Note: We get CDs aplenty sent to us here at the 'Bohemian,' which usually find their way into these pages throughout the year. This week, while no means a comprehensive coverage of every single local album we've received of late, we pull a sampling of the more recent ones that have shown up in our mailbox.
Boo Radley's House, 'Eye to I'
Presented in seven "chapters," Eye to I is a progressively minded metal saga. If Queensryche had made Operation: Mindcrime in 2013 instead of 1988, it still wouldn't approach the ambitions contained here. With an average length of around eight minutes, each chapter vacillates between calm and storm, giving vocalist Bart Tramer a workout in expressive range over the band's lock-tight riffs and effects-laden atmosphere. Behind the boards for the recording is legendary engineer and producer Billy Anderson (Neurosis, Sleep, Melvins), so this ain't no Garageband mp3—the mix is as strong as Atticus Finch's courtroom resolve. The final chapter, "Enter the House of I," is 15 minutes of all-over-the-place adventure featuring some of the most dizzying work ever laid down by guitarist Eddie Rogers; it closes a record that's weirdly perfect for Sunday morning.—G.M.
Poor Man's Whiskey, 'Like a River: A Tribute to Kate Wolf'
Banjos and fiddles and bluegrass, oh my! In paying tribute to revered singer-songwriter Kate Wolf, Poor Man's Whiskey deliver a good ole' fusion of Southern rock and bluegrass sounds. The fast-paced toe-tapping fun drives tracks like "Eyes of a Painter" and "Picture Puzzle," where keeping up with the quick lyrics and faster rhythms can be a challenge. Slowing it down a bit, "Like a River" and "Here in California" offer beautiful arrangements and soft melodies—Wolf's stock in trade. But mostly, Like a River is quirky, funny and perfectly bluegrass. In "Everybody's Looking for the Same Thing," there's such an abundance of instruments (I swear I heard a kazoo) that absorbing all the sounds and weird noises and yelling is a little overwhelming. All in all, Like a River is worth a listen, and an interesting detour from the band who made playing Dark Side of the Moon in a bluegrass style cool.—A.H.
Secret Cat, 'Numeral'
Anyone lucky enough to have witnessed a rare live performance by Aardvark Ruins—every noisy, branch-waving, spazzcore second of it—should shed any expectations of the band's other iteration as Secret Cat. Numeral, a seven-song album released in March 2013, is much more about the tightly wound, three-minute pop song than chaos and burbles. Forgive me this '90s moment, but Secret Cat sounds like a meeting between Mr. Bungle and Ween in the parking lot of a decrepit drive-in theater while Plan 9 from Outer Space plays on a lone, blurry screen and Weezer sells hot dogs at the snack stand. "The Return" is particularly catchy, with a bit of a '60s space flair laid over a galloping drum beat. Secret Cat went straight-up old-school and released Numeral on cassette (and CD); each one is hand-painted, just like halcyon days of yore, and includes a download of the album.—L.C.
Midnight Sun Massive, 'Who's Feeling Irie?'
Less accustomed to the recording studio than the live stage, local reggae veterans Midnight Sun Massive nonetheless offer a serviceable facsimile of their crowd-rocking shows on this sunny, breezy, 12-track album, mastered by Blair Hardman at Zone Recording. Beholden to no strict style, the band swerves fluidly between roots reggae, dancehall, rocksteady and ragamuffin rhythms with doses of hip-hop ("Summer Girl," "U.N.I.T.Y."), Caribbean ("Amor Amável") and '80s pop ("Coming Through"). With liner-note dedications to both Johnny Otis and Adam Yauch, the record also includes the band's cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," which replaces the original's deliquescent arrangement with upstrokes, cabasa and synthesizers. Who's feeling irie? I'm guessing Midnight Sun Massive, that's who.—G.M.
Midnight Sun Massive, 'Live'
Reggae is best experienced live, in the moment, possibly under a fragrant cloud of good vibrations. All that this entails (you're on your own with the fragrant cloud) can be found on Midnight Sun Massive's new album, Live. The 10-song collection of live recordings is a response to fans, says the band, who have been seeking a way to take home that irie feeling from the hardworking band's performances. Recent originals make up most of the album, which includes a few medleys. Covers of "Rivers of Babylon" and "What's Goin' On" are rough in spots, as the liner notes point out, but "like most love affairs," the band says, it's "always worth it."—N.G.
J.Kendall, 'Moving Forward'
On Moving Forward, J.Kendall aims to transcend genres by blending electro soul, R&B and club sounds. Soulful, smooth rhythms take the spotlight on the Oakland-born singer's new album in songs like "What I Want" and "Cloud Ride." Others, like "J.Kendall," conjure a hypnotic spell with his calming voice. A female singer enters the picture on "Seconds Minutes," allowing for a soothing combination of differing tones. When Kendall sticks to R&B, he nails it, and at times sounds a bit John Legend–esque. When he steps into the realm of hip-hop, things just get weird: "All Night Long" breaks out the Auto-Tune, and "Oh!" (featuring N8 the Gr8) shows J.Kendall trying too hard to produce a "club" song. But for the most part, J.Kendall has got it together with some soothing tunes. Sequence your player right, and you won't be disappointed.—A.H.
Dan Imhoff, 'Agraria'
Most know Dan Imhoff for his work as an author and environmental advocate, writing on issues of biodiversity, farm bills and industrial animal factories. What people might not know is that Imhoff is a lifelong musician, performing both solo and with his band Cahoots. In 2010, after producing a 450-page critique of factory farming, he took a sabbatical to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and took classes in ear training and composition. Agraria features songs written during this musical sojourn. The album is the perfect soundtrack for a summer on a Sonoma County farm, complete with fiddle-fueled songs for a Friday-night barn dance, as well as pensive tunes made for sunset-watching in an apple orchard. The album features lap steel guitar and backing vocals from Landpaths executive director Craig Anderson, pedal steel from local whiz Josh Yenne, fiddle from the Brothers Comatose's Philip Brezina and many others. Produced at Prairie Sun studios, Agraria offers a glimpse of how to successfully channel political passion into art.—L.C.
Dave Haskell Group, 'Pivot Point'
Pivot Point, the latest album by jazz guitarist Dave Haskell, is a little strange at first, like a hotel shower. The lack of repetition in rhythm and melody is uncustomary, but after a few minutes, one's mindset undergoes a complete shift, and the music feels totally normal—like it's been this way all along. The instrumental numbers are inspired, in particular "For Barack," but it's up to the listener to interpret the meaning. Piano, keyboards, bass and drums round out the sound, with guests accompanying the four core members on some tracks. Haskell's shredding is as delicate as it is powerful, and he also invites guitarist Robben Ford to add his flavor on a couple tracks for a sound more like a duet than a duel.—N.G.
The Ruminators, 'Call Me Out of Your Mind'
If Warren Zevon had moved to Athens, Ga., in 1985, he'd have made an album like this: smart, emotional and propelled by energy without relying on distorted guitars. Not to say Call Me Out of Your Mind is fast, either—"Something's Wrong with My Baby" is a beautiful ballad sung by Jennifer Goudeau—but the songs, penned and sung half the time by frontman Greg Scherer, contain that bubbling-just-under-the-surface substance that's made the band a Sonoma County favorite since forming in 1989. Recorded by the Last Record Store's Doug Jayne with guitarist and longtime local engineer Allen Sudduth, and mastered at Prairie Sun, the sonic quality is sharp enough to capture every swampy organ and bass lick in the near-psychedelic "Too Soon to Say" (with tasteful organ by Ron Stinnett) and the classic sound of a hard guitar pick-hitting roundwound strings at the beginning of "Drifting in the Wind" and the title track.—G.M.
Spends Quality, 'Time Peace'
CFO Recordings rose out of the popular Sonicbloom hip-hop collective with the vision of label exec and founding member Spencer Williams, who also MCs under the moniker Spends Quality. On Time Peace, one of a trifecta of albums released by CFO in 2013, Williams raps over smooth, summertime beats produced by Mr. Tay. Keeping with Sonicbloom's positive hip-hop vibe, this album is the perfect soundtrack for barbecues and lounging by the Russian River, all friends, smiles and good intentions. Maybe it's all that Sonoma County sunshine, but Spends Quality avoids the gritty subject matter of most rap albums in favor of a celebration of love and life. "I ain't flamboyant, I might blend in" Williams raps on "'Til the Songs Done," but he's wrong: this is one of the stand-out releases in the North Bay for 2013.—L.C.
Spends Quality, 'Flight Music'
Spends Quality, the bearded, earnest-looking rapper behind CFO Recordings, is a happy guy. Flight Music is full of good vibes and counted blessings and even the one track that explores darker material, "Sad Day," circles a line about positive thinking. His bio touts stages shared with Blackalicious and Lyrics Born, and the comparisons fit—this is a guy who probably doesn't use the term "conscious" to mean "alive and breathing." Still, like the rappers he emulates, SQ plays with enough wonky sounds and rhymes to subvert his own wide-eyed sincerity—there are tinny cruising beats reminiscent of Snoop's L.A. (before he, too, became conscious) and cheesy sax strains that are pure Oakland all-night buffet. In his own words, "Spends Quality mixes soulfulness with intellect in a golden pimp cup."—R.D.
John Courage and the Great Plains, 'Gems'
Looking like a Georgia O' Keeffe painting gone glam, the crystal-encrusted cow's skull on the cover of Gems is a fitting symbol for a band in transition. On songs like "Feel Like the Only," the three-piece—featuring John Courage (John Palmer) on guitar and vocals, Francesco Catania on bass and Dan Ford on drums—have left behind dark country music for a bass-driven rock sound that's more Roxy Music than Lucinda Williams. "It's Different" takes this new direction all the way to the bank with a deep, winding sax solo that can only be described as "smooth" (or, if you want to go by the band's Facebook genre, "sad disco"). Gems, give or take a couple of inconsistent moments, only solidifies the group's standing as one of the North Bay's biggest talents.—L.C.
Che Prasad, 'Shiva Me Timbers'
Don't be misguided by this album's cover art, which makes the thing look like a yoga class soundtrack or a DJ Cheb i Sabbah CD. Che Prasad is a San Anselmo–based songwriter and singer in the Americana tradition, evidenced by the opening track "Early Checkout," a story about dusty parking lots, cheap hotels and life on the road. ("Another Show" continues this type of folklore.) The cover's four-armed Shiva figure and quasi-Hindi script font likely nod to "Shadows from the East"—the album's sitar-heavy centerpiece about Prasad's American mother and Indian father—which contains an unexpected mid-song rap. Prasad's got an off-kilter sense of humor, that's for sure, and evokes John Prine's goofier moments from time to time. He's also able to alter his voice (see the straight-up Tom Waits impersonation of "Take Me to Confession") and play just about any instrument.—G.M.