New Music Monday: Birdy, Esperanza Spalding, B-52s, one more for Randy Rhoads

The week’s teetering stack of piping hot freshness in music is topped by Brad Mehldau, Esperanza Spalding and Lost in the Trees, along with notable reissues and live stuff from Aaron Neville, Impala Syndrome, Madonna, Ozzy Osbourne (on his original solo date with the late Randy Rhoads, appropriate on this anniversary of his untimely passing) and the B-52s. Also hitting shelves and web carts this week: Birdy, Hiroe Sekine, Steve Horowitz and Will Bernard, among others.

PRESENTING NEW MUSIC MONDAY FOR THE WEEK OF MARCH 19, 2012 …

AARON NEVILLE – WARM YOUR HEART [K2 HD] (R&B): From rhythm and blues and pop, from gospel (now more than ever) to country, Neville can do it all — though for decades he stayed hidden inside his family group, the Neville Brothers. Collaborations with Linda Ronstadt — including her work as co-producer on this album, which features “Everybody Plays the Fool” and “Louisiana 1927″ — seemed to embolden him, after decades of being better known for music made with those famous siblings. Not until 1990s pop smashes like “Don’t Know Much” and “Fool” did he really begin focusing on a solo career. Since, Neville’s only underscored just how impressively versatile his vocal instrument can be, with notable successes in country (a 1994 CD did the unthinkable: it debuted in the Top 10 on the pop, R&B and country charts) to, more recently, praise music. “All of it’s in there,” Neville tells us — and it really, really is. (More here.)Nick DeRiso

Adam LambertTrespassing (Pop/Rock)
Anti-FlagThe General Strike (Pop/Rock)
B.B. KingLive at the Royal Albert Hall 2011 (Blues)
Ben WebsterIn a Mellow Tone (Jazz)

BIRDY – BIRDY (POP/ROCK): This British teen sensation (real name: Jasmine Van den Bogaerde) has the gumption of someone who’s been doing this for years — and, really, she has. Van den Bogaerde starting playing piano at 4, and wrote her first song at 7. Most remarkable of all, however, might be her singing. Performing with a devastating fragility, Van den Bogaerde has a voice that can sound as breakable as an eggshell, and just as beautifully translucent. Yet, listen to “Skinny Love,” as she gathers herself into a crepuscular cry — one that’s not so much black as a very, very dark blue. There’s a depth of strength still untapped. (More here.)Nick DeRiso

Bob CorritoreLongtime Friends In The Blues (Blues)

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BRAD MEHLDAU – ODE (JAZZ): This moves with power and grace — with an emphasis, perhaps, on power: Mehldau began his career very much in the Bill Evans mode of contemplative piano examinations, but he’s become a much more propulsive player — with some credit, to these ears, going to Grenadier and Ballard. Tracks like “Ode” and “Dream Sketch” offer, sometimes quite literally, a river of ideas — with Mehldau furiously improvising with his right hand while the rest of the rhythm section adds their own perfectly placed asides. Inspired, Mehldau digs further back, past Evans to Lennie Tristano, on “Bee Blues” and unleashes a pounding, very Oscar Peterson-informed intro on “Stan the Man.” There are dark abstractions in “Kurt’s Vibe,” and rhythmic abstractions in “Wyatt’s Eulogy for George Hanson,” too. (More here.)Nick DeRiso

Casey JamesCasey James (Country)
Cathy Segal-Garcia and Yoonseung ChoBohemian (Jazz)
Chet AtkinsSails [K2 HD] (Country)
Chris StandringElectric Wonderland (Jazz)
David OlneyThe Stone (Folk)
Dexter GordonNight Ballads: Montreal 1977 (Jazz)
Django ReinhardtRenown & Resistance Vol. 2 (Jazz)

ESPERANZA SPALDING – RADIO MUSIC SOCIETY (JAZZ): Ultimately, this is an album that’s likely not serious enough to connect with jazz fans, and probably not propulsive enough to attract a pop audience. The project needs less alchemy, and more focus. Then again, maybe I’m overthinking it. After all, Radio Music Society opens with a deliriously enthralling moment of lip-smacking sweetness, as Spalding daydreams about that magic moment when a song earworms its way into your subconscious: “Now, you can’t help singing along, even though you’ve never heard it. … This song will keep you grooving.” That, she does. That she definitely does, even if I keep thinking that she could be doing so very much more. (More here.)Nick DeRiso

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George WinstonGulf Coast Blues & Impressions 2: A Louisiana Wetlands Benefit (Jazz)

HIROE SEKINE – AFTER THE RAINFALL (JAZZ): What I admired so much about Sekine’s 2010 debut was her fresh, contemporary reworkings of familiar songs that I probably could go the rest of my life not having to hear again. However, she has such a knack for arranging and reharmonizing them just so that you can recognize the song, but it feels like a whole new song. Like a nicely restored classic car. That’s what she does here, for instance, with an album-closing take on Thelonius Monk’s “Evidence.” Chucking the piano for a percussive, Rhodes-ish electric keyboard, Sekine and guitarist Larry Koonse are the focal points on the song — playing in unison, harmony and comping behind the other when they solo. The coaction between the two is the interesting twist on the original, as they move from the head to a more contemporary blues figure and back again to the head and concluding with a groove that seems to spin naturally from Monk’s mangled strain. (More here.)S. Victor Aaron

IMPALA SYNDROME – IMPALA SYNDROME (POP/ROCK): A spectacular slab of hard rocking psychedelic informed godliness. The band’s chops, which surge forth with energy and excitement, are constantly firing on all circuits, while the quality of the songs is exceptionally high. Powerful and confident vocals, mated with packets of punchy melodies also flood the material. Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Sly and the Family Stone tend to be the trinity of influences supporting the tracks, but it’s entirely safe to say Impala Syndrome had their own mojo working. Cuts like “Too Much Time,” “I Want To Hug The Sky” and “Children Of The Forest” swivel and shake with flocks of fat and funky licks. Crunchy, crushing and aflame with cool grooves, these are the type of songs impossible not to dance to or play air guitar to. (More here.)Beverly Paterson

Ken NavarroThe Test Of Time (Jazz)
Lee RanaldoBetween the Times and the Tides (Pop/Rock)

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LOST IN THE TREES – A CHURCH THAT FITS OUR NEEDS (POP/ROCK): A haunting, ultimately uplifting examination on the transformational experience of loss, Ari Picker’s second album as Lost in the Trees follows the suicide of his mother. The North Carolina-based singer-songwriter doesn’t simply mourn her, however, nor does he simply celebrate her. Instead, Picker explores a full range of emotions surrounding a person’s legacy, and the steps we all must take to inhabit their absence — all while galloping across a deeply ambitious musical landscape. (More here.)Nick DeRiso

Mac DeMarcoRock and Roll Night Club (Pop/Rock)

MADONNA – COMPLETE STUDIO ALBUMS 1983-2008 (POP/ROCK): Perhaps highlighted by her 1984 breakthrough Like a Virgin which, with the addition of Nile Rodgers as producer (and his band Chic as the core backing group), became a career-defining moment. The lead single — provocative, catchy and instantly danceable — became her first No. 1 Billboard hit, likely because it sounded nothing like Madonna, her 1983 debut. Rather than using a live band, Madonna had relied on the newest club-beat technology of the day, including drum machines, synthesizers and the Moog bass. The addition of Chic gave the music a snappy new attitude to match the lyrics. “If you had music that was programmed and could be done by anyone in the world who understood that kind of music,” Rodgers told us, “what would make Madonna different? It’s something I believed then, and I still do.” Working together on Virgin, which also featured the hit “Material Girl,” they crafted the big-bang record of Madonna’s lengthy career. (More here.)Nick DeRiso

Margot and the Nuclear So and So’sRot Gut Domestic (Pop/Rock)
Mud MorganfieldSon Of The Seventh Son (Blues)
Nat King Cole TrioAFRS King Cole Trio Time ‘Live’ Volume 1 (Jazz)

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Nona HendryxNona (R&B)

OZZY OSBOURNE – DIARY OF A MADMAN (POP/ROCK): Ozzy’s finest hour outside of Black Sabbath. While his debut had a few duds — “No Bone Movies” comes immediately to mind, and though it may seem like sacrilege to some fans, I’ve never liked “Revelation (Mother Earth),” either — Diary is a far more consistent record from beginning to end, and there’s not a single track that I skip every listen. It rips out of the gate with the galloping “Over the Mountain,” which features one of my favorite Randy Rhoads guitar solos. There’s the trippy rock anthem “Flying High Again,” that memorable marching bass line of “Believer,” and of course, the classic title track, which shows Rhoads’ neo-classical style beginning to blossom. The record has always been a little bittersweet for me because it shows so much promise for what Rhoads — who died 30 years ago today — could become, and then that promise was cut short. Still, it’s a fantastic record. (More here.)Fred Phillips

Penelope HoustonOn Market Street (Pop/Rock)
SpiritualizedSweet Heart Sweet Light (Pop/Rock)

STEVE HOROWITZ – NEW MONSTERS (2012): A little zany with a lot of unpredictable fun, though Horowitz might appear to take a backseat to his bandmates, as nearly all the songs are composed by the tenor saxophonist Dan Plonsey. Horowitz, on electric bass, even allows Plonsey, saxophonist/flautist Steve Adams and pianist Scott Looney to undertake all the soloing for the quintet. However, Horowitz is apparently applying his experience in both classical and jazz music to devise some crafty arrangements that makes Plonsey’s songs wobble with pizzazz. The best manifestation of Horowitz’s incisive musical vision on this record is the inspired mashup of John Coltrane’s “India” with Eric Dolphy’s The Red Planet,” a concocted combination that works so naturally well, you’re bound to swear it was originally conceived that way. (More here.)S. Victor Aaron

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THE B-52s – WITH THE WILD CROWD: LIVE IN ATHENS, GA DVD/BLU-RAY (POP/ROCK): One of the things I always loved about the B-52s though, was their use of Farfisa organ (quite possibly the most missed musical instrument in all of pop music, outside of the wah-wah pedal, or in prog terms, the mellotron). The mighty Farfisa rocks in abundance here. This is exactly why a B-52s show — in addition to the obvious, over-the-top party atmosphere — is such a guilty pleasure for an obvious music geek like me. Nobody ever said that songs like “Rock Lobster,” “Gimme Back My Man,” “Party Out Of Bounds,” or “Planet Claire” — all of which are performed excellently here, by the way — were going to change the world or anything. But they do have this amazing way of making you forget about your sorry excuse for a life for a minute, don’t they? (More here.)Glen Boyd

The Band of HeathensThe Double Down Live DVD (Pop/Rock)
The ShinsPort of Morrow (Pop/Rock)
Various artistsThe Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond [Taylor Swift, ft. the Civil Wars; Arcade Fire; Miranda Lambert, ft. the Pistol Annies; Adam Levine of Maroon 5] (Pop/Rock)

WILL BERNARD TRIO – OUTDOOR LIVING (JAZZ): What’s best about this one is the same thing that makes all Will Bernard records likeable: great to groove to, and equally great, interesting melodies to delve into. The songs are pretty much defined by the beats: “Nature Walk” and “Katskan” are Crescent City romps; “Morgan Dance” brandishes a big, 60s backbeat, “Implitude” rocks a little harder and “6B” is organic (in both senses of the word) hip-hop. Every so often, the band slows down as it does for the swampy blues of “Nooksack,” where Bernard’s underrated slide technique gets a hearing and on the psychedelic slow burner “Point Blank,” the band just lets the soulful mood permeate the song. (More here.)S. Victor Aaron

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