Polar Bear - Peepers (Leaf Label)
Heres a concept: Jazz that is fun, musical, adventurous and not at all boring. Polar Bear is a small combo from England that features two saxophone players. Polar Bear plays jazz that is more about the compositions than any lengthy jazz trance solos. There are touches of Sun Ra, Morphine and Tom Waits (sans vocals). Some songs groove and some float, but it is all fresh and inviting music. It all seems so natural; it is a wonder a band with Polar Bears sound hasnt happened sooner.
Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
Let us pause for a moment and thank Stevens, the former Petoskey resident and Interlochen student for his fine 03 release Greetings from Michigan - the Great Lakes State, and giving our state so much badly needed creative attention. Stevens now lives in Brooklyn. He has always been more than a simple singer/songwriter, but on The Age of Adz Stevens has created his most ambitious and biggest sounding recording yet. Musical creativity flows out of Stevens like Beck and David Byrne, to the point where it can be overwhelming. But if you like rich headphone music, The Age of Adz is worth a listen, all the way through to the albums closer, the 25-minute-plus Impossible Soul.
Secret Sisters (Universal Republic Records)
Maybe you need some neo-retro classic sounds to go with the neo-retro classic furniture you just got for Christmas. If so, the Secret Sisters would be just the thing. The sisters, Lydia and Laura Rogers, are from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Their first album was produced by Jack White and this one is co-produced by T-Bone Burnett. At times the album flirts with being too cute (My Heart Skips a Beat) or too campy (a cover of the Frank and Nancy Sinatras hit Something Stupid) but there are also some great songs here, such as Bill Monroes The One I Love is Gone. The Secret Sisters overall sincerity and spot-on harmonies will eventually win you over.
Black Dub (Jive Records)
In addition to his work as star producer (U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan etc.) Daniel Lanois has made some impressive albums on his own, Shine from 05 being the best of the bunch. This time, Lanois enlists late bluesman Chris Whitelys daughter Trixie to handle most of the lead vocals. Shes a belter of songs - a more organic version of Joss Stone. The rhythm section with Brian Blade on drums and Daryl Johnson on bass is about is good as it gets. Ample amounts of atmospheric sounds and the lush reverb that Lanois is famous for are featured on every song. Black Dub was on a several 2010 Best of Lists and deservedly so.