All posts filed under: CD Reviews

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ALBUM REVIEW: JIMKATA, “In Motion”

Very much in that new vein and crop of ’80’s-influenced synth-pop comes the third release from Ithaca, New York’s Jimkata, a trio who know that part of the key to success for that particular sound is the skill and art in writing a memorable pop song.  And this album has plenty.  From the moment the album begins with the aptly-titled “Wild Ride”, you know you’re in for something good.  Not quite wild, per se, but catchy and memorable, which is what counts. “Build Me Up” has a bubbly sweetness about it, which dispels the notion that electronic-based music is cold and mechanical; if anything, there is a very obvious warmth and sense of purpose in the lyrics.  “Ride The Wave” has a crisp guitar riff that directs the song, with neatly taut drums and builds an intensity to the “orchestrated” chorus, which has a “spacey” feel; “In The Moment” switches directions and gets funky with a groove and straight dance beat (quite good) and subsequently, “Innocence” also has that get-down vibe (not too distant from …

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Review: Tortoise – The Catastrophist

Tortoise’s The Catastrophist, the mighty Chicago jazz-rock outfit’s first record in seven long years, will leave longtime listeners – after 25 years, there are many – in two minds of themselves. First off, there’s some solid material herein and that’s easy to notice. Why? Well, part of it’s obvious. In 2010, take it away Thrill Jockey PR people, “the group was commissioned by the City of Chicago to compose a suite of music rooted in its ties to the area’s noted jazz and improvised music communities.” End there for now. The spark lit quite the fire and tracks like “Shake Hands With Danger” and “The Clearing Fills” reveal the band in fine form. Stand-out “Shake Hands With Danger,” seemingly straight-forward with all of its slinking underbelly, stirs up quite a racket, indeed. Elsewhere, however, they can sound mediocre. Or, better put, mediocre on Tortoise terms. Here I’m looking at lazy genre twists like the vaguely surf-and-sway “At Odds With Logic,” which, while interesting, seems too obvious for the band to wrestle. Elsewhere, the band falls back …

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ALBUM REVIEW: MODOC, “Automatic + Voluntary”

The opening guitar attack of Modoc’s new album, Automatic + Voluntary, wakes you up like a splash of ice cold water – sounding like Mission Of Burma, then spinning into a perfectly executed glam-styled chorus.  So that bodes well for the sophomore effort for this band who originally hail from Muncie, Indiana but have since relocated to Nashville.    Catchy, taut, driving and powerful – there’s very little room to catch your breath; this is all a very good thing.  What’s more is that this full-bodied aural assault is coming from a three-piece, but they make it sound fuller and fatter.  Chops, well-crafted songs and harmonies are certainly the order of the day here. As I said, the first warning shots come straight from “Black Eyed Lover”, which is an inspired choice for the album opener; “Kids On The Run” starts off with a descending guitar figure which sounds oddly like The Beau Brummels’ “They’ll Make You Cry” but then picks up intensity and throttle and “Always The Same”, while a slightly slower tempo is tense …

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ALBUM REVIEW: BRIAN CULLMAN, “The Opposite Of Time”

The first – and most striking thing – upon first listen to Brian Cullman’s The Opposite Of Time is how much he reminds me of Lloyd Cole (one of my musical heroes) – both vocally and in his lyrical style.  So right there, he won me over.  And the comparison is, by no means, a bad thing.  For someone described as a “rock music Zelig” (now THAT’s a reference!), it would be safe to say he has, indeed, been something of a chameleon.  He’s been a music journalist, producer, performer with his debut album, All Fires The Fire and friend to such luminaries as Iggy, Robert Quine, Nick Drake and the (recently-late) Giorgio Gomelsky.  And now on this, his sophomore effort, Cullman paints some dynamic musical portraits, both lyrically and structurally. There is a lot of delicious diversity on here; for example, “Time If There Is Time” immediately gave me shivers as it’s a perfect melding of both Chilton and Bell – think “Thirteen” or “You And Your Sister” with gorgeous acoustic guitars and subtle, …

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ALBUM REVIEW: SULTANS OF STRING, “Subcontinental Drift”

Now this is really something – since forming eight years ago, Sultans of String’s music has hit #1 on national radio charts in their native Canada, and have received multiple awards and accolades, including two JUNO nominations, 1st place in the ISC (out of 15,000 entries) and two Canadian Folk Music Awards while head honcho Chris McKhool was awarded a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work in creating community through music. Over the years, this group has shared stages and recording studios with renowned guests like Paddy Moloney and The Chieftains, David Bromberg, Alex Cuba, and Ken Whiteley with other  collaborations yet to be announced. On their new release, Subcontinental Drift, Sultans of String serve up a blend of ragas, reels and rumbas. Fiery violin dances with rumba-flamenco guitar, atop unstoppable grooves laid down by bass and percussion and some very powerfully moving vocals. Acoustic textures with electronic embellishments, which create deep layers of sound. Throughout this album, they are quite ably aided by featured guest sitar master Anwar Khurshid (whose music appeared in …

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ALBUM REVIEW: EVA CASSIDY, “Nightbird”

Some performers have a way with re-imagining and interpreting a song; some know how to give a great song a greater canvas; some can take a mediocre song and make it worth its weight in gold.  Such were the skills and talents of Eva Cassidy, who died 20 years ago after a brief battle with melanoma.  Recorded in January of 1996, she would be gone just a mere ten months later.  She’d released only two albums’ worth of recorded music in her lifetime, but her posthumous Songbird album topped the British charts in early 2000. This “new” album, Nightbird, is a 2 CD containing Ms. Cassidy’s entire performance at Blues Alley jazz club in her native Washington D.C. on January 3rd, 1996 – exactly 20 years ago.  31 tracks, including 8 previously unreleased songs.   And the range of songs, eras and feel is something very special.  Two songs into this album, her rendition of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” is the first to really strike me; subdued, sparse with clean sounding guitars and her voice …

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ALBUM REVIEW: JAVIER ESCOVEDO, “Kicked Out Of Eden”

Kicked Out of Eden is only the second solo release by Javier Escovedo, who most people know as one of the founding members of The Zeros, The True Believers and one of the pioneers of the ‘70’s West Coast punk movement. Javier is one of the storied Escovedo family, including older brothers Pete and Coke Escovedo (Santana, Malo), niece Sheila E. (Prince) and of course, brother Alejandro Escovedo (The Nuns, Rank & File, Buick McKane). This new album is pop mixed with twang and rock’n’roll that remains true to Javier’s love of ‘60’s garage and ‘70’s punk. From the moment the riff to “Downtown” hits you between the eyes and kicks in with the drums and boogie-woogie piano, you’re reminded immediately why there’s such a thing as “rock & roll” – not to be confused with all its permutations.  Catchy and ballsy, it sets you off on the ride; “It Ain’t Easy” continues down the path with punchy and crisp/heavy guitars and “Beaujolais”, while slowing it down just a bit is heavier and filled with …

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ALBUM REVIEW: OLD MAN CANYON, “Delirium”

Old Man Canyon is really the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter Jett Pace; this is the Vancouver-based outfit’s second release and debut full-length album and on first listen, I’m immediately brought back to those days in the very early ’80’s, when I would listen to the local college radio station and those eerily-attractive keyboards would draw you in to certain tracks and artists.  A vintage sound that’s been improved upon with modern production so that it walks a better balance. Thus, “Learn To Forget” opens the album with a good amount of melody and texture that grabs me; The heavily flanged guitar on “Tomorrow Man” is a very nice touch and there’s a great deal of Lennon-esque phrasing in the vocals, but again, adding those ’80’s synth flourishes give the atmosphere on the track a lot more meat and “In My Head” makes me think of Simple Minds during their Sparkle In The Rain period.  “Back To The Start” is easily radio-friendly and could be singled out – very poppy and catchy; “I Don’t Wanna Go Out” …

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ALBUM REVIEW: WRAY, “Hypatia”

Let’s get this straight right off the bat – this is very, very good.  Shimmering guitars and melodies; hooks and a clean, crisp sound.  This young trio from Birmingham, Alabama (no, not Birmingham, England, funnily enough!) who call themselves Wray, have taken the more melodic side of the old British “shoegazer” ethos and made it much enjoyable and palatable on Hypatia, their debut album.  Keep in mind, this is a sound I’m very fond of by nature (as I was in my teens going into the mid-’80’s), so it makes it even more pleasurable that this record brings back good memories and the joy that a young band is exploring this style for themselves. With the opening track, “Below”, I can sense the haze of the heavily chorused Jaguar, strumming through the broad chords that fill this piece – which sets the table for “Giant”.  This particular number comes right from the Seventeen Seconds handbook – murky, enigmatic but instead of minor chords and a dark vibe, this is much more strident and buoyant – …

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Rockabye Baby Series

I was raised in the era of Beautiful Music, a radio format more commonly known as Muzak (although the company programmed other formats, and other people provided Beautiful Music). It was a soft, melodic sound designed to be background music, often heard in elevators and waiting rooms. It was usually based on popular songs, stripped down of any discordant notes and played on string instruments. It lacked percussion; it lacked soul. Beautiful Music was on the air from 1959 until the early 1980s, when it was largely abandoned. Not entirely, though: for some reason, there is enough demand that a few stations still program it, such as WQEZ in Birmingham, AL or the SiriusXM Escape channel. As a child, I was forced to listen to Beautiful Music. It was a staple at home and in the car. My father knew every Beautiful Music station in Ohio and Pennsylvania, so there wasn’t even respite on road trips. No one wanted to carpool with us. I thought Beautiful Music was gone for good, but then the Rockabye …

ALBUM REVIEW: THE HOUNDS OF WINTER, “Band In A Box”

Usually, I really have a hard time with Christmas songs, mainly because a) I can’t digest Christmas for the obvious reasons and b) the songs are always the same God awful aural drek that makes me want to lock myself in the house until the season is over and I don’t have to listen to these horrible songs anymore. But for once, I’m willing to make an exception with this special release from New Jersey’s The Hounds Of Winter.  Their Band In A Box is a compendium of Christmas-themed songs that have both heart and humor.  And they’ve made this available through their ReverbNation page (see link below) – check out their version of The Three Wise Men’s “Thanks For Christmas” (and that was another pseudonym for the glorious XTC). This album has a lot of spirit and isn’t that what this time of year is all about?  Happy holidays to all! Band In A Box can be heard on the ReverbNation page below  

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ALBUM REVIEW: WESTERN STAR, “Fireball”

It’s a pleasure and refreshing to see and hear so many newer bands taking a direct, no-nonsense approach to rock and roll again – there’s been too much of this fluffy, over-stylized music that tries to pass itself off as rock and roll.  And Western Star, a young band from Baltimore is one of the most intensely, straight up rock and roll bands I’ve heard this year.  Described as being influenced mainly by Thin Lizzy, The Pixies and The Old 97’s, I’d say that’s pretty accurate – and I’d throw in the Stones, because the vibe is there.  That the album was, in fact, produced by The Old 97’s Ken Bethea says it all – and it’s a production that fits the music completely.  Sounding raw and raunchy but still structured and melodic, their debut album, Fireball, is a welcome introduction. Starting with the riff driven title track, it’s a four-minute musical supernova that blasts at you and leaves you breathless pretty quickly.  “Ghostchaser” has a Black Crowes-type uptempo feel (think By Your Side period); …

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ALBUM REVIEW: SHURMAN, “East Side Of Love”

After nine albums, Austin’s Shurman are now gearing  up to drop a monumentally fine piece of music with East Side Of Love, their tenth, and arguably, most personal record.  Driven by Aaron Beavers’ soul-filled and soulful songwriting, this is about as good as it gets – pure American rock & roll with a lot of heart and some very Band-like arrangements. Getting right into it, the album’s title track sounds like something off Music From Big Pink; full of just-right organ fills, tasteful country-fied guitar runs and acoustic undertones, plus some very singing-from the heart; “Never Gonna Quit” has a rockin’ feel with meaty guitar riffs, great and tight harmonies and a full, pure sound.  Most importantly, it’s a song about hope and the message comes across, loud and clear.  “If I Could I Would” has a down-home, deep Southern flavor with great sounding reverbed guitars and a sinister chord structure; “Saving It Up” is a yearning, perfect country-rock piece – mournful yet sweet, “See You Smile” is a get-down country/boogie groover and “I Don’t …

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Review: Kurt Cobain – Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings (Deluxe Edition)

Kurt Cobain’s first solo record – recently released 21 years after his 1994 suicide and paired with a suspect “documentary” film project of revisionist mythmaking and iconography – is a jumbled, scraping-barrel-bottom mess of an affair. It’s not to say that, for die-hard fans, there are not things to like about it. There are moments of, I’ll go so far as to say, genuine beauty. The opener “The Yodel Song” shows how easily Cobain could toss off a Nirvana-style melody without giving a second thought, and tunes like “The Happy Guitar” make you feel like, alone sometimes, Cobain genuinely just had a good time making music, even if – maybe especially if – there was no audience to intrude sans himself. And, yes, the acoustic take on “And I Love Her” and the instrumental “Letters To Frances” are sweet. But for every engaging moment (an epic “Do Re Mi,” a frequently bootlegged “Sappy” demo, the Melvins-ish “Reverb Experiment”) there’s a lot of grime. The scattered montages and audio collages, while interesting ephemera, are dated sonically and haven’t aged …

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ALBUM REVIEW: SPEED THE PLOUGH, “Now”

It’s comforting to know that after thirty-plus years, there are still some bands who know how to make great, fresh-sounding and meaningful music.  Such is the case with New Jersey’s roots-rock-spearheaders, Speed The Plough.  Their new album, appropriately titled Now is about to be released; their first fresh studio material since the “tag sale” side from 2013’s 12-inch, included in the compilation The Plough And The Stars – and even more surprisingly, the first new album to be released on the revived Coyote Records imprint (the label that was the epicenter of the Hoboken scene in the ’80’s). From the dramatic and lush opening of “S.O.S.”, which builds slowly and carries along like a musical dream sequence, you know this album is going to have it.  “Telegraph” has an almost Yes-like/prog-rock feel with some great organ playing with mega-rhythms and heavy guitars weaved in and out; “Be With You” has wonderful, chiming 12-string Rickenbacker figures and shimmers with sweet acoustics and flute and gentle harmonies on the repeated refrain of “all I know/all I do/all …

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ALBUM REVIEW: LIL’ BUB, “Science & Magic”

Internet cats have become a phenomenon over the last couple of years – I think we’re all familiar with the hilarious “I Can Haz Cheezburger”/Lolcats site or, of course, Grumpy Cat (real name:  Tardar Sauce).  But no one has captured my imagination and a piece of my heart like Lil’ Bub, the perma-kitten from the planet Bub-uh-bub. There’s more than ample information about Lil’ Bub and her remarkable story – seek it out and you will find yourself falling in love with this incredible little creature.  Look at that face – those eyes – and that expression of joy and wonder.  When you read of the difficulties Bub experienced from birth with physical maladies and a less-than-great chance of survival and the absolute leap of faith and love her owner, Mike Bridavsky (known as “Dude” or “Bub’s Dude”) took by taking in this special-needs kitten, you will understand why she has an immediate impact on your consciousness (happy to say that Bub is doing great and she’s now 4 years old).  The most important thing …

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DVD & CD REVIEW: THE BEATLES, “1+”

Objectivity be damned; this is The Beatles we’re talking about.  The single, most important cultural entity to happen in my lifetime; merely a rock and roll band who re-shaped traditions – musically and on a grander, far deeper social scale.  But not to quickly digress, they also made the most memorable and beloved music in modern history.  Two of them are now dead and they continue to live on as new, younger generations are finding them/finding out about them and how crucial they were and are, most importantly, musically. So here’s another repacking with a neat addition.  The stripped down and wildly successful 1 collection (originally released in 2000) has now been remastered and reissued with a restored DVD/Bluray set of the band’s promo films – some actually shot when the Fabs were a going entity – to create 1+.  The pictures are sharper than before; the sound is dynamic and, of course, the music is just as thrilling now as it was then. From the CD edition, you get all the singles that reached …

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BOXSET REVIEW, “Ork Records: New York, NY”

Ork Records: New York, NY is the vital compilation of all the output from the legendary New York City label of the late 1970’s.  Earlier this year, for Record Store Day, a vinyl box appeared with all the Ork 45’s in their original sleeve art; this beautiful package was missing a few items, but now, the forward thinking people at Numero Group has delivered the complete item:  a 4-lp or 2-CD set, housed in a hardcover book with extensive/detailed notes and slip case. 49 songs in all – plus a special 45 single of The Feelies’ unreleased “The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness” b/w a cover of “My Little Red Book”. It’s a well-known story and you can have any and all curiosities/questions answered about Ork Records and its founder, Terry Ork.  The most important thing is the music within – and the key word is “important”; it cannot be emphasized enough.  For it was through Ork that some of the cornerstones of the (as-yet-unnamed) New York “punk” scene began to make their mark with …

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ALBUM REVIEW: JARED RABIN, “Something Left To Say”

Call it what you will – “alt country”, “americana” and any amount of hyperbole, but Jared Rabin’s debut solo album, Something Left To Say, is wonderful.  This Chicago singer-songwriter, who previously played in Falldown, has issued one very fine and complete piece of work. The melodic structures are just right, while the arrangements and vibe of each song fits perfectly, along with a top notch production.  From the moment the album begins with the title track, there is a warmth and deep feeling that immediately draws you into listening.  Slide runs and soulful organ undertones paint this song as a perfect start, leading into the more rocking “Eight Trips Around The Sun”, which has an upbeat vibe with sweet harmonies on the chorus and “A Memory Forever” reminds me in some ways of a Neil Young-flavored piece. “Not Heart Broken” is another standout; 12-string strokes help color this with some tasteful solo punctures in between the verses; “Nothing I Can Do” is pure down-home country with a slightly Celtic edge and nice fiddle fills and …

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Welcome To Pittsburgh #7: The Turbosonics – Tres Gatos Suave

Inconsistencies, dagnammit! I want to really, really like, to love, to adore The Turbosonics‘ new CD, Tres Gatos Suave, a meaty slab of surf from one of Pittsburgh’s mightiest purveyors of the form. But, for every track like opener “Ricochet,” a real classic 60s rocker, there’s a dud like the trying-too-hard-to-be-Floydian “Meat Slicer From Outer Space.” For every surprise like the Motorheadish “Black Spoon Fuzz,” these guys take some cringe-worthy, culturally inexcusable missteps. (Really? Sampling Pulp Fiction in “Dune Burger?” What is this? Sloppy homage a la 1994? I can tell just by listening to your songs that your surf cred runs deeper than THIS!) ((Grumble.)) Oh yeah, right, WELCOME TO PITTSBURGH!!! Where was I? Broke my consternation. O yeah. Now, I like The Burghersturbosonic. The trio’s first disc was sadly overlooked and, though ’twas a little rough in spots, it showed tremendous promise. Live, these guys can be mean. And don’t mess with bassist Keith Caldwell. Man will spout some social justice your way! All in all, the new disc is a step in the right direction. Closer “Marcellus Waltz” (With …

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ALBUM REVIEW: McAlmont & Butler – The Sound Of…McAlmont & Butler (1995, reissued 2015)

Even the best laid plans never quite work out as expected. When David McAlmont first met Bernard Butler in London’s Jazz Café in 1994, both were still reeling following acrimonious splits—McAlmont’s dream pop duo Thieves had just broken up and Butler had left Suede during the recording of the band’s sophomore LP, Dog Man Star—and  neither wished to enter a new musical marriage: the initial plan was only to record a pair of songs for a single and create what Butler described as a “perfect moment in pop”. That their collaboration immediately resulted in the majestic, transcendent “Yes”—inspired by Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You”—and the sprawling, soaring “You Do” threw bit of a spanner in the works: why stop at a single? Why not record a full album? With a bit of prodding from industry types, the pair returned to the studio to complete nine more songs and assemble enough material for an album that was never meant to be in the first place. By The Sound Of…McAlmont & Butler‘s release, ten of its eleven songs (“The Right Thing” was the lone …

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ALBUM REVIEW: SKY PONY, “Beautiful Monster”

This seven-piece (!) Brooklyn-based outfit comes with a Broadway/theatre pedigree, as it’s driven by Kyle Jarrow, an Obie-award winning writer and his wife, lead singer, Lauren Worsham, who’s a Tony award nominee.  Usually, I’m a bit put off by “theatre rock”; it’s usually too pompous for its own good; too bombastic and same sounding – all technique and no heart – but this – this is GREAT. Opening with an angular, choppy guitar that just grabs you on “The Watcher”, the track has an early ’80’s pop feel, with its synth lines and overall structure but is an immediate favorite.  The vocals are strong; the harmonies on the chorus are tight and damn, this is already really good.  I can easily imagine this fitting into the playlists of the wonderful, late-lamented WLIR radio.  “Regret It In The Morning” carries the same driving thrust; a propulsive bass line, melodic and catchy; “Doctor” motors along in a manner reminiscent of Howard Devoto’s “The Rainy Season” – a sculpted, dramatic and powerful piece and “Vampire” has neatly off-kilter …

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ALBUM REVIEW: GREYHOUNDS, “Accumulator”

How I missed this on its release in early 2014 is beyond my comprehension, but after seeing them a few nights ago on PBS’ “Music City Roots:  Live From The Factory” and having been given a copy of this album, I sat down and had a fine time working my way through the eleven stellar tracks.  This Texas-based duo of Anthony Trube (vocals/keyboards) and Anthony Farrell (vocals/guitars) share the songwriting duties and have been a force since they first met up in the late ’90’s. Having put out three albums between 2004 and 2011, they wound up signing to the reactivated Ardent Music for a 3 album deal in 2013; this disc, Accumulator, is the first fruit of that union.  Kicking off with the first single and video, “What’s On Your Mind”, it’s fitting that this track sound so reminiscent of the Hi Records sound, circa the Al Green/Willie Mitchell era of successes; “Soul Navigator” gets right to the Memphis heart of the matter with Steve Cropper-styled guitar runs and a tight rhythm that immediately …

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Review: Frog Eyes – Pickpocket’s Locket

You’ve got to hand it to Canadien Carey Mercer, the principal performer-songwriter behind the baroque pop outfit Frog Eyes, whose Pickpocket’s Locket LP is licking ears these days around these parts: he is nothing is not diverse. Owner of a truly elastic set of vocal chords he uses to over-enunciate phrases to the point of the dramatique, Mercer also has knack for almost consciously anti-band multi-track recording. This was evidenced on previous recordings, where he buried the listener in layers of sound. As the project Blackout Beach (find it), where he obsessed over the lost love of the mystical “Donna” in majestic song cycles, Mercer was more than a half-step removed and isolated, sometimes to the point of iciness. The electric guitars were occasionally alien-estranged and stripped bare. It is with a state of shock, then, that I report that Pickpocket’s Locket is a kind of antithesis to Blackout Beach’s Skin of Evil LP – a warm, inviting record filled with plaintive strings, organ, pedal steel and vibraphone and, more importantly, one that is impossible to …