Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground (Side One Dummy; 2011)
Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan charges onto the sound systems of the world once again with his fourth studio album, Covering Ground. His passion and power of delivery can still be described as punk rock, but the album is undeniably a raw and focused effort of folk, gospel and bluegrass. Ragan’s steady diet of napalm and gasoline vocals come off as soothing and genuine like a mother’s hymns, punctuating the lyrics that are whittled into every line. The only repetition on the album is the beauty of the arrangements, which are aided by Jon Gaunt and Joe Ginsberg on fiddle and upright bass, respectively, as well as backing vocals by Frank Turner and The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon. Chuck Ragan is one of the most respected cross-genre artists and Covering Ground is a good example of why that is.
Trial track: “Wish On The Moon”
– Mat Barrot
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical (Cooperative; 2011)
CYHSY pulled what MGMT did in 2010, but they did it much more gradually. When MGMT released Congratulations, they were hailed and booed across the board. They had grown up, come into their own, and released an album that shocked everybody that had ever listened to “Kids” by having evolved as artists. CYHSY have sold that same illusion: they have pretended to leave their comfort zone and move forward. The result is an intricate ‘60s model of psychedelia and lush guitar with the occasional ‘80s beat. However, where Congratulations carves itself a describable new path from old utensils, Hysterical sounds consistently familiar, taking some vocal iterations from Arcade Fire and Phoenix. To hate music because it’s catchy or popular is not in the interest of anyone but an elitist. CYHSY made Â an album with a lot of Â lovely, albeit familliar sounds, and made it accessible to a lot of people despite it not being particularly groundbreaking.
Trial track: “Into Your Alien Arms”
– Jamie Klinger
Primus â€“ Green Naugahyde (ATO Records; 2011)
It’s been 12 long years since Primus’ last album, Antipop, was released in 1999. Certain questions inevitably crop up after such a break. How has the band changed over the years? How will it affect their music? And have they still got it in them? Primus’ answer to these questions comes in the form of Green Naugahyde, an overall rejuvenation of their classic sound and a shout out to their earlier albums like Frizzle Fry. With every track, Les Claypool proves himself time and again to be a true bass virtuoso, and Larry Lalonde continues to live in his shadow, despite being an incredibly underrated guitarist. But perhaps the band’s most important element on this album is the return of former Primus drummer Jay Lane, who Claypool credits for having breathed life back into the band. One thing’s for certainâ€”Green Naugahyde is a true gift for the Primus fans of old who stuck by them over all these years.
Trial track: “Tragedy’s a’ Comin’’
– Robert Flis
Paul Simon â€“ Still Crazy After All These Years (Columbia; 1975)
Simon’s Grammy-winning fourth studio effort was by no means a departure from his previous albums’ style, but it still holds a place in his catalogue as an outstanding album. It spawned four top 40 hits, including “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” which was the biggest hit of his solo career. Lyrically, Simon is wonderfully emotional; mulling over married life’s little inconveniences in “I Do It for Your Love” and recalling small town hopes in “My Little Town,” which was his first collaboration with Art Garfunkel since their split five years prior. The themes in songs like “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “You’re Kind” are universally personal, recalling small, fleeting thoughts and everyday emotions, which makes for a very reflective, if at times fondly tongue in cheek, look at the mundane little events that make up a life. Musically, the softer mood songs like “Silent Eyes” and “Night Game” are balanced by happier fare like “Have A Good Time” and the gospel revival inspired “Gone At Last.” An album for early-morning thoughts and late-night reminiscing.
Trial track: “Still Crazy After All These Years”
– Andrew Guilbert