Heaven & Earth (Frontiers Records)
As far as English progressive rock bands go, long-serving combo Yes would likely be named the toppermost of the toppermost. While the band really only bothered the charts briefly back in the genre's golden age of the 1970s, it has soldiered on despite practically the entire popular music scene passing it by at least twice. Nevertheless, its latest, the charming and true-to-form Heaven & Earth has the band sounding almost as good as ever.
Jon Davison joins on vocals and his effervescent pipes have a very strong, light-as-a-feather, sonic similarity to original singer Jon Anderson. Supporting is the regular Yes crew -- bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White and keyboardist Geoff Downes -- and they deliver the kind of subtle shadings and complex -- at times jazzy -- chops and poetic lyrics that fans will enjoy.
At only eight songs and less than an hour of music, the album gets its varied moods across concisely, and with It Was All We Knew, it even kind of rocks a little bit. Worth a listen? Yes. HHH
Download this: It Was All We Knew
-- Jeff Monk
They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
Spoon's They Want My Soul is solid proof of the benefits of side projects.
For the first Spoon album in four years, singer/guitarist Britt Daniel and the guys sound both more at ease and more ambitious than they have in quite some time. They are also more groove-oriented, perhaps because of the influence of Daniel's side project Divine Fits, but the guitar-driven tension and lyrical intensity from previous albums remain intact.
The title track shows how this works. With a Beatles-inspired catchy melody, Daniel outlines a sprawling list of people who want his soul -- card sharks, street preachers, post-sermon socialites, educated folk singers, religious author Jonathan Fisk -- over tightly coiled, Wire-like rhythms from bassist Rob Pope and drummer Jim Eno.
Sometimes, Daniel is content to ride the groove -- as in the driving, Eurythmics-like synthy-rain of New York Kiss or the Divine Fits-y Outlier, which conjures up '90s shoe-gazing. And sometimes he amplifies it with his scratchy do-do-do-dos, adding another level of rhythm to the backdrop that updates Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins.
That's what Spoon has always done well: taking wildly eclectic rock references and spinning them into something that sounds thoroughly modern. With help from producers Dave Fridmann and Joe Chiccarelli, Spoon takes that well-crafted mastery to the next level. HHHH
Download this: They Want My Soul
-- Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Beyond the Blue (Compass Records)
The Duhks are up and running again -- at last. Six years after the band's last studio album and just over a year since bandleader/ banjo player Leonard Podolak and original singer Jessee Havey hit the road with a reconstituted lineup, this year's Duhks model has a new album out, produced by the Mammals' husband-and-wife team of Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar.
The Duhks' stock-in-trade was always that of a fusion act; a group of players schooled in traditional styles who came of age just after folk's boundaries were exploded by world music and who aren't averse to co-opting elements of rock, pop and country.
On Beyond the Blue, Podolak, Havey and new band members Kevin Garcia (percussion), Rosie Newton (fiddle) and Colin Savoie-Levac (guitar/bouzouki) manage to maintain connections to all their musical touchstones. There's gospel on Just One Step Away, traditional balladry in Black Mountain Lullaby, lilting Celtic airs in Tonderhoning and a touch of two-step to Lazy John. Je Pense a Toi blends djembe drums with haunting Cajun fiddle, while You go East I'll Go West blends musical traditions to dizzying effect, and Podolak and Ungar's These Dreams hints at soul music (it's the horns).
As for the band's original members, Podolak's expressive, percussive banjo is the pulse of all the songs here, while Havey's Suffer No Fools is a strong and vibrant statement.
It's good to have them back. HHHH
Download these: Suffer No Fools, Lazy John, These Dreams
-- John Kendle
The Original Mob (Smoke Sessions)
This outing by drummer Jimmy Cobb is a resurrection of sorts of the original lineup for his Mob at the Village Gate in the early 1990s.
Pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Peter Bernstein and bassist John Webber are all leaders in their own right and an opportunity to get them together with their former teacher at the New School to record is not to be missed.
The disc features a balance of standards (such as Old Devil Moon, Stranger in Paradise, Sunday in New York) and originals by the four band members.
Cobb sounds great throughout, but especially on Sunday in New York. Bernstein's composition, Minor Blues, is an engaging waltz and he conjures some Grant Green on the Cobb tune Composition 101.
As great a pianist as Mehldau is, it's a joy to hear him outside his own meditative performances, He shines on his own composition, Unrequited. Webber is a tasteful bassist and his Lickety Split is a highlight on the album.
Cobb, at 85, and the relative youngsters (mid- to late-40s) swing throughout. HHHH
Download this: Lickety Split
-- Chris Smith
THIS WEEK'S SINGLES
Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj
Bang Bang (Republic/Universal)
Coming across like a more modern Lady Marmalade, this one's all about girl power. Jessie and Ariana belt it out Christina Aguilera-style, Nicki delivers some particularly rapid-fire rhymes, and uber-producer Max Martin amps up the funky with some bombastic percussion and a gospel choir. Extra large. HHH 1/2
Drankin' Patna (RCA/Sony)
T-Pain's friends may want to consider staging an intervention. After the likes of Buy U a Drank, Bartender and Blame It (On the Alcohol), he's back with yet another booze-fuelled, overly auto-tuned R&B track that's essentially interchangeable with all of the aforementioned songs. Hackneyed and hungover. HH
Sunshine (Big Beat Records)
The quirky, bear-headed Swedes have been dormant since 2010's Devil's Music, but they're back in a big way with this incredibly infectious hybrid-pop gem. Rollicking Fatboy Slim-style beats, ragga raps and robotic voice effects are all here, and they're all awesome. Careful: you may end up with this on repeat all the live-long day. HHHH
-- Reviewed by Steve Adams