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Tuesday Reviewsday: LA's Alex Rose, The Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart and rocker Selene Vigil


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Alex Rose was born in LA, reared in Austin, and is now singing full time back in her birth city.

And, man, can she sing.

The opening song, "Ty," on her album “Arcadian Pages,”  is an ode to a mystical cowboy (or the image of one) and it starts out with just her voice and nothing else. It's a bold and confident introduction, and an effective one. It’s power without screaming, impact through restraint, emotional probings through beauty, strength through vulnerability.

She then crafts only the sparest accompaniment — spartan bass figures (she loves and makes great use of the contrast/complement of her pure voice with low-register sounds), near-subliminal keyboard or guitar atmospheres, the subtlest percussion punctuation.

Though this music was recorded in Texas, the album is really about her journey back to L.A. as she enters a new phase in her life. The eight songs were written and developed out on the road on that journey — in hotel rooms, cars, wherever she was — and carry both that sense of searching and that intimacy.

Her song “Grandmothers” is in some ways the most direct song of the bunch. In this piece, her thoughts flit around feelings and reflections, centering on the essence that “our grandmothers were first to know.” Here she reveals her strong voice in the other sense of that word, matching that of her literal voice.

Mickey Hart

If you expect Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s solo work to sound like the Dead, then you don’t know much about Mickey Hart. Through the decades, Hart has consistently, exuberantly hungered for new music experiences, new sounds, new combinations, new ideas, new routes to explore. With the album “RAMU” (which stands for “Random Access Musical Universe”), Hart has given the computerized database of music and nature sounds he’s been collecting for nearly 50 years now. He’s shown all that off with delightful flair.

There's some world music in here and even some of the Dead, via a piece of a previously unreleased recording of Jerry Garcia. But the core of “RAMU” is in Hart’s work with two new, younger partners - one a very natural choice, the other perhaps a more surprising one. The former is Avey Tare, of the band Animal Collective, which has long embraced a love of the Dead in its own eccentric music. The latter is Tarriana Ball — Tank of New Orleans’ funk/hip-hop/jazz/rock dynamo Tank & the Bangas, winners of this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest. 

With three songs each, half of the album in total, they provide in their own distinctive ways some structure to the relatively amorphous rhythmic layers. Among the highlights, Tare nicely anchors the global wanderings of the song “Wayward Son,” and Ball brings her freestyle verve to the Afro-Indian flow of the piece “Big Bad Wolf,” which also features a spoken part by actor Peter Coyote.

The blend sounds natural, organic, and rooted in a playful spirit Tare, Ball and Hart share. That grounding provides solid foundations for other guest contributions from Hussain, California jazz legend Charles Lloyd and former Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge. 

Ultimately, in a mysticism-tinged essay in the liner notes,  Hart writes that the album to him is “a collection of different cultures and music that range from California to Mumbai, Bali to Kentucky and Lagos to New Orleans, recorded between 1944 and 2017.” 

Selene Vigil 

"There were a lot of things in Never Never Land that I never really wanted to know..."  And so begins the first song, "Sha La La," on Selene Vigil's new mini-album, “Tough Dance.”  

Known for her taut, no-nonsense, unsentimental gaze, Vigil got her start in the '90s when her band, 7 Year Bitch, was rightfully touted by some as one of the most dynamic forces in post-Nirvana rock. She had the makings of a superstar, prowling the stage as she spat out words both cut to, and cutting the listener to, the bone, but that stardom never quite happened.

But with the six songs here, she has not lost one bit of her power and impact from the raspy howl at the end of the song “Down in Flames”  to the horror-film piano-chords midway in the haunted “My Nightmare.”

In the accompanying press bio, she cites Kierkegaard: “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” With music crafted by her longtime Seattle friend Ben London (of the band Alcohol Funnycar) and a tight, lean band of guitarist Ryan Leyva, bassist Drew Church and drummer Davey Brozowsky, all veterans of that old scene, that’s exactly what it sounds like.