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Gryphon Diablo 300

Role Play RPRV03 (CD), Park the Van PTV-LP70 (LP)
Formats: CD and LP

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

The Magic Numbers have released five albums, and while this British quartet comprising two brother-sister pairs has kept great harmonies and solid pop melodies at the center of their sound, they’ve also worked to keep things fresh. Their first two records, The Magic Numbers (2005) and Those the Brokes (2006), were straightforward in execution, letting the vocals and songs speak for themselves. The Runaway (2010) added string arrangements and a bit more instrumental complexity, and Alias (2014) worked in the occasional distorted guitar and sound effect.

Intervention IR-020
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

When I got my first apartment, in 1981, the first thing I did was order a cable-TV package that included MTV. In those days, MTV programmed nothing but music videos -- it was the only way I could hear the Clash and the Jam, let alone the English Beat. Punk and New Wave got little airplay on the local FM stations, so MTV helped me hear some great new bands.

Capital/Universal Music 00602567239109
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Steve Miller secured his place on classic rock radio in 1973 with The Joker, which began a run of popular LPs that continued with Fly Like an Eagle (1976) and Book of Dreams (1977). Songs from those albums still get heavy airplay, so your chances of hearing them in the grocery store or a cafeteria are pretty high. While those albums are well crafted and full of good humor, Miller’s best records, for me at least, remain his first four, all released under the name The Steve Miller Band: Children of the Future, Sailor (both 1968), Brave New World, and Your Saving Grace (both 1969).

Columbia 19075830351
Format: LP, 320kbps MP3

Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

Leon Bridges’s debut album, Coming Home, was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2015. The fact that old-school soul music could be successfully championed and resuscitated by a 26-year-old singer showed that this music is still vital. Bass guitarist Austin Jenkins and drummer Josh Block, formerly of the band White Denim, helped produce Coming Home and were among those who played on the album. Both Bridges and the musicians who accompanied him displayed an uncanny understanding of music whose heyday was long before they were born.

Reprise 566051-1
Format: 2 LPs

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Neil Young wrote and recorded Tonight’s the Night in the late summer of 1973, shortly after two close friends died of heroin overdoses. Danny Whitten had been a singer and the rhythm guitarist for Crazy Horse, Young’s backing band, and Bruce Berry was Young’s roadie and friend. Young’s studio recording of the previous year was Harvest, which was hugely popular and put him firmly in the mainstream. Tonight’s the Night was a more emotionally difficult album, sloppier in execution -- and one of his best.

ECM 2577 (578 6780)
Format: CD

ECM 2577 (6730185)
Format: Vinyl   

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

British saxophonist Andy Sheppard has recorded extensively as a sideman over the last 30 years, appearing on albums by Carla Bley, Gil Evans, Keith Tippett, and George Russell, among many others. He co-led three sessions with Carla Bley and Steve Swallow, and has released 14 recordings as a leader. Romaria, his newest, is his fourth for ECM. It’s his second outing with his current quartet, which comprises guitarist Eivind Aarset, double bassist Michel Benita, and drummer Sebastian Rochford. Their previous release, Surrounded by Sea (2015), also appeared on ECM.

Blue Note B0027806601
Format: LP (2)

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

The jazz of GoGo Penguin, a trio based in Manchester, England, takes in all manner of influences, from electronica to the atmospheric rock of Radiohead. Hints of Brian Eno and of current minimalist composers, such as John Adams, also pop up, but this music isn’t slapdash or scattered. It has the improvisational excitement of jazz, while using carefully constructed themes and studio technology to create its sound. The group was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2014, and the following year signed with Blue Note France.

ECM 2576 5798928
Formats: LP and CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Norwegian jazz drummer Thomas Strønen has appeared on more than 60 albums in the last 20 years, in a variety of groups and settings. Three of those recordings are his own as leader and composer, including the newest, Lucus, his second outing for ECM. His previous release for the label, Time Is a Blind Guide (2015), featured 11 compositions he wrote for a unique septet that included two additional percussionists, a violinist, and a cellist.

Warner Bros./Intervention IR-015
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2

With its seemingly effortless flow of great melodies that stay in the head, and witty lyrics that are smart without being too clever or cynical, Marshall Crenshaw’s eponymous debut album was universally praised by critics on its release, in 1982. Crenshaw and Richard Gottehrer coproduced the album, which had a clean but somewhat bright sound, with an old-style reverb that highlighted the music’s debt to Crenshaw’s influences -- Buddy Holly, early Beatles, the Brill Building -- without sounding dated.

Daptone Dap-050
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2

When Sharon Jones died in November 2016, at the age of 60, soul music lost one of its most dedicated and skilled practitioners. Jones had recorded a series of singles beginning in the mid-1990s when, in 2002, she released the first LP with her formidable backing band, the Dap-Kings. She was 45 at the time, and went on to make six more albums with them. All were recorded in eight-track analog at Daptone House of Soul Studio, in Brooklyn, with no drum machines or synthesizers.