Does the name Chris Daniels ring any bells? How about Sam Bush? Daniels has been in bands with him. Lloyd Maines? Check. Richie Furay? Yep. Béla Fleck? Uh-huh. He hangs with half the bluegrass, folk and country pantheon, but generally only headlines with his band The Kings, and this is only his second solo album since 1983. We can be happy he made it, but he’s even happier; Daniels celebrates his 60th birthday with this album after almost losing his life to leukemia. And if you think there’s no humor in that, give a listen to “Medical Marijuana,” whose wry witticisms evoke Bill Hicks. We can certainly indulge him in sunny remembrances of favorite places. “Cabin Fever”—a song he penned in 1976—is an honorary New England anthem for all who know it. Better Days is Daniels’ welcome back to health and it strikes a lovely balance between new energy and earned nostalgia. Regarding the latter, the project is actually an album and a half—disc two contains five live tracks from a show with New Grass Revival in 1985. It’s also one of the last of the true album CDs, a perfect-bound 60-page booklet printed on heavy stock and filled with lyrics, thoughts, and photos. Here’s wishing Daniels lots of better days. —Rob Weir
Shifty Adventures in Nookie Woods
If you don’t already know who John Cale is, this is not a good way to find out. Cale has years of experience to inform his work, but this album is awkward where it should be edgy and dated where it should be timely. The tracks don’t make for easy listening; poorly mixed melancholy ends up sounding passé. The album is plagued by what sounds like nostalgia for a more successful time. Cale’s attempt to update his sound with electronic elements in “December Rain” and “Mothra” feels like a dance remix done by your mom. The combination of languid lyrics and stagnant beats kill the album. Shifty Adventures is a poor attempt to resonate with an audience that may have moved on. Unless you are really craving another helping of Cale, it may be better to pass. —Kathleen Broadhurst
Hot Club of Detroit
Like many groups with “Hot Club” in the name, Hot Club of Detroit has primarily specialized in Django Reinhardt-esque Gypsy jazz. With Junction, the band steps outside the often constricting borders of that tradition-bound genre. It’s a good plan for a band based in a city with strong musical traditions of its own. The result is only a distant cousin of the Reinhardt sound, mixing saxophone, accordion and electric guitar into a very modern melange that, at times, approaches an overload of tangled, brash sounds, albeit one with a Selmer-style guitar sound and precise playing. The rhythms often lilt instead of chop, then a relaxed, tango-like feel emerges. With more bands departing from Gypsy jazz tradition, whether you like this band’s approach is likely to not be so much a matter of purist snobbery as one of tolerance for boundary-pushing in general; the Hot Club veers quickly from experimental noisemaking to straight-ahead, sophisticated musette. If you don’t like a tune, well, just wait a minute and you may yet.