There haven't been a whole lot of new albums out in the last couple of weeks, at least none that I've been eager to devour. That's not unusual for this time of year, and it gives me a chance to catch up on records from the past. This week's list is made up of 2013 releases that I either just got around to listening to, or were part of my year-end splurge, and a few vinyl albums that I hadn't reviewed yet. There's a nice mix, moving away from the solid dose of folk and mixing in some true rock this time. Hopefully there's something you'll like. Enjoy.
The Verve - Sympathy for the Demos: It's been a long time since I've reviewed a true bootleg like this, and even longer since I've heard Verve songs that were unfamiliar. I sought this out earlier in the week after learning of its existence. It's a studio demo compilation of "Urban Hymns" era Verve. In addition to featuring amazingly raw versions of tracks from that album, and Verve editions of songs that eventually made it onto Richard Ashcroft's solo record, it also contains unreleased tracks that didn't make it onto any album or any of the singles. Their version of the later Ashcroft release "A Song for the Lovers" is brilliant. The loose feel of the demos showcases the band's manic energy in a way the studio album can't. Among the best unheard new tracks are "Misty Morning June," and "Lord, I've Been Trying."
The Pentangle - Sweet Child: Following their self-titled debut in 1968, the London based progressive folk band released this live album in the same year. Their sound is steeped in British folk, taking inspiration from contemporary folk, and also medieval folk in the way The Incredible String Band does. But they also mix in jazz to create some new energy into it. This is a beautiful album, reminiscent of Nick Drake in ways, and sort of a root sound for bands like Fairport Convention. On the double album, there are moments where it doesn't shine as well as others, but still one of the better obscure 60's folk records that I've picked up on vinyl.
Beachwood Sparks - Desert Skies: In the first two years of the last decade, this psychedelic pop band from L.A. released two really great records before disappearing. They returned ten years later with the release of "The Tarnished Gold" in 2012, and now this album released this past November. Another record that I listened to towards the end of the year for possible inclusion on the best-of list, and though this one failed to make the cut, it's a quality piece of indie pop. It is very reminiscent of The Sunshine Fix in its Beatle's inspired use of catchy rhythms and melodies. "Make it Together" and "Time" are my favorites. Mostly a strong album, just a few spots where it feels a little uninspired.
Foreigner - Double Vision: Another album that came in a box of discarded vinyl that I recently came by is this 1978 record, the second LP from the New York City hard rock band. This album features two of their biggest hits, the title track and "Hot Blooded." Those two songs, along with "Blue Morning, Blue Day" are enough to make up for the weaker tracks on here. All in all, it feels like a collection of songs rather than a consistent groove, which was the way rock was headed in those days. A solid okay, but I could listen to the title track over and over again and never get sick of it.
Hurray for the Riff Raff - My Dearest Darkest Neighbor: The three-piece contemporary folk band from New Orleans released this, their fifth album, sometime last year. This is an album of covers and includes beautiful americana renditions of John Lennon, George Harrison and others. All the songs sound wonderfully fresh and old fashion at the same time with a bluegrass, country feel. This was a real surprise for me this week and one I've been enjoying often.
Horisont - Time Warriors: Released last September, this is the third album from the Sweedish metal band. With lots of guitar shredding, grinding drums, and high pitched vocals, it has a nice late 70's feel, playing off bands like Judas Priest and Scorpions. It's not as innovative as some other current retro-metal bands from Europe, but it still rocks pretty hard. Worth checking out if you're a fan of the genre.