Cyrus Plays Elvis (Koch)
A few years back, Chestnut raised eyebrows by recording a disc of tunes by Pavement, indie rock darlings from the 1990’s. A quartet session that also featured saxophonist James Carter, that disc uncovered melodies at the heart of Pavement’s material and qualified as something of a revelation. Here, the Baltimore-born pianist tackles a set of songs made popular by Elvis Presley, which, at first, seems even stranger than interpreting indie rock tunes. But Chestnut shares an affinity for blues and gospel material with Elvis, and that commonality helps this disc succeed seamlessly. It’s hard to resist Chestnut’s playful take on “Hound Dog,” no matter how many times you’ve heard the original. He riffs on the familiar melody with gusto and glee, turning the rock chestnut into a Chestnut chestnut. He similarly transforms “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me Tender,” and “Heartbreak Hotel.” At disc’s end, Chestnut goes to church on “How Great Thou Art,” a tune that suggests a full CD of Elvis’s gospel material might be in order.
The Modern Tribe (4AD)
Celebration’s 2005 debut CD swirled and twirled ecstatically, like a whirling dervish channeling the spirit of Siouxsie Sioux. Always invigorating and sometimes confounding, the band didn’t rock so much as it roiled its way to the murky, but heady, alt-rock stratosphere occupied by the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio. In fact, TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek deserves some credit for the Baltimore trio’s continued ascent on The Modern Tribe. Sitek produced both Celebration discs, and this time around, he brings more of a pulsing rhythmic sense to the fore. Handclaps accent the rhythm on “Pressure,” as horns wheeze and Katrina Ford’s full-throated singing soars above, around, and through a calliope of sound. Although Ford’s impressive vocals continue to garner much-deserved attention, multi-instrumentalist Sean Antanaitis’s organ-drenched soundscapes and Dave Bergander’s inspired drumming shouldn’t be overlooked. Antanaitis crafts circuitous, dramatic tunes such as the Moondog-ish “Heartbreak” and the thrashing “Pony,” which benefit greatly from Bergander’s mighty swing. And if better songs than “Evergreen,” “Fly the Fly,” and “Comets” have been released this year, I haven’t heard them. The Modern Tribe qualifies as more than just a good CD—it’s a unique accomplishment, one that figures to catapult this band far beyond Baltimore.
The Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra
City By The Sea (self-released)
I’ve always enjoyed the mandolin. Besides conjuring all things Italian, it distinguished REM’s “Losing My Religion” from most guitar-based indie rock in the early 1990’s, even though Peter Buck looked bored out of his mind strumming the tiny instrument in the video. And if one mandolin sounded so good, imagine how great more than a dozen might sound! This BMO disc is, indeed, a mandolin lover’s dream come true. It includes Italian standards such as “O Solo Mio” alongside original compositions such as the title track and “Don’s Melody.” Beatrice Gilbert adds panache and flair to a handful of tunes that make the most of her soprano.