It's not quite spring (not even close, actually), but all of the unwanted or ill-fitting gifts we received for Christmas have stuffed our storage closet beyond capacity. See, the same closet also houses our supply discs from area artists, and it's time to clear that sucker out. What better time for a handful of local reviews?
Reality Gap is a four-track EP from Boulder's Aquarian Voodoo, a four-piece led by Chris Leonard (formerly of Slick Nickel). Voodoo is very much a funk-centric affair, but fortunately the band errs more on the side of the blues than many of the genre's other white-boy practitioners: The sound is more down-and-dirty groovy than slap-happy, more Chicago bar than MTV beach party. Yet there's a fine line between impressive guitar exhibitionism and plain ol' wanking, and Voodoo sometimes skirts the edge a little too closely, particularly on the probing "Amygdyla." Happily, more restraint is demonstrated on the please-shake-your-booty-now track "Funk Is the Question," which takes a Forrest Gumpian approach to lyrics with the refrain "Funk is as funk does." Actually, this short collection is like a box of chocolates. There's some yummy stuff (the pretty harmonics of "Orange Threat," for example), but after a couple of bites, you might find yourself with a taste for something different. (Aquarian Voodoo will play the Catacombs in Boulder on February 18 and 19. Reality Gap is available at area record stores or by mail at 3250 O'Neal Circle, H-25, Boulder, CO 80301.)
Saxophones, wah-wah peddles and a smooooth groove are the primary forces at work on Musical Kind, from mamaSutra, a Denver band that wisely places singer and bassist Molly Boyles in front of a microphone. Boyles has pipes, style and soul -- a combination that finds her in the same universe inhabited by the blues' latest It Girl, Susan Tedeschi. Throughout this three-song EP, it's clear that mamaSutra's music is headed straight for playlists at the KBCOs of the world, and the musicians seem capable of getting it there. Tight, textured and harmless, mamaSutra specializes in jazz-funk fusion, even dabbling in rap on the title track. Drummer/percussionist Ben Martin may look like the drummer for Ratt, but he can throw a decent rhyme. And though mamaSutra's hip-hop is lighter than a fat-free potato chip, the band deserves some props for braving a style that many of its funky peers seem to view as off-limits. The highlight track, "So Good," frames layers of Boyles harmonizing with herself in a way that actually is damn sexy. (mamaSutra performs at the Soiled Dove on January 28; Musical Kind is available at Wax Trax or via www.mamasutra.com.)
On Wanderlust, pianist/guitarist Neil Satterfield, formerly of 40th Day, veers from the Spanish classical and Brazilian jazz styles he performs live around Colorado. The album is a gorgeous collection of ten tracks (nine of which are instrumentals) touching on everything from classical traditionalism ("Returning Home") to Phillip Glass-like mutations of the piano concerto ("L") to the circular maelstrom of "Underneath Me," which manages to sound like a guitar speaking. Satterfield is ably assisted in the endeavor by cellist Brian Bond, violinist Anders Hyde and flutist Jill Russell, as well as the angelic Metro State College Chamber Singers, who perform a text written by the Victorian poet W.E. Henley on "Invictus." The recording of the song is so intimate you can hear their chairs squeaking. Wanderlust is equally chilling, perplexing and moving. (Available at Twist & Shout, Wax Trax and Cheapo Discs, or by writing 450 Delaware Street, Denver, CO 80204.)
The 32-30 Jug Band's self-titled full-length CD is a jubilant specimen of the band's take on traditional country, roots and bluegrass, a collection of traditionals and covers of tunes from the Reverend Robert Wilkins, Huddie Ledbetter and Roy Acuff (a cover of his "It Won't Be Long" is a particular highlight). This is a full-sounding, even recording -- which means you can hear everything: Aaron Thomas plucking the washtub bass, Dan Kase blowing the kazoo, and the impressive plucking of mandolins, banjos and guitars that runs throughout. This kind of music isn't easy to play -- it's fast and textured -- and the Jug Band demonstrates an earnestness and aptitude that adds personality without betraying convention. Grab yer partner, sit on the front porch, swill some moonshine and just try to dislike this recording. Bet you cain't, you rascal. (Available at Twist & Shout and Wax Trax, or by writing 1211 8th Street, Golden, CO 80401.)
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If the 32-20 Jug Band lives in an alternate universe where backwoods, kick-up-yer-heels music is still the style of the day, Marty Jones & the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys live just down the same, dusty road. Yeah, we know he's a Westword scribe, but Marty and his Poor players have released a disc that's too fun, too furious and too authentic to overlook. Themes of drinkin', hard livin' and that thing called love run throughout this self-titled ten-tracker, expertly recorded by John Rumley of Slim Cessna's Auto Club. Highlights include the double-time "Old Lady," which finds Texas Tucciarelli taking over vocal duties and a hilarious in-the-round narrative about the plight of a town with too little booze, as well as Jones's harmonica work on the infectious "Shouldn't I?" This is music best heard in the company of good friends and good beer, or ridin' around in a pickup truck with a dog in the back. Then again, it sounds just fine cranked up mighty loud in the living room. (Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys will play January 27 at the Gothic Theatre, and February 5 at the 15th Street Tavern. The CD is available at local record stores or by writing P.O. Box 13380, Denver, CO 80201.)
Strange Calibration is the very appropriate name of a five-song EP from an ambient electronic composer identified only as Mingo. Each track hovers near the ten-minute mark, beginning with the atmospheric "S-Cal .001," which is sort of like Enya for the computer set. Effervescent, instrumental and quiet, this recording might strike the impatient as a little tooo sloooow, but it should do the trick for those seeking some futuristic meditation music. (Contact Sonar Communications at www.sonarweb.com.)
Poison Kitchen is the second release from Denver's Worm Trouble, a band that's competent enough to conduct stylistic experiments and infuse them with a somewhat sardonic sense of humor. "Vinyl," for example, sounds a little bit like Devo fronting as a bluesy bar band; "Thunder Rises" calls to mind Throwing Muses attempting to make carnival music; and "Riots" includes everything from fat, Sabbathy guitars to guitarist/vocalist Michael Trenhaile performing a funny yet urgent narrative that would make David Byrne proud ("Carbon dioxide, rarely seen, is now a fact," he warns). Bassist/vocalist Kathryn Ellinger isn't satisfied to simply sing with a pretty girl's voice, though she's got one, and thank God -- her delivery is commanding and confident on "Gather the Rain" and "Amsterdam." Ultimately, Worm Trouble actually has a sound of its own; the good news is it's a solid one. (Available at Twist & Shout, or by writing to 215 South Washington Street, Denver, CO 80209.)
King Rat's got Big Plans for its album, and the foursome's third recording is more polished, tighter and possibly even poppier than previous efforts. One has to wonder what effect the mid-production stabbing of guitar/vocalist Luke Schmaltz had on the recording process -- the incident may even have caused him to sing lines like "In a perfect world I'd see you die" with a little more gusto. King Rat's influences are pretty obvious -- Social Distortion, the Descendants, et al -- and the band wears them on a tattered sleeve with unapologetic energy. The Rat fellers craft some pretty catchy tunes along the way ("Killer Angel," especially), and it's easy to see why the band has found favor with those fond of pop-punk. This is nothing we haven't heard before, but it's doubtful that anyone in King Rat is too concerned about that. They're too busy writing more three-minute songs about drinking, girls and all that boyish angst. (Available at area record stores. King Rat will perform at a CD-release party for Big Plans on January 29 at the Bluebird.)