Album reviews: Mountain Goats' tribute, Adrian Younge and Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers

The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats

Various Artists
I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats: All Hail West Texas
(Merge; ***)

Although early albums by the Mountain Goats, the long-running indie rock project of John Darnielle, were recorded on a boombox, the lo-fi sound quality did not diminish the high-quality writing. Darnielle’s character-driven songs were tense, immediate, and psychologically astute. 2002’s All Hail West Texas, their sixth studio set, is a favorite of fans, including fellow musicians, and the subject of an engaging podcast series that features Joseph Fink, Darnielle, and guest artists parsing the album’s tracks. I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats is the name of the podcast and an album that compiles covers of each track of All Hail West Texas.

It ranges widely, from the more straightforward (Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn) to the radical (Afrofunk band Ibibio Sound Machine, rapper Dessa). Women’s voices dominate: Erin McKeown hews close to Darnielle’s emphatic phrasing, Amanda Palmer brings lighthearted drama, Eliza Rickman and Carrie Elkin each lend a formal seriousness to their tracks. Throughout, Darnielle’s songwriting remains the highlight, and his talent hasn’t diminished: Last year’s excellent Goths was the Mountain Goats’ 16th studio album, and it brings the current quartet to Ardmore on Sunday and Monday. — Steve Klinge

7:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday at the Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore. Sunday sold out; Monday $27 advance, $32 day of show. 610-649-8389, ardmoremusic.com.

Adrian Younge
Adrian Younge Presents… Voices of Gemma
(Linear Labs ****)

 

If producer-composer Adrian Younge had made only 2013’s dreamily deconstructionist Presents the Delfonics with Philly falsetto William Hart, he’d be a hero. He’s an inventive soundscape artist merging the past and the future of psychedelic soul into a mesmerizingly cinematic new vision. No wonder Younge acted likewise for Marvel television (Luke Cage, Black Dynamite) and mini-movie-making rappers Ghostface Killah, Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar. No one stretches the boundaries of filmic-funk like Younge.

Considering his sense of sonic psychedelic swirl and the manner in which it interacts with lush harmony, deep space, and daringly diverse musics, Voices of Gemma is nothing but net, a wild yet hauntingly meditative trip into spiritualized, ritualized gospel-soul, jazz, and funk. Crafted with opera singer Brooke DeRosa, jazz vocalist Rebecca Englehart, and Younge, sonorous songs such as “Stranger by the Sea,” “The Leaves,” and “Comeback” use the theatrical complexity of its weird hybrid vocal pairing to its fullest extent — lots of subtle zigzagging between DeRosa and Englehart — without losing its overall sense of hummable melody. “Silhouette Dreams,” in particular, is an elegantly intricate work without being impenetrable. All the more impressive is that Younge’s dark and tender instrumentals (e.g. “Unfortunate Breaks”) seem to speak volumes without words. You almost forget there’s not a human voice in sight or sound when Younge breathes his peculiar brand of magic. — A.D. Amorosi

Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers
More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows
(Schoolkids *** ½)

Don’t be fooled by the title. At 70, Joe Grushecky may indeed be feeling a growing sense of mortality, but you’ll never hear any trace of resignation or defeat from the perpetually underappreciated Pittsburgh rocker. In the face of life’s struggles and challenges, his response is to  keep rocking against any dying of the light. “It’s a brand-new day,” he declares defiantly on the title song.

As a result, More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows is a triumph of the spirit and one thrilling rock-and-roll record. Grushecky and the Houserockers rip it up with bar-band swagger on numbers such as “Blood, Sweat and Beers” and “I Got to Go to Work Today” (he does, in fact, still work as a special-ed teacher). They also expertly shift gears, channeling the romanticism of the Drifters with the strings and Latin lilt of “One Beautiful Night.”

On the anthemic “That’s What Makes Us Great,” Grushecky is joined by longtime pal Bruce Springsteen for a pointed rejoinder to Trumpism. But he doesn’t leave it just at rage: “I ask myself, is there a difference I can make?” And given the overall tenor of resilience, it’s fitting that the one nonoriginal song is the traditional “Ain’t No Grave” (“gonna hold my body down”), which Grushecky gives a terrifically tough, blues-rocking/gospel arrangement.

Grushecky confesses at one point that he’s still a “Work in Progress,” and allows himself a little boast: “I get a little bit better every day.” When it comes to the music, at least, against all odds, he really is improving with age. — Nick Cristiano