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New Releases from Mike Mills and Robert McDuffie, The Mavericks, and Sleigh Bells 

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click to enlarge Mike Mills and Robert McDuffie
  • Mike Mills and Robert McDuffie

Mike Mills and Robert McDuffie

Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra

Orange Mountain Music

File next to: R.E.M., E.L.O.

Hybridizing rock and classical isn't new: The Beatles did it in 1965 with "Yesterday." And many others have attempted since, including Electric Light Orchestra. Yet there's something fresh and new about this latest project from R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills. Working with lifelong friend, Juilliard-trained violinist Robert McDuffie (and arranger David Mallamud), he's created a work that draws from the very best of both genres. The nuance and instrumental virtuosity of orchestral music is combined with Mills' knowing sense of how to write a memorable tune. The rock musicians never fight for supremacy, and McDuffie's violin ably assumes the role normally given (in rock) to a lead vocalist. Hummable melodies abound, and — most importantly — it rocks when it wants to. Selections from composers Philip Glass and John Adams round out the set. — BK

click to enlarge The Mavericks
  • The Mavericks

The Mavericks

All Night Live: Volume 1

Mono Mundo Recordings

File next to: Los Lobos, Neil Young

Fans who heard "All Night Long" the standout track on last year's Mono album, may have wondered whether The Mavericks could pull off a song like that onstage. After all, the studio version is a production extravaganza, full of bracing horn arrangements and Latin-flavored percussion. The Mavericks, meanwhile, are nominally a four-piece. But for All Night Live: Volume 1, the Miami group recruited "The Fantastic Four" horn section to tear through "All Night Long" and other favorites from the group's back catalog. The set is weighted toward material from the band's most recent incarnation, which has been together since 2013. It stands as a sonic documentation of their exciting live show, as well as a promising first release on the group's own label. And, yes, the "Volume 1" title gives a pretty good hint as to the band's future output. — BK

click to enlarge Sleigh Bells
  • Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells

Jessica Rabbit

Torn Clean

File next to: Phantogram, Cults, Best Coast

Sleigh Bells' Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller painted themselves into a corner with the overdubbed sonic assault that marked their 2010 debut album Treat. The duo subsequently embraced a variety of sampling tricks to keep their sound fresh, an approach that worked particularly well on 2013's Bitter Rivals. Now comes Jessica Rabbit, the duo's fourth album, a return to basics that positively shines on tracks like "Crucible" and "Rule Number One." Krauss shows a vocal maturity that matches Miller's ability to use silences as well as decibels, a sharp contrast to early tracks on which everything was about the pulsing throb of the diaphragm. The only problem is that, once the duo's wildly diverse sonic palette is downsized, Krauss can sometimes sound like Amy Lee from Evanescence. Surely, Sleigh Bells were never meant to drift that close to normal. — LW

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