These ear-gifts offer authentic lyrical depth
Stay home with family today and tomorrow. Shop later, and consider these as ear-gifts for your people; recommended for sonic ambition, authenticity, lyrical depth and sincerity.
Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”
Big, BIG sounds. This elastic Montreal band has added funk to wide-screen songs full of muscle and meaning. Performances: electrifying. Sound: fantastic — clear and crisp.
David Bowie, “The Next Day”
I never was a big fan, but this comeback got me: post-near-death-experience rock by the thin white duke, with limited voice but unlimited ambition.
The New Gary Burton Quartet, “Guided Tour”
The same format that 70-year-old vibraphonist Burton has led for decades, this new quartet has jelled to perfection. Shows at the Lake George Jazz Weekend and the Massry Center at the College of Saint Rose proved it this summer.
The Civil Wars, “The Civil Wars”
They made this country-rock/lost-love album, their second, then broke up. Bitterly beautiful, and vice versa, so you feel like a voyeur listening as they confront, mourn, fly apart.
Daft Punk, “Random Access Memory”
So “Get Lucky” got over-played all summer, but that’s not the fault of this Paris duo. Half the songs on this neo-disco serenade to the 1970s are just as much fun.
Robert Glasper Experiment, “Black Radio Pt. 2”
On one of the finest and most diverse albums this year, this street-smart music is tirelessly brilliant. The variety comes as much from Glasper’s omnivorous musical reach as from many guest voices.
Grizzly Bear, “Shields”
Expanded with eight demos and/or bonus tracks, it’s even better than last year’s original. Christopher Bear and crew boast big skills at every singing and playing position and total unity behind big songs.
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, “Old Yellow Moon”
They’ve sung together since the 1970s, and they really know how. Harris always sings her best with a partner; Crowell, too, on these deep-country duets. Full disclosure: My brother Jim Hoke plays on this.
Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite, “Get Up!”
A blues youngster and a blues elder, respectively, prove as telepathically compatible as Harris and Crowell. They tap into roots music from different places and arrive together someplace new but familiar. You can imagine their blues bursting out of Chess Studios in 1960s Chicago, or a Delta juke joint next week.
Jason Isbell, “Southeastern”
The former Drive By Trucker drives his own truck now on his solo albums, cruising down Dixie dirt roads. That’s just his sound. His words face down-deeper, harder truths than most songwriters, and his big jeans-and-flannel voice carries you there.
José James, “No Beginning No End”
A soft sweet voice that stands up well to beefy, muscular pop-jazz anchored by Robert Glasper and the boys but also featuring light-stepping horns. Call it “world-jazz” — music with tasty international echoes from all over.
With his Brooklyn jazzbos, including Eric Krasno, Adam Smirnoff, Erick Coomes, Adam Dietch and Neal Evans, who also all work in plenty of other bands. Together they build a loose, offhand chemistry around a shared love of R&B, bebop and hip-hop. They bring the funk by the truckload.
Los Lobos, “Disconnected in New York”
One of our greatest bands, rocking from a very particular place (east LA), but going all universal, singing songs of soulful meaning and jamming with might and muscle. They play The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Tickets are $44.50 and $34.50. 473-1845 www.theegg.org.
The Lone Bellow, “The Lone Bellow”
Who knew Brooklyn could sound this country? What other country band cites “the F train?” Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry may be big stars, but this trio has better songs and heavenly harmonies to eclipse both, to prove that country is more than a wide-open sound, it’s about wide-open hearts.
Natalie Maines, “Mother”
Yes, she covers that Pink Floyd song, but she makes it her own. Without her fellow Dixie Chicks, Maines asserts her powers without hesitation, both in bold sound and interpretive depth. FYI, Ben Harper produces, plays on and lends his band to this album, but in support: Maines dominates, unlike Harper’s balanced duets with Charlie Musselwhite on “Get Up!”
Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale, “Buddy and Jim”
Another Nashville buddies duet album, like Emmylou and Rodney’s “Old Yellow Moon,” this unites old pals in jaunty dance numbers or poignant paeans to love lived or lost. You can hear every hard-road mile and every late-night guitar pull in these tasty, twangy tracks.
Janelle Monae, “The Electric Lady”
Loosely organized as a radio show, this is more hip-hop than her last, a state-of-the-art R&B masterpiece top to bottom. Monae has the best onstage moves in the business these days; her songs dance, too.
Mark Mulcahy, “Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You”
On this sad, beautiful album about loss (his wife), the former Miracle Legion singer-songwriter sings about keeping on. He sings, “Who’s gonna clean this up?” and answers, “Probably me like I always do.” He rocks like the Velvet Underground or R.E.M., singing songs of courage.
Laura Mvula, “Sing to the Moon”
An epic debut by a creative force as accomplished as she is inventive. The melodies, the tuned-percussion-heavy arrangements and vocal beauty make the music feel familiar — then cozy riffs take majestic flight, or vast structures glide through a needle’s eye.
This Paris pop group knows how to cook up the beef under the synthesizer cheese for a fat cheeseburger with both sizzle and substance. The melodies make you listen, the beats boost you up off the couch and the words get you last, but they’ll get you.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, “That’s It”
New Orleans traditional jazz was the first music I ever loved, and I fell in love with it again when I saw these guys play Bonnaroo. As players come and go — clarinetist/saxophonist Charlie Gabriel is past 80 but still playing strong — leader Ben Jaffe preserves the rumba, the riffs and the rollicking spirit of this ageless, joyful music.
Queens of the Stone Age, “. . .Like Clockwork”
No, not mechanical at all; it’s bloody, muddy, messy and mighty: hard rock, old school. After sabbaticals with other bands, Josh Homme came home with fresh energy and fire. Riff-force trauma.
Vampire Weekend, “Modern Vampires of the City”
Best album of the year; or at least a tie with Arcade Fire. Confident and cool, these four hyper-educated New York rockers reach further than ever and get there in every song, listening to and learning from everything in their city.
Trixie Whitley, “Fourth Corner”
The daughter of the late, great Chris Whitley comes up pretty great herself on her first solo effort after co-starring in Black Dub. She knows just what to do with her magnificent voice, an instrument in the same league as Maines, Monae and Mvula. She’s unafraid to go wild with it or to whisper or weep.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.