Here's a look at some releases that have hit Milwaukee CD shops recently (or will do so shortly) ...
Tracey Thorn -- Love and Its Opposite (Merge)
On her debut solo full-length "Out of the Woods," Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn picked up where her band had left off years before while she stayed home to raise three kids. It was a mix of dance music and melodic ballads with a modern bent. The follow-up, "Love and Its Opposite," find Thorn in her 40s, looking at the world and and relationships (Oh, the Divorces!") around her and setting them to more varied sounds that remind us of older EBTG records. But, still, the disc sounds fresh and new. Many describe Thorn as a hobbyist now in the world of music because she's been quoted as saying she's eager to make a record and then get back to the business of motherhood. But listen to these songs and you'll see that motherhood feeds her muse and her music -- and her listeners -- benefit.
Paul Weller -- Wake Up the Nation (Yep Roc)
I've awaited this latest record eagerly, because it finds Weller working with his The Jam compatriot Bruce Foxton for the first time since the band played its final gig in Brighton in December 1982. Die-hard fans will like it, too, because it remarries Weller to rock and roll after the stellar, but often folky and more diverse "22 Dreams." "Fast Car Slow Traffic," with Foxton on bass has a great 1978 feel, reminding us off "London Traffic" with some quirky detours. "Andromeda" and "Find the Torch" (Keep it Burning!) have some of that great "Revolver"-era Harrison guitar that Weller put to good use during The Jam years. "In Amsterdam" will feel familiar to fans of The Style Council with its snare drum brush work and continental vibe. While this record didn't get the same advance hype as "22 Dreams" -- perhaps because the advance single, "13 7 + 3 (Is The Striker's Game)," isn't the disc's strongest track -- it's every bit as diverse and good and adds a dose of volume and plectrum-fueled passion.
Various Artists -- Joe Gibbs 12" Reggae Discomix Showcase Vols. 4 and 5 (17 North Parade/VP)
Two more installments in this great series that puts together nearly a dozen super-long vintage '70s reggae tracks by singers like Junior Byles, Dennis Brown, Hugh Griffiths, Sammy Dread and Junior Murvin. Reggae 12"s during the era (discomix meant long version, and not anything to do with American disco music) were great because they doubled (and sometimes more) the length of the original track, adding dub portions and/or DJ versions. Here, the featured DJs inclde U Black, Tappa Zukie, the inimitable Trinity, Prince Mohammed, Lui Lepke and others. The result are extremely satisfying workouts on brilliant, brilliant tracks like Sylford Walker's "Burn Babylon" and Earth & Stone's "Ring Craft." The only hiccups come in some ill-advised versions of then-Michael Jackson hits like "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground" (Ruddy Thomas and Welton Irie) and "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" (The Tamlins' Derrick Lara and Trinity). But with five sets already out and hopefully more to come, there's plenty to celebrate.
Roky Erickson with Okkervil River -- True Love Cast Out All Evil (Anti-)
Drugs, poverty, mental illness and more kept former 13th Floor Elevator Roky Erickson off the scene for years and the fact that he's back at all is reason to celebrate. That he's made a great record with a young band -- instead of the kind of pathetic comeback dished up so many former greats -- ought to have music fans over the moon. It stands with the likes of Johnny Cash's first "American Recordings" records. Opening with the hissy "Devotional Number One" gives us the sense that we're about to embark on a journey into the past. And indeed, notes producer Will Sheff, the songs were drawn from throughout Erickson's career as a songwriter. That they are given such a sensitive and rewarding rootsy treatment seems like a fitting tribute to Erickson. That he's the star of the show makes it even better. A record of the year for sure.
Mose Allison -- The Way of the World (Anti-)
I'm a little less enamored of the "comeback" record by jazz great Mose Allison. That's in large part due to the fact that I've never been able to fall under the spell of the magic that has entranced music fans -- many of my good friends (and even The Clash) among them. Allison's first studio record in 12 years was recorded with Joe Henry and has got vim and vigor and that loping Allison style and certainly it would be great background music in a coffee shop, but I doubt that's what Allison and Henry were aiming at. I'm sure fans will love it and while I can't say there's anything wrong with this record whatsoever, it just don't float my boat.
Junior Kelly -- Red Pond (VP) & Alborosie -- Escape from Babylon (Greensleeves)
I sort of lost the thread of dancehall in the early 2000s, when even records by Jah Mali, Luciano, Bushman and Daniki & Steady Ranks started to become unreliable. But every now and again I hear some great ones, like these two, which mix rootsy material with lighter fare and blend digital rhythms with live musicians. Kelly is very much like Bushman in this regard, creating "fire bun" tunes like "Celebrate Life" and sweetness like "She's Gone" and sounding comfortable in either setting. Alborosie is the nome de riddim of Sicilian boy Alberto D'Ascola, now based in Jamaica. He's got some great guests on this, his second disc, including Steel Pulse's David Hinds, the late Dennis Brown and Morgan Heritage's Gramps Morgan. He's also an ace sampler. Want proof? Check out his "Money," which samples classic Horace Andy, "Kingdom of Zion" which has slices of Barry Brown's "Enter The Kingdom of Zion," and "Steppin' Out," built on the Steel Pulse tune of the same name.
Victoria Vox -- Exact Change (Obus Music)
While the packaging weighs ton, thanks to the faux washing machine packaging, ukelelist Vox creates some jaunty, light as air music that will have you on your feet. She makes some stops in French cafes ("Mon Cheri," "La Musique" and, well, "French Cafe") but also in jangly pop ("Oh I Wonder") and '50s style slow 3/4 time rock and roll ballads ("Beautiful Home"). Variety is definitely the spice of life here and credit Vox with making quality, serious music with an instrument that rarely gets its due credit.
Look Mexico -- To Bed To Battle (Surburban Home)
They call Jay-Z and the Beatles influences but Look Mexico -- from Florida, not south of the border -- are pretty straightforward modern guitar-driven rock. But on this, its sophomore full-length effort, the band -- now based in Austin -- deepens its sound with brass, strings, keyboards and pedal steel, too, creating a more layered music. It's dramatic, it's driven and it's melodic; sometimes emo-y, sometimes math-y. It's hard to pin down, but it works.
Justin Currie -- The Great War (Ryko)
Former Del Amitri frontman Justin Currie's first solo record a few years ago was an introspective set of downtempo ballads that were packed with emotion and well-crafted lyrics. The follow-up is no less introspective and well-written lyrically, but it's much more diverse musically and much more uptempo, which will please some fans. "A Man With Nothing To Do," "At Home Inside of Me" and "As Long As You Don't Come Back" will assuage veteran listeners aching for something more familiar, but the lengthy acid-tongued "The Fight To Be Human" and ballads like "You'll Always Walk Alone" and "The Way That It Falls" will touch some who maybe hadn't listened before.
Plants and Animals -- La La Land (Secret City)
A while back I tweeted about how damned good the sleeve on this CD smells and I stand by that. But now, I can also attest that the music inside smells pretty nice, too. This is the second full-length from the Montreal-based band and its straightforward, '70s-based rock and roll has garnered lackluster reviews, especially in comparison to its heralded debut, "Parc Avenue." The arrangements here are simpler, more basic, even if the record doesn't quite reach the highs of its predecessor. But it's got intimate moments -- see "Undone Melody" and "Future From the 80s" -- that give it the dynamic it needs. It may not kick your ass, but "La La Land" is a place worth visiting.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.