STING & SHAGGY
Sting’s love of Jamaican music (dating back before the Police), his high tenor vocal blend with Jamaican rapper Shaggy’s deep, singsong baritone, and his gift for playing deep-pocketed reggae bass lines are among the reasons this pairing works so well. “There’s maximum bass at all frequencies,” sings Sting in the title track opener—named for the phone country codes of England and Jamaica—and so it is for the next 11 tracks, with lyrics that reflect the current political climate, from immigration to #MeToo. Sting’s P-Bass rattles fillings via a swung funk ostinato on “Gotta Get Back My Baby,” the stream-of-consciousness pulse on the Marley-esque “Night Shift,” and the jazz-chord-infused musician’s tale “Sad Trombone,” while Robbie Shakespeare adds simple, fat foundation on “To Love and Be Loved.” Elsewhere, Sting dials up a cool squashed bass tone to anchor the theatrical “Crooked Tree” and lays off the downbeat on the hook-filled “Just One Lifetime” and “22nd Street” (with its classic Sting descending bass line). For a fitting coda, Mr. Sumner pumps powerful eighth-notes on the Police-meets-Motown “Dreaming of the USA.”
DOCK OF THE BAY SESSIONS
Context is everything. Released in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the titular hit, Dock of the Bay Sessions is the album Otis Redding might have made if his plane hadn’t gone down on December 10, 1967. Hardcore fans will know these songs already, but hearing Donald “Duck” Dunn’s funky downstroke on “Hard to Handle” or the country-inflected runs he takes up the neck on “Champagne and Wine” conjures the image of a band that’s exploring new and exciting directions, with its charismatic singer leading the way. Even guitar legend Steve Cropper, then all of 25 years old, takes up the bass on “Pounds and Hundreds,” pushing the groove into one possible future that places Redding at the vanguard with the likes of Sly Stone—a whole new thang in progressive soul.
I’LL BE YOUR GIRL
The eighth release from the Decemberists delivers drastic changes from the Portland indie rockers: Their typically acousticrooted sound has taken a turn for the electric, with synths and amplifiers strongly dominating their new songs. A big factor in the success of their transformation is Nate Query, who ditches upright (his signature for years) and picks up electric 4-strings, even busting out a fretless for the lead runs and solo sections on “Cutting Stone.”
SPIRIT FINGERS & GREG SPERO
It’s hard to pinpoint particular bass highlights on Spirit Fingers’ debut, because the entire album is a Hadrien Feraud highlight reel. From fretboard-spanning grooves on “Inside” and lyrical soloing on “You” to his lightning-fast licks on “Movement,” this is Feraud at his best. Early contender for bass album of the year? Without a doubt.
THE TREE OF FORGIVENESS
He’s one of our greatest living songwriters and storytellers, right up there with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, but John Prine takes it all in humble stride. His longtime backing band channels the same laid-back vibe on this stellar ten-song set, which features Prine’s first new material in over a decade and a slew of Nashville stars (including red-hot producer Dave Cobb). Dave Jacques is a grounding presence on bass, whether he’s thumping the upright on the juke-joint gem “Crazy Bone” and the sweet country ode “No Ordinary Blue,” or laying into it with a rocker’s P-Bass feel on the soul-stirring “God Only Knows.”
It also takes a steady right hand and a heap of tasteful restraint to keep the deceptively simple rhythms that Prine’s songs demand, as Jacques demonstrates beautifully on the samba-style lope of “I Have Met My Love Today.”
BOTH SIDES OF THE SKY
There have been many albums of Hendrix working material and studio B-sides, but few have been as bass-focused as this. Billy Cox and Noel Redding pack Sky with rhythmsection grooves, and Hendrix himself picks up bass for “Woodstock.” Highlights include Cox on “Lover Man” and Redding’s work on “Stepping Stone.”
THE NELS CLINE 4
Right off the bat, double bassist Scott Colley asserts a relentlessly dialed-in groove on the aptly named “Furtive,” the opening cut from Nels Cline’s second collaboration with jazz guitarist Julian Lage. Given Colley’s estimable jazz pedigree—he’s performed with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Pat Metheny—it’s no wonder he can bring such muscularity to the proceedings, but this outing absolutely calls for it. Cline and Lage can play off each other with smoldering ferocity (on the step-out cut “Imperfect 10”) or quiet precision (“River Mouth”), and Colley, joined by drummer Tom Rainey, clearly revels in the material’s open-ended freedom. He’s at his best on a bittersweet ballad like “For Each a Flower,” where even the close-up sound of his fingers on the strings adds to the indigo of the mood.
IN THE FUTURE
Alternative rock band Failure decided to release its new album in an unconventional manner, dishing it to fans as four EPs spread over a year. The first installment kicks things off properly with an explosion of riffs from founders Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards, who rotate on bass duty between cranking epic guitar leads. Their bass playing especially stands out on the tightly marching “Dark Speed” and the fuzz-fueled “Paralytic Flow.” We’re excited to hear what’s still to come.