Eric Ambel: Knucklehead (Lakeside Lounge)
Besides being a top-notch producer (Bottle Rockets, Nils Lofgren, Mary’s Corvette), engineer and one of the true nice guys of the recording industry, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel is also a rock ‘n’ roller of the first order, as his distant past with the Del Lords and his new solo album of rock sessions spanning the past 14 years or so shows. Ambel may not be a great singer, but he’s got his own “everyman” style, and he’s definitely a kick-ass guitarist and fine songwriter who has assimilated influences ranging from the Rolling Stones to T-Rex to Neil Young, and came up with a cool, rockin’ album I can’t take out of my CD player. New York – types who’ve followed the many aggregations he’s played with might be wowed by the different lineups. I don’t know who any of these guys are, but I know what I like and what gets me off. Sprinkled amongst the Stones-ish originals are some great covers, from Tom Waits’ “Union Square” to the Del Lords’ “Judas Kiss” to my favorite cover of 2004: the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action,” finally played with some real teeth. This disc is rough, ragged and completely right-on!
Producer: Eric Ambel. Engineered by Ambel and a bunch of other people at various studios (Coyote, 33 1/3, Column One, Cowboy Technical Services, Soundtrack) and other spaces around N.Y. Mastering: Scott Hull. – Blair Jackson
Michel Petrucciani: So What (Dreyfus Jazz)
The late Michel Petrucciani might have earned sympathy from some for surviving and triumphing over a debilitating physical condition known as “glass bones” for many years (before his death in 1999), but as this superb anthology proves, the diminutive Frenchman was a true giant of jazz piano – an excellent composer and an interpreter of great power and sensitivity. This “Best of” set covers his years at the Dreyfus label (mid- to late ’90s) and showcases him in a number of different settings, including solo, duets, trios, quartets and sextets; among the guests are Stephane Grappelli, Steve Gadd and Anthony Jackson, among others. Whether tackling George Gershwin (“Summertime”), Miles Davis (a truly breathtaking “So What”) or his own tunes (“Home” is my favorite), Petrucciani combines bold vision as a player with a tremendously sympathetic approach to ensemble work. If you’re unfamiliar with his genius, this is a fine starting point.
Produced by Francis Dreyfus. No other recording information provided. – Blair Jackson
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: LAGQ’s Guitar Heroes (Telarc)
The famously eclectic LAGQ has occasionally been compared to the Kronos Quaretet because they long ago shattered the boundaries of so-called “classical” music to incorporate influences from folk, rock and various other, more “serious” modern idioms. On this fine release, these four wizards of the nylon-stringed acoustic guitar – John Dearman, William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant and Andrew York – tackle compositions from and inspired by some of their heroes, including such diverse artists as ECM icon Ralph Towner, Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Django Reinhardt, Frank Zappa, Chet Atkins and Michael Hedges. That’s a lot of stylistic ground to cover and, indeed, the music moves from delicate lyricism to dissonant noise, with lots of shading in between, but it’s all executed with incredible dexterity and an obviously deep understanding of every genre. It’s sometimes heady stuff, but also full of passion and grace. Typical of most Telarc releases, the sound is magnificent. The album is also available as a multichannel SACD.
Producer: Robert Woods. Recording, mixing and mastering engineer: Robert Friedrich. Studio: O’Henry (L.A.). – Blair Jackson
Keane: Hopes and Fears (Interscope)
It would be easy to dismiss Keane as merely another Coldplay/Travis imitator, as they share the same sort of attention to soaring, emotive vocals and ethereal melodies as their more established Brit-pop brethren. But that would be a disservice to this promising young trio from a small Sussex village in England, who purposely forgot to add a guitar and instead relied on Tim Rice-Oxley’s piano, keyboards and random sampled effects, Richard Hughes’ spartan drum kit and Tom Chaplin’s compelling voice. The single “Somewhere Only We Know,” followed by “This Is the Last Time” and “Bend and Break,” bounce with upbeat, well-crafted melodies and an abundance of pop hooks, sounding lush despite limited instrumentation. From there, the disc gets more interesting. Chaplin aches on “We Might As Well Be Strangers” and belts out a Radiohead-like falsetto on the effects-laden ballad, “She Has No Time.” But the group really comes into their own at the disc’s end with “Sunshine” and “Untitled 1.” Definitely worth picking up; just make sure to listen all the way through.
Producer: Andy Green, James Sanger, Keane. Engineers: Green, Mark “Spike” Stent. Assistant engineers: David Treahern, Rob Haggett. No studios listed. Mastering: Ted Jensen/Sterling Sound. – Heather Johnson
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