By John B Moore & Lee Valentine Smith

Raul Midon
Bad Ass and Blind (Artistry/Mack Avenue Records)
No false advertising here, the crafty musician is in fact blind and undeniably badass. For the sixth album from the abundantly talented multi-instrumentalist, blind since infancy, his philosophical state of being opens the record with an airy swagger that casually transcends the usual jazz and improvisation scene. The breezy arrangements continue as "Red, Green, Yellow" and "Pedal To The Metal" are transported by the gently propulsive imagery of movement. Throughout, his lithe guitar work infuses the collection with a nimble-fingered command that would make George Benson envious. He also treads romantic balladry in "You and I," offered with a refreshing absence of sentimentality and plenty of soul. Bookended by the soaring "Wings of Mind" and "All That I Am," the darker, bass-infused "If Only," tackles regret in sober reflection and citrus-hued tinges of bossa nova. The entire disc wouldn't be out of place on a mid-'70s FM radio playlist, back when contemporary jazz ruled the night and classic rock owned drive-time. In this long-lost universe of four decades ago, it's extremely fitting that the album closes with Midon's gentle take on Steve Miller's mellow "Fly Like An Eagle."

Light of a Strange Day (Six Degrees)
Hite is the debut of a new band for Georgia native Julia Easterlin and it's just as intriguing as her earlier efforts (most notable her work with guitarist Vieux Farka Toure). This new project is a step away from her loop-heavy previous work. This collection finds her powerful voice floating above a quiet trance-like soundtrack for a strikingly powerful affect. The songs are all played on acoustic instruments, with strings coming out on most of the tracks here, a big step away from her more pop/computer-heavy earlier work. While it's hard to highlight specific songs, as the album as a whole is impressive, you can't ignore a song as achingly beautiful as the quiet build-up of "Old Crow" or a hypnotic track like "Hattnaru." Easterlin had a good thing going with her collaboration with Toure, hitting number one on the iTunes World Music category, so it's that much more impressive that she would start from scratch with Hite. Pretty glad she did though.

Date Night With Brian
EP (Top Drawer Records)
The bass-less trio, Date Night With Brian, make up for the missing instrument with solid drumming and a brilliant two guitar attack plan. The Seattle group combines a fantastic mix of classic '90s alt rocks influences (all the greats like Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and Meat Puppets) with infectious hooks that keep the songs with you long after you've stopped listening. A bit sloppy, but only in the most endearing way, you can practically smell the sweat and hear the clinking of beer bottles as the band rips through this collection of songs. There is an immediacy to everything from the drums and guitars to the shared male/female vocals that gives these songs that much more of a spotlight. The 5-track EP is frustrating only in its length; the songs, each as good as the one before it, end all too soon. A full-length album would be greatly appreciated.

Gin Blossoms
New Miserable Experience and Congratulations, I'm Sorry (UMe)
Tempe-based rockers the Gin Blossoms didn't have a long run with their initial go round – just three albums before breaking up in 1997 – but man, two of those records are now rightly considered classics. UMe is finally putting out 1992's "New Miserable Experience" and 1996's "Congratulations, I'm Sorry" out on limited edition colored vinyl just in time for the 25th anniversary of the former. "New Miserable Experience" was an alt rock/power pop landmark '90s release. Recorded at Memphis' Ardent Studios (appropriately enough, the home studio of one of the band's biggest musical influences, Big Star), the record appeared to come out of nowhere thanks to the wildly successful single "Hey Jealousy," followed up by "Found Out About You." The albums holds up well with age, which is more than you can say about a lot of rock/pop bands from that decade. Those musical touchstones, Big Star, R.E. M. and The Replacements, help to keep those songs timeless. The follow up, "Congratulations, I'm Sorry," though still a great record when taken on its own, pales only when being compared to the band's pervious release. There are still some great songs here, like "Follow You Down," "Till I hear From You" and some of the deeper tracks, like the twangy "Memphis Time," but song for song, "New Miserable Experience" just sounds like a more cohesive album. The band would break up a year after the release of "Congratulations, I'm Sorry," and ultimately reunite again in 2002. They still record and tour to this day, but these two remain the best in the band's catalog so far.

Pink Floyd
The Early Years 1971 Reverber/ation (Pink Floyd Records)
In a stroke of genius, Pink Floyd Records has dug deep in the archives to pull out rare and oftentimes unreleased music and videos for this stunning Box Set. There are several of these sets that have just been released (including a massive 38 disc set) that chronicle the unpolished moments of one of the most enigmatic art bands to ever step into a recording studio. "Reverber/ation" came out of the band's sessions for the 1971 album, "Meddle". The 5-song CD here includes part of the original demos for that classic, though far from mainstream record. Along with "Nothing Part 14," it boasts "Fat Old Sun," "One of These Days," "Embryo" and "Echoes" all from a September 30th, 1971 BBC Radio Session. This boxset also includes a DVD and Blu-Ray complete with rare concert footage from 1971, documentaries and even a brief TV interview for a London news segment about bootleg records. Granted some of the footage is purely for completests and diehard Pink Floyd fans, but the music alone is worth owning.

Elliott Smith
Either/Or: Expanded Edition (Kill Rock Stars)
Elliott Smith's last studio album for the Kill Rock Stars label finally gets a proper re-release 20 years later, complete with some cool added music. "Either/Or," Smith's third album was as well received as the two previous records and helped cement his reputation as one his generation's strongest songwriters. Though this one didn't have the major label backing that it's follow up would have, the record managed to find a fan in director Gus Van Sant, who borrowed three of the tracks from this album for Good Will Hunting. Listening back two decades later, it's easy to see the appeal. This album is as close to perfect as you could ask for from the opening chords of "Speed Trials" to the album closer, the brief (just over two minutes), but beautiful "Say Yes," Smith's voice is stripped down and haunting throughout the record. Lyrically, he's up there with Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. This special edition includes a second CD of live tracks, previously unreleased, and rare studio recordings.



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