Albumin (Bella Union)
Celebration sounds like no other band in Baltimore, or anywhere else for that matter. The eclectic trio has expanded to a quintet and infused its psych-calliope whirl with more recognizable blues and rock elements. As a result, the new material unfolds with a propulsive swagger rather than circling in on itself. Drummer David Bergander and guitarist/bassist Walker Teret build dramatic tension while Sean Antanaitis coaxes shades of soul from vintage keyboards and singer Katrina Ford finds catharsis within songs like “Razor’s Edge” and “Only the Wicked.” Best of all, “Blood Is the Brine” and “I Got Sol” use a frisky tribal stomp punctuated by reverb-drenched power chords to catapult swampy Southern rock into the 21st century. The record ends with a wheezy incantation, “Don’t Stop Dreaming,” that could be this innovative band’s mantra.
Red Hot + Bach (Sony)
The Red Hot organization has, for the past 25 years, raised money to fight HIV/AIDS via ambitious recording projects, often tribute discs devoted to a single composer. Past albums have focused on the likes of Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and Fela Kuti and included performers such as David Byrne, The Roots, and Sade. This time around, an impressive array of artists plays Bach, often with sublime results. A pair of jazz legends, saxophonist/Baltimore native Gary Bartz and bassist Ron Carter, find the swing in Cello Suite No. 1, while Philly DJ King Britt underscores the percolating soul of “Ave Maria.” While those artists set the stylistic parameters, there are plenty of highlights in between, including astute interpretations by mandolinist Chris Thile and ambient vocalist Juliana Barwick. Singer/songwriter Gabriel Kahane contributes the only clunker, a Goldberg Variations inspired pop ditty that feels completely out of place.
Jad Fair & Danielson
Solid Gold Heart
It’s hard to believe this collaboration hasn’t happened until now. Fair—who co-founded legendary band Half Japanese while living in Carroll County in the mid-1970s—is devoted to the transcendent power of DIY rock, much like Danielson frontman Daniel Smith, though Smith’s devotion is tinged with Christianity. Both men are wide-eyed beacons of pop positivity. Here, Fair handles lyrics and lead vocals, while Smith plays guitar and oversees an ensemble that includes percussionists, backup singers, and even a horn section. The ample instrumentation underscores the generous spirit of these songs, which range from the title track’s melodic hush to the anthemic “Rockin’ on the Good Side.” The latter tune name-checks all of The Beatles, urges listeners to “stand up for sunshine,” and builds to a sing-a-long chorus of “Rockin’ on the good side/rockin’ on the side of good.” It’s so joyful, resistance is futile.