New Music Monday: Paul Rodgers, Karl Denson, Scott H. Biram, Brand X, Alice Cooper

You perhaps knew, listening to blues-scalded moments like 1969′s “I’m a Mover,” that Paul Rodgers had a great — a truly great — R&B record in him. But nothing, not even that old Free side, will prepare you for the outsized joys surrounding his new Royal Sessions.

Meanwhile, Karl Denson and his Tiny Universe conglamerate continue to mix funk and jazz in the very best of ways, while Scott J. Biram blends deep country and gospel with similar success. Any one who dismisses Phil Collins solely on the basis of some limpid 1980s-era balladry with Genesis is directed to the brawny fusion found on a set of belatedly unearthed sessions with Brand X.

Those interested in new sounds from newer artists are directed to up-and-coming jazzer James Brandon Lewis, and Americana singer-songwriter Amy Black. Each has a terrific new release on the way.

We’re digging into Southern rocking Whiskey Myers; Van Canto, the world’s most famous — and, perhaps, only? — a cappella metal act; and jazz drummer Jeff Ballard, as well.

And then there’s Alice Cooper, whose completely wackadoo 1973 breakthrough Billion Dollar Babies is getting the gold-disc makeover …

ALICE COOPER – BILLION DOLLAR BABIES [SACD] (POP/ROCK): Produced by Bob Ezrin, Babies was once Cooper’s best-ever selling album — and, in many ways, it still a standard-bearer for his particular brand of darkly conceived, completely outlandish, always heavy-rocking humor. Only Alice Cooper could — or, really, would — try to make a joke song out of necrophilia. Meanwhile, yes, that’s Donovan singing on the title track. Elsewhere, there are songs about things as mundane as a trip to the dentist (“Unfinished Sweet”) and as horrifying as a cover of the Judy Collins hit “Hello Hooray.” It got weirder once Alice took this on the road, with concert sets that included (gulp!) a guillotine. — Nick DeRiso

AMY BLACK – THIS IS HOME (COUNTRY/ROCK): Black builds on a well-received tribute to her Alabama roots, in the form of a recent four-song EP Muscle Schoals Session, by digging even deeper over the course of the 11 original songs here. “Alabama,” with its heartfelt focus on family, works as a centerpiece, but Black’s penchant for storytelling quickly takes her far afield of such strictly autiobiographic topics — even if the energy and feel remains firmly planted in the soil of her childhood. Whether inhabiting the child’s perspective of “Make Me an Angel,” or the harder adult struggles of “We Had a Life,” Black explores life’s wonder and its pain with equal measures of honesty and emotion. This is Home is rounded out with covers of John Prine and Rodney Crowell. — Nick DeRiso

Aretha FranklinThe Queen of Soul (R&B)
A.J. Croce12 Tales (Pop/Rock)
Aztec CameraHigh Land Hard Rain (Pop/Rock)
Big Head Todd and the MonstersBlack Beehive (Pop/Rock)

BRAND X – MISSING PERIOD (FUSION/JAZZ): A set that collects this often-forgotten fusion group’s earliest recordings, dating to 1975 — just before the release of the initial Brand X album, 1976′s Unorthodox Behaviour. Family members of guitarist John Goodsall — who with bassist Percy Jones, owns the rights to the Brand X name — gave him a box of old band memorabilia that, unbeknownst to anyone, included these never-before-released reel-to-reel recordings. Together with keyboardist Robin Lumley and Genesis drummer Phil Collins, the group swings impressively from lyrical flights of fancy into layered, Collins-powered rhythmic turbulence — setting a course they’d more fully explore in their terrific studio debut. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

Danny Petroni Blue ProjectSound of Asbury Park (Jazz)
David BowieDiamond Dogs; Heroes; Hunky Dory; Low; Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (Pop/Rock)
Duran DuranDuran Duran; Rio; Seven and Ragged Tiger (Pop/Rock)
Emmy Lou HarrisLive in 1978 (Country)
Frank SinatraPoint of No Return [SACD] (Vocals)
Dolly PartonBlue Smoke (Country)
Jack BruceCities of the Heart; Monkjack; Somethin Else (Pop/Rock)

JAMES BRANDON LEWIS – DIVINE TRAVELS (JAZZ): A lot of jazz saxophonists strive to sound spiritual but for Lewis, that’s part of who he’s always been. Having grown up listening to gospel music and later pursuing a career in that genre, such things come second hand to him. The natural ease with which Lewis expresses himself comes immediately into focus on “Divine,” an opening track where it’s only him and, sparingly, Parker. His big wide, soulful tone and thoughtful delivery sets the tone for the rest of the record. (More here.) — S. Victor Aaron

JEFF BALLARD – TIME’S TALES [with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon] (JAZZ): Since Ballard is an exceptional stylist who is capable of handling polyrhythms and complex tempos with ease, and since he heads a drums-sax-guitar trio, it’s tempting to compare his unit with Paul Motian’s bass-less trios with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. However, the only time the music on Time’s Tales made me think explicitly of Motian was during their rendition of George Gershwin’s standard, “The Man I Love.” Elsewhere, the very distinctive musical identity of each of these three performers assures that this is a threesome like no other — and they’re bursting with ideas. (More here.) — S. Victor Aaron

Jethro TullPassion Play (Pop/Rock)
Jon AndersonOlias of Sunhillow [SACD] (Pop/Rock)

KARL DENSON’S TINY UNIVERSE – NEW AMMO (JAZZ): Karl Denson’s longtime outfit Tiny Universe has evolved a bit over the past fifteen or so years, but the basic mission has always been to make audiences move: “…a dance band that dips into the jazz realm,” explains Denson. After putting the group on ice in the mid-90s, Denson reconvened it for 2009′s Brother’s Keeper. Four and a half years later, KDTU returns with a follow up, and the group has changed again: fattening up the horn section while at the same time swapping some of the former’s poise for a frayed rock edge. (More here.) — S. Victor Aaron

King CrimsonLive at the Pier, New York: August 2, 1982; Live in Milan: June 20, 2003; Live in Munich: King Crimson Collector’s Club; Live in Philadelphia: August 26, 1996 (Pop/Rock)
KraftwerkTrans Europe Express (Pop/Rock)
Lenny Sendersky and Tony RomanoDesert Flower (Jazz)
Les Claypool’s Duo De TwangFour Foot Shack (Pop/Rock)
Lisa StansfieldSeven: Deluxe Edition (R&B)

Michael BloomfieldFrom His Head to His Heart to His Hands [Box Set] (Pop/Rock)
Otis ReddingThe King of Soul (R&B)
Pat Metheny Unity GroupKin (Jazz)
Paul KantnerMartian Christmas (Pop/Rock)

PAUL RODGERS – THE ROYAL SESSIONS (R&B): His songs always betokened a foundational love for gritty R&B. But that embedded passion often found itself awash in other, more contemporary sounds — the heavy riffs of Bad Company, the sleek corporate feel of the Firm, the outsized stadium rock of Queen. The Royal Sessions stripped all of that away, leaving Rodgers to front a grease-popping house band of long-time Memphis sidemen, guys who played on the original sides featuring Al Green and the like. His gift, taken perhaps for granted after so many permutations away from these core influences, is revealed anew. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

Quicksilver Messenger ServiceFillmore Auditorium: November 5, 1966 (Pop/Rock)
Robert PresterDogtown (Jazz)
Ruben StuddardUnconditional Love (R&B)
Rudy Royston303 (Jazz)

SCOTT H. BIRAM – NOTHIN’ BUT BLOOD (COUNTRY/ROCK): The sacred and the profane sit side by side on the latest from Scott H. Biram, as do gospel, traditional country and raging punk and metal. One-man band Biram proves again that he’s one of the more unique artists out there today. (More here.) — Fred Phillips

Steve Miller BandLive at the Carousel Ballroom San Francisco (Pop/Rock)
The Doobie BrothersStampede [SACD] (Pop/Rock)
The Dream SyndicateThe Day Before Wine And Roses (Pop/Rock)
The Mamas and the PapasA Gathering of Flowers: The Anthology (Pop/Rock)

The Small FacesHere Come the Nice [Box Set] (Pop/Rock)
The WinansFamily Tree (Gospel)
Tina TurnerLove Songs (R&B)
Tord Gustavsen QuartetExtended Circle (Jazz)
Toni Braxton and BabyfaceLove, Marriage and Divorce (R&B)

VAN CANTO – DAWN OF THE BRAVE (POP/ROCK): I’ve never been quite sure what to make of these guys. I mean, a capella metal? On the one hand, they can do some pretty cool stuff. On the other, well, it’s kind of goofy. Still, I suppose I’ll give it a listen. — Fred Phillips

Various artistsThis Is The Town: A Tribute to Nilsson Volume 1 [Langhorne Slim, Marco Benevento, Willy Mason, Dawn Landes, Yellowbirds, Tracy Bonham] (Pop/Rock)

WHISKEY MYERS – EARLY MORNING SHAKES (POP/ROCK): There’s nothing groundbreaking about the sound of Whiskey Myers, but there’s plenty of soul in this collection of old-fashioned, hard grooving Southern rock tunes. You’ve heard the sound before, but rarely done this well. — Fred Phillips

Xiu XiuAngel Guts: Red Classroom (Pop/Rock)


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