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Pete Seeger—At 89
(Appleseed Recordings)

By no means does the occasion of Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday this May render the title of At 89, released late last year, obsolete; on the contrary, it shows the album to be yet another snapshot of the folk king’s unflagging march for social progress—a journey that shows no sign of stopping in spite of his advanced age. And the only thing that approaches Seeger’s heroic dedication to making the world a better place is his equally legendary modesty; despite the attendant hoopla that comes with an iconic artist’s marking of such a milestone, Seeger continues to do his best to avoid the spotlight and eschew interviews, preferring to redirect the attention toward the noble causes he supports. All of which only makes us love him more, of course.

Another facet of Seeger’s eminent selflessness is his eternal willingness to let others do the singing for him, a practice that he began long before the effects of age started to exact their toll on his own voice. Yet even though his voice may waver around the edges, at its core it’s as steady and resilient as ever, bending in the wind but never breaking, like a tall and sturdy oak. Lending their voices and instruments to At 89 are producer, banjoist, and guitarist David Bernz, singer Sonya Cohen (Seeger’s niece), jazz clarinetist Perry Robinson, violinist Sara Milonvoch, and dozens of others. Highlights include an unfortunately timely remake of Seeger’s 1967 anti-war anthem “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” and a sprinkling of solo banjo shots and spoken-word pieces.—Peter Aaron


Lynch—At the End of My Rope

Formed by siblings Terry and Shannon Lynch in the wake of the dissolution of Conehead Buddha, Lynch is largely a mix of hip-hop, rock and funk, though there are plenty of other styles thrown into the mix. While many bands attempting to funnel such a diverse range of music into one soup wind up collapsing under the weight of their own ambition, Lynch manages to pull it off with grace. Not unlike Los Angeles’ legendary Ozomatli, it’s impossible to listen to At the End of My Rope and not want to shake one’s ass, even just a little. According to the liner notes, Lynch recorded the album live in the studio with minimal overdubs. It’s a move that helps carry the band’s live reputation, and if one plays the album loud enough with eyes closed, it’s not hard to imagine actually being there in the room.

If one is generally put off by hip-hop vocals, listening to At the End of My Rope might be a tricky proposition, as Terry’s brusque-but-skilled delivery crops up throughout. But regardless, it’s worth making the effort, as there are many treasures to be revealed. While the up-tempo numbers dominate, the album’s most interesting track might be its most atmospheric. “Poo Na Na (Another Rainy Day in NYC)” features a long jazz-infused break during which both Terry (trumpet) and Shannon (flute) solo, the end result actually evoking the sunshine as the rain clouds begin to dissipate.

If there are missteps, they’re minor. “Olly Olly Oxen Free,” a deft evisceration of the Bush Administration only fails in that it arrives on record too late to sound contemporary. But elsewhere, the album’s socially conscious lyrics are more effective, covering a broader range of topics that didn’t go away when Barack Obama became president.—Crispin Kott


The Chance—Dimensions
(Red Stapler Records)

The Chance manage to pack a lot into a very small package. Their new EP, Dimensions, features just four songs. But in each, the artcore trio manages to find a lot of room in which to work, showcasing an expansive sound that melds vocals that are both brooding and forceful, and music as indebted to the past as it is the future. Their MySpace page lists Sonic Youth and Joy Division among their influences, and that’s really as good a place as any to begin. Their mood is deceptively dark, with guitars that alternate between soaring and scratching, with the rhythm section in lockstep throughout.

“Turning Inside”, the EP’s most anthemic track, pulls in the aforementioned influences, but also reveals in its soaring build its sense of purpose and its sheer bravado another possible developmental tent-pole in the sound of early U2. Less successful, perhaps, was the band’s decision to put “Continuum” on the EP as its third track. Two and a half minutes of ambient noodling, the song is at its best a semi-effective tribute to the music of David Lynch’s cult television series, Twin Peaks. On a full-length album, such a self-indulgent endeavor might have served to cleanse the palate between one group of songs and the next. Here it just sounds like the band ran out of ideas. EP closer “Victoria” isn’t a Kinks cover, but is another complex epic with mystical lyrics, mathematical instrumental passages and a monstrous sound it’s hard to imagine coming from just three musicians. Save for “Continuum,” Dimensions is a short burst of passion with cinematic scope, one well worth checking out.—Crispin Kott

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