Furr. Blitzen Trapper. If there is anyone who has both James Taylor and Ween on his IPod (besides me, that is), it's probably Eric Early, leader of this Oregon-based indie band. With Furr, Blitzen Trapper made an album that's more diverse, yet more consistent that last year's surprising Wild Mountain Nation. There are tons of late 60s/early 70s grooves over the whole album. Those grooves turn to groovy on the disco-like Saturday Nite. And then there's the sadly sweet ballad Not Your Lover. But there's enough harmonica, acoustic guitar and pounding piano for Trapper to hold onto its alt-country label. Early told LAist that the album is about civilization and "the impossibility of returning to nature." One of the best albums I've heard this year.
Budding Prospects. TC Boyle. This early Boyle novel (1984) is a great introduction to his work, marked by great character development and offbeat humor. Felix, who has quit everything from college to marriage, receives an offer from his friend Vogelsang to cultivate a pot farm out in the boonies. Vogelsang has bought the land. His colleague has the horticultural knowledge. All Felix, and two others, need to do is cultivate the plants. They'll even receive instructions. After a year, they'll walk away with enough money that they won't have to work again. The plan seems simple enough, but quickly goes awry. Nature, the town and a vindictive cop all seem to be against Felix. And this time when he really should quit, he doesn't.
Everything All the Time. Band of Horses. I don't know how this band flew under my radar (thanks for the heads-up Tom), but I'm just awed by Everything, their 2006 debut. Like Blitzen Trapper, they hail from the Pacific Northwest, they're on the SubPop label and they have alt-country leanings. But the comparisons end there. Where Furr is all fits and stops, Everything shimmers throughout. And it has an epic feel. This band probably plays great in a small club, but you can see them rocking a big stadium. It's dreamy music with a kick, as illustrated by the album's first song, titled appropriately enough The First Song. Give it a couple listens and it will grow on you. Eastern Sounds. Yusef Lateef. I first heard of this classic 1961 recording on the Guest Playlist author Matthew Quick did for us. Lateef brought Middle Eastern music into traditional jazz and could be considered one of the pioneers of the World Music genre. But it's serious jazz. In fact, Lateef was an influence on John Coltrane who began experimenting with Indian modes around the same time as Eastern Sounds.