Sam Roberts Band
Teaming with producer Youth – whose credits include U2, the Verve and the Fireman (a duo project with Paul McCartney) – should certainly rank as one of the smartest things Canadian singer, songwriter and bandleader Sam Roberts has ever done.
Many producers are simply glorified engineers, folks who turn the knobs while the band pursues the sound it had in mind from the outset. Youth is a different sort of knob-twiddler. He leaves his imprint on the records he’s involved in making, and with “Lo-Fantasy,” he’s everywhere, from the Manchester-informed groove of ebullient single “We’re All in This Together,” through the more ruminative but no less Anglo-informed “The Hands of Love.” Throughout, Youth lends a beautiful, mildly trippy ambience to Roberts and company’s consistently sturdy pop songcraft.
Youth challenged Roberts, guitarist Dave Nugent, bassist James Hall, drummer Josh Trager and keyboardist Eric Fares from the outset, demanding that they learn to play these new songs live before recording them. The tunes were then tracked directly off the recording studio floor, with various overdubs and effects added later in the interest of sweetening and dynamic emphasis. The result is a record that sounds wholly written, rather than thrown together in the studio, and the live feel of the proceedings adds to the visceral excitement of the songs without fail.
The songs are the key, for they rank among the very finest of Roberts’ already fairly storied career.
Tuneful optimism is Roberts’ greatest strength, and from the defiant chorus of the super-catchy “Kid Icarus” – “I ain’t going down easy,” Roberts insists, with the help of a memorable chorus hook – to the easygoing Brit-pop celebration that is “Too Far,” “Lo-Fantasy” plays to that strength without fail.
The Sam Roberts Band still is, rather inexplicably, far more popular in its native Canada – and in border towns like Buffalo, where a sizable fan base remains unfailingly loyal – than in the rest of the world. If any record can change this situation, “Lo-Fantasy” is the one. It’s a collection crammed full of insanely catchy pop-rock in the gloriously non-pejorative sense.
– Jeff Miers
Right in the midst of a 50-year-old Beatle-fever comes proof positive that the band’s influence has jumped from generation to generation with all the inevitable force of a particularly stubborn genetic trait. “Sun Structures,” the debut album from British quartet Temples – wee brats, really, who only have been an official band since 2012 – bursts out of the gate partying like it’s 1966 and the Beatles’ “Revolver” is still perpetually on the turntable of every hipster in London.
It’s a thrilling psychedelia these boys are crafting, and if it has its feet firmly planted in the past – most of the tunes sound like they could have been written in tribute to the Fabs’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” all swirling tripped-out flanging effects and “Mystic shouting down from the mountain-top” reverb – it also suggests a thoroughly modern reading of psychedelic pop-rock. Thus, the influence of the last great generation of Brit-pop is in the heady mix, too. (There’s a reason Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr have already spoken so highly of Temples.)
It’s all groovy, certainly, but this is no “Let’s dress up and pretend we’re the Beatles” affair. Singer/guitarist James Edward Bagshaw is a fine vocalist and crafter of melodies, and his voice is a sturdy tour-guide throughout “Sun Structures.” A cynic might refer to this debut as the best album Oasis never made, but in truth, there’s much more going on here than that, as the gorgeous melody that snakes its way through the anthemic, near-epic “The Golden Throne” or the lysergic call-and-response at the heart of “Shelter Song” make plain.
An incredibly promising debut from a band that understands the difference between drowning in nostalgia and celebrating the past while keeping an eye on the future.
John Clayton with Gerald Clayton
Families are a funny thing in jazz. Everyone has known for decades that the first family of jazz is, unquestionably, the Marsalises from New Orleans. Unfortunately, when they get together to play – father and sons – they sound like a family getting together once a year for Thanksgiving. They’re a loving family, but no one’s idea of a musically ideal aggregate.
Diametrically opposite in every way are bassist John Clayton and his pianist son Gerald. It would be unlikely to find a piano/bass duo more compatible than these two.
This delightfully intimate duo record is the beginning of paterfamilias John Clayton’s “Parlor Series” in which he expects to issue a series of duets with friends and, in this case, family. Future pianists to be heard in duet with Clayton will be the late Hank Jones and Mulgrew Miller, each of whom recorded with Clayton before their deaths in 2010 and 2013, respectively.
It was Jones who suggested it, said John Clayton, after he told Jones how much he envied Charlie Haden’s role in the Jones/Haden duet disc “Steal Away.” Said Clayton, “For years I have had an ever-growing list of musician friends I’ve been wanting to perform with in a duo setting. Imagine us playing and recording in a relaxed, let’s-see-what-happens atmosphere. The concept is basically me inviting you into my ‘Parlor’ to experience the intimate and musical conversations I have with my friends.”
Kicking it off with his son makes it a real musical parlor, not an imaginary one. What Clayton said about playing with his son is this: “If Gerald were to quote something in his solo, I may know the source of that quote, having bought that record when he was 11 years old. That’s the easy part. The challenging part: Gerald always keeps me guessing.”
A first-rate bit of chamber jazz only possible in this era because of the cooperative nature of ArtistShare records.
– Jeff Simon
We know the violin virtuoso Pablo Sarasate mostly through a handful of works crowned by the virtuosic “Carmen” Fantasy. Here are a host of mostly lesser-known delights, famous pieces by Chopin, Handel, Bach and other composers that Sarasate freely adapted as violin showpieces. They typify the Romantic philosophy that could be described as “Ask not for what you can do for this music; ask what this music can do for you.”
Fans of this treatment of music, and we are legion, will love these pieces’ excess, freedom, fire and virtuosity. Sarasate scampers through a few Chopin waltzes, flipping up and down octaves as he sees fit. “Souvenirs de Faust,” an early piece, does for “Faust” what Sarasate did for “Carmen.” It gets so that even when you hear the stately start to Handel’s “Largo,” you are holding your breath wondering what Sarasate will do to it, when he’ll set it on fire.
The disc ends with what was reportedly Sarasate’s favorite concert piece, a version of “La fee d’amour” by Joachim Raff. It is full of swooping energy, wild chromatics, whistling high treble and other hallmarks of virtuoso violinists.
Violinist Tianwa Yang brings loving attention to this music and has a more humble way with it than one might expect. Yang, who appeared with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in 2010 playing the “Butterfly Lovers Concerto,” plays an ancient Guarneri and sometimes the bow trembles on the strings. This disc winds up her four-volume Sarasate exploration on Naxos – it shows how far down this music is on the Sarasate totem pole, and it shouldn’t be. The shorter works are perfect encore pieces and should be played along with Fritz Kreisler’s.
– Mary Kunz Goldman