If you love music, but don't have the time to keep up with what's new, you should listen to Tuesday Reviewsday. Every week our critics join our hosts in the studio to talk about what you should be listening to, in one short segment. This week, music journalist Steve Hochman joins Alex Cohen.
Album: "Some Ungodly Hour"
Songs: "Hymmmn," "Brother"
Notes: ArchiveX is…. well…. we don’t really know. The San Francisco artist is trying, perhaps too hard, to maintain a mystique by not revealing his identity. It’s not really a needed gesture — the music of the debut album, Some Ungodly Hour, has mystique a plenty in its mix of gospel, blues, glam, spooky ambience and sunny spirit. As the title suggests, this is secular gospel. As the music makes clear, it’s about earthly and not heavenly matters, be they delights or challenges, or often both.
The more ambient tracks, such as wordless, many-layered-voices opener "Hymmmn" (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) and the somber "Pilgrim of Sorrow," might recall Antony & the Johnsons’ Antony Hegarty, but without the affected drama. Some of the funkier songs, "Been Down" in particular, have Prince stamped all over them, though by way of Southern-rock with slithery slide guitar and rollicking piano, and the instrumental "Meltdown" kicks that into overdrive. "Brother" is pure gospel-soul, but with guitar licks in the chorus borrowed from Queen.
Maybe the anonymity is meant to be ironic — a secular gospel album directed by an unseen hand from a being whose real name is not to be spoken. Either way, with ArchiveX there are some praises to be sung.
Artist: Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams
Album: "Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams"
Songs: "Surrender to Love," "Everybody Loves You"
Notes: "Surrender to Love"? A sweet way for married couple Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams to open their debut album. Well, even if that surrender is 27 years in the making, it having taken that long since they wed in 1988, under a tree in her tiny hometown of Peckerwood Point, Tenn., until they made this album.
Well, it’s not like they’ve just been harmonizing on the porch all that time. Campbell has established himself as one of the unheralded stalwarts of Americana, serving for eight years as guitarist and leader of Bob Dylan’s Never-Ending Tour band and then another seven anchoring ex-Band man Levon Helm’s group, including the regular, storied Midnight Ramble gatherings in Helm’s Woodstock barn up to his death in 2012. The professional partnership goes back 30 years to when she was a country singer and he was playing pedal steel in the Bottom Line club in his native New York.
It was with Helm that the pair honed the sound heard here, Williams a featured singer in that band and Campbell wielding a variety of stringed instrument, most distinctively his stinging electric guitar. In the course of it, they worked with a wide variety of Ramble guests, and the eclectic nature is on display, with gospel-y Southern-romp ("Bad Luck Charm"), down-home yearning ("Do You Love Me At All") and mountain hoedowns ("Everybody Loves You") working their way through the original songs, his unaffected voice a nice complement to her soaring songbird. Two cover choices frame it all perfectly: Rev. Gary Davis’ spiritual blues "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" (here kind of a revival tent hootenanny treatment) and the Grateful Dead’s sweetly melancholy ballad "Attics of My Life."
Comparisons come easily to mind, given the couples core to country and Americana: Tammy Wynette and George Jones, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, Buddy and Julie Miller, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, just to name a handful. Campbell and Williams may have bided their time to join them, but they’ve joined them in style.
Artist: Tiempo Libre
Songs: "Somebody to Love Me," "Dime Que No."
Notes: While the album title isn’t exactly a lie, it’s not quite the truth. No musical offering could be fully pan-American. Or even pan-Latin American. Or pan-Caribbean. But Tiempo Libre certainly gives it a good try, from the almost hip-hop intro to "Callejero" to the Latin funk of "Gallo Fino" to the Santana-like salsa-rock of the bilingual "Somebody to Love Me" (with guest Yunel Cruz).
Still, compared to 2009’s Grammy-nominated Bach in Havana (which is just what the title suggests) and 2008’s O’Reilly Street (a collaboration with classical flutist James Galway centered on two suites by classical-jazz crossover composer Claude Bolling, also a Grammy nominee), this album is a relatively focused timba foray. That’s the dance-igniting Cuban hybrid of salsa, funk and folk styles. And for all of the accomplishment and ambition of these seven Cuban-born, Miami-based musicians, it’s Tiempo Libre’s wheelhouse, heard forcefully in the first single, "Dime Que No."
Arguably, the album title is more about the musicians’ personal multi-cultural experiences than about the music itself, per se. The songs, all written or co-written by leader-pianist Jorge Gómez and conguero Leandro Gonzalez, draw on their lives and loves (and the related challenges). As such it works as a precursor to the group’s next ambitious project, Cuba Libre, a Broadway-hopeful musical based on the group’s colorful history in Cuba and Miami, set to debut this fall in Portland under the guidance of the producer of Tony-winner Fela, with Tiempo Libre performing the music on stage amid a company of actors, singers and dancers.
In the meantime, Tiempo Libre is on tour, with destinations from Beijing to London. Maybe the next album will be "Panglobo."