Bentley’s Bandstand

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BY BILL BENTLEY


Larry McDonald, Drumquestra, MCPR Music

bandstandmcdonald3From one of modern music’s most celebrated percussionists comes an album that not only defies description, is also guaranteed to provide enough inspiration to have entire blocks of listeners dancing snake-like down the street right out into rush hour traffic. That’s because Larry McDonald possesses an irresistible rhythm in everything he touches. Even better, he is unafraid to venture into unknown territory. He’s joined by a boatload of collaborators too: Dollarman, Shaza, Ras Tesfa, Toots Hibbert, Matabaruka, Bongo Shem & the New Creators and a half-dozen more. Each brings their own inspiration to the contributions; all backed by a bodacious mix of reggae, hip-hop, electronica and that unknown quality called magic. McDonald is mainly known for backing just about every reggae star of the past 40 years, but that is only the starting point on Drumquestra. Unbelievably, this is the percussion pioneer’s debut solo album. Not a problem, because you can immediately feel the creative tension building inside him all these years. It practically explodes off the disc. The vocalists blend beauty with an edge, and the instruments are basically all rhythmic and performed by a close-knit group of players with an unrelenting energy. Dollarman’s contribution on “Head over Heals” is a seductive stroll through a steamy cityscape, the vocalist all lilt and love, and Toots Hibbert’s performance on “Set the Children Free” builds to a quick boiling point and stays there, with pounding drums and a devoted backing chorus calling for change. There is an element of devotion on most of the tracks, like leader Larry McDonald knows this is his turn to take the spotlight, and he is determined not to waste a moment. He doesn’t, either.

Brian Blade, Mama Rosa, Verve-Forecast Records

banstandmamarosaNothing is better than an album that is a total surprise. It doesn’t happen nearly often enough, when an artist whose work is known floats in something from out in the bleachers for a total surprise. Brian Blade is one of the finest drummers alive. He plays with Wayne Shorter and a handful of other major musicians, as well as being an integral part of Daniel Lanois’ talented pool of players. On Mama Rosa, though, it’s time for something completely different. Blade writes songs of strong faith, creating a feeling of inspiration and, yes, devotion. Some of this may be absorbed from his father’s preaching in Shreveport. And other parts no doubt comes from Blade’s own search for truth. And his vocals are subtle but sublime, capturing a quiet strength that true believers have a way of find above all others. In a million years, listeners probably wouldn’t have guess the drummer would have this album in him, and thank goodness we’d all be wrong. Supplying strong guitar sonics throughout many of these songs, Daniel Lanois is Blade’s trusty sidekick, guiding the sound into offbeat areas and always erring on the side of soul. These two together have an unspoken bond, and by now can go directly to the deepest parts of their musical sensibilities without even thinking. There is no easy definition of what this music is, and there doesn’t need to be. Categories are what helped kill innovation anyway, and the trick to finding new grooves is to forget labels and instead find the path to glory. Brian Blade has an inner compass that can lead us exactly where we need to be. Just listen.

The Felice Brothers,
Yonder Is The Clock, Team Love Records

bandstandyonderNot enough albums are recorded in an abandoned chicken coop, and the ones that are will not likely be more moving than the Felice Brothers’ Yonder Is The Clock. The title is from the pages of Mark Twain, and no doubt refers to the impermanence of life, and how there really is no stopping the march to the end. But in the timeless sound of the three brothers and their two friends, the band goes a long way in helping make that bitter pill a less likely to choke. Their instruments could easily be found out behind the house, or in any hock shop scattered across America. They don’t make fancy music, or anything that would have a note of pretension lurking inside the notes. Not on your life. The Felice Brothers have a serious case of heart, and come from a spot off the road and down a dirt lane. They first called the Catskill Mountains home, but then took off in the crazy pursuit of hoping others would listen, and damned if they weren’t right. Mixing everything from accordions, harmoniums, mandolins, guitars, rusted out snare drums, broken microphones, tree branches and probably the odd electric sander, what is most intriguing about them is their eternal elusiveness. They may be singing about some of the Big Subjects, but the styles they do it in keep their songs from belaboring the point. In fact, they inspire a certain rambunctious spirit that can’t be contained by logical thought or critical assessment. Instead, it’s best to let the Felice Brothers’ sound wash over you like a small flood that cannot be stopped. If The Band had sired the Violent Femmes with less of the latter’s novelty twinges and all of the former’s backwoods beauty, an inkling can be gotten of this album’s effect. In a time when the world’s walls feel like they’re closing in, the ending song “Rise and Shine” opens all the windows, lets the wind blow through the room and bring in the hope today will lead to a new tomorrow. Or at least a tomorrow. What else can be asked?

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to www.sonicboomers.com

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.