Reviews Round-Up

Reviews Round-Up

As we move slowly toward spring, the music release schedule starts heating up as well. Jim and Greg review a bevy of new albums, including records by TEEN, Mavis Staples, Bonnie Raitt, and more.

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The Magic Shop, a recording studio in SoHo in New York, will be closing its doors soon after 28 years. The studio was a favorite of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Arcade Fire, Sonic Youth, and more. Jim and Greg have noticed a number of high profile recording studios that have closed in the past decade. To examine what’s driving this trend, they speak with Larry Crane, owner of Jackpot! Recording Studio in Portland and founder/editor of Tape Op Magazine. Crane argues that the commonly told story that digital recording is killing the industry is a misdirection – home recording has really been around for more than half a century, after all. Issues like gentrification and real estate are playing just as big of a role. While changes are indeed happening acrossthe industry, Crane is optimistic that there’s still a place for recording studios of all sizes in the future.

Livin’ On a High Note Mavis Staples

Livin’ on a High Note

Mavis Staples had a legendary career with her family’s gospel and soul band The Staple Singers, which was a major part of the protest movement of the 1960s and scored huge hits for Stax in the 1970s. Mavis reinvented herself as solo artist in 2000s, collaborating on records with Ry Cooder and Jeff Tweedy. For Livin’ On a High Note, she and producer M. Ward as a producer asked a variety of contemporary songwriters to write material for her to sing, including Neko Case, Nick Cave, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs. Jim loves how the best songs bring Mavis full circle by referencing on the Black Lives Matter movement. While the other songs are hit and miss, Mavis Staples is a national treasure and her voice is as powerful as ever. Jim is still waiting for her end career masterpiece, but this album is a definite Buy It. Greg – who literally wrote the book on Mavis Staples – points to We’ll Never Turn Back as her masterpiece, but says this album is very good too. He loves what she does even with the lesser songs, like Vernon’s generic love song, which she transforms into a moving address to her sister Yvonne Staples. In the middle of her 70s, Mavis Staples is doing some of the best work of her career.

99¢ Santigold

99 Cents

Santigold was known as Santogold when she released her debut album in 2008, a combo of reggae and new wave that established her as an artist. On her third and most recent album, 99¢, she worked with TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, Cathy Dennis, and Patrik Berger. Santigold named the album 99¢ because that’s how much she thinks it’s worth, and Jim concedes he would pay at least double that for it. But it’s not a stellar album from start to finish. The middle of the album is weighed down by a few sluggish tracks, especially the duet with ILoveMakonnen, but combine that with the handful of fun dance pop punk songs, and it’s a Try It album for Jim. Greg has always loved Santigold’s ability to put smart lyrics inside catchy packages. And on this album, there are a few tracks that do just that. Banshee is one of Greg’s favorites. It juxtaposes the darkness of drug addiction against an up-tempo, celebratory sound. Not every track is as successful though, and Greg is ultimately a little let down. 99¢ is a Try It for Greg as well.

Love Yes TEEN

Love Yes

Alt-rock group TEEN is made up of sisters Katherine, Lizzie and Kristina (Teeny) Lieberson and Boshra AlSaadi. But in 2010, TEEN was a mere home recording project by Teeny. TEEN’s third full-length album, Love Yes, introduces them to their widest audience yet. Greg has loved TEEN since the beginning because of what they set out to do, but their execution always fell short. In Love Yes, the band has improved at crafting their quirks into tight pop songs. Still, Greg takes issue with the lack of editing here. The album is full of great ideas, but having four tracks end with too-long horn solos is not one of them. Despite that, this is the band’s best album yet. Love Yes is a Try It for Greg. Jim thinks Greg is being stingy and gives kudos to TEEN’s ambition. They combine shoegaze, funk and soul in a way that really works. Plus Love Yes lays out a new perspective on love, steering clear of sappiness typical of love songs, while still ringing hopeful. Jim goes so far as to call this record a masterpiece and undoubtedly a Buy It.

Dig In Deep Bonnie Raitt

Dig in Deep

Forget about these young whippersnappers featured on today’s show. Bonnie Raitt has just released her 20th album! Called Dig In Deep, it has the blues rock veteran working overtime as artist, producer and label head. But, as Jim and Greg remark, there’s nothing tired or stale here, Greg exclaims, let us all bow down to her slide guitar tone and gives Dig in Deep a Buy It. Jim goes with a Try It, explaining that while he appreciates the up-tempo tracks, he isn’t moved by the ballads.

Have You in My Wilderness Julia Holter

Have You in My Wilderness

Avant-gardesinger-songwriter Julia Holter returns with her fourth studio album, Have You in My Wilderness. Holter is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who is influenced by both folk and electronic experimental music. Her earlier efforts were more abstract and disjointed, however her latest album takes on a more simple, pop demeanor. Greg really enjoyed this record and found its songs to be intelligently catchy. He really looks forward to hearing where she goes next in her musical career and gives this album a Buy It. Jim agrees, and finds Have You in My Wilderness to be a pure joy. He appreciates her specific and unique interests in classical, folk and electronic music. Jim also compares her artistry to that of Bjork and gives Holter’s album a Buy It.

Greg

This week, Greg has the legendary Jackie Wilson on his mind. Early in his career, Wilson drew comparisons to Elvis but in fact, you couldn’t liken him to anyone. Wilson heavily influenced many artists, namely Michael Jackson and even James Brown with his style, dance moves and vocals. In the ‘50s, he had an amazing run with big hits but floundered in the ‘60s. When he came to Chicago to work with record producer Carl Davis, they cut one of Greg’s favorite tracks ever, (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher. Greg thinks this is pretty much as perfect as a song can get, and that’s why he selected it as his Desert Island Jukebox pick this week.

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