, are succinct to the point of transparency in supporting the notion that a writer writes best of his own experiences. Overall, Buckner delivers a soothing, stream-of-conscious soundscape filled with guitars, pianos and fuzz that hopefully offer a panacea for what he’s been through.

The Gourds - Old Man Joy (Vanguard Records, $14.50)

The best roots band in Austin, Texas kicks in to party mode on the very first note The Gourds Old Man Joyof their latest effort Old Man Joy. The opener, “I Want It So Bad”, with its chorus of handclaps and rolling accordion, sets up listeners perfectly for a heavy dose of good time American music. The Gourds combination of rock, alt-country and boogie is at its richest on this, the band’s eleventh release. Arguably, they’re the heir apparent to Doug Sahm and his Sir Douglas Quintet, so it was most fitting that they enlisted Larry Campbell, a one-time member of Sahm’s band, as producer. Recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in upstate N.Y., Ole Man Joy is a tight, dense effort that recalls a wide range of influences. “Drop The Charges” recalls The Who at their earliest and most playful, “Drop What I’m Doing” is pure Richards and Jagger and “Marginalized” would’ve been written by Bruce Springsteen had he been born in New Orleans. Multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston underscores the band’s great wealth of musicianship, manning banjo, mandolin, fiddle and even rubboard. Like a train screaming down the track, “Haunted” is by far the best cut, with its sparkling electric guitars and peddle steel, driving The Gourds home in all their Texas glory.

The Jayhawks - Mockingbird Time (Rounder, $14.58)

The Jayhawks’ first studio album in 8 years, and the first in 16 with foundingThe Jayhawks Mockingbird Time member Mark Olsen, finds the quintet in top team form, occasionally dipping in to 60s British Invasion. The soaring harmonies of Olsen, Gary Louris, Tim O’Reagan and Karen Grotberg elevate the band out of the alt-country bin and underscore how universally appealing a great sing-a-long is, as is the case on the first single, “She Walks In So Many Ways”. Olsen’s re-entry brings some interesting, meandering storytelling and experimentation on the psychedelic track “Black Eyed Susan” and on the deeply poetic, desert and canyon-themed “Tiny Arrows”. Both underscore the fact that this long-standing band has a desire to grow beyond their signature sound. Diehard fans will think they found a rare unreleased track with “Closer To Your Side”, which sounds like an outtake from The Jayhawks’ 1989 Blue Earth. Mockingbird Time wraps up brilliantly with a fair amount of muscle on “Hey Mr. Man”, a down and dirty rock track in the spirit of Buffalo Springfield. In an attempt to offer more for your spending dollars, the deluxe edition of Mockingbird Time contains a DVD disc of various rehearsal sessions, documentary footage and past performances.

Wild Flag - Wild Flag (Merge, $13.56)

The indie rock super group destined to save us all has arrived! Well, maybe theyWild FLag can’t do anything about the terrorists or solve our economic woes but what this quartet can do is deliver blistering garage rock as exciting as the first time your 16-year old self-tuned in to college radio. Hailing from some of the most important bands of the ‘90s, Mary Timony (Helium), Rebecca Cole (The Minders), Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney) kick out the jams on their debut release and breathe life in to a rather dull 21st century rock scene. After getting together to record music for a documentary, the quartet became official, toured around, liked what they heard and wrote and recorded all of the tracks live (except vocals) giving these songs a raw immediacy and power. The first single “Romance” is a dancey, post-punk rocker with handclaps, sing-a-long breaks and monster guitar riffs that is simply awesome! “Glass Tambourine” is a hippie-arena rock hybrid while “Racehorse” is all punk rock bravado thanks to Brownstein’s pounding vocals. With the power of The Who (the Keith Moon era), striking girl harmonies, their combined histories and an inherent skill for making smart music, Wild Flag’s debut is the best release of 2011.


Big Harp - White Hat (Saddle Creek, $9.99)

With a deceptively simple approach, husband and wife duo Chris Sensensey andBig Harp White Hat Stefanie Drootin-Sensensey craft lovely, vintage country and blues tunes reminiscent of Nashville’s front porch heyday. Chris, who handles vocals, guitar, and keyboards, possesses a voice that echoes like a young, contemplative Dr. John, while Stefanie handles the bass with a gentleness that belies her Omaha, Nebraska punk rock roots. The album opens with toe-tapping “Nadine”, a tale of a girl’s move to the big city that results in romantic entanglement, and ends with “Oh Nadine”, where the parents of that same girl plead for her return. It’s a clever bookend to a satisfying collection of California country.

Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest (Acony Records, $11.97)

Back to offer Southern comfort to your weary mind, Gillian Welch and her partnerGillian Welch The Harrow and The Harvest David Rawlings return with ten intimate acoustic folk songs, giving listeners the feeling that they’re eavesdropping. With their two voices melding as one at times, gloriously so on “The Way It Will Be”, the pair resurrect a century’s old musical tradition better than anyone. But The Harrow & The Harvest showcases lyrics that fit a 21st century narrative, as in the case of the obviously titled “Hard Times”. The closer, “The Way The Whole Thing Ends”, is as thick as molasses as it moseys around such sly lines as “that’s the way the cornbread crumbles”. Talented and funny…who knew?!

Glen Campbell - Ghost On the Canvas (Surfdog Records, $8.99)

Diagnosed with Alzheimers in June, music legend Glen Campbell has releasedGlen Campbell Ghost On the Canvas what is to be his final studio album. While his voice is as strong as ever, sadly, most of the tracks nod towards his impending decline and a summation of a life well-lived. It often turns a bit too dispiriting with lyrics like “You know I won’t be here long…” on “Any Trouble” and too many violins on the title track (written by Paul Westerberg). Guests like Chris Isaak, Dick Dale and Brian Setzer enter to elevate the mood on “In My Arms” and Campbell’s perfect cover of Guided By Voices’ “Hold On Hope” underscores how facing one’s own mortality can give rise to great results.

Secret Cities - Strange Hearts (Western Vinyl, $14.09)

Released earlier this year, this delightfully odd collection overflows with ‘60s Brit Secret Cities Strange Heartspop and the dreamy moodiness of Radiohead. Hailing from Fargo, North Dakota, MJ Parker and Charlie Gokey started Secret Cities at the tender ages of fifteen before adding drummer Alex Abnos, whose echoing vocals on “The Park” and “Pebbles” recall the best of the female British invasion. “Love Crime” resounds with cathedral vocals over a Belle and Sebastian riff while “Brief Encounter” is triumphant in its kid’s piano toy jingling. The final track “Portland” is a bright, shiny exclamation point on one of the most joyful and atmospheric throwbacks of the year. / Issue 127 - September 8356
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