This week's selections include a pianist from South Africa, an American in the South Pacific, and one of our favorite rock records of the year thus far.
Pianist/singer/ornithologist Jonathan Meiburg is back, with a new collection of musical landscapes played by his band Shearwater. Meiburg’s pure high voice remains one of the most distinctive in the indie-rock world, and his piano-driven songs run the gamut from spare and lyrical to the dramatic and rockin’. Shearwater’s songs have often been driven by Meiburg’s own travels, researching birds in exotic locales. The band's new album, The Golden Archipelago, is inspired by Meiburg's work in various islands in the South Pacific, and in a remote Australian aboriginal community. No songs about birds, but lots of musings about isolation, nature, and the fragile beauty of life. – John Schaefer
Abdullah Ibrahim & WDR Big Band Cologne – Bombella (Sunny Side)
South African pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim was introduced to the international audience by Duke Ellington. The American composer recorded him and his wife, singer Sathima Bea Benjamin, in 1965, and Ibrahim has since played all over the world, including on Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994. Ibrahim’s latest album, Bombella, was recorded live with the WDR Big Band Cologne in Germany. The songs are autobiographical, and he says they were staged like a film translating his musical journey. – Gisele Regatao
Local Natives – Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss)
The group Local Natives is headquartered in the band-rich Silver Lake neighborhood in Los Angeles. But several members hail from suburban Orange County, where they once lived in a filthy crash pad dubbed Gorilla Manor. It lends its name to the band’s debut, one of the best rock albums we’ve heard so far in 2010. It’s an epic collection of three-part vocal harmonies, elegant guitar noodling, and high-octane drum arrangements. The album format may be on the endangered species list, but Local Natives have offered up a genuine “long-player.” There’s not a dud on this record, and its intensity only ebbs at the end, when the band rides off into the sunset on a few ballads. – Joel Meyer