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CD Shorts

Reviewed this week: Heather Maloney, Jimi Hendrix, and The Ambiguities

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Heather Maloney
Heather Maloney
(Signature Sounds)

It’s hard to imagine 2013 will bring a better album than Heather Maloney’s Signature Sounds debut, a work of maturity, deep emotion, and knock-you-to-your-knees beauty. Unlike a lot of young singers, Maloney lets the song flow through her rather than trying to prove her chops. (It helps if those chops are already well done.) The album’s songs fall loosely into the folk/country category, with undertones of jazz and pop. She rocks us with bouncy hooks (“Flutter”), impresses with a hand-jive/jazz mash up (“Hey Broken”), and stops us dead with poignant sweetness, as in “Dirt and Stardust,” a reflection on life’s ephemerality. She has good values, too. Witness “Grace,” a postmodern musing on the old gospel tune, and “John Ball,” in which honky-tonk meets progressive politics. The finale, “Flying on Helium,” is a showstopper that’s simultaneously fragile and strong. Let’s dump the “emerging artist” label in favor of “the real deal.” —Rob Weir

*

Jimi Hendrix
People, Hell and Angels
(Legacy)

For years, bootleg recordings containing many bits and pieces of late Hendrix work have floated around. People, Hell and Angels is not a bootleg, but an official, authorized release. It contains 12 previously unreleased tracks Hendrix recorded after his last album. It’s often said that Hendrix’ aesthetic was turning jazzward in his last years, and there are jazzy additions on some tracks here, with saxophone, other horns and organ appearing, as well as occasional second guitar tracks. Still, Hendrix’ guitar playing is every bit as mind-bending and psychedelic as on his earlier releases, far more bluesy than jazzy. The recording sometimes sounds low-tech, if not lo-fi. You can often hear the reverb of the room, as if Hendrix and his fellow musicians (not the Experience) merely hit “record” during jam sessions. Songs meander, though not in a distracting way. Some mellow, beautiful tracks are wedged in between funky or bluesy songs. Hendrix’ all-lead, all the time playing lends a casual sense of narrative, and much sounds like experimentation. But even Hendrix’ casual experimentation is as absorbing and revelatory as ever. It’s great to finally hear these sounds, four decades after Hendrix’ death, and wonder what might have been. —James Heflin

*

The Ambiguities
Everything Rhymes With The End Times
(Algorhythm)

On the latest release by his alternative music side project, Greenfield songwriter Daniel Hales stares down the apocalypse with five songs that are tailor-made to greet Armageddon with a full dance-floor. In fact, the record’s title cut is a nearly nine-minute soundtrack that’s perfect for staring into the void and features slide guitar, electronic flourishes, and a trance-inducing groove. “If songs could be monuments, this one is a shrine / to the beginning of the ending of the end times,” Hales sings. And as the verses begin to pile up, one gets the impression that the part-time poet isn’t boasting. Even when he’s taking a short breather on “El Saguaro,” whose entirely Hebrew-sung vocals are covered by the mysterious singer Du Mashmai, Hales keeps the beat light, perfect for listeners who want to let their feet dissect the meaning behind that tune and others like the hypnotic “One Hand Clapping.” —Michael Cimaomo

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