2019 Hope Awards Northwest winner Watered Gardens | At a gospel rescue mission, men have a chance to escape the spiral of drugs, homelessness, and joblessness. But it isn’t easy, and many do not make it to the end
The 20-Man Music Machine
If you’ve ever wondered what a 21st-century big band would sound like, one that had absorbed the intervening decades’ rhythmic and syncopative developments without surrendering to gimmicks or sacrificing its capacity for unified swing, wonder no more. Tight, bright, brassy, and classy, Clark’s corps digs in and stretches out (six of the 14 cuts exceed six minutes), pacing itself with guest vocalists and standards and peaking with mini drum solos. Clark has a sense of humor too. The title of Track 1: “All the Things You Aren’t.”
Although the trombonist Joe Fiedler has been Sesame Street’s musical director and arranger for only a fifth of the show’s soon-to-be-50 years, his love for and understanding of its spirit, as well as his night-job jazz chops, make him just the man to locate the blues and funk at the core of “Rubber Duckie”—to make, in other words, grown-up jazz for the young at heart. It’s a demographic to which Fiedler and his saxophone-bass-drums (plus guest-trumpet) combo obviously belong.
It Rains Love
Lee Fields & the Expressions
People seem to consider it an insult to call the 60-something Fields a “throwback.” It isn’t, and he is—a throwback, that is, specifically to the days when Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding ruled the soul-music roost. The reason that such comparisons don’t always work to Field’s advantage is that the closer you listen, the more you notice the relative shortcomings of his material. It’s not bad by a long shot. But neither would any of it have merited A-side status back in the day.
RCA Sessions (1968-1976)
Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton
Only one of this duo’s many hits is included, and it’s just as well—Wagoner-Parton best-ofs abound. So whence come these songs? Mostly from the “previously unreleased” portions of Bear Family’s 2014 box, Just Between You and Me: The Complete Recordings 1968-1976. The funny thing is, except for the misbegotten “All Aboard America”/“Here Comes the Freedom Train,” this collection holds up. The takeaway: If what these two brought out in each other wasn’t always their best, it was close enough more often than not.
Because he neither writes lyrics nor sings, the producer and multi-instrumentalist Mitchell Froom will probably remain best known as a behind-the-scenes guy. But should his two new solo recordings, Ether and Monkeytree EP (MRI), get the acclaim that they deserve, he might yet find himself in the limelight.
Froom has likened the sound that unifies Ether’s 10 songs to that of a “strange theater organ” and called the songs’ arrangements “kind of surreal.” He’s right on both counts, even (especially?) when he superimposes beguilingly dreamlike vocals by Pete Molinari, Kat Edmonson, Jacqueline Govaert, Mirco Mariani, and Boris Grebenshchikov. And while Monkeytree, with its jagged, multisource sampling and occasionally frantic techno ambience, comes across like Ether’s “polar opposite” (Froom again), it too exudes a kind of surrealism. Ether lasts for all of 21 minutes and 44 seconds, Monkeytree for 11:36. Even listeners with shrunken attention spans have no (good) excuse for not checking them out. —A.O.