This Ohio-based band strikes a lush, adorable balance between the country-pop of bands such as Jayhawks and Golden Smog and the gloomy, depressing crooning of Tom Waits. Lead singer Matt Berninger manages to transcend leveling the fine background with some reflection and introspection on "Cold Girl Fever" and "Watching You Well." The country hues touched on in "American Mary" are only surpassed by the album's perfect song "Theory of the Crows," a morbid waltz through loneliness and loss. Throughout it all, the band manages not only to exceed their pigeonholed genres but gives a fresh perspective with brilliantly crafted numbers. Starting up where Wilco left off with their Summerteeth album, the group delivers a generous heaping of Americana and alt-country. Brilliant.
The Harmonia Mundi label doesn't pay a lot of lip service to music outside of its core, Baroque and back-centered repertoire, although it has achieved some marvelous things in contemporary music and, very occasionally, the off-the-beaten-path romantic repertoire. Emmanuelle Bertrand Plays Alkan and Liszt belongs to this last category, featuring cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel in cello and piano works of two composers not at all generally associated with chamber music, Charles-Valentin Alkan and Franz Liszt.
Billy Butler is well known to guitarists only, as the co-author of the early R&B funked-up standard "Honky Tonk," with organist Bill Doggett. The two albums featured in this single disc two-fer reissue – Guitar Soul and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, both released in 1970 – offer a wider view of the man and his music. The opening track on Guitar Soul is a cut worthy of the Meters in its New Orleans-styled second-line funk called "Blow for the Crossing." Nine and a half minutes in length, it's dark, spooky, greasy, and funky as hell. With Seldon Powell on tenor, Sonny Phillips on organ, Specs Powell on drums, and Bob Bushnell on bass, it's a jam du jour. Everybody solos, but Butler and Phillips are the pair that bend the tune all over the place like Gumby on Pokey. With an elongated melodic line played by Powell on the saxophone and punched-up by the drums, there's nothing to keep the body still in its massive groove-o-phonics. But the almighty groove wasn't Butler's only strength. With a saxophonist like Houston Person, he could play the most elegant swing – as in their read of the Rodgers & Hart classic "Dancing on the Ceiling" on the second half of the album, or as a solo guitarist he could play from the Montoya fake book as he does on "Golden Earrings," with a classical guitar.