Joseph Israel
Gone are the Days
Lions of Israel

You don’t have to be born with a silver spliff in your mouth to earn the opportunity to record with some of Jamaica’s hottest musicians. Joseph Israel’s latest effort proves that it’s possible for a pasty white guy from Oklahoma to exude enough soul to garner attention from and collaboration with such reggae high-rollers as Luciano, Shaggy and Wilburn “Squidley” Cole. Perhaps it was Israel’s earnest spirit that hooked the handful of industry bigwigs to help him create such a solid album of entirely original material.

Recorded at Tuff Gong, Big Yard and Buss Out Studios in Jamaica, the record reeks of big-time production. The instrumentation is totally danceable and the female backup singers create a holy atmosphere. Israel’s lyrical content deals mostly in Rasta spirituality—there’s no doubt the guy is seriously devoted to Jah. But even with all that devotion, there’s very little poetic innovation here. That said, reggae doesn’t necessarily charge its artists with re-inventing the wheel, so the predictability is excusable, especially in light of Israel’s apparent sincerity.

In this age of flashy reggae artists such as Matisyahu (the multitasking Hasidic MC and beatboxer), Gone are the Days is the sort of substantial and traditional effort that oughtn’t be accidentally overlooked. (Caroline Keys)

Joseph Israel plays the Top Hat Saturday, May 27, at 10 PM. Cover TBA. Call 728-9865.

Oakley Hall
Gypsum Strings
Brah Records

Listening to the rootsy twang of Gypsum Strings, one could easily assume that Oakley Hall hails from the deep south or the farmlands of middle America, not the streets of the sextet’s home base of Brooklyn. It could also be tempting to classify them as just another alt-country band, but that’d be unfair, since Oakley Hall presents much more than the boot-stomping and liquor-driven country beats typical of that genre.

Featuring the fiddling of Claudia Mogel and banjo-picking of Fred Wallace, the songs often carry bluegrassy sentiments. This second full-length album of the year from the band begins forcefully with the track “Confidence Man,” wherein impressive, rolling string harmonies evoke a sense of impending doom—like the last moments of a speeding plane spiraling toward burning ruin—until the chanted vocals of Rachel Cox, songwriter and band founder Pat Sullivan and bassist Jesse Barnes break up the chaos. Cox’s lulling voice is showcased beautifully on the melodic “Living in Sin in the U.S.A.,” an album standout. “If I Was in El Dorado” is another highlight—a classic country hoedown on all fronts, cascading through southern-rock soundscapes in a manner that literally makes a listener want to clap her hands and dance, before slowing down to a sleepy, sweet close.

That song alone says it all—Gypsum Strings is deliciously diverse, with a sound that’s attractive to both the rock and bluegrass camps of the alt-country landscape. (Rachel Carlson)

Oakley Hall plays at The Raven Cafe Thursday, June 1, at 9 PM. Cover TBA. Call 829-8188.

The Graze
Iowa Anvil
J-Shirt Records

It’s easy to feel like you’ve heard The Graze before. The vocals of one-man-band (Louis O’Callaghan) sound startlingly similar to those of the late Elliott Smith, and O’Callaghan’s musicianship on Iowa Anvil is reminiscent of Grant Lee Buffalo and, at times, Radiohead, among others. It can be hard to distinguish yourself when you’re an indie singer/songwriter with a guitar strapped over your shoulder, when it’s all seemingly been done before, but, to O’Callaghan’s credit, his sound at least bears comparison with an impressive list of predecessors.

O’Callaghan plays all the instruments on Iowa Anvil and typically tours solo as well (as he will in Missoula). His songs are intelligently composed and well produced, and his songwriting avoids cliché. His wailing vocals are sad and haunting, and on the track “Maudlin” they have an almost a frantic intensity. Aside from the grittier song “I Am the Little Girl,” which sounds like it would fit seamlessly onto Nirvana’s Bleach, Iowa Anvil plays out like a sorrowful lullaby that ebbs and surges beautifully from one sleepy, melancholy tune to the next.

O’Callaghan is not your typical coffeeshop crooner, and while many indie acts come across as whiny, O’Callaghan has an inherent ability to convey emotion in a way that’s both genuine and relatable. (Rachel Carlson)

The Graze plays Crazy Daisy Saturday, May 27, at 8:30 PM. Cover $2. Call 549-1150.

Planet Mu

If an artist’s mood swings can be translated through his music, Irish producer Barry Lynn (aka Boxcutter) sounds as if he’s pissed off and cynical one minute, yet optimistic and nostalgic the next. The barrage of electronica resulting from these varying moods creates a sound entirely Lynn’s own.

Lynn masters his disparities by pairing melodic, glitched-up down-tempo tunes with a darker, aggressive and more experimental version of breakstep, an instrumental cousin of the UK grime sound. His distorted, half-time jungle basslines mingle with heavily processed breakbeats on dance-floor numbers like “Scrub” and “Brood,” while Lynn’s mellower cuts such as “Sunshine V.I.P.” and “Mossy” ease up on the tension.

Part of Oneiric’s appeal is that Lynn is helping to progress the breakstep and down-tempo genres out of monotony by using sounds that keep the music interesting, exciting and danceable. Since 2002, UK grime and all its subgenres have been touted as creative additions to the electronica music scene, and Lynn’s emotionally bipolar and infectious sound assures that description still applies. (Ira Sather-Olson)

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