The Gathering (Thrill Jockey)
When I first heard Arbouretum had brought a keyboardist into the fold, I groaned at the prospect. Over the course of its three previous discs, the band had been refining a swaggering, bluesy psychedelia that, thanks to a torrent of droning guitar, sounded like Lungfish channeling the likes of Nick Drake and English folk-rocker Roy Harper. My misgivings were unfounded. Turns out, they've perfected that sound, keyboard and all. Guitarist/vocalist Dave Heumann layers ringing chords over gnarled fuzz and sings in a world-weary voice that suggests he's seen it all, twice. That's why extended tunes such as "The White Bird," "Waxing Crescents," and "Song of the Nile" work so well, as Heumann conveys hard-won wisdom and a mythic grandeur that's buoyed by sculpted waves of feedback, marching drums, and keyboard flourishes. And when Heumann steps back for a startlingly stripped-down version of Jimmy Webb's "The Highwayman," the result is truly transcendent, as he sweeps away everything but its lyrical grandeur. It's easily the best Webb cover in recent memory.
Arbouretum plays 2640 Space on March 5 with Celebration and Future Islands.
Lágrimas Mexicanas (eOne)
Is there anything Frisell can't do? Over the course of his 30-year career, the Baltimore-born guitarist has tackled a jaw-dropping array of genres, from jazz and country to experimental noise and soundtracks. Here, he collaborates with Brazilian singer Vinicius Cántuaria on a set of Bossa Nova-tinged tunes full of easygoing grooves. It reminds me of Chet Baker, or Antonio Carlos Jobim, as Frisell solos tastefully over subtle and seductively looped rhythms, and Cántuaria sings wistfully about love and loss. Amazingly, Frisell never loses his musical identity in this setting, and his distinctive tone marks the material as his own. As composer and accompanist, he's rarely sounded better.