"Live at Stubb's" Matisyahu (JDub Records/Or Music)
Born Mathew Miller and raised in White Plains, New York, Matisyahu wasn't the first kid to grow dreadlocks and drop out of high school to follow Phish. His winding spiritual journey took him from Oregon to Israel before he returned to New York to embrace Lubavitch Hasidism. Now, rather than shunning the reggae he loved as a bohemian, the convert channels his devotion for Judaism into exuberant music and he's opening shows for Trey Anastasio. In a strange way, it fits: Reggae luminaries have long espoused Rastafarianism using biblical language, and in that tradition, Matisyahu sounds uplifting but not preachy. His vocal inflection and the familiar upbeat rhythm guitar are grounded in reggae and dancehall. However, these songs feature outbursts of rap-rock, a few jam-rock guitar solos and a display of beat-boxing. He even briefly lapses into a traditional chant with a slight R&B croon. For the most part it works, owing to Matisyahu's torrential enthusiasm, which is particularly evident on this live recording. *** Nathan Lott
"Hippy Justice: The Best of Scharpling and Wurster on the Best Show on WFMU Vol. 3" Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster (Stereolaffs)
Attention, fellow music geeks: This is the comedy album for you.
The new two-CD set of partially improvised comedic sketches delivered on Tom Scharpling's legendary "Best Show on WFMU" radio program is so funny it should come with a warning against operating machinery or nursing babies.
Scharpling (a writer for the TV show "Monk") and partner Jon Wurster (Superchunk drummer) create radio interview parodies for an independent NewYork City-area station geared toward those conversant in pop culture and rock music. As DJ, Scharpling plays the straight guy, asking questions and guiding the increasingly bizarre conversations of call-in guest Wurster, who disguises his voice for such quirky characters as litigious-minded commune leader Hippy Johnny, who has kids making "farm-fresh drain cleaner at Mellow Grove." There are skits featuring a faux-Gene Simmons Toyota dealership and an eBay addict ("eBay kid") who injures himself while stealing '70s memorabilia from his lover, then lies on the floor discussing the lost history of "pub rock." The insights into different personalities and scenes, like the belly laughs, come at an impressive clip. If it's true that underground comedy is the new punk rock, these guys are like The Clash the only radio comedy team that matters. **** Brent Baldwin
"Solos" Robin Holcomb, Wayne Horvitz (Songlines Recordings)
Folk-inspired composer/singer/songwriter Robin Holcombe and her longtime husband, the pianist/composer Wayne Horvitz, are veteran collaborators. The palindrome-titled "Solos" sets their parallel, complementary sensibilities side by side in a quietly intense set of piano solo music. Horvitz's pieces have the rounded resolutions and rolling rhythms of the blues, with a haunting, almost remembered quality, even on the first hearing. The covers of Wayne Shorter's "Armageddon" as well as "Stars Fell on Alabama" and the traditional "Buttermilk Hill" are rendered with a similar, from-the-inside-out sensibility.
Holcomb's contributions are all original, angular and full of quick cuts, sharp edges and silences. While there are traditional musical elements, they are not unbound by conventional song forms. She isn't afraid to find melodic resolution in midair.
The dual CD/SACD recording is impeccably detailed, providing a spacious canvas for these deeply imagined landscapes. "Solos" may lead listeners to Holcomb's series of avant-folk recordings or to Horvitz's smart neopsychedelic Zony Mash. They're both brilliant musicians, and the distilled charms of this recording are an ideal place to start. **** Peter McElhinney
"Robot Hive/Exodus" Clutch (DRT)
Evolution: It's a big theme for lead singer Neil Fallon. And to listen to the newest album is to realize the band is infected with change. After previous garnishes of keyboard sound, the foursome have officially packed a Hammond organ, clavinet and electric piano into their futurist revival tent.
From its earliest albums, Clutch has preached the gospel of technology, conspiracy and mythology, and its 10th release continues its ominous, bizarre, sometimes paranoid message. The heavy, holy-rolling rock is downplayed here, though; most of the tunes have a bit more groove, a tad more of the loose instrumental jam better suited to a summer festival than a mosh pit. It ain't as fierce as previous records.
"Mice and Gods" is just about perfect, though, a thundering declaration of human obsolescence: "Damn tomorrow, future now!" And covers of muddy old blues tunes turn surprisingly heavy at the end of the album, a promise that Clutch isn't losing its past as it changes. **** Brandon Reynolds
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