In a way, C.W. Stoneking’s Gon Boogaloo brings the Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist back to his childhood.

Har Mar Superstar’s latest album, Best Summer Ever, doesn’t always have the fun vibes one would expect given the title. Listen to “How Did I Get Through the Day,” a ballad that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on AM radio 60 years ago, for example. “I’m all alone, watching the phone,” sings Sean Tillman, who performs under the name Har Mar Superstar. “But you ain’t coming home.”

The song’s longing feels perfectly at home on Best Summer Ever. Many of the tracks focus on departures and yearning, such as closing track “Confidence” and the synthesizer-driven version of Bobby Charles’ “I Hope.”

Yet maybe these songs aren’t in conflict with the album’s title. Summertime is fleeting, as is the youth with which summer fun is most commonly associated.

Tillman explained the name of the sixth Har Mar Superstar record, which was released last month, in a phone interview ahead of his May 15 appearance at Daytrotter’s Davenport venue. “It’s something I say when people ask me to take photos with a group of friends, or if people are toasting,” he said. “No matter what time of year, I always say, ‘Best summer ever.’”

There’s more to the title than just being a goofy refrain Tillman uses with friends: “Since the album’s also kind of melancholy at a lot of points, I think that it’s got a nice kind of haunting, weird, sad vibe as well.”

When area blues-rock vocalist Alan Sweet, aided by numerous musician friends, prepared to launch the tribute project All Sweat Productions – performing a beloved album, in its entirety, in a live concert – he knew exactly which band, and which specific release, he wanted to honor first.

Abbey Road is probably on the top of my list of albums I’ve listened to more than any other music,” says Sweet, who has served as lead vocalist for the Candymakers for the past four years. “It’s my favorite Beatles album. It’s easily on my top five of favorite albums ever. And when I decided that that was the one I wanted to do as a live show, there was this outcry of people wanting to play on it. Everybody I got a hold of was just like, ‘Yes. Yes!’”

But while one of Sweet’s stated goals with All Sweat is to “re-create the live-show sound,” he and his musical collaborators immediately realized, as every Beatles fan knows, that there was a catch to their playing Abbey Road in concert the way its creators did.

“The Beatles weren’t performing live then,” says Sweet, referencing the 1969 release of Abbey Road. “When Bret [Dale] and I were first talking about how to play songs from the album, we were like, ‘Well, we’ll just see how the Beatles played it and do it like that. And then we’d remember: ‘They never played this song live! We’re screwed!’”

When Blue Grass, Iowa’s David G. Smith recorded his last studio album, he actually cut enough material for two records. Given the consistently topical/political nature of 2014’s One House, a listener might expect the leftovers to taste a little like ... leftovers.

As the singer/songwriter/guitarist said in an interview last week – in advance of the local album-release show for First Love – “This one covers quite a bit of territory. ... This record is a little bit more on the softer side of things, maybe a little more introspective. It’s funny how a group of songs can seem to fit together.”

Indeed, it’s easy to hear that the record is bound in sorrow; half of the songs deal with lives and loves lost.

Delta Spirit frontman Matthew Logan Vasquez characterizes his song “Everything I Do Is Out” as “sweaty,” and the description is apt, with its howling, hoarse, Cobain-like vocals, meaty hard-rock guitar groove, and a generally pummeling manner suitable for any aggressive workout.

And then, just before the three-minute mark, the sound drops out for a split second. Ten seconds later, it abruptly cuts off at peak volume, giving way to the languid Americana of “Black East River.”

In a phone interview last week promoting his April 18 performance at Daytrotter, Vasquez shrugged off my question about those choices. “That’s just a producer trick I learned when I was 19, and I never get to do producer tricks, so I was having fun,” he said. “I recorded everything myself, so I get to use all the things that I wanted to do it. I felt like doing that, so I did it.”

That last sentence could be the motto for Solicitor Returns, the official debut of the singer/songwriter/guitarist as a solo artist. It’s Vasquez unbound and only slightly filtered.

Listening to Sean Watkins’ fifth solo album, What to Fear, you might get whiplash trying to follow the wild swings in lyrical tone in just its first half. The title track opens things with an acidic attack on the media told from the perspective of the media, and it’s followed by the earnest, bite-sized confessions of “Last Time for Everything.”

“I Am What You Want” has menace and attraction in equal measure, as the narrator gently threatens to bend its target to his will: “But I swear you’ll learn to love me. / Darling, would I lie?”

“Keep Your Promises II” returns to a clever lyrical refrain from his previous album: “Just keep your promises. / Don’t let them leave your lips.” And that admonition to a serially dishonest partner segues back into a heartfelt love song in “Everything.”

Watkins, one-third of the platinum-selling Nickel Creek (with his fiddler sister Sara and mandolinist Chris Thile), doesn’t apologize for those abrupt shifts. In an interview last week promoting his April 14 Redstone Room show, he said: “If they like the songs, they like the songs. ... It’s all very me. It’s sincerely coming from me, and something that I feel is part of my musicality, so that’s okay. ... I’m not worried too much about the schizophrenic aspect, because I’m being honest.”


Adriana Zabala, performing at the April 2 and 3 Masterworks concertsFor many, the word “symphony” evokes the names of famed composers such as Brahms, Mahler, and Tchaikovsky, each of whose talents will be duly represented in the springtime repertoire for Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) musicians.

But if you have young children, it’s entirely possible that the word “symphony,” for them, will soon bring to mind a whole new set of names, among them Mary Poppins, Pocahontas, and Mulan.

Photo by Bryan C. Parker

Yonatan Gat knows dangerous. As the guitarist for Monotonix – banned in many venues in its native Israel – the peril was physical.

“Monotonix ... was dangerous because you could always get hurt – wounded – at the show,” Gat said in a phone interview last week, promoting his eponymous trio’s return to Rozz-Tox on April 1. “This band is very dangerous, but because it’s musically dangerous.”

He later continued that thought: “This is a show that you can close your eyes and listen to the music. In Monotonix, if you close your eyes, a trash can would hit your head. It would be unsafe to close your eyes.”

That’s not to say that the current band – composed of Gat, bassist Sergio Sayeg, and drummer Gal Lazer – is in any way sedate. Your head might be safe from flying trash receptacles, but an ill-prepared brain might still be ducking for cover.

Jokingly called “the bedpost,” the bassoon is the most omitted instrument in the classical solo repertoire. But the Quad City Symphony’s March 5 premiere of Jacob Bancks’ Dream Variations was serious musical business – a delightful and diverse 22-minute exploration of all things bassoon that helps fill the void.

Dream Variations for bassoon & orchestra was a plunge into the technical and musical possibilities of a solo instrument seldom heard up-front. But the Adler Theatre concert was also a showcase for local talent. Bancks is an Augustana College faculty member, and his technically acrobatic Dreams was brought to life by Mark Timmerman, the principal bassoonist of the New York Metropolitan Opera but also a Davenport native. And leading a performance that also included Johannes Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn and Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations was Quad City Symphony Associate Conductor Benjamin Klemme, a Pleasant Valley High School graduate making his conducting debut with the orchestra.

The story of Lissie – the Rock Island native who went to California with dreams of stardom that you could hear on two albums, and who then returned to the Midwest and bought an Iowa farm – is captured in the second track on her new album My Wild West, and it’s the emotional and musical retreat you’d expect.

Following an instrumental overture, the largely piano-and-voice “Hollywood” hits obvious notes of regret and pain: “Oh, Hollywood / You broke my heart just because you could.”

The nuances here – the shoulda-known-better admission – do little to justify the song or its foregrounding on the album. Its prominence only begins to make sense when you take the long view of My Wild West.

Like “Hollywood,” the front half of the album feels oddly self-conscious – with over-thought stylistic shifts. But the back end goes a long way toward correcting that, as My Wild West reveals itself to be a lot like most Lissie songs: a patient lull before she unleashes that monster of a voice.

And in that context, the whole begins to make sense as a story with its tentative beginning in Hollywood disappointment. Slowly but surely, Lissie sheds shackles over the course of the album, growing more confident and less burdened. Precise articulations of muted moods give way to anticipated but unpredictable detonations. The record, ultimately, becomes the best and freest long-form expression of Elisabeth Maurus’ forceful performance talent and casual authenticity.

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