Now Hear This 

Facts about wax from Punch Brothers and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, plus a CD reissue from Gene Vincent and a local Americana music sampler, “JAMinc Concert Series I.”


Gene Vincent “Gene Rocks!” (Bear Family)

It's always nice when somebody else does your work for you. There was nothing wrong with the occasional ballad or mid-tempo side from Virginia's own “Sweet Gene” Vincent. But he was at his psycho-billy best when rocking it up. So how nice to have a full collection of the Gene's up-tempo numbers (30 of them) compiled on one jumping disc. Everybody knows “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and plenty of people will recognize “Bluejean Bop” and “Dance to the Bop.” But listeners unfamiliar with Vincent's lesser-known cuts will be sprung out of their seats by feverish songs such as “Crazy Legs,” “Cat Man” and “Rollin' Dany” (the latter memorably covered by the Fall). Listening to these songs and reading about Vincent in the CD booklet, you're reminded that the man and his music are nothing like the aw-shucks, good-timey feel presented by oldies radio or '50s music as represented by “Happy Days.” Rather, Vincent was an unpredictable, amped-up wild man, and his songs have a psychosis-fueled energy that makes the room seem wobbly if you're really in tune to him. The aforementioned booklet contains a lengthy essay on Vincent that serves as an abbreviated biography of one of rock 'n' roll's most fascinating characters. ***** — Brian Greene

Punch Brothers, “Antifogmatic” (Nonesuch)

On their first album, 2008's “Punch,” the Punch Brothers sounded like a glorified solo project for ace mandolin picker and former Nickel Creek member Chris Thile, who assembled the band to accompany him in the studio and on tour. Although he still sings lead, the band's follow-up, “Antifogmatic” (named after a late-19th-century quack medicine) sounds more … brotherly. The songs were written and arranged collaboratively, and the result is a much more kinetic collection that showcases each contributor more or less equally. Showy solos are few and far between; instead, the band emphasizes the complex interplay between instruments and voices, showcasing rambling string jams and bold blasts of vocal harmony. The proficiency can be impressive, especially on the randy opener, “You Are,” and the mournful “Alex,” with clockwork riffing. Still, “Antifogmatic” doesn't always give them a chance to stretch and explore, especially with the series of downtempo tracks that bog down the album's middle. In other words, too many of these songs lack punch. *** — Stephen M. Deusner

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, “Before Today” (4AD Records)

Musical lot lizard Ariel Pink (Ariel Rosenberg) is eccentric even by Los Angeles standards. Known for a decade of lo-fi home recordings bouncing cheesy '80s synth pop with studiously weird goth overtones, Pink, 31, is masterful at recombining genres he never knew firsthand ('60s psych, krautrock, '70s glam) with MTV influences he did (the Cure, Michael Jackson, soft rock). “Before Today,” recorded mostly by Quincy Jones' grandson in a studio formerly owned by Tito Jackson, is his first album with a full rock band. Whacked out, playful and foreboding —often in the same song — it's the artist's most fully fleshed work to date. Pink can't really sing, and when he's not yelping, beat boxing or delivering cryptic monotone lines (“make me menstrual menopause man/rape me/castrate me/make me gay”) he hovers above songs with an unhinged falsetto, like a karaoke fan drunk off the sweat glands of a Sonoran Desert toad. Catchy and oddly placed hooks keep the album flowing, though, from a straight cover of the Rockin' Ramrods' “Bright Lit Blue Skies” (1966) to the celebrated single, “Round and Round,” which stacks Capt. Beefheart-lite sections before an unexpected yacht-rock sing-a-long chorus. “L'estat (According to the Widow's Maid)” is a barreling mess of disparate rhythms Zappa would've appreciated for sheer prog schlock value, while “Butt-House Blondies” conquers the heavily distorted “waste” juvenilia that marked the early Ween as dementos. The band reigns in Pink's loose vocals with traditional soft-rock structures, especially bassist Tim Koh, who frames these restless melodies with his concise playing, and keyboardist Kenny Gilmore, a wizard of experimental Muzak and cheap sci-fi moods. People will either love or despise this stuff, but more than most indie records it creates its own surreal world; and it proves the spacey Pink can be more fun than associated act Animal Collective.  **** — Brent Baldwin 

Various Artists, “JAMinc Concert Series 1” (JAMinc/In Your Ear)

The local nonprofit JAMinc doesn't just bring musical offerings, lessons and workshops to central Virginia schools, it also co-sponsors an ongoing live concert series in the intimate (and state-of-the-art) confines of In Your Ear studio that brings an incredible assortment of folk, bluegrass and blues performers to town. The organization's first CD compilation, culled from these (usually sold-out) live dates, offers up national performers that traffic in traditional music as well as home-state musicians keeping alive regional traditions — the likes of old-time guitarist Wayne Henderson, autoharpist Bryan Bowers and, on the standout “Prison Blues,” the late Piedmont bluesman John Cephas. The disc also allows space for more contemporary takes on acoustica, such as former Old School Freight Train leader Jesse Harper's Jason Mrazish “So You're Down” and chameleonic harp master Howard Levy's fusion-folk set closer, “Fade to Black.” The pristine sound captures the intimacy of the occasions; the cherry-picked performances are spot-tight, and the only real complaint is that the JAMinc compilers could've squeezed in a few more cuts. But if you're a fan of Americana music, you'll find much to cherish here, such as Tony Furtado's spooky “Thirteen Below” or Mike Epping's harmonica tour-de-force, “Twelve Gates to the City.” **** — Don Harrison

To order “JAMinc Concert Series 1,” and to find out about forthcoming JAMinc events and shows, go to jaminc.org.



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