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Silent All These Years

John Paul Jones
The Thunderthief
(Discipline Global Mobile)

After an exceptional four-decade career as a session player, arranger, producer, and (most famously) bassist and keyboardist for Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones finally got around to issuing his first solo disc, Zooma, in 1999. That robust, groove-driven instrumental record proved (particularly when contrasted to onetime bandmates Jimmy Page’s and Robert Plant’s post-Zeppelin work) that Jones had indeed provided an important cornerstone in the very, very heavy sound of the ’70s’ most influential arena rock band.

His instrumental chops and heaviness factor confirmed, Jones now offers an interesting view into his other musical interests and talents on The Thunderthief, which mixes post-Zooma sonic slabs with gorgeous acoustic performances, piano balladry and even four vocal tracks— wherein JPJ unveils his appealingly humble, Robert Wyatt-y singing voice. The diversity of the material presented on The Thunderthief (which takes its name from an engaging eccentric lyric penned by the ever-odd Peter Blegvad) makes it a far more compelling, far more listenable album than Zooma, which suffered a bit for its nearly monochromatic intensity.

Highlights on the new disc include the Robert Fripp-fortified romp and stomp of “Leafy Meadows,” Jones’ own exceptional guitar work on “Hoediddle,” a transcendent, live solo take on the traditional “Down to the River to Pray,” and the wonderfully mundane “Freedom Song,” wherein Jones gamely attempts to get his wife to run off on a spontaneous vacation with him, his rambling entreaties perfectly matched by his peripatetic pluckings on some unrecognizable string instrument. An inspired closing to an inspired record by one of rock’s great, underappreciated talents.

—J. Eric Smith

Don Chambers
Back in the Woods (Perfect Pitch)

Athens-based Don Chambers has created 11 raggedly vibrant songs for his first solo album. He bears comparison to Tom Waits, Johnny Dowd, Vic Chesnutt, and other post-Guthrie troubadours with a penchant for the sound of barbed wire, broken crockery and no-frills production values (which is not to say lo-fidelity, but rather a shunning of overt sweeteners like reverb). His rough-hewn vocals belie considerable control and work best when the accompaniment gets quietly raucous. On the ballads, such as “Roses by Your Bed,” Chambers’ singing sounds too purposefully drenched in character. However, on the tag of that song, his wordless falsetto humming lands a bulls-eye in the magic. “Rob Me Blind” sounds like Springsteen in the midst of a fever dream (this is a good thing), trading all of the Boss’ tiresome place names and scene setting for small angular details. The arrangements offer up some riveting juxtapositions of instruments as cheap organ, vibes, bass, fiddle, cello and percussion warp around Chambers’ banjo and guitar. Back in the Woods is a fine debut—not a perfect album, but it’s definitely pointing in the right direction.

—David Greenberger

The Meat Purveyors
All Relationships Are Doomed to Fail (Bloodshot)

The Meat Purveyors’ bluegrass emerges from a dark holler full of bad intentions and punk energy. For those who like to contort the language to provide categories for genre-defying artists, let’s call it “punkgrass.” They also have a penchant for offbeat covers that, when wrapped in old-timey instrumentation and stacked against nods to Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe, add more than a hint of novelty to the proceedings. In the past, the Purveyors have covered the Velvet Underground; this time they get a whole lot more cutesy by offering takes on ’80s hair-metal band Ratt’s “Round and Round” and “S.O.S.” by the indomitable ABBA.

While it might be neat to hear an amped-up, bluegrassy version of an ABBA song a few times, it certainly isn’t enough to sustain one over the long haul. And this is a darn shame, because when vocalist Jo Walston, mandolinist Pete Stiles and company hunker down into a Meat Purveyors original such as the heart-rending “Circus Clown,” they’re at their best. But the Purveyors want to please all the cool punk kids in town, so their tendency after such a heartfelt sentiment is to speed things right back up to breakneck pace, or to stick their collective tongue back in their collective cheek. Nevertheless, when they start to ruminate again (such as on “Last Waltz”), and when Walston’s and Cherilyn diMond’s voices once again entwine around each other like dying wisps of smoke from a morning fire in the Kentucky hills, all is forgiven.

—Erik Hage

Loren Connors
The Departing of a Dream (Family Vineyard)

After releasing scores of other works over the past couple decades as Loren Mazzacane and Guitar Roberts, The Departing of a Dream is the artist’s first release under the name Loren Connors. Connors has created a body of work that is blues to the core, though without any need for 1-4-5 progressions, and his open-ended pieces have often had the feel of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” (which itself served as the template for Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack).

The title track is a hauntingly beautiful eight-part suite in which Connors constructs a mournful landscape, using a foundation of electric guitar and building over it with found sounds, percussion and bass. For the most part, these added tracks evoke the random shapes of the natural world, eschewing the formal constraints of notated musical architecture. There are moments of sublime beauty, as when his guitar, standing alone, offers brief interludes before stepping back into the gently undulating darkness of the more constructed passages. Connors switches to acoustic guitar to close the album with “For NY 9/11/01.” With its solemn grandeur, this five-minute piece is as sadly mesmerizing as Miles Davis’ “He Loved Him Madly” or various compositions by Henryk Gorecki.

—D.G.


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