I've been listening to a lot of different things over the past week. Here are some short takes:
Want a little ambient techno background music for your summer yard parties? Check out the new releases from New Jersey based Radikal Records (www.radikal.com). ATB's Dedicated ( ) features a dozen danceable tracks (plus a bonus remix) with plenty of drum and bass. ATB is actually mixer/DJ Andre Tanneberger, who has worked on dance music with Moby, William Orbit and Enigma, and his synthesizer- and rhythm-mixing skills are showcased with and without guest vocalists on Dedicated. "Hold You" has already gotten some air play for him, thanks to a guest performance by Wild Strawberries' vocalist Roberta Carter Harrison. She also adds whispery verse and an urgent chorus croon to the dance-floor filler "Let U Go."
Radikal also has issued a more dreamy techno set from Germany's Schiller called Voyage ( ½ stars). Another mix of both instrumental and vocal tracks, Voyage moves from Enigma-style, layered grandeur to more sparse German techno to dreamier experiments, a la Robert Miles, with guest vocalist Kim Sanders. The disc has already gone gold in its home country.
Phish fans have a couple of splinters of that band to follow this summer. Leader Trey Anastasio's self-titled debut solo disc ( ½), which mixes Phish-like jamming with big band flourishes, has been out on Elektra for the past couple of months, and he brought his tour earlier this month to Chicago's UIC Pavilion. And now Vida Blue has made its debut on Elektra ( ½), a jazz-funk project featuring Phish's keyboardist Page McConnell, with members of the Allman Brothers and the Meters. Vida Blue will perform at Chicago's Vic Theater July 19.
Motley Crue's Tommy Lee is also on the road this summer, supporting his new album Never a Dull Moment from MCA ( ). Having ditched most of the hard-rap element of his last post-Crue band, Methods of Mayhem, Never a Dull Moment, instead, focuses more on contemporary grunge sounds than old Crue "Girls, Girls Girls" rewrites, though he still tosses in the occasional hard rock-rap mix, particularly on the grindcore "Face to Face" and the sinister revamp of David Bowie's "Fame." Lee plays with hard rockers Headstrong and Flying Tigers July 8 at Chicago's House of Blues.
Back in the late '60s and early '70s, New York white soul singer/songwriter Laura Nyro released an eclectic series of albums that have influenced female singers ever since. Columbia's Legacy label is now reissuing the late singer's classic catalogue, with bonus tracks from the original recording period on each (Nyro died of ovarian cancer in 1997).
Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, New York Tendaberry and her collaboration with LaBelle, Gonna Take a Miracle, are now on the shelves in a dusted off and augmented format, featuring her trademark recordings of "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Eli's Comin'," "Time and Love," "Save the Country," and her covers of Carole King's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Up on the Roof."
Good Morning Aztlan
I'd written Los Lobos off years ago as a has-been, south-of-the-border-influenced bar rock band. After its '80s hits "Will the Wolf Survive?" and remake of "La Bamba," the band lost the interest of the radio-listening public with its rootsy brand of Mexican rock music.
But now, nearly 30 years after it formed, Los Lobos has delivered one of the strongest discs of its career.
Good Morning Aztlan opens with a roots-rock celebration in "Done Gone Blue," mellows out for a Santana-like jam on the melancholy "searching for love" track "Hearts of Stone," and then offers a mariachi delight in "Luz de Mi Vida." Then the title track kicks in, a mix of '50s rock 'n' roll and crunch guitars that just begs to be played loud and often.
"The Big Ranch" sounds like early '70s jam music from The Band, if Randy Newman had been sitting in on the microphone, and "The Word" gets more mellow, resting on a slinky R&B groove that would sound downright romantic played late at night under a full sky of stars. More mariachi music comes through in "Malaque," and then there's "Tony and Maria" a quiet strumming love story ballad that features a nice accent of fiddle playing.
A full-blown rockin' jam kicks the energy back up with "Get to This" and a bass and saxophone orchestration on "What in the World" makes it sound like a 45 that was rescued from a '50s diner jukebox.
Los Lobos isn't breaking any new musical boundaries with Good Morning Aztlan, rather, it has put together a strong batch of songs that explore the viability of old styles. And it manages to do it without sounding tired or embarrassingly retro. This album is destined to be as classic as the styles it mines.