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SOUNDS FAMILYRE

The words and primary voice are those of Jad Fair, that enduringly idiosyncratic artist revered in discerning pockets of the global indie rock underground for decades. Danielson’s Daniel Smith has long admired Fair, drawing inspiration from Half Japanese (the band Fair formed with his brother in the ‘70s) on through to his prolific career today. Their discussions of collaborating finally came to fruition when Joyful Noise Recordings designated Fair its “Artist In Residence” for 2014 and Danielson was tapped as one of 4 artists (including R. Stevie Moore; Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake; and Strobe Talbot) to record separate respective albums with him for a boxed-set limited release.

“Flattered and honored” is how Smith sums up his feelings about the project -- and grateful to get a game-plan for what always seemed a complementary pairing. Sounds Familyre will be doing their own non-limited release of Solid Gold Heart in June, on CD, digital and gold vinyl. The 11 tracks of sweet collaboration collected under said title sound like what you might expect, given the respective artists: gleaming tunes of sincere sing-speak, resplendent with sparkling back-up vocals and warmly melodic, inventive instrumentation; a sunshine-bright outlook of positive encouragement to keep “rockin’ on the side of gooood” -- because, after all, “We deserve chocolate cake/ We deserve apple pie/ Enjoy your life ...”

The collaborative process commenced with Fair sending Smith his unique vocal demos of recited lyrics with articulated mouthsound musical qualities (some bits remain in the final mixes). Smith then wrote music for each chosen track, eventually getting Fair and drummer Gilles Rieder into his Clarksboro, NJ studio to record their parts during a few hours break from touring. Aside from Smith’s own guitar-playing and singing throughout the album, there were contributions made by his brothers David and Andrew on percussion, and sisters Rachel and Megan along with wife Elin on vocals. Spicing things up at Fair’s behest were members of Texas art-polka band Brave Combo: Carl Finch on accordion and keys; Jeffrey Barnes on sax and woodwinds; and Danny O’Brien on trumpet. Bringing things full-circle was Kramer (Shockabilly, Bongwater, B.A.L.L. et al.) on bass, who also co-mixed and mastered the album.

The result is a beguiling blend that builds off each participant’s strengths, truly a fresh sum that is greater than its parts. “The goal was to make 3-minute pop songs, as accessible and fun and immediate as possible,” notes Smith. And that’s what you’ll hear, each track an uplifting, mutually enhanced concoction. Anyone who ever had a Solid Gold Heart -- wouldn’t they want to turn around and share it? Of course they would. Jad Fair and Danielson are happy to offer up theirs.

TRACK LISTING

1. Go Ahead
2. Rockin On The Good Side
3. Ready Steady
4. Here We Stand
5. Solid Gold Heart
6. With The Knowledge 
7. Apple Apple
8. Not No
9. On And On
10. You Got Me In A Spin
11. Here’s Our Time

Much like the beautiful, thumb-sized songbird from which the band derives its name, the music of Ortolan possesses the kind of startling beauty that reintroduces wonder to the weary. With playful lyrical themes ranging from sandcastles to buckets of light to fanciful creatures following you home, it’s music with sass and spunk, born from fierce imaginations and young hearts just as enamored with the classic sounds of The Ronnettes, The Shirelles, The Beatles and Motown, as with modern songwriters Regina Spektor, Feist, and Joanna Newsom.

Perhaps what is most striking about Ortolan's music is its satisfying inevitability: the melodies, the chord progressions, the instrumentation, the production all boil down to the right note followed by the right note followed by the right note. All this inevitability and sense of rightness—and yet quirkiness, spontaneity, and joy scamper rambunctiously through every measure. The sound makes you feel that perhaps there are things in the world that exist as they are meant to, and that is no small feat.

TRACK LISTING

1. Once
2. Sticky Situation
3. Be So Bold
4. Just Like Me
5. Opposites
6. Insist For More
7. Changes
8. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep
9. Gaze
10. Mirror Image
11. Ludwig
12. Anything

This record began in Ben + Vesper’s kitchen so many years ago over three bowls of vegetarian chili, a pan of cornbread, filtered water, and an agreeable dinner guest by the name of Sufjan Stevens. The occasion was an invitation to play at a house-concert series that Ben + Vesper hosted in their living room (which resulted in Sufjan’s first live show ever). This unlikely start to Sufjan’s performing career also resulted in an ongoing friendship and musical dialogue that has recently inspired Ben + Vesper to dish out another dollop of ambrosial pop songs titled LuvInIdleness. Here is the new EP that finally brought the dinner party full circle as Sufjan, in turn, invited the Jersey-based couple across state lines, harrowing train connections and two great rivers to record 16 minutes of listening glee. The outcome of this effort is easy to convey: go out and find a low-budget production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, and then go home and Netflix Olivia Newton-John’s Xanadu. Go to sleep and the music in your fabled dreams will undoubtedly be all five songs in order as they appear on "LuvInIdleness". If you don’t wish to try all this, then put on the CD, and you will be pleased to hear a heavy dose of Sufjan’s bright and varied arrangements underpinning each track, and Ben’s brother Josh plucking and bowing that unmistakably gorgeous upright bass. One of the greatest achievements of "LuvInIdleness" is the room provided for Vesper’s voice to really shine. On every song, Vesper can be heard striding out from the shadows of a backing vocalist to command each melodic turn with her distinctive range. This gives greater weight to Ben’s understated baritone as the two voices form a pleasing union throughout the course of the album. As a collection of songs, LuvinIdleness stands firm on the tradition of real music for hard-working people; strangely familiar but never nostalgic. Lyrically, these songs are filled with a peculiar hilarity that is just barely outrunning a gang of nagging doubts and uncertainties about the past, present, and future state of everything.

TRACK LISTING

1. Singing Swords
2. The Big Conversation
3. I Ask Because I Can
4. Luvinidleness
5. Oarless Oracle

It's only fitting that for Soul-Junk's auspicious "1960" release, the stylistically dizzying San Diego-based band has returned to the comfy confines of Sounds Familyre, home of their musically adventurous cross-continental kinfolk Danielson. Recorded at Danielson's New Jerusalem Recreation Room studio in South Jersey and co-produced by Glen Galloway and Daniel C. Smith, "1960" is S-J's eleventh album - as in, counting upwards since their 1995 debut long-player "1950", and aside from the numerous EPs, singles and fruitful collaborations along the way. Although numbers have their significant role, the decidedly family affair that is "1960" ultimately concerns letters, which lead to words, which leads to The Word - which, as it is written, came before the rest anyway... This indeed means actual Biblical text. Specifically, from The Book of Psalms (New King James Version). In the grand tradition of classical composers both older - Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart - and more recent - Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein - as well as a handful of discerning popular artists from U2 to the dubbed-out Prince Far I, Soul-Junk has returned to the rich inspiration of the Bible's "Songs Of Praise". Soul-Junk's "1959" album (2007) featured group mainstay Glen Galaxy singing the first 23 of the book's 150 psalms, a solo outing except for a touch of vox from his four-year-old daughter Mila. Like past S-J fare, Galaxy voiced over a diverse collection of original instrumentation, tuneful delvings in off-kilter indie rock, lo-fi folk, and open-ended hip hop, all informed by a genre-transcending liberty. (From the very free-est of jazz to the most radical turntablism, Galaxy is a knowledgeable music fan). "1960" pushes everything further while narrowing the scriptural focus: Psalm 119, the longest of all, 176 lines, eight for each of its 22 sections. The lyrics for each of "1960"'s 22 tracks are drawn verbatim from its respective part of Psalm 119. How Galaxy ardently phrases the verbiage in distinct melodic songcraft - lingering on a line for its transitional capability, emphasizing another for its inherent catchy power-chorus effect - this is where the creativity poured into each song begins to elevate all. Although repeatedly, massively, fervently rocking out more often than any Soul-Junk record in years, "1960"'s crystalline/inventively fuzzified electric guitars and pounding drums (courtesy of recurrent S-J stalwart Brian Cantrell, a Galaxy associate since 1980s high school days in SD) tell only part of the sound-story. Having enlisted over a dozen S-J members through the years, vocalist-guitarist Galaxy is joined by eight others here for a suitably large-scale Soul-Junk ensemble. And there are those voices - family voices. Danielson Famile ringleader Daniel Smith (whose sister is married to Galaxy's brother) is joined by his wife Elin Smith and father Lenny Smith in singing out/harmonizing along.


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