Ten best: New CDs

by Jordan Green

The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker, Kaboom!, Outta Sight Records (Nashville, Tenn.)

We get a lot of CDs here at YES! Weekly – some local releases, some from national touring bands with scheduled stops in the Triad, some with no absolutely no connection at all. One of the best is the Dynamites’ new disc, slated for street release on Tuesday. Who knew Nashville could claim itself an epicenter of funk? The newly formed Dynamites herald the return of Charles Walker, a late ’60s Apollo Theater bandleader who came up from Tennessee. Maybe that’s why this collection is so down-home, kinetic, cooking and virtuoso at the same time. The band’s syncopated rhythms, effervescent horns, bass breakouts and inspired vocals clearly recall James Brown, but there’s also a simmering spirituality that goes beyond the showmanship of JB. Consider this elegy for New Orleans in the lyrics of Track 5: “Way down south we got hurricanes with beautiful names, 287 years gone up in flames. Now the soul of a nation flooded in tears, half of a city just disappears….”

Jon Fox, Something Real, self-released

The son of a jazz pianist and Greensboro College music professor, the younger Fox strikes out on his own Americana path of faded glory, although daddy Dave does contribute some Wurlitzer on one track. Singing heartfelt testimonials propelled by scorching electric guitar, Fox travels a road well paved by the Drive-By Truckers, Cross Canadian Ragweed and Jason & the Scorchers, but all the songs with the exception of terrifying version of Steve Earle’s “Taneytown” are Fox’s, including the lead track, “Hollywood Syndrome,” which is dedicated to former YES! Weekly marketing executive Brad Marley. It’s a batch of songs for which the artist should be proud.

Tomahawk, Anonymous, Ipecac Recordings (Orinda, Calif.)

It’s not exactly clear how these songs by Duane Denison, John Stanier and Mike Patton – respectively veterans of early ’90s aggro-rock groups Jesus Lizard, Helmet and Faith No More – trace back the lineage of the Native American culture that inspired them. Denison said he was disappointed by the blues and new age-influenced native bands he encountered on visits to reservations while on tour with Hank Williams III. He bypassed the current music and dug up transcriptions of songs dating back to the early 20th century. “I figured there must be native music somewhere that was more aggressive, spookier, and more kinetic,” he says. He and his cohorts seem to have tapped into it.

The Actual, In Stitches, Soft Drive/New West (Los Angeles)

The first release on Scott Weiland’s new Soft Drive label, In Stitches, also proves an impressive debut for the propulsive the Actual, a literate pop-punk outfit that showcases earnest sore-throat vocals. Extra intrigue and allure manifests from this tidbit of information from the band’s press packet: Lead singer Max Bernstein is the son of Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron. It’s good to know the children of journalists still think it’s cooler to be rock stars.

Big Lazy, Postcards From X, self-released (Brooklyn, NY)

The lead track evokes the mood of Orson Welles classic 1958 film, Touch of Evil with instrumentation that is all at once gritty, thrilling and suggestive of an undercurrent of corrosive fear. While Welles’ masterpiece was set on a Mexican border seething with corruption and rock-and-roll nihilism, Big Lazy hail from Brooklyn. In addition to technical brilliance, this instrumental group also displays an ample emotional range.

Snatches of Pink, Love Is Dead, 8th House Records

Almost everything great in rock and roll in this, its sixth decade cycles back to the past; expressive passion is debtor and a thief to other’s previous efforts. That’s okay because Snatches of Pink conjures the best torn-and-frayed raunch of the Stones, the New York Dolls and the Faces. And their own roots are in a mid-’80s Chapel Hill scene that was infused with boundless possibility. Turn it up loud and feel the heat. Ozma, Pasadena, About A Girl Records/Sony

Ozma refines a stylistic theme in current American rock, extending emo musicality with ’70s rock-opera flourishes and ethereal vocals in this tribute to their hometown. Their publicity write-up reminds us that Pasadena is the “land of the Rose Bowl, beautiful Craftsman bungalows and the Van Halen brothers,” and accurately describes the music as “futuristic, yet nostalgic as old Fords flying over Pasadena’s historic Colorado Street Bridge.” Since the Flood, No Compromise, Metal Blade Records (Simi Valley, Calif.)

A band that furthers the best, troubled contradictions of hardcore, Since the Flood hits on all the timeworn themes of loyalty, betrayal, anger and love. The band’s lyrics are at once anti-social and intensely communal, despairing and full of encouragement for the true believers. Oh, and the music features breakneck speed, distorted guitars and hoarse vocals. The final track, “Guardian Angel” is triumphant and redemptive, declaring, “I feel you watching over me. I know you’re with me when I fall, you still protect me from myself.”

Grasstowne, The Road Headin’ Home, Pinecastle Records (Columbus, NC)

Bluegrass is another genre that harnesses breakneck rhythms, and hardcore fans have been known to embrace its purism, but that’s about where the comparisons end. Grasstowne, a new bluegrass supergroup of sorts draws its members from the JD Crowe band, Quicksilver and IIIrd Tyme Out. The bill themselves as “contemporary” bluegrass. Maybe that’s because they have something to please everyone with sentimental vocals; proficient instrumental turns on the guitar, banjo and mandolin; and the obliging nod to classic country in “You’re Right, I’m Wrong.”

Two Dollar Pistols, Here Tomorrow, Gone Today, 8th House Records

On the other hand, John Howie Jr.’s Two Dollar Pistols are all classic country, and more – the kind of hard twang wrought from unrepentant hard living that used to come out of the Bakersfield country scene headed by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Produced by Southern Culture On The Skids’ Rick Miller at Kudzu Ranch Studios in Mebane, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow undeniably rocks. Howie’s into another cycle of heartbreak, this one with a bitter edge but still with the same abiding humor, as evidenced in “I Don’t Know You (But I Don’t Like You).”