Works of Larry Hoffman: Contemporary American Music (DBK)
William Ferris, arguably this country’s preeminent scholar on Southern folklore and the blues, has written that Larry Hoffman “transports the blues into exciting new worlds through his classical compositions,” which “represent an important new chapter for American music.” Hoffman—a Pikesville native, who’s also known around town as a musician and educator—certainly integrates the classical and blues genres with moxie and might. Bringing to mind Bartók’s folk-inspired works, Hoffman integrates blues elements that swing sturdily through pieces like “String Quartet #1: The Blues” (as played by the Atlantic String Quartet) to quicken the pulse and fortify the soul. Having these seemingly disparate genres combined with such joy and gravitas makes Hoffman, and Ferris, sound downright visionary.
Animal Joy (Sub Pop)
I had no idea Shearwater frontman Jonathan Meiburg hailed from Baltimore. I’d always associated Meiburg with Austin, thanks to his involvement with indie rockers Okkervil River, but his local ties include growing up in Ramblewood near Mercy High School. However, I did have an inkling his band was capable of producing an excellent art-rock record, and this is it. Animal Joy retains the drama and grandeur of previous efforts, but tempers it with bright guitars and dynamic drumming that sharpen the overall sound. Listeners might be tempted to pigeonhole it into some ill-fitting subgenre, but Shearwater’s music remains elusive and unclassifiable—though it would fit alongside The National and Beach House on a mixtape. Thanks to Meiburg’s melancholic singing, the material broods with hushed intensity and heartfelt emotion. In less capable hands, songs like “Believing Makes It Easy” and “Dread Sovereign” might sound pretentious, but Meiburg and company infuse them with just enough delicacy and depth. And after factoring in propulsive rockers such as “Breaking the Yearlings” and “Immaculate,” the disc lives up to its title.
The Polkats (self-released)
It takes a band of mighty musicians to mix country, zydeco, and Tejano music with polka, but this legendary local combo did just that in the early 1990s, winning the hearts and dancing feet of many Baltimoreans. Musician magazine once named The Polkats the Best Unsigned Band in America, and this long out-of-print recording (recently issued on CD) captures the swirling, high-energy collisions of traditional music that were their forte. With any luck at all, you can get yourself a copy at the band’s March 3 reunion show at the Creative Alliance.