Amit Peled/Eli Kalman
The Jewish Soul (Centaur)
Peled, a cellist who teaches at Peabody, and Kalman, his frequent collaborator on piano, perform a program of spirited compositions by a handful of Jewish composers. Peled chose this material wisely, with an eye for quality and an ear for the meditative melodies that thread these selections together into a cohesive whole. It gently ebbs and flows from the festive to the elegiac, the highlight being the three movements of Ernest Bloch's "From Jewish Life," as Peled wrings intensity from the piece and Kalman punctuates it with understated elegance. Peled has said he envisions this CD as the first in a series, so let's hope there's more to come.
The Knot (Merge)
After listening to these 10 songs, I don't think The Knot alludes to simply tying things together. Considering the band's name—a reference to our once-majestic state tree—I'd figure the title speaks of variations, even imperfections, that go against the grain. As more and more indie rock veers towards noisy clatter and feedback, this Baltimore duo, to their credit, emerges from the squall with a more exacting sound that touches on Americana and a peculiar, stately strain of blues. Multi-instrumentalist Andy Stack gets maximum effect from a pedal steel guitar (not your typical indie rock axe) on "For Prayer" and uses it to flavor a few other tunes, including the shambling, shimmering "Talking About Money." Strings infuse "I Want for Nothing" and "Sight, Flight" with a tender ache that's buoyed by Stack's nimble arranging, which frees up more space for Jenn Wasner's vocals. Throughout the disc, Wasner's singing benefits from the varied textures, as she shades lyrics with dusky hues that would likely get lost in a stormier setting.
Charm City Devils
Let's Rock-n-Roll (Eleven Seven)
Let's rock and roll, indeed. Baltimore's CCD gets all AC/DC on its debut disc for Eleven Seven, the label run by Mötley Crüe guitarist Nikki Sixx. It takes real moxie to begin a song with "Can I get a hell yeah?" but when CCD layers a martial drumbeat and careening guitar riffs underneath, it's 1980 all over again, all highways lead to Hades, and it's easy to imagine an arena full of fist-pumping fans answering the call to "True Love (Hell Yeah)." That is, until the group channels 1986-era Bon Jovi on "Almost Home," a quickie power ballad with a sentimental streak and "keep shining on" chorus. Such songs should go over well this summer, when CCD crisscrosses the country as part of Crüe Fest.