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14 albums by New England musicians to listen to this summer

Top row, from left: Arto Van (Courtesy Brittany Rose Queen), Grayson Ty (Courtesy), Lake Street Dive (Courtesy Shervin Lainez), and Ivanna Cuesta (Courtesy Penelope Santana). Bottom row, from left: Salem Wolves (Courtesy Black Cherry Creative), Seventh Sun (Courtesy Jay Pics), and American Ocelot (Courtesy John Soares).
Top row, from left: Arto Van (Courtesy Brittany Rose Queen), Grayson Ty (Courtesy), Lake Street Dive (Courtesy Shervin Lainez), and Ivanna Cuesta (Courtesy Penelope Santana). Bottom row, from left: Salem Wolves (Courtesy Black Cherry Creative), Seventh Sun (Courtesy Jay Pics), and American Ocelot (Courtesy John Soares).

For the past two decades, music journalists have been asking if the internet is killing off the concept album. The answer — whether it be from pop’s biggest stars or New England musicians — is a decided no. Concept albums abound in our guide to new local music coming out this summer. Rockers Salem Wolves have created an entire musical story about the superpowers of a small-time wrestler. Boston jazz greats Charlie Kohlhase and Ivanna Cuesta are exploring their futures as they live with, respectively, HIV and climate change. The environment also comes up as one of the themes in the suites of the Middle Eastern jazz of the Ize Trio. And the concept of collaboration is celebrated by Mass Spiritz, a cast of hip-hop creators who got together to write, rap, sing and produce their own record in less than a week. So enjoy the music and look out for the many release shows these artists will be doing at local venues, because live music is another concept to celebrate.

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Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers Club, ‘A Second Life‘

June 7

It’s impossible to imagine the Boston jazz community without saxophonist and composer (and former WBUR overnight host) Charlie Kohlhase. He lends his considerable talents and knowledge not just to his own Explorers Club band, but also to ensembles like the Makanda Project, listeners of WMBR and customers at Stereo Jack’s Records in Somerville. Now with “Second Life,” he’s revealing another side: His status as an openly gay man living with HIV. The disease that once decimated the gay world is now treatable, and in the album’s notes, Kohlhase expresses his gratitude to the medical care he has access to as a Massachusetts resident. As always, Kohlhase’s originals show both intelligence and wit, and he also includes compositions by key influences — Elmo Hope, John Tchicai and Roswell Rudd. And there’s a band that can ably tackle all of Kohlhase’s twists and turns: Seth Meicht on tenor saxophone, Dan Rosenthal on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jeb Bishop on trombone,  Josiah Reibstein on tuba, Eric Hofbauer on guitar, Tony Leva on bass and Curt Newton on drums. Kohlhase says his “Second Life” is made possible by the two pills he takes each day, and let’s give thanks that they keep him thriving and making such rewarding music.

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The Macrotones, ‘From the Void’

June 7

After a decade of playing mostly instrumental ferocious funk and Afrobeat, Boston’s Macrotones added a full-time lead singer shortly before the pandemic made shows by a 10-piece band impossible. Now they’re finally releasing their first all-vocal LP that showcases soulful lead Phil DeSisto along with the psychedelic grooves the Macrotones have mastered.

The Macrotones celebrate the release of “From the Void” on June 22 at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge.

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Ivanna Cuesta, ‘A Letter to the Earth‘

June 7

Dominican drummer and composer Ivanna Cuesta has emerged as an important new voice since moving to Boston in 2015 to attend Berklee. For her debut, she’s presenting an album of deeply meditative and thoughtful original compositions that combine improvisation with electronics. Over the album’s six works, Cuesta contemplates the future of both her birthplace and her planet as the climate changes and many of the natural elements of her childhood have already disappeared. Joining Cuesta is a trio of fellow philosopher/improvisers: pianist Kris Davis, bassist Max Ridley and tenor saxophonist Ben Solomon.

Ivanna Cuesta appears at Mission Hill Arts Festival for a Celebrity Series-sponsored concert on Aug. 10.

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‘True Blues Brother: The Legacy of Matt “Guitar” Murphy‘

June 21

Blues Hall of Famer Matt “Guitar” Murphy was born in Mississippi and made his mark in Chicago, but when his career peaked with his appearance in “The Blues Brothers,” he was living in Burlington, Massachusetts and playing with local bands like the Zaitchik Brothers and the Shaboo All-Stars. Rhode Island drummer and producer Bobby Christina had been working on a new record with Murphy at the time of his 2018 passing. That led to this sprawling tribute, which finds 72 musicians — including Steve Cropper, Tracy Nelson and Lee Oskar — playing their hearts out for Murphy over 24 tracks. Just a few of the local musicians who join in are Ronnie Earl, Ricky “King” Russell, Brian Templeton, Duke Robillard, “Sax” Gordon Beadle and Christina’s guitarist brother, Fran Christina. The most poignant moments are recordings of Murphy himself displaying his unique guitar style while backed by Boston organist Bruce Bears. Boston’s blues queen Toni Lynn Washington belts out “Think,” the song that made Murphy famous when Aretha Franklin socked it to him in “The Blues Brothers.”

Bobby Christina’s Blues Caravan with many special guests celebrate the album as part of MitchFest on June 23 at Hygienic Art in New London, Connecticut.

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Grayson Ty, ‘Bloodline’

June 21

Grayson Ty’s rockin’ country-soul sound has plenty of twang as well as the kind of moving storytelling you might expect from a member of the Western Mass. roots music scene. On his new EP, Ty goes deep into his own roots, exploring his family tree and his Jewish ancestry on the driving “Distant Star,” while “Rock Bottom” finds a troubadour choosing music over the bottle.

Grayson Ty celebrates the EP’s release June 28 at the Iron Horse in Northampton.

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Lake Street Dive, ‘Good Together’

June 21

Although they still get nominated for local music awards, it’s been more than a minute since this popular New England Conservatory-bred combo was actually based in Boston. But there is a New England connection to their fifth album of originals: it was largely written and recorded in drummer Mike Calabrese’s Vermont home studio. If the first two singles are any indication, the record will have the bounce that the band’s fans have come to expect as well as some tender moments.

Lake Street Dive appears at the Levitate Music and Arts Festival in Marshfield on July 6.

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Seventh Sun, ‘Seventh Sun’

June 27

If you want to know what makes today’s jazz so exciting, check out the debut LP by Boston’s Craig Jackson, who performs as Seventh Sun. The saxophonist brings both a muscular tone and the ability to seamlessly blend the influences of multiple eras of jazz as well as R&B, hip-hop, pop and Egyptology. Jazz stars like Jeremy Pelt, Jesus Molina and Jazzmeia Horn all make contributions, as do MC Kwasi Stampley and singer Dyce J. Stephens. Among the many highlights is the Whitney Houston classic “Saving All My Love for You.” It’s a song that in the past has been turned into bland pap by smooth jazz artists, but in Seventh Sun’s hands it’s a perfect vehicle for improvisational flights of fancy.

Seventh Sun celebrates his album release June 27 at Long Live Beerworks in Roxbury.

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American Ocelot, ‘American Ocelot’

June 28

Just last year, Boston rocker Joanie Lynch put together this vehicle for her jangly no-frills music and put out a series of demos. After enlisting an A-team crew and playing a series of well-received shows she’s now releasing the band’s first true EP. The first track, “Recording,” is a great slice of blues-tinged observational pop.

American Ocelot celebrates its EP release on June 29 at the Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain.

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‘Mass Spiritz, Vol. 2’

June 29

Last year, Terry Borderline gathered 20 of his fellow Massachusetts hip-hop creators for a marathon session where they wrote, performed and even mastered an entire EP that ranged from deeply conscious lyrics to infectiously fun jams. The results were so good that the project received a Club Passim Iguana Fund Grant allowing for a volume two, made earlier this year during a four-day collaborative session followed by a video shoot for the five tracks this all-star cast made together. For round two, Borderline is joined by local hip-hop luminaries Sassy D’estany, KC EL, Sol E Soul, Paul Willis, Khanscience Wisdom, Michael Starseed, Takiyah, Moves, Juma, CLRWTR, Eva Davenport and JoiBeatz.

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Boston Modern Orchestra Project, ‘John Alden Carpenter Complete Ballets’

June or July

In 2008, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project launched a series of recordings to help expose and preserve the works of 20th and 21st-century composers. Now BMOP is celebrating its 100th release with the works of John Alden Carpenter, spanning compositions he wrote for ballets between 1917 and 1940, including “Krazy Kat” and “Skyscrapers,” recorded at Boston’s Jordan Hall and Worcester’s Mechanics Hall. The exact release date hasn’t been announced, but it is expected to be in late June or July. BMOP is also releasing recording 99, Vijay Iyer’s “Trouble,” on June 11.

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Arto Vaun, ‘Stuck Inside a Map’

July 18

Songwriter and poet Arto Vaun makes driving guitar rock with the intelligence you’d expect from the former head of the Center for Creative Writing at the American University in Armenia. Now back in his hometown of Boston, where he first was musically active as half of the duo Mishima USA, Vaun is also the executive director of Project Save Photograph Archives, which preserves Armenian visual history.

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Salem Wolves, ‘The Psychotron Speaks’

July 19

The Boston/Providence rockers have made an especially memorable concept record: The tale of the superpowers of a failed indie wrestler. The songs detail the story of The Stranger, who once grappled in the defunct Southland Wrestling Association. As the band puts it, The Stranger  “taps into a mysterious power delivered from an unknowable and unthinkable eldritch device capable of bending the world around it and creating distortion, both aural and psychological.” It’s all delivered with the thunderous sound that has made the band and lead singer Gray Bouchard multiple Boston Music Award nominees.

Salem Wolves celebrate the album (with live wrestling!) on Aug. 3 at AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island.

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Already Dead, ‘Something Like a War’

July 26

Last year, the proudly blue collar punk combo Already Dead premiered “Landlord” on WBUR. Now they’re back with an LP full of meaningful songs about places and people that harken back to the days when punk rock stood for something. The next single, “The Spirit of Massachusetts Avenue,” portrays how a single street can display the stark reality of Boston’s class divide.

Already Dead celebrates the release of “Something Like a War” on July 27 at Thirsty First in Lowell.

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Ize Trio, ‘The Global Suites’

Aug. 2

There’s nothing quite like the Middle Eastern jazz of the Ize Trio, which combines the formidable talents of Cyprian percussionist George Lernis, American pianist Chase Morrin and Palestinian cellist Naseem Alatrash. Their debut recording collects four different suites with topical themes: capitalism, environmentalism, immigration and education. This is certainly serious music for serious times, but it’s played with love and imagination. The first single features vocalists Farayi Malek and Heiraza as well as the group’s mentor, bass giant John Patitucci.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 WBUR

Noah Schaffer