Archive for critic’s picks

critic’s pick – brian eno, ‘reflection’

In a recent posting on his website, Brian Eno confesses he doesn’t understand the contemporary definition of the term “ambient music,” the tag penned to a series of atmospheric instrumental albums he has created over the past three decades exuding sounds that moves in glacial tonal increments rather than through rhythm. It’s no wonder, too, given the music’s appropriation by scores of pop, techno and even dub artists during the generation that followed such early Eno moodpiece experiments as “Discreet Music” (1975) and “Ambient 1: Music for Airports” (1978).

Even Eno himself has sought to find new placement and purpose for his soundscapes. On “The Ship,” an Eno album released as recently as last spring, he used his ambient prototypes as a backdrop for vocal meditations, a few dissonant eruptions and even a slice of majestically reinvented pop (via his version of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free”).

On “Reflection,” the focus falls back on the ambient sound that started it all. The record is a single, 51 minute composition, an instrumental tone poem of sorts that glides with patience and grace. Through the music’s slo-mo unveiling, a few variances appear and contract like a fragment of melody that washes in at low tide only to be eventually pulled back out to sea. Sometimes, a suggestion of a pulse is detected, but the echo is distant – a call from an outside land the music seems to have purposely drifted away from. In other instances, the sense of contemplation is underscored by a few modest accents – a chant-like like accent that briefly mimics birdsong here, the chill of what sounds like vibraphone there. But given the album’s processed sound and its lack of detailed liner notes, you can seldom tell what the specific instrumental voice is.

There is also something of a paradox within the music. It begins fully realized as a gentle swirl of mock-percussive effects connect like wind chimes before the music quickly evolves into an unhurried sonic wash of humming keyboard orchestration that revels in its state of subtlety. Not so with the ending. While “Reflection” wastes no time in lifting off, it takes a beauteous eternity to bid adieu. It’s slow (as in, very slow) fade seems to suggest that it has every intention on lingering on even as it eventually disappears from our rear view mirror.

This is not music for everyone. Many dismissed the minimalist dissension of Eno’s ambient work back in the ‘70s as a crashing bore, a music that sounds more like muzak, only more static. But for those ears favoring a sense of impressionistic introspection – or for anyone simply seeking 51 minutes of glorious peace and quiet – “Reflection” is a fascinating one way trip to the heart of Eno’s ambient cosmos.

critic’s pick: tift merritt, “stitch of the world”

There is a wonderfully emotive and stylistic shift roughly three quarters of the way through Tift Merritt’s new “Stitch of the World” album so pronounced that it’s a wonder the eruption doesn’t register on the Richter scale.

It begins as the contemplative “Icarus,” a tune less about mythologic happenstance and more about personal healing, lulls you in. First there is the plaintive tone of Merritt’s singing and piano, a ghostly reflection of longing that has permeated much of her Americana-and-more music over the past decade. Enter then guitarist Marc Ribot and pedal steel pro Eric Heywood to accent the song’s mood. But once all that settles in, the introspection implodes and the jagged electric strut of “Proclamation Bones” takes its place with a booming balance of doom and chance (“the fate of man is still unclear, so why don’t you come meet me here tonight”), usurping the album’s settled ambience for an all out electric jamboree.

Those are just two of the highpoints of “Stitch of the World,” a record Merritt formulated in the midst of a personal crossroads that included a divorce and the impending birth of her daughter as well as a series of artistic collaborations with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and pop stylists Andrew Bird and M.C. Taylor. Adding to the scope of “Stitch of the World” was co-production help from Iron and Wine chieftain Sam Beam.

What all this boils down to is a fascinating album that is just that – a scrapbook of sounds, feelings and narratives as opposed to a conceptual song cycle, which many recordings, often unintentionally, come across as. “What strikes me most when I am writing these days is the changing nature of things,” Merritt states in her self-scribed bio for the “Stitch of the World.”  “Sometimes sex matters deeply, sometimes family eclipses all; sometimes aloneness is hell, sometimes it is a refuge.  Sometimes hometowns are constricting; sometimes they are a sight for sore eyes.”

That helps explain the quietly anthemic and affirmative stance of “My Boat” (one of several tunes on the record that reflects the tone and temperament of Emmylou Harris), the jangly, foot stomping charge of “Dusty Old Man” and the deceptive serenity that envelopes the closing three songs (“Something Came Over Me,” “Eastern Light” and especially “Wait for Me”) that prominently feature Beam.

Unsettling yet graceful, poignant yet plaintive, folkish in reflection yet unapologetically giddy in electric attitude, “Stitch of the World” is a grand pastiche. But despite the seeming disparity, Merritt emerges in full command of the beautiful yet troubled civilization she has stitched together.

critic’s pick: grateful dead, “the grateful dead: 50th anniversary edition”

Given the Grateful Dead’s cross generational popularity and influence as a jam band forefather, its recorded history has been far more extensively chronicled through a library of concert recordings than its studio work. So it is immensely refreshing to find a new Rhino Records reissue campaign starting, in effect, at the beginning with the band’s self-titled 1967 debut album. A new double-disc edition of “The Grateful Dead” comes to us two months shy of the 50th anniversary of the record’s original release date.

What you hear in the newly remastered tracks of “The Grateful Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition” may surprise fans familiar only with the countless live recordings documenting the band’s ensuing years. Within the album’s nine tunes is the sound of an understandably youthful troupe steamrolling through music rooted in pop. Unlike even the Dead’s considerably trippier second and third albums (1968’s “Anthem of the Sun” and 1969’s “Aoxomoxoa”), “The Grateful Dead” uses a set of largely jubilant, elemental tunes to essentially introduce itself.

Sure, trademark sounds defining its later music are already in abundance, especially the darting, jubilant guitar work of Jerry Garcia and the shades of psychedelia provided by organist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. But mostly, there is a giddiness to this early music that the band quickly shed as it evolved. Such a spirit is most readily evidenced in tunes like “Cold, Rain and Snow,” which would remain in the Dead’s performance repertoire throughout its career, and the blues chestnut “Sitting on Top of the World.” Both sound less like the works of a jam-savvy unit and more the product of a youthful beat combo. “New, New Minglewood Blues,” in particular contrast to its later and sometimes more labored concert revisions, sounds like the catalyst for a hullabaloo. Ditto for “Cream Puff War,” which Garcia and McKernan pilot as though the music was rafting through the rapids

There are also suggestions of what was to come. “Morning Dew” is slowed to a psychedelic cool that brings the Dead more in line with such San Francisco co-horts as Jefferson Airplane to remind us “The Grateful Dead” was, in fact, first released in 1967. The clincher, though, is “Viola Lee Blues,” which starts as a renegade party piece before blooming into a groove that lets Garcia loose for a furious jam that stretches the tune out to 10 minutes.

“Viola Lee Blues” is also the centerpiece of the second disc that comprises “The Grateful Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition” – namely a previously unreleased recording of a Vancouver concert from July 1966. This snapshot from the band’s early days has Garcia and Bill Kreutzmann (then the band’s lone drummer) guiding a deliciously ragged jam within the tune that underscores the true dawn of the Dead.

critic’s pick: john abercrombie quartet, “up and coming”

It’s tough to miss the magic John Abercrombie conjures late into his splendid new “Up and Coming” album when the familiar melody of Miles Davis “Nardis” surfaces. The tune, essentially reinvented by the iconic pianist Bill Evans, assumes an almost meditative stance when Abercrombie reconfigures it again on guitar. The resulting sound is equally recognizable, as his playing has been integral to the music promoted by the celebrated ECM label for much of its history. Still, this embrace of a tune so readily associated with piano may initially seem a little foreign, especially given the spaciousness Abercrombie applies to it. But this interpretation doesn’t merely provide insight into the re-imagining of a jazz standard, it unlocks a dichotomy between piano and guitar that makes “Up and Coming” so captivating.

Abercrombie has long thrived in the company of keyboardists, from the raw exchanges with Jan Hammer that propelled “Timeless,” the guitarist’s 1974 debut album for ECM, to an astounding set of albums featuring Richard Bierach (reissued by ECM in 2015 as a box set collection called “The First Quartet”). But outside of an overlooked ‘90s trio with organist Dan Wall, keyboards of any kind have been largely absent from Abercrombie recordings in recent decades.

That changed when pianist Marc Copeland was enlisted to join bassist Drew Gress and longtime drummer Joey Baron on 2013’s sublime “39 Steps.” Copeland is hardly a new find. He and Abercrombie first played together during the early ‘70s in drummer Chico Hamilton’s band. The two have also recorded regularly in duo, trio and quartet settings led by Copeland.

The album title then seems quite fitting as “Up and Coming” reflects a sound created by longstanding like minds. That’s probably because the music Abercrombie and Copeland create is so complimentary in tone and spirit, continuing the guitarist’s shift to a lighter, more lyrical sound created by playing mostly with his thumb in lieu of a pick.

Though the mood is often contemplative throughout “Up and Coming,” there is always a lovely unsettled sentiment to Abercrombie’s playing, which is mirrored with eerie simpatico by Copeland on the dreamscape intro to “Sunday School.” The piano melody drifts with a wary, dark uncertainly before guitar gently pulls the music in out of the cold, warming it next to the full quartet’s subtle but glowing stride.

Copeland sounds almost stoic as the album opens, creating an understated solemnity slowly accented by Abercrombie and sparse percussion fills from Baron. That it glides with spacious uncertainty provides a marked contrast to the tune’s title – “Joy.”

Curiously, the album’s inviting lightness harkens back the early days of ECM’s quietly pastoral music, but not necessarily to Abercrombie’s initial work. On “Up and Coming,” the guitarist reaches a quiet, assured and beautifully unhurried plateau. It may breeze along with a Pat Metheny-like lilt on the album closing “Jumbles” or chill within the airy introspection of “Tears.” Either way, Abercrombie adorns the music with the elegance of a stylist who has remained altogether down with being up and coming.

critic’s picks: bruce springsteen, ‘chapter and verse’ and robbie robertson, ‘testimony’

Two new single-disc anthologies by Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson might initially seem like little more than footnotes to storied careers. Yet both serve the same specific and somewhat unexpected designation of “companion” albums to autobiographies each artist published late last year. As such, both are primer sets dominated by familiar hits but colored by nuggets from formative days that set the pace for the fame that followed.

Springsteen’s “Chapter and Verse” opens with five unreleased tracks, all of which predate his 1972 debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” The first few are fairly rudimentary bar band romps, although a primal sounding cover of Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” dicey as the recording quality may be, forecasts the stage fury Springsteen was already capable of.

Curiously, it’s a solo acoustic tune called “Henry Boy” that best foretells the coming of The Boss, both in its circus-like wordplay and sense of restless fantasy. That it shares so much in common with songs that would soon surface on “Asbury Park” (especially “Blinded by the Light”) is no coincidence. Still, it’s a fascinating preview of the Jersey drive that propelled Springsteen into epics like “Growin’ Up,” “Badlands” and even much later works like “Wrecking Ball” that flesh out the rest of “Chapter and Verse.”

Robertson’s “Testimony” is especially curious. While it doesn’t boast any unreleased music, the album gathers songs that stray considerably from his vanguard recordings with The Band. As such, much of “Testimony” will seem new even to ardent fans.

The scope “Testimony” covers is considerable. Three songs peel back the years to Robertson’s early ‘60s tenure with The Hawks, initially as a backup unit for Ronnie Hawkins, via the Southern fried blues and pop of “Come Love” and then with more autonomously executed tunes with Levon Helm as de facto leader. The latter entries, “I’m Gonna Play the Honky Tonks” (with a sublimely ragged vocal from Richard Manuel) and the more soul infatuated “He Don’t Love You” (with a similarly realized vocal from Rick Danko), set the stage for The Band.

After a sampling of music from The Hawks’ tutelage under Bob Dylan and then The Band’s heyday (the latter of which is highlighted by a revealing piano demo version of the forgotten “Twilight”), “Testimony” wades through Robertson’s underappreciated solo career, from the Daniel Lanois-produced “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” to the ambient chill of the album closing “Unbound.”

There you have it – two brilliant rock ‘n’ roll histories distilled into a pair of 70-plus minute retrospectives. While both luxuriate in the hits, the albums’ exploration of career corners well outside the spotlight reveal intentions that, despite the obvious marketing plans, hardly go by the book.

critic’s pick: bob dylan, ‘the real royal albert hall concert’

Few artists, let alone folk icons, have so continually defied expectations surrounding their career trajectory, as well as those within the very stylistic foundation of their music, as Bob Dylan. He did it 50 years ago with a performance now issued as “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” and he did earlier this month in the quizzical way he non-acknowledged and then ultimately accepted, via proxy, the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In fact, the very title of “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” is a bit of a puzzle. An aural snapshot of a tour that reintroduced the folk giant as a rock ‘n’ roller, often to the considerable consternation of his audiences, the album puts into historical perspective the 1998 release dubbed “Live 1966: The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert,” which was later revealed to have actually been recorded in Manchester.

Pop historians can and will argue at length about the virtues of both performances. They certainly have the ammo for it as “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” is a two-disc ambassador of a beastly new 36 disc box set, “The 1966 Live Recordings.” The latter is an assemblage of every known bootleg, soundboard and professionally preserved artifact from Dylan’s tour that year. But with a price tag of roughly $16 (the boxed set sells for about $140), “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” makes for a simpler yet still exact examination of a pop scholar in a state of extraordinary transformation.

What remains curious, all these years later, is that for all the ballyhoo about Dylan going electric, the first half of the 1966 concerts featured him in the familiar guise of solo folkie. In fact, some of the biggest treats within “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” come from the acoustic performances and the astonishing audio clarity they are now presented in. There is simply no way to understate the immediacy of an early ‘20s Dylan upholding the lean, patient vitality of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Just Like a Woman” and especially “Visions of Johanna” when all were essentially new works.

Of course, the electric music that roars out of the second disc remains the sound of very purposeful anarchy. Backed by The Hawks, the unit that would become The Band the following year, Dylan creates heavy drama out of the set opening “Tell Me, Momma,” wailing over the clang of a young Robbie Robertson on guitar and especially Garth Hudson’s calliope-like keyboard orchestration.

Levon Helm sat this tour out, but Mickey Jones nicely propels the drive on drums during cranky versions of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Ballad of a Thin Man.” But Dylan remains ringmaster of this fascinating carnival, clueing the London audience in prior to a rewired “I Don’t Believe You” on what his electric intentions were in 1966.

“It used to be like that,” he says with deadpan solemnity before reintroducing the song as a plugged-in country romp. “Now it goes like this.”

critic’s pick: kate bush, ‘before the dawn’

kate-bushIn the liner notes to “Before the Dawn,” Kate Bush admits to how she “never expected the overwhelming response of the audiences” to the 2014 stage show this three-disc live album chronicles. Maybe that’s because the songstress, one of England’s most celebrated progressive pop stylists, is also something of a Garbo when it comes to the stage. “Before the Dawn” preserves Bush’s first set of stage performances (it wasn’t really a tour, as all 22 shows were presented at London’s Hammersmith Apollo) in 35 years. So, yeah, overwhelming audience anticipation is pretty much a given.

The album’s mighty 2 ½ hour running time is divided into three “acts.” The first is essentially a warm up of unrelated songs from Bush’s last five studio albums (nothing on “Before the Dawn” predates 1984). The second and third discs are dominated by thematic suites from 1984’s “Hounds of Love” and 2005’s “Aerial.” The former, “The Ninth Wave,” is darker and more abstract, a song cycle as told by a woman stranded at sea. The latter, “A Sky of Honey” is an emotive opposite, a spring serenade dominated by light, art and birdsong.

Here is where things get interesting. Bush has long been such an exacting stylist that one might expect “Before the Dawn” to be an equally precise replication of her studio works with a tonnage of post production gloss administered to clean up the rawness of a live show. Well, there’s none of that. The album opening “Lily,” in fact, erupts with a wild and surprisingly immediate concert energy. Gone are the layers of synths and multi-dubbed vocals from the song’s initial version on 1993’s “The Red Shoes.” What we hear instead is a solemn guitar groove, the choir-like support of a vocal quintet and Bush’s robust singing, which towers over the pageantry. The same holds for “King of the Mountain,” an “Aerial” tune Bush powers with an incantatory wail that rises like a windstorm. Its siren potency is maintained until the song crashes into rounds of thunder and what sounds, for all the world, like the roar of elephants.

“The Ninth Wave” also has instances where the live intimacy sparkles. The most obvious is capped by “The Morning Fog,” a serenade of lovely acoustics that lets the sun pour in following the suite’s profound drama and darkness. “A Sky of Honey” has far more suggestions of organic approachability, especially in the way it morphs from churchy meditation into a flamenco-like acoustic party piece during “Sunset.”

The wildest thing, though, about “Before the Dawn” is that it is essentially a soundtrack to what was a very elaborate and theatrical stage presentation. But with the visuals gone, the focus remains on the music, which sounds simply glorious. We can only hope this live opus represents a prelude to a more sustained concert return for a true performance titan.

 

critic’s pick: leonard cohen, ‘you want it darker’

leoanrd-cohenFor the second time this year, I wrote a review of a recording by an artist of note who died between the time my piece was completed and when it was published. It happened in January with David Bowie’s “Blackstar” and again this week with Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker.” I wrote this last weekend. Cohen died, at age 82, yesterday. Didn’t change a word. Didn’t need to.

I’ll offer a more complete appreciation of Cohen’s remarkable career here at The Musical Box later today….

“I’m leaving the table,” utters Leonard Cohen early into his remarkably ruminative “You Want It Darker” album. “I’m out of the game.”

Cohen has pulled this trick before, especially in a prolific career renaissance that has seen the release of three studio albums and four concert records since 2009 (and that doesn’t even include additional archival releases). He loves, in his whispery bullfrog voice, to paint songs as parting shots – remembrances of love and faith served with an eerily calm that borders on the unsettling. Cohen could be singing, in a largely half-spoken manner, about an affair or the apocalypse. The delivery makes each indistinguishable from the other, especially when you factor in the light, funereal music that hangs over Cohen’s work.

“You Want It Darker” is, gloriously, more of the same.

At age 82, Cohen has every right to take stock of his own mortality. But that’s not necessarily what “You Want It Darker” is about. More than perhaps any other subject, Cohen sings about release – spiritual, emotional and physical. With that, though, comes a price. On “Treaty,” the rebirth of a snake, despite the obvious religious imagery, is considered, knowing that any transformation must include the creature’s very earthly venom. “Born again is born without a skin,” Cohen sings. “The poison enters into everything.”

Conversely, the gypsy dance air of “Traveling Alone” is a song of farewell to a romance. While all parties seem to seek dissolution, not everyone seems capable of fully implementing it. “I know you’re right, about the blues. You live some life you’d never choose.”

As narrative heavy and poetically driven as Cohen’s music has always been, “You Want It Darker” is also one of the most musically arresting works of his career. Credit much of that to son Adam Cohen, who produced the album, and especially veteran producer Patrick Leonard who arranged and even authored some of the musical dressings which culminate in a string quartet-driven reprise of “Treaty” that closes the recording.

These elements also merge on the album-opening title track. Co-written by Leonard, the work introduces the record’s arching quest for release by professing darkness before any resolution of light. The first sound you hear is an ancient choral ensemble. Then a looping beat percolates as Neil Larsen’s churchy organ colors in the atmospherics. Finally, Cohen enters – a quiet, scarred voice addressing doom and comfort as naturally as the song depicts spiritual yearning and human dismay. It is a captivating slice of music that, in all its dark, hushed beauty, embodies the temperament of the present day Cohen.

“A million candles burning for the love that never came,” Cohen sings. “You want it darker. We kill the flame.” Then, almost under his breath as the chorus is completed, Cohen caps the mesmerizing incantation with three words that remind us what we’re hearing is, after, still pop music.

“Hey, hey, hey.”

 

critic’s pick: marillion, ‘F.E.A.R.’

marillion-fearAlas, being a family publication, the full title to Marillion’s new album can’t be referenced here. Excluding the beginning expletive, it translates to “Everyone and Run,” but the abbreviation really tells the story.

The recording offers a set of topically turbulent and inwardly unsettling works – three extended suites buoyed by three shorter pieces – from the veteran British prog band. It’s also a beaut of a record, one that is as sonically majestic as it is lyrically distressing.

The problem many audiences have with prog bands, especially vintage ones like Marillion, is the perception their music is a bloated mesh of indulgent musicianship with narratives intended on fancy that skyrocket into pure pretentiousness. But ever since vocalist, frontman and lyricist Steve Hogarth changed the face of the band from a Genesis clone into a more socially and poetically aware unit in 1989, Marillion has largely steered clear of prog’s stereotypical excesses. In fact, it has managed to release three true classics under his stewardship – “This Strange Engine” (1997), “Marbles” (2004) and “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” (2012). “F.E.A.R.” may well prove an addition to the list.

Lyrically, this is a record about a Brexit-beaten Great Britain, although the references to big money and its suffocating effects on democracy (“The New Kings”) and a shamed society unwilling to face up to the realities of refugee migration (“El Dorado”) aren’t that far removed from controversies on these shores. “I see myself in them,” Hogarth sings in the latter suite. “The people at the borders, waiting to exist again.”

The shorter “Living in Fear” is, despite the title, more hopeful. Written as a prayer of strength and peace with a touch of defiance (“Will you let one lost soul change what we stand for? I don’t think so”), the tune works itself into a choral lather with a “yeah, yeah” chant that reflects subtle pop smarts as it courts a sense of hippie-dom.

The highlight, though, is the least politically inclined work on the album. “The Leavers” takes its cue from the band’s own existence as touring musicians, viewing society as two classes – the leavers, who surrender to curiosity and travel, and the remainers, a steadfastly content (or are they?) legion of homebodies.

All this doesn’t even take into account how strong “F.E.A.R.” is sonically with keyboardist Mark Kelly and guitarist Steve Rothery at the helm of beautifully orchestrated backdrops with Hogarth countering with vocals that suit the music’s anthemic drive while regularly downshifting to hushed senses of world weariness.

Marillion has never been a band that has been on everyone’s radar. “F.E.A.R” may not change that. But it’s a record of the times that counters its dour world view with music of rich beauty and dimension. In short, there is nothing to be afraid of here.

critic’s pick: bruce hornsby, ‘rehab reunion’

bruce hornsbyThe two particulars separating “Rehab Reunion” from most every other record made by Bruce Hornsby is the unexpected absence of one sound and the dominance of another.

What you don’t hear is piano – not one note. That’s quite a shift for a stylist like Hornsby, who has developed not just a virtuosic voice for the instrument within his pop lexicon but an exact and animated compositional sense for where it makes the most vibrant emotional statement. What takes its place? The dulcimer. Seriously, the dulcimer, the stringed agent of rural folk music, an instrument that would seem to be light years away from the wistful and wondrous arrangements Hornsby has long employed as musical playgrounds.

But the most stunning aspect to the highly listenable “Rehab Reunion” is that you really don’t sense a change of stylistic course for Hornsby and his longrunning Noisemakers band, bolstered here by fine guest shots from Justin Vernon and Mavis Staples. Sure, the dulcimer rides along the record’s nine songs primarily as a rhythmic device. But if you suspect there is some gaping void left by the absence of piano, think again. Hornsby’s songs are just as complete in their sense of orchestral and emotive beauty. Some of that comes from co-hort J.T. Thomas on organ, whose runs beautifully flesh out these tunes. His playing especially underscores the sunny wanderlust of “M.I.A. in M.I.A.M.I.” with a cool ingenuity that recalls The Band’s Garth Hudson. Hearing him alongside the string serenades of Hornsby and mandolinist Ross Holmes is a genuine delight as is the song’s playful Floridian storyline of being fatherly knighted as “Don Juan Schula.”

Hornsby’s lineage to the Grateful Dead isn’t ignored, either. Throughout “Rehab Reunion,” the bright, clipped guitar sound of Gibb Droll accents the songs with an air that can’t help but recall the floating melodic drive of Jerry Garcia.

Most of all, though, is how steadfast Hornsby’s pop command remains. He is a clever wordsmith throughout the album, be it through the character studies within the title song to “Rehab Reunion” (the most thematically intriguing tune of its kind since Warren Zevon’s “Detox Mansion”) or the out-of-nowhere odes to the art of restaurant gratuity (“Tipping”) and a certain European writer not normally celebrated within pop circles (“Hey Kafka”). But it’s the music that grabs you most – a wide open sound that references jazz and folk as much as its does pop and jam band intent.

This isn’t the first time Hornsby has taken to the dulcimer on a record. It began popping up sparingly nearly two decades ago. On “Rehab Reunion,” its role may seem dominant, but Hornsby invites it in as readily as he does all the musical input from the Noisemakers. All are guests at this vibrant pop party and all are made to feel especially welcome.

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