Music

The Jerry Douglas Band: What If

Dobro wizard Jerry Douglas returns with a virtuosic septet in tow on the jaw-dropping, highly enjoyable What If.


The Jerry Douglas Band

What If

Label: Rounder
US Release Date: 2017-08-18
UK Release Date: 2017-08-18
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A virtuoso in the truest sense of the word, no one has ever played the dobro quite like Jerry Douglas. Long revered as a sideman and in-demand session player (he has over 2,000 credits and counting to his name), his approach to the instrument has come to largely define its modern vocabulary. Much in the same way Béla Fleck helped redefine the banjo, Douglas’ approach forgoes any sort of stylistic parameters in favor of creating a musical fusion of all his disparate interests and influences. From traditional bluegrass to jazz to rock to blues and nearly all points in between, Douglas has put his spin on seemingly each and every style one could imagine in the nearly 40 years since his monumental debut album, Fluxology.

With such a storied career having already been well-cemented, Douglas could easily be forgiven for resting on his laurels. Even now he continues to push both himself and those with whom he plays to new and exciting levels of instrumental virtuosity. It’s a testament to his steadfast work ethic and a hard-earned reputation as one of Nashville’s greatest, not only on the dobro but also lap steel and guitar that he remains so invested in his art, both under his own name and with others.

For his latest outing as session leader, What If, Douglas has recruited his three-year-old septet of fellow virtuosos -- the Jerry Douglas Band -- to revisit tracks from his recording past in new and different ways, while allowing each player's individual instrumental prowess shine. Bassist Daniel Kimbro tears into Edgar Meyer’s “Unfolding", a tune Douglas has already recorded at least three times to date, with a ferocious solo, while saxophonist Jamel Mitchell shows off his driving post-bop chops throughout. It’s a thrilling read made all the more so by the level of playing Douglas manages to elicit from those around him.

Yet despite the clear virtuosity on display, it’s never once off-putting or alienating to the listener. Instead, Douglas and company manage a certain musical universality that makes even the most intricately complex of musical ideas sound welcoming. Of course, it helps to throw in a handful of recognizable covers, chiefly their rollicking rendition of “Hey Joe". Propelled by Doug Belote’s lightning-fast country shuffle and Kimbro’s wicked rockabilly slap, it serves as an excellent showcase for each instrumentalist, Douglas most of all as he magnificently surpasses anything Jimi Hendrix could’ve ever conceived during his solo.

As a vocalist, he is noticeably lacking but game to take on any and all comers. Douglas does his best late-night blues growl on Tom Waits’ “2:19", a track left steaming and smoldering from guitarist Mike Seal’s wicked leads. The song's sauntering, cocksure groove is the perfect backdrop for the group’s laid back, fiery blues, backing gospel choir and all. Meanwhile, the melancholic title track allows for some gorgeously introspective playing from all involved, but particularly Douglas and fiddler Christian Sedelmyer whose cascading, classically-informed Glassian lines tumble off one another in a rich harmonic embrace.

It’s this multifaceted approach that makes the music on What If so compelling; there’s always something more going on just below the surface, something equally virtuosic but always in service of the performance. This type of quiet confidence eschews even the slightest whiff of pretension or high-minded superiority, ensuring that even the densest passages of a tune like the counter-rhythmic “Battle Stick” remain engaging. Only the best of the best manage to make it look this effortless and The Jerry Douglas Band is made up of just that.

Of course, it’s not all blazing-fast solos and superhuman feats of musical dexterity. “Go Ahead and Leave” features Douglas on a hauntingly gorgeous melody that shows off his masterful, subtle melodic phrasing, taking the relatively simple line to the next level emotionally. It’s a master class in a less-is-more approach to soloing and melodic interpretation that further supports the notion that virtuosity does not exist solely in fiery fretwork, but also in musical sensitivity and a willingness to let a piece breathe.

After roaming all over the stylistic map on the preceding ten tracks, album closer “Hot Country 84.5” sees the group returning to their C&W roots, incorporating elements of Western Swing and straight-ahead country that show them to be some of the finest Nashville has to offer. In all, What If is not only a superb instrumental showcase, it’s an endlessly enjoyable listen that never once flaunts its virtuosity nor underestimates the listener by pandering. Instead, it’s yet another solid installment in the long line of work Jerry Douglas has produced over the last few decades. What If is a treat through and through.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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