Record Reviews

Matt Costa

Album: “Santa Rosa Fangs”

Grade: B

Rock ‘n’ roll is now old enough to draw social security, which means that for contemporary acts, influences become multigenerational. Such is the case with California singer-songwriter Matt Costa, who borrows from those who borrowed on his engaging new album, “Santa Rosa Fangs.”

The music’s reminiscent of such pioneers as the Byrds, Phil Spector and Nick Drake, but also Oasis, World Party and the Polyphonic Spree.

“It’s time, time, time playing tricks on my mind,” Costa sings as he distills half a century of predecessors into a potent pop pastiche.

It helps that “Santa Rosa Fangs” is filled with fetching melodies. There are also hooks galore, from the choir of Costas singing on the piano-pounding title cut to the repetition of the protagonist’s name in “Sharon.” Even the tambourines are catchy.

And Costa’s off-kilter touches ensure the songs don’t become too sugary. He drops a bar here and there on the aptly named “Time Tricks,” and uses a 5/4 meter effectively on the dreamy “Real Love.”

Best is “Ritchie,” a Shangri-La’s-style love tragedy times two, and part of an album-long narrative about love, loss, time and distance. The plot’s thinner than Mick Jagger, but the tug of the past comes through with every note.

– Steven Wine, Associated Press

Jennifer Castle

Album: “Angels of Death”


There are excellent records about death, dying, grief and goodbyes — from Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night” and David Bowie’s “Blackstar” to The Antlers’ “Hospice” and Gord Downie’s “Introduce Yerself.” Jennifer Castle’s “Angels of Death” is an ethereal, deeply poetic take on the subject — nimble, sure-footed and beautifully written and performed.

On Castle’s third record under her own name — she used to go by Castlemusic — death appears as or is connected to song, muses, angels, messages on the radio and more.

The sounds are mix of country and folk with a dash of pop, reflective but with a dynamic that shields even the sadder passages from too much darkness.

“Texas” is about visiting a dying grandmother whose eyes remind the protagonist of her own dead father. She wants to reach him through her tune but she’s also got something more worldly in mind — “Send a lover/up to my bedroom when you can.”

“Grim Reaper” is prefaced by a long silence and a gradual buildup of sound. Even though Castle sings “It’s not that I’m afraid at night/To meet the one who hold the scythe,” it’s seems she’s not in any rush to confront him, either.

Other highlights include piano-led opener “Tomorrow’s Mourning” and the Cowboy Junkies-like title track, as well as the stunning “Crying Shame,” which John Lennon might have written during his Plastic Ono Band days for Roy Orbison.

Near the end, “Tonight the Evening” tries to find messages from beyond on the radio dial and its extended coda, a bit like Joni Mitchell’s “Dreamland,” includes a string section that helps it develop into a hypnotic swirl.

Amid the ghosts, Castle’s sublime songs, crystalline voice and the integrity of her delivery carry “Angels of Death” to the brighter side of life.

– Pablo Gorondi, Associated Press

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