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WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD

Nick Hakim

Alternative & Indie - Released May 15, 2020 | ATO Records LLC

Amid scattered featured appearances made between the 2017 and 2020 release dates of Green Twins and Will This Make Me Good, Nick Hakim also recorded a split collaborative single with his associates in Onyx Collective. He was the headliner on the A-side, "Vincent Tyler," an uneasy if driving ballad about discovering a slain body. The song reappears on the second album from the singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in a very different shape, stretched out with a backmasking effect as a percussive accent to a muffled bass drum thud, augmented by a new vocal that's almost vaporous. The reconfiguration is a slightly exaggerated way of exemplifying how Will This Make Me Good feels more surreal, fraught, and turbulent than Green Twins. In the title song, Hakim's agitation simmers through the first few minutes and boils over when he insists with a howl, "But don't give in to a master plan/Burn it down, lock that shit up in flames." "Drum Thing," far more complex and ornamented than the title implies, finds Hakim in a crazed state, delivering a screaming, stream-of-consciousness rant that escalates from boastful to combative to lustful, and signs off with "What's the use?" As in "Vincent Tyler," real-life loss informs "Qadir," a slowly rolling dedication to a late friend. It's a plea to maintain soul-to-soul connections as much as an elegy, with Pink Siifu and We Are King's Paris Strother among many voices in a swirling, acid mix that recalls early Funkadelic. Respite from death and other forms of anguished imagery -- aimless lost souls, dwindling hope, sleeplessness -- is rare. There's no way out, but Hakim provides consolation that is flavorful and tripped-out. Moreover, it's a little reassuring that he's able to flash some of his pitch-black, bone-dry sense of humor. The first two lines of "Crumpy" in particular should not be missed. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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For Their Love

Other Lives

Alternative & Indie - Released April 24, 2020 | ATO Records LLC

The fourth full-length effort from the Oklahoma-based indie rockers, For Their Love finds Other Lives in fine form, applying their moody sonic expertise to a spectral ten-song set that parses themes of self-worth and existential dread in an age of political, social, and economic turmoil. Commencing with the ruminative "Sound of Violence," a sumptuous bit of '60s-leaning orchestral pop that evokes the Wally Stott string arrangements of "Montague Terrace"-era Scott Walker, For Their Love was self-produced in Oregon's Cooper Mountain region in frontman Jesse Tabish's A-framed cabin, and the material mostly reflects that pastoral setting. The group's love for sharp Morricone-worthy guitar stabs and ascending choral vocals is evident throughout, with the sinister "Nites Out," a churning sea of orchestral bombast worthy of a 007 action set-piece providing the biggest bang for the buck. The plaintive "Dead Language," with its high and lonesome harmonica and fluttery piano, filters the group's widescreen vision through more of a portrait lens, but it retains its predecessor's classicist '60s cinema vibe, as does the more sprightly title track, which incorporates bursts of loungey bossa nova into its distinct, anglophile-kissed brand of chamber-Americana. For all of its adherence to in-the-moment takes and attempts to dial back some of the studio chicaneries of earlier outings, For Their Love is still almost alarmingly ornate -- some of that might have to do with the omnipresent cathedral-like reverb -- but much like 2015's similarly outstanding (and elaborate) Rituals, there's really never a dull moment. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Devotion

Margaret Glaspy

Alternative & Indie - Released March 27, 2020 | ATO Records LLC

Returning after a four-year gap, Brooklyner Margaret Glaspy takes somewhat of a left turn on Devotion, her sophomore outing for ATO Records. Largely abandoning the edgy, electric guitar-based confessionalism of her 2016 debut, Emotions and Math, she takes a lusher and more varied approach here, turning a collection of ambitious love songs which range from sweet and intimate to thorny and sensual. Even before her debut, Glaspy had begun to make her name on a personal brand of smart, literate guitar pop with a bit of a bluesy growl not unlike Fiona Apple's, though ultimately a shade less dangerous. She applies that same emotional intelligence to Devotion's amorous themes on standouts like the elegant "Heartbreak" and "Consequences" whose dizzying experimental production resembles love's woozy disorientation. She can still write a solid pop song, too, with the laid-back groove of "Stay with Me" among her best. The most noticeable evolution from her earlier work, however, is Devotion's dense mix of electronic beats and flourishes along with the introduction of piano and keyboards which drive many of the songs. The tricky guitar playing that was a highlight of her debut is significantly downplayed and the fussy production sometimes gets in the way of songs that might better represent themselves in a more organic manner. On the other hand, Glaspy has more or less tamped down her previously distracting vocal affectations in favor of a more sonorous style that really suits the material. Overall, she adds a handful of unique entries into the love song canon while pushing her own body of work forward. © Timothy Monger /TiVo
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Man On Fire

Danny Barnes

Country - Released March 6, 2020 | ATO Records LLC

Danny Barnes first found an audience outside of Texas in the '90s with his group the Bad Livers, a trio that had one foot in bluegrass and the other landing in any number of other places. (It's worth noting they cut two albums for Quarterstick Records, an offshoot of the iconic indie/punk label Touch & Go, and three for the respected bluegrass imprint Sugar Hill.) Decades later, Barnes isn't repeating himself, but he's still respecting his own vision that takes bluegrass as a starting place rather than a destination, and 2020's Man on Fire reveals he's still a first-rate picker with an imagination to match. Barnes has impressive technical skills, but it's his melodic touch and his ability to fuse a traditional instrumental style with various other musical languages that makes the difference, and his collaborators clearly admire his sense of musical freedom. Joining Barnes for the Man on Fire sessions were John Paul Jones (yep, the Led Zeppelin guy), stellar jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer to the stars Matt Chamberlain, and Dave Matthews, who played keyboard, added some vocals, and released the album on this ATO Records label. Together, they help Barnes take this music to some interesting places, such as the banjo with hip-hop drumming of "Enemy Factory," the funky but rockin' grooves of "Awful Strange" and "It's Over," and the contemplative atmospherics of "Ballad of Nope," even as "Coal Mine" and "Hambone Slide" revel in the joys of classic bluegrass sounds. Through it all, Barnes' songs celebrate the triumphs and lament the tragedies of simply getting through another working day, telling the story of the man on the street with wit and compassion that don't water down the sweat and strain it took to get to the end of the shift. Smart but down to earth, witty but heartfelt, appreciating the past and present in equal balance, Danny Barnes is a singular talent in roots music and as interesting as anyone carrying a banjo these days, and Man on Fire is an album that makes the most of the many things he does so well; longtime fans will be pleased, and newcomers with be in for a treat. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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The Unraveling

Drive-By Truckers

Rock - Released January 31, 2020 | ATO Records LLC

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"I've always said that all of our records are political but..that 'politics is personal,'" Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood has stated of the band's 12th release. "With that in mind, this album is especially personal.” Every blight on the current American landscape is name-checked, from immigrant mistreatment ("Babies in Cages") to incels ("Grievance Merchants") to the hopelessness of mass shootings ("Thoughts and Prayers"). "21st Century USA" is a list of modern-day devastations: pay-day loans, wage inequality, credit-card debt, evangelical hypocrisy, pain pills. "With Big Brother watching me always, why must I always feel so alone," the lyrics intone over an amiable country-rock beat. The bleak portraits are often set against Americana sounds that recall Uncle Tupelo's heartland fervor ("Slow Ride Argument"), Springsteen's red-blooded rock 'n' roll ("Armageddon's Back in Town") and "Murmur"-era REM's earnest twang ("Thoughts and Prayers"). Appropriately, on "Heroin Again," a fed-up lament of the current opioid epidemic that echoes the drug damage of the '90s, the bass stomps and guitar chugs like a lost grunge anthem. The Unraveling isn't the feel-good album of the year, but it sure does sound good. © Shelly Ridenour / Qobuz
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The Unraveling

Drive-By Truckers

Rock - Released January 31, 2020 | ATO Records LLC

"I've always said that all of our records are political but..that 'politics is personal,'" Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood has stated of the band's 12th release. "With that in mind, this album is especially personal.” Every blight on the current American landscape is name-checked, from immigrant mistreatment ("Babies in Cages") to incels ("Grievance Merchants") to the hopelessness of mass shootings ("Thoughts and Prayers"). "21st Century USA" is a list of modern-day devastations: pay-day loans, wage inequality, credit-card debt, evangelical hypocrisy, pain pills. "With Big Brother watching me always, why must I always feel so alone," the lyrics intone over an amiable country-rock beat. The bleak portraits are often set against Americana sounds that recall Uncle Tupelo's heartland fervor ("Slow Ride Argument"), Springsteen's red-blooded rock 'n' roll ("Armageddon's Back in Town") and "Murmur"-era REM's earnest twang ("Thoughts and Prayers"). Appropriately, on "Heroin Again," a fed-up lament of the current opioid epidemic that echoes the drug damage of the '90s, the bass stomps and guitar chugs like a lost grunge anthem. The Unraveling isn't the feel-good album of the year, but it sure does sound good. © Shelly Ridenour / Qobuz
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Building Balance

Allen Stone

Soul - Released November 8, 2019 | ATO Records LLC

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With his soulfully resonant voice and long blond curls, singer Allen Stone was an unlikely R&B sensation when he broke through with his independently released 2011 self-titled sophomore album. Nonetheless, the record cracked the Top 40 of Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and put the self-described "hippie with soul" on the national pop music radar. That album showcased Stone's earthy knack for Stevie Wonder-esque songs, a vibe he built upon with his more slickly produced 2015 follow-up, Radius. On 2019's aptly titled Building Balance, Stone splits the difference between his organic first two albums and the more sonically vibrant Radius, offering a set of hooky tracks that make the most of his charismatic vocal presence. Whereas last time he worked with Swedish producer Tingsek, here he primarily worked with Britain's Jamie Lidell, who brings his own neo-soul skills to bear, producing and co-writing a handful of songs. Also adding to the album's soulful production are Jeremy Most, Nasri Atweh, and Jeff Gitelman, who each earn co-writing and production credits. All of which means that Stone has surrounded himself with a like-minded group of collaborators who know how to bring his effusive, new jack swing-influenced brand of R&B to life. It's a sound that brings to mind other retro-leaning artists like Raphael Saadiq and Aloe Blacc. In fact, Stone explicitly underlines his new jack inspiration on the punchy anthem "Back to the Swing," shifting from rap to vocal sections as the Dap-Kings Horns lay down funky brass riffs. Elsewhere, he offers a set of hooky, romance-heavy cuts including the infectious "Brown Eyed Lover," the mid-tempo '90s-style groover "Sunny Days," and the kinetic breakup jam "Sweaters." This is ebullient R&B with a hippie soul that evokes the best of the new jack swing sound. © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Building Balance

Allen Stone

Soul - Released November 8, 2019 | ATO Records LLC

With his soulfully resonant voice and long blond curls, singer Allen Stone was an unlikely R&B sensation when he broke through with his independently released 2011 self-titled sophomore album. Nonetheless, the record cracked the Top 40 of Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and put the self-described "hippie with soul" on the national pop music radar. That album showcased Stone's earthy knack for Stevie Wonder-esque songs, a vibe he built upon with his more slickly produced 2015 follow-up, Radius. On 2019's aptly titled Building Balance, Stone splits the difference between his organic first two albums and the more sonically vibrant Radius, offering a set of hooky tracks that make the most of his charismatic vocal presence. Whereas last time he worked with Swedish producer Tingsek, here he primarily worked with Britain's Jamie Lidell, who brings his own neo-soul skills to bear, producing and co-writing a handful of songs. Also adding to the album's soulful production are Jeremy Most, Nasri Atweh, and Jeff Gitelman, who each earn co-writing and production credits. All of which means that Stone has surrounded himself with a like-minded group of collaborators who know how to bring his effusive, new jack swing-influenced brand of R&B to life. It's a sound that brings to mind other retro-leaning artists like Raphael Saadiq and Aloe Blacc. In fact, Stone explicitly underlines his new jack inspiration on the punchy anthem "Back to the Swing," shifting from rap to vocal sections as the Dap-Kings Horns lay down funky brass riffs. Elsewhere, he offers a set of hooky, romance-heavy cuts including the infectious "Brown Eyed Lover," the mid-tempo '90s-style groover "Sunny Days," and the kinetic breakup jam "Sweaters." This is ebullient R&B with a hippie soul that evokes the best of the new jack swing sound. © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Crossing Lines

Vida Blue

Rock - Released September 20, 2019 | ATO Records LLC

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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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Black Lipstick

Chicano Batman

Alternative & Indie - Released June 21, 2019 | ATO Records LLC

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The Deaner Album

The Dean Ween Group

Alternative & Indie - Released October 21, 2016 | ATO Records LLC

Far from running away from the persona of Dean Ween -- the stage name adopted when he was a teenager -- guitarist/singer Mickey Melchiondo runs straight into it, christening his first-post Ween project the Dean Ween Group and naming their debut record The Deaner Album. Like Freeman, the 2014 debut album by his partner Aaron Freeman -- the duo were separated when Melchiondo wrote and recorded the material for this 2016 album but reunited by the time it was released -- The Deaner Album illustrates precisely what Melchiondo brought to Ween...namely, much of the band's brown sound. Designed as a showcase for Melchiondo's guitar playing -- there are three instrumentals scattered throughout the album, two named explicitly after idols Dickey Betts (the Allman Brothers Band) and Garry Shider (Parliament-Funkadelic) -- The Deaner Album does provide plenty of examples of his six-string prowess, including the clean, lively picking of "Shwartze Pete." The title of that song also suggests how often The Deaner Album trades in cheerful vulgarity, a practice that can't help but recall classic Ween. Often, the album takes detours into madness: the hyperkinetic novelty "Exercise Man" sets the album off to a frenzied start, while "Gum," a de facto sequel to "Candy," provides a garish counterpoint to the heavy rock that surrounds it. None of these thick rockers sound alike: "Charlie Brown" is a swirling circle of doom, "I'll Take It and Break It" punishes with its stomping riff, "Bums" races along, while "Nightcrawler" revels in its menacing depravity. All this makes The Deaner Album sound a little excessive but there are also moments of madcap pop ("Bundle of Joy," "You Were There"), twisted country ("Tammy"), and funk ("Mercedes Benz"), all parceled out with expert pacing, so the album plays like a drunken, giddy party. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Ownerless

Everest

Alternative & Indie - Released June 26, 2012 | ATO Records LLC