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New music: just the good stuff

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2012 has been a good year for music so far. Here's a look at some of my favorites from the past few weeks.

Regina Spektor 'What We Saw From the Cheap Seats' Sire Records

Born in Russia and raised on classic 60s and 70s rock, Spektor moved to New York with her family at age 9 and soon began making up songs about her life and the world around her - a trait that the classically trained pianist has perfected over six albums.

Her best work to date, 'What We Saw From The Cheap Seats' offers instantly accessible, endlessly melodic songs that unfold with a mosaic of unique sounds. From the island-infused 'Don't Leave Me' to 'Oh Marcello,' which quotes The Animals' 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood,' 'Cheap Seats' is the sound of an artist at the top of her game.

Some file Regina Spektor under 'quirky' or 'anti-folk' - labels that may be more polarizing than accurate. Her music is smart but never condescending and relatable without resorting to clichs. Look for this one to appear on many 'Best of 2012' lists in December.

Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones 'Checkerboard Lounge Live in Chicago 1981' Eagle Rock

MuddyWatersRollingStonesThe Stones continue to mine tasty nuggets from their overflowing vault of unreleased recordings. On a frigid November night in 1981, The Rolling Stones were in Chicago to play three sold out shows at the cavernous Rosemont Horizon. Arriving a day early, Mick, Keith, Ronnie and original Stone Ian Stewart made a pilgrimage to the tiny Checkerboard Lounge on Chicago's south side to see the legendary Muddy Waters.

The Stones had just arrived at the club when Muddy called Mick to the stage. Wearing a pinkish track suit (not exactly standard blues wear) Jagger seems hesitant before cutting loose with every classic Jagger-ism. It's as if he realized that when you're on stage in Chicago with Muddy Waters, you don't half-ass it. Keith opens a bottle of Rebel Yell with a switchblade just before Waters calls for him to join in with Ron Wood.

Muddy proceeds to lead the motley crew through blistering versions of 'Hoochie Coochie Man,' 'Long Distance Call' (with Mick testifying in the background) and 'Mannish Boy' before inviting guitar-great Buddy Guy to the stage (he owned the club) with Junior Wells on harmonica, Lefty Dizz on guitar and Ian Stewart on piano.

Less than 18 months after this show, Muddy Waters was dead from cancer, which makes this show even more of a treasure. The Checkerboard Lounge was dimly lit, but the 31-year-old video looks surprisingly clean while the original multi-track audio has been mixed by Bob Clearmountain with amazing results especially the 5.1 DTS track. This set is available as a stand-alone DVD, but I recommend that you seek out the version in the slipcase, which contains a bonus CD of highlights for the same price.

Bryan Scary 'Daffy's Elixir' Paper Garden Records

Bryan-Scary-Daffys-ElixirBryan Scary is a mysterious guy. An extraordinarily gifted songwriter and musician (he played everything but drums on his first album 'The Shredding Tears' in 2006), his music initially beckons comparisons to Queen, Jellyfish, Flaming Lips and ELO, but he's probably closer to Mozart on steroids.

Scary has just released an ambitious song-cycle called 'Daffy's Elixir,' a modern pop-opera of otherworldly melody and sound so packed with ideas, it should come with a warning label: 'This titillating tonic for the ear and mind could cause severe distraction if you listen while driving. Please pull over before enjoying.'

More than two years in the making, 'Daffy's' was partially funded by Scary's fans who collectively chipped in $16,000 via Kickstarter. The record literally explodes with melody, choruses of Freddie Mercury-like vocals, unusual song structures and stop-on-a-dime changes wrapped in a kaleidoscope-of-sound production by Graham Norwood with engineering by Bryce Goggin (Phish, Apples in Stereo). Available as an immediate download for $10 or on CD with a signed, limited edition hand-bound book for $20 at www.BryanScary.com.

The Grip Weeds 'Speed of Live' (CD), 'Live Vibes' (DVD) Ground Up Records

Speed-of-Live-CD-coverLittle Steven has been championing this band for years on his syndicated 'Underground Garage' radio show and Sirius/XM station, and with good reason. The Grip Weeds create fantastic power pop/psychedelic rock music with echoes of the early Who, Kinks, Byrds and Small Faces with a touch of Foo Fighters, and they do it in a wholly original way.

Just seven months after issuing the psych-pop holiday album 'Under the Influence of Christmas,' The Grip Weeds return with their first live release, 'Speed of Live' and accompanying DVD 'Live Vibes.' Recorded in various venues in their home state of New Jersey, 'Speed' captures the band in full flight as they perform many of the songs fans have fallen in love with over the last two decades, including several tunes selected by Little Steven as the 'Coolest Song in the World' along with two groovy covers. Brothers Kurt and Rick Reil (drums and guitar respectively), Kristin Pinell (guitar) and Michael Kelly (bass) prove that their carefully produced and arranged music translates beautifully in a live setting. It's a superb live rock recording loud, raw and real.

The DVD 'Live Vibes' was filmed in the band's home studio and captures the group in their natural habitat surrounded by vintage analog gear, lava lamps and good vibes. The brief between-track interviews provide context and make the viewer feel like they're part of a very special secret club. Join up at www.Gripweeds.com.

Mike Dow is part of The Mike and Mike Show airing each morning on Kiss 94.5. Check him out at www.Facebook.com/MikeandMike and www.MikeDow.net.

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 20:12

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