1. Ruby Dee and the Snakehandelers – Little Black Heart
In a genre like rockabilly, which can seem a little cookie-cutter at times, it’s the bands that stand out are the ones that get the details right. Frank Zappa used to call it putting the eyebrows on. Dee and her band do it right. She gets the vocal pops on “Can You Spare A Match?” and the sneer on “Put You Down.” Dylan Cavaliere keeps the upright ass thumping, guitarist Jorge Harada knows how to use slapback and play all those double-string popping leads, and Scott L. French can drive the whole thing from the drum throne. They also don’t forget the central element in rockabilly – fun. Get everybody dancing and laughing. There is “All Knocked Up,” a tale of a homecoming queen in wonderfully poor taste. It would have been a perfect fit for the soundtrack of John Waters’ Cry Baby. And the final kiss off, “You Underwhelm Me.” You won’t get a better workout than laughing while shaking your ass.
2. Breanna Barbara – Mirage Dreams
Powerful modern blues from Barbara on her third album, her first for the new NYC-based No Roads Records label. This singer/guitarist/songwriter can wail. Listen to the primal, unrestrained sound on the title track, especially as it speeds up to a beautiful, howling cacophony at the end. Barbara takes traditional blues structures and tropes to modern-sounding places. It would be tough, listening moment to moment, to nail down when some of these songs were recorded. The grumbling electric slide guitar on the first part of “Sailn Sailin” would sound natural in a recording from the late 50s or early 60s – more late 60s when the organ starts bubbling in later on. But it gets darker and heavier as the song progresses. It’s like listening to Buddy guy morph into John Spencer over the course of three minutes. A sonic blast to the head and gut.
1. Hari Kondabolu – Mainstream American Comic
Hari Kondabolu is a politically-minded comic. He knows not everyone enjoys that about him, and he addresses it in an amusingly self-effacing way on the new album. “I can’t help it,” he says. “I’m a killjoy who does comedy. This is how I’m hardwired.” That self-awareness makes for a softer landing for some heavier topics. He talks about the racism his parents faced coming to America from India, which is why he won’t add to it by playing them with accents in his act. “I think about what my mom’s been through in this country, right?” he says. “People saying things like, ‘Take that dot off your head’ or ‘Why are you wearing bedsheets out of the house?’ or ‘Why don’t you shut up and make me food?’ And this is just stuff me and my brother said to her growing up. Now can you imagine what she dealt with out of the house?” He also thinks the “All Lives Matter” crowd is being a bit disingenuous. “We all have a couple of names in the back of our head like, ‘If only…’” He wonders if they watch reality television. “All three Kardashians? Really?”
2. Pat Brown – Sex Tape (Out July 26)
Pat Brown is clear up front that there will be no actual sex on Sex Tape. It’s a metaphor for what she’s trying to accomplish. “You’ve got to expose yourself,” she says. “You’ve got to reveal yourself, you know, to connect, to make somebody happy and excited. So that’s what this is all about.” Brown turns in a relaxed and engaging set of comedy, an hour to get to know her better. She’d like the world to stop making it hard on people who are a little different, something she’s had some direct experience with. “I’m black, I’m gay, I’m female. I’m just so thankful I wasn’t left-handed,” she says, breathing a sigh of relief. “I don’t care what nobody say, that shit right there? That’s a choice.” She marvels at some in the Christian Right who claimed marriage equality would bring on the apocalypse when being gay wasn’t even mentioned in the ten commandments. “How big a deal could it be if they didn’t put it in the quick guide?” One of her best riffs is on jealousy, and how other people’s success is an indictment of our own laziness. Especially, she says, a mediocre success. “We can’t stand mediocre successes – that means we could of did it, we just didn’t.” She compares being single over 35 to rooting through an old bag of Halloween candy. No more Snickers or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, just black licorice and candy corn. She’d be happy to find someone with decent teeth. Brown covers personal and socially-relevant topics with the same casual presentation. The quality of grocery stores in her neighborhood and the Black Lives Matter movement don’t necessarily have equal weight, but they’re both connected through her everyday experience. So the more socially relevant stuff almost sneaks in. It’s all part of Brown revealing herself to her audience.