The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion
Seth and Scott Avett have perfected their feel-good roots-rock sound over the course of their seven albums and are riding as high as ever. Hailing from the Appalachians of North Carolina, they’re perfectly equipped to add touches of bluegrass, folk and country to what is essentially a 70s classic rock formula. With ballads like “Bring Your Love to Me” and big jaunty rockers like “Open Ended Life”, their latest album cements them as band to listen to on the back porch as well as the big festival stage. They manage to be more fun than Fleet Foxes and more genuine than Mumford & Sons, while providing the perfect antidote for those sick of the EDM dominance of recent years. Magpie and the Dandelion is the second album they’ve had produced by Rick Rubin, and he again gives them a clean and powerful sound and largely stays out of the way, letting The Avett Brothers sound exactly like themselves. The only exception would be the leadoff single “Another Is Waiting”, which is far from bad, but sounds a bit too much like some lost pop-punk song from the late 90s.
Darkside – Psychic
Here’s the debut LP from Darkside, a fruitful pairing of minimalist composer Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington. Beautifully melding slowly evolving ambience with touches of trip-hop and house, the album works great as background music, but also rewards a focused headphone listen. In either context, Psychic offers some delightful surprises, with no dedication to any one style, unique guitar lines, occasionally choppy beats and, for a great deal of its duration, no beats at all. Its overall mood is dark and grimy, but it retains some truly inspired moments of understated pop, fitting in an amazing amount of variation within a limited amount of volume and speed. Highly recommended for winding down the end of a wild night, especially when played from front to back.
The Pedrito Martinez Group – The Pedrito Martinez Group
World-class session percussionist and Yerba Buena founding member Pedrito Martinez brags on his new album that “Nobody knows Havana better.” I’m in no position to contest that claim, but judging from the sizzling Afro-Cuban jams he puts forth here, I’ll take his word for it, music-wise. The other members of his international group are no slouches either: Cuban pianist Ariacne Trujillo plays with unfathomable speed and occasionally adds sultry vocals, Berklee-trained ?lvaro Benavides brings a bouncy virtuosity to his bass lines, while Jhair Sala and Martinez hold down the intricate rolling rhythms with various percussion instruments. This is Latin jazz for people who like to dance and it never needs the assistance of roaring guitars or booming drums to bring the heat. Surprising covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” and The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” keep things interesting in addition to guest spots from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and jazz guitarist John Scofield