Albums are rated on a five-point scale
Graham Reynolds – Marfa: A Country & Western Big Band Suite (Golden Hornet)
Though he’s gone on to compose symphonies, ballet, film and TV scores, in many ways the Graham Reynolds of today is the same person who once led the anarchist Golden Arm Trio. Back in the nineties, when KUT ran a live Christmas music special for a few years, Graham came in and furiously deconstructed “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and not so much in a Cecil Taylor kind of way. It had menace and seemed closer to punk rock than cerebral jazz. He might have dressed up and assembled a peerless 14-piece band for the premiere Austin performance of Marfa: A Country and Western Big Band Suite (Saturday, Nov. 23 at the Highball), but that same malevolence was still there. Quieting the full house by pounding his piano, Reynolds introduced steel guitarist Ricky Davis, whose shimmering and seesawing four-note runs lay out the theme (which Reynolds joked he nicked from Floyd Cramer). The album opens with the same grandeur. The composition, part of a planned Marfa Triptych, dates to its 2013 premiere in the town’s namesake. Reynolds finally found the time and funding to reassemble the ensemble in the studio. Marfa, right? It’s easy to imagine Aaron Copeland/John Ford –like majesty, but what’s here is mysterious and like the city itself, sports a weird mix of edginess. “Union Pacific”, celebrating the railroad that runs through the town’s center, has a Keystone Cops playfulness. “Runaway” finds the string section darting at a relentless speed. “Ojinaga”, conjures Marfa’s nearby border town with horns, strings and guitars all fighting for attention over a spaghetti western funk bed. Telecaster master Redd Volkaert gets a full workout on “Redd Redd Redd” while “The Inhabited”, with its haunting Eastern vibe, throws the entire ensemble into overdrive (and was a real highlight of the live show). “Stampede” continues the fury, with Reynolds himself finally turning loose. Despite its eclecticism, Marfa is a cohesive work, aided by great performances, a guileless lack of pretense, and Reynolds’ eagerness to push things beyond the norm. If you haven’t been to this West Texas oasis, it’s almost impossible to describe the spell its strange culture clash casts over the landscape, but now, at least, we have a soundtrack.
– Jeff McCord, KUTX Music Editor
Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Colorado (Reprise)
A friend, a true Neil Young fan, tells me with a straight face that Young has not written a great song since he quit smoking dope. This is nonsense, but the 74-year-old rocker, who went cold turkey after his marriage to Daryl Hannah, does seem to be in a real hurry these days. I’ve lost count of how many albums he’s released this decade. No whim seems to go unheeded. Young’s causes – all related to saving the planet – mean well, but he ends up with a lot of cringe-worthy lyrics. Still, when Young decides it’s Crazy Horse time -the minimalist bar band that has complimented his emotive power off and on since the late sixties- his fans sit up at attention like they’ve all heard some kind of rock and roll dog whistle. Maybe, just maybe, there’s another Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Zuma, even Ragged Glory in the offing. Colorado isn’t that, but it is his most enjoyable album in years. If you’re thinking Young finally took his time, think again. The promotional film “Mountaintop” that chronicles the making of the album shows Young working at breakneck speed, driving an under-rehearsed Crazy Horse (who now includes past Young collaborator Nils Lofgren on guitar) through song after song, cursing even the slightest engineering delay. The music seems to be bursting out of him. Young is one of rock’s most prodigious talents, and seeing his manic work ethic is fascinating. If he slows down, all is lost. You can hear the urgency throughout the album, his cracked voice, the way his guitar – my God, his guitar – breaks through with a thick, primal tone, even in quiet moments. He solos like the gates have been flung open. Surprisingly, for a band not known for finesse, a lot of Colorado’s best moments do come on the softer end, including the album’s two finest songs, “I Do”’ and “Milky Way”. They’re the album’s few hopeful moments. For the most part, there’s a foreboding resignation hanging over songs like “Help Me Lose My Mind”, “Think of Me”, and the angry “Shut It Down”. “Green Is Blue” plays like the planet’s epitaph. “We saw the people rise/Divided/We fought each other while we/Lost our coveted prize.” There’s also some tough sledding, overly-preachy material (including a 13-minute “She Showed Me Loved”) whose absence would have made Colorado stronger. But for the most part, the album, if not exactly fresh, finds Young energized and reaching for something vital. And for Young, it’s all about the reach. For all his greatness and missteps, one thing remains constant: you can hardly wait to see where he’s going next.
– Jeff McCord, KUTX Music Editor
CP Loony – The Rebel Tape (self-released)
With the rap scene forever growing, and artists gaining steam with every release, none have grown or gained more than CP Loony. 2018 was a year of great strides for Loony – his single “Thru It All” being named a top 10 single by the Austin Chronicle, – and that set the stage for his debut. CP Loony doesn’t waste any time bringing the heat. The opening song, “A Rebel’s Story”, embodies Loony’s personality. He raps of his hopes, overcoming struggle and adversary, finding empowerment, and he spills out these heartfelt flows over the aggressive yet smooth production. Loony rolls right into the up-tempo, braggadocious track, “Fendi.” Even while rapping about draping his body in designer brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Fendi, he still finds a way to make the song inspiring. The Rebel Tape keeps a central theme of inspiration. On songs like “Hunger Pains” and “Greatness”, Loony wants his music to make a way for himself and his family. Yet along with the aspirational and uplifting raps, Loony comes hard with something for those in the streets. “Drop bombs ni**a, my OG is my moms ni**a…”, he raps in “Bombs”, a sentiment most in the streets can understand. With every line of Loony touting his street prowess, he follows up with a line explaining why that applies to someone coming from a similar environment. CP Loony has worked on his debut for years, and it shows. He’s crafted a personable, well-rounded album that avoids placing himself in a box, leaving him room to grow on future projects. By not following the typical constructs of most rappers, The Rebel Tape shows Loony as a true rebel against the current state of rap.
– Aaron “Fresh” Knight, Host – The Breaks
Dayglow – Fuzzybrain (self-released)
A disaffected suburban kid learns GarageBand and makes an album in their bedroom. The world yawns. Yet once in a brief while, someone shows a real aptitude for crafting good music all on their own. If you haven’t already, meet 20-year old Austinite Sloan Struble, a.k.a. Dayglow. I say, ‘if you haven’t already” because most of Fuzzybrain is a year old, and the single “Can I Call You Tonight” has already racked up 22 million plays on Spotify. It’s not even close to being the best song on the album. Fuzzybrain, which is getting a wider re-release with two new songs rounding out the mix, is for those who love their pop music direct, hooky, and uncomplicated. Buzzy and synth-laden, Struble sings with an affable vocal catch, guiding crafted arrangements that work best when they keep out the clutter. Struble grew up in the Fort Worth suburb of Aledo, which he described as “football-crazed”. He wasn’t and started playing around with music when he was just ten years old. Judging from the result, he spent a lot of time listening to others and learning his way around a song. You can hear his influences here – Vampire Weekend is an obvious one. Yet there’s no denying his curb appeal. Lyrically, there’s a juxtaposition. “Call” has a universal theme of teenage anxiety and self-doubt. The impossibly catchy “Fair Game” is an unrequited downer. There are other moments of dark – most people don’t spend so much time alone, after all – but Struble’s musical skills push everything towards the sunny side. Best of all, the two new songs, “Listerine” and “Nicknames” are among Fuzzybrain’s best, a great indicator for someone who’s just getting started.
– Jeff McCord, KUTX Music Editor