The Brass Uncle Band
Three Mobtown Gallons (self-released)
The sound conjured by this Baltimore trio virtually embodies the city's geographic locale. Equal parts northern garage rock and southern blues/boogie, Brass Uncle Band straddles the Mason-Dixon with gusto and bemused delight. But where a lesser group might veer toward jam band noodling, B.U.B. anchors its material with measured country twang and a healthy dose of punk attitude. Its version of "Moonshiner" initially evokes Ry Cooder but quickly distances itself from the Americana legend thanks to a muscular and nimble rhythm section. A number of other cuts play out similarly, by faintly echoing the Allmans ("You Should Know Better") or early Wilco ("Not Coming Back") before distinguishing themselves. With infectious abandon, "Hit and Run" serves as a reminder that straight rock and roll can still be pulse-quickening if infused with enough slashing guitar and swaggering vocals—and if the lyrics seem swiped from mid-1970's Aerosmith, all the better. The Hammond B-3 on a couple cuts and the horn section that lights up the disc's final tune, "Sugar," hint that B.U.B. may be leaning toward southern soul in the future. But for now, the inherent north/south tension in these songs gives the group a distinctive edge.
Taking Chances (MaxJazz)
Jazz legend McCoy Tyner has called Stafford, a UM grad, "one of the great players of our time." After a few uneven recordings, the talented trumpeter lives up to that sort of hype with this live set, which was recorded at a Minneapolis club date. A deft mix of originals and standards, it balances zen-like calm and restless creativity on tunes such as Stafford's "A Nick Off the Mark" and "Taking a Chance on Love," a tune made famous by Ethel Waters and Frank Sinatra. Best of all, though, is a spirited version of "Jesus Loves Me"—yes, that "Jesus Loves Me." Stafford takes the Sunday-school staple out for a night on the town, and the familiar tune, clocking in here at ten-and-a-half minutes, benefits mightily from its new surroundings. It also proves that the disc lives up to its name.