Altar (Southern Lord)
Sunno))) & Boris
What would the Iron Giant sound like if he started a rock band and had full access to a Pro Tools home studio? This celebration of neo-psych stoner rock and doom metal is a dream collaboration between what the All Music Guide has cleverly characterized as “powersonic drone throners Sunn 0))) and Japan’s experimental rockist thunderhead Boris.” Heavy synth washes, eerie guitar doodlings, roiling drums and seemingly endless power chords alternate with ethereal vocals and a cascading sense of dread. Fire up your subwoofer–this heady mix of personnel includes Boris bandmates Atsuo (vocals), bassist Takeshi and guitarist Wata; Sunn 0))) guitarists Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson; and such guests as Joe Preston of Thrones, High on Fire, and the Melvins; Earth’s Steve Moore; Alan Dubin of Khanate; Rex Ritter of Jessamine; Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil; fellow Seattle scenesters Jesse Sykes, Phil Wandscher and Bill Herzog of the Sweet Hereafter. And all of them are ready for the apocalypse, now!
Miracle of Five (Zedtone)
Move over Madeleine Peyroux. Eleni Mandell (shown) is a former Berkeley student-turned-Southern Cal boho who mentored under Chuck E. Weiss (the subject of Rickie Lee Jones’ breakthrough single “Chuck E’s in Love”). She has cultivated a knack for noirish songwriting sometimes reminiscent of Cat Power (especially on 2003’s Country for True Lovers). But I have to say I liked this new disc better than Cat Power’s overhyped 2006 CD The Greatest; with haunting tunes that stick in your head (“Girls”, “Moonglow, Lamp Low”) Miracle of Five is filled with catchy songwriting. This stripped-down, emotionally raw but always charming collection of meditations on love, death and relationships has a bittersweet edge, sort of like Neko Case without all that Biblical angst. It boasts a supporting cast that includes avant-jazz guitarist Nels Cline and ex-X drummer DJ Bonebrake on vibes. One of 2007’s best releases.
Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life (Blue Note)
This all-star tribute to the man who penned or co-wrote such jazz classics as “Satin Doll” and “Lush Life” serves as the soundtrack to Robert Levi’s new PBS-TV documentary about the celebrated composer and arranger for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Pop star Elvis Costello offers “My Flame Turns Blue (Blood Count),” the title track from Costello’s 2005 CD, and Dianne Reeves contributes vocals to six of these 15 tracks, including the title track, Strayhorn’s bitter ode to the rusty side of romance. Other guest artists include 88-year-old pianist Hank Jones (a standout solo performance of “Satin Doll”), saxophonist Joe Lovano (who delivers a gritty version of “Johnny Come Lately”), guitarist Russell Malone and drumming legend Paul Motian.