Galactic, who recently turned up in David Simon's Treme, is a perfect choice for a show that takes place in New Orleans three months after Katrina. In fact, the band's music is an apt metaphor for how Simon's characters survive and rebuild after the storm. Galactic honors New Orleans tradition, but isn't bound or broken by it; instead, the band uses bits and pieces of the older stuff to forge a new musical reality that's fertile and motley. With old schoolers such as Allen Toussaint and various brass band heroes mingling with hip-hop artists and characters from the city's vibrant streets, the disc feels like a grassroots effort by a voraciously inclusive jam band. It's the sort of music that could send you strutting into the future.
Welcome to Smalltimore (self-released)
Two years ago, Mel Gibson's production company snagged Markman's poignant and catchy "Almost Home" for its Emmy-winning Carrier documentary, a 10-part series about life aboard an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Now, I wouldn't be surprised if some local media outlet snaps up this disc's bouncy title cut about living in Smalltimore. With Markman's homespun delivery and chiming guitars, offhand mentions of Formstone and the Marble Bar, and a verse that rhymes "Domino sign" with "B&O line," it exudes an unassuming confidence that suits its subject. The nine songs that follow balance world-weariness and plucky cynicism, with instrumental nods to roots rockers Mark Knopfler (check out Paul Margolis's stellar solo on "Road to Damascus") and Jerry Garcia also in the mix. Smartly, Markman uses quirky, virtuosic keyboard parts by Crack the Sky's Glenn Workman to add texture and a sense of sonic surprise that never feels convoluted or pretentious. And that's just right for Smalltimore.
It's Alive (Milkcrate)
This mixtape showcases Baltimore MC Mz Streamz, who's been getting noticed for her blistering battle rhymes and recent collaborations with Gorillaz and Lily Allen. Here, she races through 30 tracks—in a mere 50 minutes—that hint at greatness to come. Typically, Streamz swaggers over Aaron LaCrate and Debonair Samir's fist-pumping production, which occasionally downshifts into snippets of Spandau Ballet or Cyndi Lauper for a quick breather. But it's oddball moments, such as the Eastern flavored "Punjabi Gutter" and a cameo by go-go godfather Chuck Brown ("Go Go Girls"), that are most intriguing because they push her formidable talent into unexpected territory that would be worth developing on a proper debut disc. But all too often, host Fatman Scoop interrupts the proceedings with gruff cheerleading—"Let's do it! Let's go! Let's ride!"—that proves tiresome by the disc's end. It goes to show that Streamz's flow should not be interrupted.