Ancestral Songs (Holy Mountain)
Walking through AVAM's current show, Home and Beast, it was an unexpected surprise to come across paintings by Higgs, who's better known in Baltimore as the lead singer in Lungfish. This disc, his third solo offering, is even more surprising. Higgs's trademark howl and shamanistic poetry have long been an integral part of Lungfish's riotously hypnotic, post-punk groove, so it's startling to hear him instead picking an acoustic guitar and softly intoning lyrics like, "My love, these living rags I wear/My beloved, the daughter of the sea and air" on "Living in the Kingdom of Death." That song might bring the freak-folk genre to mind, but Higgs quickly squashes any such labeling by veering into mostly uncharted territory for the rest of the disc. From pastoral banjo plucking ("Thy Chosen Bride") to sculpted drones ("Are You of the Body?"), he experiments with form and texture in ways that never fail to reflect his long-standing artistic intensity and integrity.
Philip Glass/Beni Montresor
The Witches of Venice (Orange Mountain)
Who would have thought that the creator of Einstein on the Beach would one day write an opera for children? But Baltimore native Philip Glass has done just that, with surprisingly satisfying results. A collaboration between Glass and children's author Beni Montresor, the story revolves around a little boy's search through the streets of Venice for a playmate. He's been told, by witches, about a little girl, so he sets out to find her. Glass's accelerating and decelerating music provides appropriate accompaniment, as the boy meets monsters and fairies along the way and tension builds and ebbs. To Glass's credit, he doesn't compromise his trademark style by radically altering it or writing down to a kids' audience. As a result, the disc—which is tucked inside a gorgeous hardback book featuring Montresor's story and illustrations—will definitely appeal more to parents.
Lurch & Holler
Lurch & Holler (self-released)
Over the past 15 years, Liz Downing and Michael Willis have created some of the most beguiling, fascinating, offbeat, and enjoyable music in Baltimore. Like with their previous groups, Lambs Eat Ivy and Radiant Pig, the duo wraps Downing's pliant, Southern twang and Willis's deep baritone around theatrical, Appalachian-infused parables of life and death. Their surrealist imagery is, by turns, mundane and magical, as banjo mingles with piano and reality waltzes into the spirit world for an otherworldly hoedown. Dali meets Dolly in Lurch & Holler's universe.