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Crossing Lines

Vida Blue

Rock - Released September 20, 2019 | ATO Records

The sprightly electro-funk jam band Vida Blue released a pair of studio albums and one live set in the front half of the 2000s before their helmsman, Page McConnell, retired the project and resumed his primary role as keyboardist for Phish. Formed in 2001 during a Phish hiatus, Vida Blue's original lineup was essentially a power trio with the fleet-fingered McConnell joined by bassist Oteil Burbridge (the Allman Brothers Band, Aquarium Rescue Unit) and drummer Russell Batiste (the Funky Meters). They enjoyed some success on the jam circuit for a few years, then played their last show together at Bonnaroo in the summer of 2004. Following a 15-year gap, Vida Blue make an unlikely return, and this time as a quartet. Newcomer Adam Zimmon joins the core trio on guitar for 2019's Crossing Lines, adding new dimensions while respectfully adhering to the spaciousness of their original setup. Of the album's eight generally lengthy cuts, only two are instrumentals (the dubby "Weepa" and the Meters-esque "Real Underground Soul Sound"), marking a trend that favors McConnell's more structured, lyric-driven songwriting. Opener "Analog Delay" is a rather hard-hitting funk-rock track built around a big, loping electronic groove. It's about as heavy as Vida Blue get, with the album's midsection given over to more laid-back fare like the low-key funk of "Where Did It Go" and contemplative electric piano-driven cuts like "Phaidon" and "Maybe." The 11-minute closer, "If I Told You," is a colorful, lightly psychedelic journey whose bookend verses sandwich an expansive instrumental section, some of which features the Spam Allstars, the Afro-Cuban ensemble who were an integral part of Vida Blue's second album. As on earlier releases, the musicianship and interplay between these musicians is excellent, and while Crossing Lines doesn't necessarily feel essential, it has its moments and marks a worthy third chapter in the band's canon. © Timothy Monger /TiVo
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Satis Factory

Mattiel

Alternative & Indie - Released June 14, 2019 | ATO Records

Lost in the middle of a beige factory, Ms. Brown stands tall. The well-designed album cover is both clever and visually arresting. By day, this young woman is a graphic designer at MailChimp. “It’s like I have two full-time jobs: designer and musician,” she says, but we certainly prefer her as a musician by night. Under her work uniform, Mattiel (pronounced Ma-Teel) Brown hides a voice with a fierce and impolite tone. She grew up in the vast countryside of Georgia – from where this brusqueness and thick skin probably originated – before moving to the more urban Atlanta. It was here that Mattiel met Randy Michael and Jonah Swilley, with whom she would start writing what would go on to be the basis of Satis Factory. They managed the instrumental compositions, while she took care of the lyrics. It's a perfect formula that works beautifully. The riffs are catchy (Je Ne Me Connais Pas), the melodies are heady, and there’s this distinctive personality that the Burger Records team are very used to sniffing out. Mattiel brings back ‘60s folk with accents of surf pop, old-fashioned blues and vintage soul. A balanced blend of influences, among which she cites Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, André 3000, Marc Bolan, the Staple Singers and Jack White. Very promising. © Charlotte Saintoin/Qobuz
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Morning

SOJA

Reggae - Released March 26, 2019 | ATO Records

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Háblame / Corazón De Roca

Chicano Batman

Alternative & Indie - Released March 18, 2019 | ATO Records

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Sister Winter / Rest

Joseph

Ambient/New Age - Released December 12, 2018 | ATO Records

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Easily Charmed by Fools

The Claypool Lennon Delirium

Alternative & Indie - Released December 11, 2018 | ATO Records

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Love the Holidays

Old 97's

Christmas Music - Released November 16, 2018 | ATO Records

Nearly a quarter century after they released their first album, Old 97's have covered a lot of ground in the course of their career, but they've finally crossed one bit of unfinished business off their bucket list by releasing a Christmas album. Released in November 2018, Love the Holidays leans a bit to the pop side of this band's sound, as if they struck a midpoint between their classic attack on Too Far to Care and the more artful approach of Rhett Miller's solo work. "Snow Angels," "Wintertime in the City," and "Here It Is Christmastime" are rather contemplative by the band's standards, and Miller's lyrics often have as much to do with broken hearts as Santa and the holiday season. But the chatter and growl of Ken Bethea's guitar are more than enough to brand this as Old 97's, and bassist Murry Hammond and drummer Philip Peeples aren't afraid to put some muscle behind tunes like "Gotta Love Being a Kid (Merry Christmas)" and the title track. "Hobo Christmas Song" should please those who want a bit more twang in their mix. The more rollicking numbers also have a strong undercurrent of humor, and if "Rudolph Was Blue" (about a certain reindeer looking for his true love) is awfully goofy, it's also fun and kids will doubtless love it. And while Yuletide albums are often a bit lazy, mostly dealing in the same familiar melodies, the band wrote nine original numbers for Love the Holidays, and if they're not all classics, they give the album a sound and a voice of its own. (The vinyl edition includes one cover, "Auld Lang Syne," while another four -- "Angels We Have Heard on High," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Up on the Housetop," and "Blue Christmas" -- close out the CD and digital releases.) Alt-country fans throwing a Christmas party will find Love the Holidays every bit as welcome as a big batch of spiked eggnog. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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The Messenger

Rhett Miller

Alternative & Indie - Released November 9, 2018 | ATO Records

A great many of Rhett Miller's songs deal with a guy who has a wandering eye when it comes to relationships, and some problems with commitment. It would appear this is not an autobiographical conceit, since by all accounts Miller is a happily married husband and father. But it is worth considering that while his band, the Old 97's, has had the same lineup since 1993, Miller has used a wide range of collaborators since he launched his solo career in earnest with The Instigator in 2002. One could read into this that Miller's solo work is where his muse gets to play around on the side, and for 2018's The Messenger, he's found a new creative paramour in Sam Cohen, the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who previously worked with Yellowbirds and Apollo Sunshine. Cohen produced The Messenger and plays most of the instruments -- Brian Betancourt handles the bass, Ray Rizzo plays the drums, Miller strums acoustic guitar and sings, and everything else is Cohen's doing. With Cohen at the controls, The Messenger calls up a little bit of the twangy side of Miller's personality, especially when the steel guitar begins to cry on "Bitter/Sweet" and "I Can't Change." But for the most part, The Messenger is an exercise in cool but committed indie pop, as Miller usually delivers on his solo LPs, and Cohen helps give the tracks a suitably moody, late-night sensibility. "We're in Trouble" sounds like a loving homage to Big Star's Third, "Total Disaster" is scrappy rock with a lo-fi overlay, "Wheels" is fueled by sharp guitar lines and a slinky R&B groove, and "Permanent Damage" is as bitter a kiss-off as Miller can summon, fused with plenty of crashing drums and slashing guitars. As a vocalist and songwriter, Miller is in solid form here, though as with most of his solo work, this lacks a bit of the heart and soul he brings to the Old 97's. But The Messenger has a stronger individual personality that most of Miller's solo work, and he and Sam Cohen make a good team in the studio. Maybe they should try this again in the future -- assuming Miller is willing to stick with one partner for that long. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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I Used to Write in Notebooks

Rhett Miller

Pop - Released October 23, 2018 | ATO Records

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Love the Holidays

Old 97's

Christmas Music - Released November 16, 2018 | ATO Records

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Lime and Limpid Green

The Claypool Lennon Delirium

Alternative & Indie - Released April 22, 2017 | ATO Records

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SOJA

Reggae - Released August 4, 2017 | ATO Records

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Have You Seen My Son?

Benjamin Booker

Alternative & Indie - Released July 1, 2014 | ATO Records

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Carry Me Back to Virginia EP

Old Crow Medicine Show

Country - Released June 25, 2013 | ATO Records

Though Old Crow Medicine Show are seemingly ever present on the recording scene, they have released only four studio albums in their eight-year career, in addition to a couple of live offerings. They have often filled the gap with singles and EPs, and this entry is no exception. Carry Me Back to Virginia (not to be confused with the album of the same name) contains three tracks. There is the stomping title track arranged as a sprinting bluegrass-cum-fiddle tune. It's a dance number that almost no group of floor denizens could keep up with, and has more in common with the attack of the Pogues than it does Bill Monroe. Second up is an alternate version of "Ain't It Enough" from the same album. It's five seconds longer than the original, and driven more by its pronounced bassline than by guitars and banjos, though they still figure prominently. It's louder, less sweet, and more effective than the album cut. The last track amounts to an addition to the band's catalog, even if it is a cover: "Dixieland Delight" first appeared on the excellent High Cotton: A Tribute to Alabama, released earlier in 2013 on the independent Lightning Rod Records. This is as close as Old Crow Medicine Show gets to straight country, led by banjo, strummed acoustic guitars, and a whining dobro. While the vocal harmonies aren't as rich as Alabama's, they don't need to be; this is far less polished, more direct than the original (which doesn't mean the same thing as being superior to it), and is as heartfelt an homage to a great song as one is likely to hear. It does contain a nice twist in its speedy rush to the close, turning a back porch country love song into a barnstormer. This EP is obviously aimed at the group's hardcore following, and getting the cover track to those who might not otherwise make that purchase. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman

Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2010 | ATO Records

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Mariachi El Bronx (I)

Mariachi El Bronx

Alternative & Indie - Released September 1, 2009 | ATO Records

OK, pay close attention: the Bronx is a punk band from Los Angeles. Mariachi el Bronx is a band that seems -- on this album anyway -- to have in common with the Bronx only its lead singer, though other information seems to indicate that the two bands are normally identical except for the addition of a female guitarron player. The band's self-titled album consists of newly composed pop/rock songs performed in mariachi style, complete with charango, guitarron, trumpets, strings, and guest artists that include Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and album producer John Avila (formerly of Oingo Boingo). How's the music? Consistently excellent, and although it has to be said that singer Matt Caughthran is about a quartet-tone flat most of the time, the passion in his voice and the soaring melodies make it very easy to overlook that fact. Mariachi music is all about the thrill of heartbreak and longing, and that's exactly what is communicated here (regardless of the actual lyrical content) on highlight like "Despretador," "Litigation," and "Cell Mates." "Sleepwalking" features a loping, off-kilter rhythm, while "Clown Powder" is a blocky waltz with a subtly anguished "You can't go home again" lyric, and "Holy" features a charming spaghetti western feel. This album is that rarest of pop commodities: a party album supreme that also rewards close listening. © Rick Anderson /TiVo
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Oblivion With Bells

Underworld

Electronic - Released October 15, 2007 | ATO Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Like their heroes Kraftwerk, Underworld's Karl Hyde and Rick Smith appear to work in a completely sterile environment, unbothered by charts or sales projections or label concerns about their marketing abilities. They simply reemerge periodically with another full-length of precise but swinging techno, with vocals that somehow create a rather plaintive sense of detachment (Radiohead's similarity in this area should not be overlooked). More than 2002's A Hundred Days Off or 1998's Beaucoup Fish, Oblivion with Bells harks back to Underworld's 1993 rebirth with the epic Dubnobasswithmyheadman. (Even the cover design and accordion-style liner notes are similar.) The acid techno is firmly in place, with little or no regard for developments in the form after the '80s. Still, unlike other electronica mainstays who have occasionally revealed a little weariness -- either from trying to change or trying to stay the same -- Underworld never sound particularly tired on Oblivion with Bells. Granted, the music is less innovative than before, and also more quiet, which makes Hyde's vocals more critical than they've ever been. Unfortunately, however, they don't benefit from the scrutiny. "Ring Road" and "Holding the Moth" are particularly odd, utilizing Underworld's usual cut-and-paste phraseology, but with productions and performances that never come together like their classics "Dark & Long" or "Pearls Girl." © John Bush /TiVo
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Out West

Gomez

Alternative & Indie - Released June 7, 2005 | ATO Records

Despite the fact that they were signed to a label before they ever played a live show, Gomez quickly became known as a great live act due to their solid musicianship, ability to create new arrangements on the spot, and no-nonsense, energetic performances where the band seem to be enjoying themselves as much as the fans. Apparently, they had wanted to release a live album for some time, but could not reach an agreement with Virgin, so when Gomez and Virgin parted ways following the release of Split the Difference in 2004, the time seemed right. They played a three-night stand at San Francisco's famed Fillmore in January of 2005, signed with ATO, and released Out West in June of the same year. The set draws from all four of their albums (leaning heavily on the first album) with a couple choice covers thrown in. Most of the tunes are similar to their studio counterparts, just rocked up a bit in a live context with an extra emphasis on guitars. In fact, the guitars are louder and more forceful on nearly every track, and the crisp recording really lets you hear the details. "Here Comes the Breeze" and "Bring It On" especially benefit from more guitar, and both "Here Comes the Breeze" and "Whippin' Piccadilly" get kicked up a notch or two by Olly Peacock's ferocious drumming. They do a stomping cover of Tom Waits' "Going Out West" and an interesting cover of Nick Drake's "Black Dog," which segues nicely into "Free to Run" and on into "Ping One Down." There may be a fan favorite or two missing from the set list, but the selections are excellent overall, and it's nice to have a sample of what they sound like live, whether you've missed them to this point or just want a great-sounding souvenir. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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Haughty Melodic

Mike Doughty

Alternative & Indie - Released May 3, 2005 | ATO Records

It's been five years since the demise of Soul Coughing, and up to this point, Mike Doughty's solo releases have been solo in the truest sense of the word: he is literally the only musician present. Haughty Melodic is Doughty's first solo release to feature a band, making comparisons to his old band inevitable, but this really is a different beast. He's still an excellent wordsmith, and still favors acoustic bass and taut drums. His delivery is pretty much the same, but with a bit more emphasis on singing and melody. The big differences are that guitars are much more prominent than on any Soul Coughing releases, the lyrics have a more personal perspective, and the additional sounds of the album come from warmer sources like piano, Fender Rhodes and horns rather than a sampler. Several of the songs originally appeared on the live Smofe + Smang album, but those versions were quite sparse: just voice and acoustic guitar. Here, they get the full rock treatment. The sound can still be fairly thick, like on "Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well" and "I Hear the Bells," but the acoustic guitar, piano and pedal steel of "White Lexus" are a far cry from anything Soul Coughing released. There are still some strange sonics, like at the end of "Busting Up a Starbucks," but the overall sound is very organic with many acoustic elements. Doughty's solo work shows an interesting development. Even with his rather drastic switch from hip-hop hipster beatnik to acoustic solo troubadour, Doughty retained a large part of his original fan base. Those folks will surely be pleased with Haughty Melodic, but even the people who didn't take to Doughty's solo career immediately owe it to themselves to check this one out. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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Déjà Voodoo

Gov't Mule

Rock - Released September 14, 2004 | ATO Records

Gov't Mule's Déjà Voodoo is the record guitarist Warren Haynes and drummer Matt Abts have been looking to make for a long time. Since the death of Allen Woody in August 2000, after the landmark Life Before Insanity, the Mule has been making records with guest bass players, most of them jam-oriented albums in live settings. With the permanent addition of bassist Andy Hess and keyboardist Danny Louis, Gov't Mule takes a giant step forward while retaining the gritty, powerful blues-rock base that is the hallmark of the band's sound. Moving out form the power trio format is a solid thing. Haynes' songwriting is focused, anchored in the additional textures Louis' B-3 and Rhodes can provide, while losing none of its rootsy, overdriven charm. The tunes here, all 12 of them, are anchored in that gloriously greasy riffing that Haynes does better than anyone, but there is a wonderful funkiness added to the mix. There's the crunch and roll piledrive of "Bad Man Walking," opening the album with the Rhodes punching in the holes on opposite sides of the beat from the bassline. There's the squalling wah-wah blues of "Perfect Shelter," which sounds like it's coming across Stevie Wonder's version of "Superstition" and the ghost of Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun." On the shimmering organ glissando in "Little Toy Brain," a power ballad from rock antiquity that breathes fire, Haynes gives his best ever vocal performance on record. And so it goes. The balls-out barroom stomp of "Slackjaw Jezebel" -- with one of the most dirty-assed basslines in recent memory -- is tempered by the lonesome country-rock of the beautiful "Wine and Blood." The sheer raucous guitar wonking roar that is "Lola Leave Your Light On," one of the album's meltdown points, leaves the listener responding "Whoa..." like Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Likewise, the switchblade six-string whomp of "My Separate Reality" is a bone-crusher that's full of raw whiskey soul as well. Déjà Voodoo is the album Gov't Mule's promised to make since its inception; this is a new chapter in the life of a truly inspiring rock & roll band. © Thom Jurek /TiVo