John Driskell Hopkins is a founding member of the rockin’ Zac Brown Band where he continues to reside. That doesn’t mean he can’t also hook up with a North Carolina bluegrass band, Balsam Range, and put out the kind of acoustic real country music that makes the crap on country radio sound even worse than it already does (if that’s possible). As a healthy, red-blooded 62-year-old American, I may have sexual fantasies about Taylor Swift, but I certainly don’t want to have to listen to her. They say the masses are asses, and all those fools out there who think Miranda Lambert and her moron husband Blake Shelton are country should be tied to a chair and force-fed 30 straight hours at top volume of Merle, Hank, Willie, Waylon, Lefty, Loretta, Tammy and David Allan Coe, in other words, all the “old farts” (as Blake Shelton calls ‘em). Daylight, by John Driskell Hopkins & Balsam Range, is the best country album of the year so far. And you can bet you won’t hear it on the radio.
How’d this one get by me? Charlie Peacock, 56, has been at it for 30 years, performing, producing and composing. His No Man’s Land (Twenty Ten Music), released last October, is the first album since the demise of The Band to encapsulate the kind of rustic Americana that made a generation or two fall in love with Music From Big Pink. It’s that good. Filled with songs that tell stories and have fiddle, banjo, mountain harmony, horns, guitars, woodwinds, keyboard, bass and percussion, it never grows old. That’s because it is, by its very essence, old, resonating with the kind of honest back-porch “just-folks” sensibility rooted in the Mississippi mud. Or, in this case, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
“I was trying to capture something of the sound of my grandparents’ America: Cajun two-steps, ruckus and dust, lots of dust,” he says.
Peacock produced the recent Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars as well as Jackson Browne, Holly (daughter of Hank) Williams and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He’s like a mad scientist searching for sounds and themes.
There’s plenty of oddball twists and turns here, enough to keep a Tom Waits fan satisfied. The album is greater than the sum of its parts and demands a listen in its entirety as one would watch a movie. No Man’s Land is, indeed, something real special. You won’t hear this on the radio either.
Alto saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Gamak (ACT Music) is out and threatening to rock your world with its blend of—get this!—prog rock, jazz, punk, worldbeat and South Indian classical music. Mahanthappa, who lives in Montclair, may never become a household name, but this is his 13th album, recontextualizing, mixing ‘n’ matching and ultimately blowing the adventurous listener’s mind.
It’s a sax/guitar/bass/drums lineup where the sax stands supreme but is egged on by guitarist Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski of the band Screaming Headless Torsos. Bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss are mathematicians in keeping these odd time signatures floating. Take the opener, “Waiting Is Forbidden,” for example. It’s an eight-minute+ meandering free-for-all that starts as progressive jazz, morphs into what my ex-wife used to call “snake-charmer music” and finishes up somewhere between Dream Theater and Metallica.
“Aboghi” is based on a raga but instead of sitar it’s sax that carries it home.
“Majesty Of The Blues” ain’t blues, it’s screamo punk.
I don’t think you’ll be hearing this on the radio. In fact, the last time I heard anything quite so freewheeling, esoteric, eclectic, badass and experimental had to be a Pharoah Sanders club date in the early ‘70s when I was tripping.