Olé! Tarantula (Yep Roc)
Singer-songwriterRobyn Hitchcock is one of those consistent talents who are easy tooverlook. Beginning his career in the late ’70s with arty Englishpostpunks the Soft Boys, he branched out on his own in the early ’80sand has since created a catalog filled with a couple dozen albums ofperfect psych-folk whimsy. Following the 2004 rootsy acoustic effort Spooked,recorded with alt-country’s first couple, Gillian Welch and DavidRawlings, Hitchcock returns with a full-fledged pop-rock record, andit’s another collaborative disc. This time, he’s aided by the Venus 3 —a crew of Seattle-based musicians led by Minus 5 front man ScottMcCaughey and featuring R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and drummer BillRieflin — although a few of Hitchcock’s countrymen, including vets likehis old Soft Boys bandmate Kimberly Rew and Faces keyboardist IanMcLagan, also turn up. The material here is heavily informed byHitchcock’s recent travels in America: The desert groove of the titletrack was inspired by an extended stay in Arizona, the jaunty fantasytale “Belltown Ramble” name-checks the Emerald City enclave, and SanFrancisco turns up as a character in the Clint Eastwood–referencing“A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations, Briggs.” Elsewhere, Hitchcockwrites poignantly of a fellow rocker in “NY Doll,” a halting requiemfor the recently departed New York Dolls bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane.Musically, McCaughey’s influence is evident on a handful of tracks,including the upbeat ’60s janglers “Adventure Rocket Ship” and“Underground Sun.” But ultimately, Hitchcock’s familiar adenoidalvocals and left-of-center lyricism remain the highlights of acollection that’s as engaging as any he’s released. — Bob Bozorgmehr
The Lemonheads (Vagrant)
Backin 1997, onstage at the Reading Festival, Evan Dando announced thebreakup of the Lemonheads. It was a rather curious act ofself-immolation, considering he was the only original member of thegroup at the time. But Dando could be forgiven such eccentricities:After all, in just a decade, he’d seen the Lemonheads grow from a jokeyhigh school punk band to a worldwide phenomenon, with the press seizingon him as both a pretty pinup boy and a stoned rock weirdo. In themeantime, the band and its revolving door lineup had become a vehiclefor his songs, which had begun to lose their luster by the time of1996’s disappointing Car Button Cloth. A nearly seven-year recording silence followed before Dando reemerged in 2003 with his solo studio debut Baby I’m Bored.Despite being an accomplished, mature singer-songwriter effort, themuted reception to the disc and the continued popularity of theLemonheads — particularly internationally — prompted Dando to reformthe group in late 2005. The newly constituted lineup features drummerBill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, members of legendary pop-punksthe Descendents (themselves a seminal influence on the earlyLemonheads). The trio whips up a nearly perfect froth on the 11 trackshere — an effort aided by the occasional guest, including the Band’skeyboard wizard Garth Hudson and Dinosaur Jr. guitarist J Mascis.Mostly, though, the focus remains on Dando’s simple, sublime songs andhis big, warm burr of a voice. The material ranges from the explosiveJam-inspired “Black Gown” to the melancholy crunch of “Become theEnemy” to the soaring, jangling “Pittsburgh.” It’s easily Dando’sstrongest batch of material since the classic It’s a Shame about Ray and an album worthy of the Lemonheads name. — B.B.
Indecades past, the idea of a scuffling young band using a live album asa means to a mainstream breakthrough wasn’t so unusual. Case in point:The Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, Kiss’s Alive!, and Cheap Trick’s At Budokanshowed the power of the groups’ performances and helped turn aroundtheir career fortunes. Louisville roots-pop combo My Morning Jacket hasalways had a reputation as a breathtaking live act, and while thegroup’s records have evinced a unique sounding quality, owing largelyto the reverb-loving ways of front man Jim James, their studio setshave never really matched the experience of seeing them play in person.MMJ has solved that dilemma with the release of Okonokos, asprawling concert collection that finally captures the band in itstruest form and which should help catapult them to the commercialheights they deserve. The 22-song double-disc effort touches on thegroup’s entire catalog, from their early independent albums to theirmost recent efforts for Dave Matthews’s ATO label. James’s thrillingfalsetto and soulful charisma are the focal points, while the rest ofthe group proves a dynamic and sympathetic bunch, carefully balancingrock-band anthems and jam-band explorations. Enhanced by a near-perfectsonic atmosphere, courtesy of engineer Michael Brauer (Bob Dylan, Simon& Garfunkel), the mesmerizing, dreamy quality of MMJ’s music isfully and finally realized here. — B.B.