CD Reviews

Hear Me Now, Zafra Court and Balls Out


Tyler Williams Hear Me Now (Elephant Rug)

Musician/composer and UNLV grad Tyler Williams plays bass in Le Rêve at Wynn. But Williams’ modern jazz trio, comprising guitarist Dirk K and drummer Peter Erskine, is cooler if you dig melodic chops mixed in with clever studio ideas. Williams’ self-released debut, recorded in both Santa Monica, Calif., and Las Vegas, has a bit of everything—reggae (“Me and Herb”), curveball Broadway numbers (“The Sound of Music”), Jaco Pastorius-grade mood pieces (“The One That Got Away”) and R&B (“Flicka’s Funk”). The latter is especially inventive, with Williams sampling fresh cat litter being scooped as the song’s percussion. He’s equally adept on stand-up bass and fretted (also fretless) electric bass guitar, and his original compositions display a nimble, cross-genre tunefulness that’s rare in contemporary jazz. But it’s the way he pulls the aforementioned Rodgers & Hammerstein song into a minor key and odd time signature that’ll be among your favorite things. Buy Hear Me Now via iTunes or at ★★★☆☆


Halloween Town Zafra Court (Cornstalk Recordings)

I’ve been acquainted with Ryan Pardey for 10 years, in all his incarnations—English major, coffee barista, Killers babysitter, Hollywood screenwriter, pro poker player. But these surface details fail to sound the depth of emotion and talent at the end—in the giant heart—of the masterpiece that is Zafra Court, Halloween Town’s debut and the name of the Vegas street oh which Pardey grew up. He’s synthesized and transcended influences (Elliott Smith, Modest Mouse) to reach a polished, elastic, pop-sensitive, darkly confessional sound only a survivor of Sin City’s funhouse-mirror culture can conjure. “You’re 29 years old, kid/Have you learned nothing yet?” Pardey mourns in the carnivalesque bildungsroman “Halloween Town,” which, in terms of lyrics, rivals anything by The Hold Steady. “A Faster Bullet” fires a volley of shimmering guitars, confirming that Pardey’s collaborators—The Killers’ Dave Keuning and Mark Stoermer, 12 Volt Sex’s Michael Stratton—have helped him achieve something truly unique: Best Album Ever by a Vegas Singer/Songwriter. Sign Pardey now, Matador. Buy Halloween Town’s Zafra Court via iTunes or at ★★★★☆


Steel Panther Balls Out (Universal Republic)

Man, I don’t want to laugh at or with Steel Panther. They simultaneously mock and celebrate everything I once loathed about mindless, misogynistic, drug-augmented ’80s glam-rock. But like other successful musical comedians (Stephen Lynch) these pretty, pouty potty-mouths ooze PC-piercing hilarity like orgy-induced venereal sores. Porny power ballad “Just Like Tiger Woods” praises the golfer’s carnal sins, while “17 Girls in a Row” revels in a triumph only “Hot for Teacher”-era David Lee Roth could match. My inner feminist wants to take offense to street-racing blues-rock ditties such as “It Won’t Suck Itself,” but the Panther’s dim view of dudes (who in these songs are unemployed, left alone to wank in Mom’s basement) makes it, um, hard to be outraged. Sure, drunk tourists may not recognize it, but Balls Out is—and I mean this—an elaborately rocked-up takedown and deconstruction of male desire. ★★★☆☆