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Music reviews - 10-18-06

This week: New discs by Mastodon, Jake Shimabukuro, The Killers, and the Marcus Strickland quartets

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Mastodon
Blood Mountain
Reprise

Yeah, sure, I got hometown pride. And I couldn’t be more proud of former Rochesterians Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher --- two cats that are part of Mastodon, one of the most brutal and precise metal bands today. Mastodon’s magic is in its progressive and angular arrangements --- arrangements that not only take muscle but ingenuity. With the release of Blood Mountain I am convinced Mastodon is untouchable and unstoppable.

The album kicks off with a sensational drum flurry on “The Wolf Is Loose.” Vocalist Brent Hinds roars with a restrained anger where most would lose their minds and scream incoherently. Lyrics play an important role in the band’s apocalyptic sound and vision. The guitars are thick and loud yet you can still tell they’re guitars.

And this cream is rising to the top. The band is selling out everywhere it plays and will be making its national TV debut on Late Night with Conan O’Brien on Wednesday, November 1.

Sick of nu-metal? Throwback hair-metal? Rap-metal? Think prog-rock is just too, well, prog? Mastodon, baby. Mastodon.

--- Frank De Blase

 

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Jake Shimabukuro
Gently Weeps
Hitchhike Records

Some musicians are meant to be experienced, to be seen playing the hell out of their instruments. This can be said of Jake Shimabukuro, a ukulele virtuoso from (where else?) Hawaii.

On his fifth album, Gently Weeps, Shimabukuro wows with his nimble-fingered ability to dominate the ukulele on covers like George Harrison’s title track, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as well as six original compositions.

The difficulty is that stretched over 40 minutes of solo ukulele, the songs lose dimension; they come and go and become background. Having never seen him live, I can only speculate, but I’d bet that an hour spent watching the fellow dance over the neck of his uke would be an experience not quickly forgotten. But 40 minutes spent listening to the album leaves the listener wanting --- specifically to see him rock the ukulele like he was born to.

--- Joel Leonard Chaffee

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The Killers
Sam’s Town
Island

While not as instantly catchy or infectious as the band’s new-wave drenched debut, Sam’s Town holds its share of sonic nuggets. Wisely chosen first single “When You Were Young” mines familiar territory, while “Read My Mind” is just a frill-free ballad that is sweet to listen to.

On Hot Fuss the band stuck to ’80s’ influences, but here it really exposed its true rock side. Loud, blaring guitars; loud, crashing drums; and loud, slightly off-pitch vocals prevail throughout the disc. Yet in most songs the bombast is counterbalanced with a sweet, quiet ending (“This River is Wild,” “Sam’s Town”).

Fans looking to relive the throwback joy of Hot Fuss will be disappointed. While the electronic influences poke out now and then, The Killers certainly sound more grown-up on this album. The rock given to us on Sam’s Town is certainly worth a listen, and, given time, should grow on any real Killers fan.

--- Todd Rezsnyak

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Marcus Strickland Quartets
Twi-life
Strick Muzik

One outstanding CD is a tough enough goal for a young musician, but the one-two punch just released by Marcus Strickland is an absolute knockout. Strickland showcases both sides of his musical personality, leading both acoustic and electric quartets on two CDs. The common denominator is thrilling music. Wayne Shorter’s “Oriental Folk Song” leads off the first disc boldly in the saxophone trio style of Sonny Rollins, circa 1957. Once pianist Robert Glasper enters he provides vital counterpunches to Strickland’s powerful tenor and soprano. Glasper’s manic improvisation on “The Beast Within Beauty” is dazzling, his robotic riff on “Thump & Cadence” is mesmerizing, and his lyrical playing is gorgeous throughout. Strickland’s compositions, at their best, are reminiscent of the rocket-fueled tunes of John Coltrane. On “Sesame Street” (no, not that one) Strickland takes off at a gallop only to be rivaled by Glasper’s brilliantly complex piano runs.

Track 1 on the electric disc is also a novelty; this time it’s Strickland skillfully providing counterpoint to himself on a multi-track recording. Guitarist Lage Lind is introduced with a fine solo on the next track, the bluesy “Shift.” On “Haile Selassie” he turns in an even more impressive performance full of intricate legato lines. The session heats up when Strickland and Lind go into overdrive on the title tune. The second disc deviates from jazz roots, introducing elements of funk, ska and other styles with no shortage of help from bassist Brad Jones and drummer E.J. Strickland.

--- Ron Netsky

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