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Disc reviews: Adebisi Shank, Gli Igcogniti, Smokey Robinson, Grace Askew, Kimbra


Adebisi Shank

"This Is the Third Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank"

[Sargent House]

3.5 stars (out of 4)

The cover of the third album from this trio of Irish musical polymaths depicts a massive weight lifter in clenched pose, his head replaced by a huge light bulb that is just about to explode.

This is absolutely fitting album art. When you’re listening to “This Is the Third Album ...” your head is quite likely to feel like that light bulb. “Epic” does not even begin to cover the scope of this thing.

Commonly referred to as a “math rock” outfit, Adebisi Shank might just as well be tossed beneath the progressive umbrella, for the music conjured by these three young men – guitarist Larry Kaye, bassist Vincent McCreith and drummer Michael Roe who met as teens in Wexford, Ireland, and became a band in 2006 – is dizzyingly complex, unflinchingly ambitious, and a hybrid of more styles, subgenres, and idiomatic wrinkles than can be accurately enumerated.

The trio might be tipping the hat to math rock complexity at one moment, then going for a hyper-blast assault the next, before devolving for a temporary stay in the land of their own personalized take on EDM. Mind you, all of this often takes place within a 2-minute timeframe. Wearing your seat belt is strongly recommended.

Ostensibly an album’s worth of instrumentals, “Third” also finds the band employing sampled and heavily effected vocals, invariably used as colors in the palate, not as the core of the song. There are hooks in tunes like “Mazel Tov” and “World in Harmony,” to be sure, but since Adebisi Shank demands that we follow them down the rabbit hole into their own little world of fun-house mirrors, nothing is where you thought you left it, and everything comes at you at once.

The effect can be overwhelming, but these lads are not here simply to stun and then move on. There is, in fact, a narrative – albeit one sans words – going on here, and a sense of unfolding in each song that evolves into a tale of heroic scope when the listener takes in the whole album in consecutive order.

It’s a face-melter, make no mistake, but fans of progressive alternative acts like Battles, or envelope-pushing progenitors of the form like Apollo 440, will not find this volatile urchin of an album difficult to embrace. Make the effort. It’s worth it, I assure you. Too often these days, it seems that youth is being wasted on the young, at least in the world of popular music, where a sort of conservative complacency reigns. Adebisi Shank reminds us that, to paraphrase an Eddie Vedder lyric, much that is sacred can come from youth.

– Jeff Miers


"Apotheoses: Music of Francois Couperin"

Gli Incogniti, Amandine Beyer, violinist [Harmonia Mundi]

3.5 stars

So many of us, thinking of Francois Couperin, think of Ravel’s charming piano masterpiece, “Le Tombeau de Couperin” – the tomb of Couperin – which looks back affectionately on the Baroque master. It’s sweet, in light of that, to know that Couperin, in turn, looked back on the musicians who inspired him.

His “Apotheoses” pays homage to Jean Baptiste Lully and the wonderful Bolognese master Arcangelo Corelli. Scholars note the virtues Couperin inherited from his mentors, which include simplicity from Lully and peace and beauty from Corelli. Casual listeners, for their part, will be happy simply with the delights of this music.

The melodies shine, played on period instruments against the tinkling harpsichord. The rhythms are clear-cut and catching. Gli Incogniti, formed in 2006 by violinist Amandine Beyer, takes its name from a Venetian musical society of the 1630s. Like Couperin, the musicians pay worthy homage to their forerunners.

– Mary Kunz Goldman


Grace Askew

“Scaredy Cat”


3.5 stars

After going Hollywood last year as a contestant on “The Voice,” Grace Askew went down home, in more ways than one. The 27-year-old Americana singer and songwriter returned to her hometown of Memphis and recorded her fourth album at the fabled Sun Studio. The results on “Scaredy Cat” are raw, rootsy, and uniformly arresting.

Playing slide guitar, Askew fronts a small, drummerless ensemble that often exudes a back-porch vibe while mixing blues and country.

The music leaves plenty of space for Askew to shine as a singer, and you can see why she made some noise on “The Voice” before being knocked out. Her sultry drawl is both seductive and soulful on the intimate opener, “Wild Heart,” and on the gently empathetic “Out on Your Front Steps,” but it also possesses a tangy bite when the music takes on a swaggering edge, as it does on numbers such as the title track and “Tip-Top Liquor.”

– Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer


Smokey Robinson

“Smokey & Friends”


2.5 stars

Gather your hits and divvy them up among your pals: It’s a go-to move for musicians of a certain age, including Tony Bennett and Lionel Richie, who scored a No. 1 album in 2012 with “Tuskegee.”

That’s partly because Robinson still sounds like a singer on active duty. He harmonizes beautifully with Mary J. Blige on “Being With You” and floats so effortlessly through “Quiet Storm” that John Legend comes off like an overachiever. Yet “Smokey & Friends” works too because Robinson appears to have given his guests carte blanche, gamely accompanying Elton John as the latter growls through “The Tracks of My Tears” and ad libbing over James Taylor’s country-funk groove in “Ain’t That Peculiar.”

Are we in need of a “You Really Got a Hold on Me” streaked with Steven Tyler’s screech? We are not. But Robinson’s song is strong – it can withstand the abuse.

– Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times



“The Golden Echo”

[Warner Bros.]

3 stars

In a year in which many big-ticket records have stressed brevity and focus, there’s something to be said for New Zealand pop iconoclast Kimbra’s “The Golden Echo.”

Best known in America for her vocals on the smash “Somebody That I Used to Know,” the magnetic multi-instrumentalist moves through a strange and often surprising set of tones and approaches. A virtual layer cake of futuristic funk pop, contemporary R&B and maximalist Top 40 music slathered with the purple icing of Prince, “The Golden Echo” swaps styles with gleeful – and at times reckless – abandon, an apt pop offering for this pattern-on-pattern cultural moment.

A remarkable chameleon, Kimbra swings her voice to suggest Chaka Khan, Amy Winehouse, The xx’s Romy Madley Croft and Janelle Monae, and weaves her tone through music thick with structural experimentation. “Waltz Me to the Grave” is a hazy seven-minute jam suggestive of Erykah Badu; “As You Are” is a beguiling, richly composed ballad with arrangements by Van Dyke Parks.

Mixed in are enough squeaky clean ditties to suggest fiddling from label reps who heard the first draft freakouts and demanded easier hits like “Love in High Places” and “Nobody But You.” A guest turn from John Legend shouldn’t be surprising, considering that by the time it rolls around, we’ve been prepared for some whiplash.

– Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times

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