[New Releases] 4.13.22

Elliah Heifetz

"First Generation American"

Label: N/A (Self-released)

Genre: Americana


Singer-songwriter Elliah Heifetz’s debut album is a cheerful reminder Americana has roots in many countries.

Heifetz was raised on food stamps in Philadelphia as the son of Soviet political refugees, and his melting pot musical mix ranges from Eastern European folk and Yiddish theater to Jimmy Buffett and John Prine.

Heifetz’s voice could be mistaken for Steve Goodman’s, and there’s a twinkle in his twangy tenor as he finds humor in the immigrant experience. But it’s not all yuks as he reflects on outliers and outsiders, dislocation, disorientation and striving to belong in the land of plenty.

“I’m foreign as the fourth day of July,” Heifetz sings. He shows it by name-checking Waylon Jennings, Donovan McNabb and Chuck E. Cheese, and that’s just on the autobiographical, Cajun-tinged title cut.

Other highlights include the stomper “Molly Margarita,” which describes a visit to Costco as a religious experience, and “The Last Great American Cameleer,” a Baghdad-to-Texas lament about trying to ride high.

Heifetz, a Yale alum who has enjoyed success as a composer for New York stages and network TV, recorded the album in Nashville with a stellar supporting cast. The arrangements include pedal steel, fiddle and accordion — immigrant instruments for songs that could only be made in America.

Brad Mehldau

“Jacob's Ladder”

Label: Nonesuch Records

Genre: Jazz


Brad Mehldau's new album includes a cover of the Rush song "Tom Sawyer," which brings to mind Mark Twain, which brings to mind a quote attributed to Twain regarding the music of Mahler: "It's better than it sounds."

That critique could apply here.

Mehldau is perhaps the most lyrical jazz pianist of his generation. He’s also drawn to a genre that could be called restless-soul music-challenging, experimental, boundary-defying material, such as “Jacob’s Ladder.”

The 70-minute set features pretty piano, yes. There’s also anguished screaming, squawky sax, mysterious meter, reading from scripture and shouted German philosophy. It’s odd and uneven, and no one will complain it’s too short.

Even so, Mehldau’s ambition is to be admired, and prog rock fans will likely love it. He draws on Genesis — the book and the band — as he considers our climb toward heaven and our relationship with God.

Rush is a recurring touchstone, and there are also nods to Yes, Bach, math metal, David Byrne, Tropicália, free-jazz funk and video games. Guests include Chris Thile and Cécile McLorin Salvant, but Mehldau does the heavy lifting — on one cut he plays 11 instruments and contributes layered wordless vocals.

With music, however, as with spiritual matters, sometimes less is more. The conclusion of the final tune features an ordinary 4/4 beat and three-chord pattern explored by Mehldau’s solo piano. Like Mahler at his best, it sounds heavenly.

Rick Holmstrom

“Get It!”

Label: LuEllie Records

Genre: Rock


Guitarist Rick Holmstrom’s new album is an all-instrumental collection of toe-tappers, thigh-slappers and finger-snappers. There’s an irresistible backbeat, and the mood is upbeat. Grin and hear it.

Holmstrom, who has worked with Mavis Staples for the past 15 years, draws on antecedents reaching back much farther than that, to the days when the electric guitar was ubiquitous on the pop charts. His playing is a stylish swirl of hipster funk, twang, the blues and garage rock — in fact, most of “Get It!” was recorded in a Los Angeles garage.

Accompanied by drummer Steve Mugalian and bassist Gregory Boaz, Holmstrom tears through 14 tunes, all original, in less than 40 minutes. There’s plenty of playful interplay and the rhythm always jumps, whether Holmstrom’s band of joy is evoking a prayer meeting, sock hop, beach party or juke joint.

Holmstrom plays a distinctive mix of lead and rhythm guitar, as he does with Staples. His neck excursions combine dips and scoops, lyrical runs, toggles between registers and shimmering chord clusters. Notes cascade, collide, argue and agree. It’s all in good fun, and words would just get in the way.