Ozomatli, “Non-Stop Mexico to Jamaica” (Cleopatra).
Two decades into a fascinating journey that’s carried them to such far-flung locales as Myanmar, Mongolia, Palestine, Poland, the White House and the Austin, Texas, city jail (the result of a particularly rambunctious South by Southwest set), the Los Angeles sextet traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, to record its eighth studio album.
Working with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the accomplished production team that has collaborated with artists as varied as Grace Jones, Serge Gainsbourg, No Doubt, Herbie Hancock and dozens of others, Ozomatli devotes most of “Non-Stop” to cover songs by vintage and contemporary Mexican artists. It does so channeled through the filter of bass-heavy, rhythmically swinging reggae and dub.
For “Non-Stop,” Ozomatli multi-instrumentalist Justin Poree took the helm as executive producer, so rhythms play a huge role. The album features guest performances by a range of artists whose variety typifies Ozomatli’s versatility, including singer-guitarist Juanes, the great Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno, rapper Chali 2na of Jurassic 5, singer-songwriter G. Love and L.A. icon Herb Alpert.
Connecting them is a band whose bass (courtesy of Wil-Dog Abers’ heavy lines) and percussion (via Poree and Jiro Yamaguchi) have often been informed by Kingston. In fact, horn player Uli Bella got his start in a ska band, and long ago internalized the saxophone runs of Tommy McCook, Dean Fraser and Roland Alphonso.
His horn hums through “Como la Flor,” which was made famous by the late Texas singer Selena, as singer-trumpeter Asdru Sierra croons over a rock-steady beat. Singer-guitarist Raul Pacheco rides the offbeat on a take on Los Tigres del Norte’s “De Paisano a Paisano” while honoring day laborers and hotel workers straddling the border. Through it all, the band sounds as tight and confident as ever.
Sparks, “What the Hell Is It This Time?” (BMG/The End).
The second song and video from its forthcoming album “Hippopotamus” (Sept. 8) sees the longtime Los Angeles avant-pop band — composed of brothers Ron and Russell Mael — inhabiting the mind of an annoyed God who is tired of the constant nagging.
“What the hell is it this time?/ I’ve millions to serve/ You get on my nerves” sings Russell at one point, bemoaning his fate as the All-Knowing Everything. Elsewhere, Russell declares, “My God is great/ My God is good/ He loves every man,” repeating the lines for emphasis before pleading, “But show some restraint/ If you’re feeling faint/ Appeal to a saint.”
Like all great Sparks songs, the brothers from Pacific Palisades deliver their sermon standing atop a mountain of grandiose orchestration, investing its undepleted energy with a joyousness that has come to define its work across 45 years.
Tim Heidecker, “Mar a Lago” (Bandcamp).
Much of the world is trying to figure out what exactly is going on inside another powerful being’s head: President Trump. But only one, the Los Angeles-based actor, comedian, failed EDM promoter, songwriter, vape enthusiast, goth-metal vocalist and film critic Heidecker, has written a song about it. Called “Mar A Lago,” it’s an ode to the so-called winter White House.
Heidecker, who in recent years has turned to comedic soft-rock songwriting as a salve for his and his country’s troubles, seems to be working to understand the president’s motives. It’s not the only recent song of his that focuses on Trump; he just issued another called “Cooked Chinese Chicken (Is Coming Our Way)” that mimics Randy Newman’s style while wondering on the future of the White House.
Drawn from the same well as Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” the Looking Glass’s “Brandy,” Helen Reddy’s “Delta Dawn” and Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Mar A Lago” is sung from Trump’s perspective, and we’re in the Oval Office as the music starts.
“Well I’m sitting behind my desk in Washington, D.C./ And everyone on cable news is yelling at me,” sings Heidecker-as-Trump, sounding exasperated and looking for escape. “Cuz there’s only one place that I wanna go/ That’s down underneath the Florida sun in Mar a Lago.”
The narrative expands to include other players in Trump’s world, suggests a few off-color reasons for the president’s love of his getaway before concluding on a runway on the return flight to D.C.
“And the Sunday comes and my boss tells me we gotta go back/ Home to the haunted mansion where pretty soon I'm gonna crack/ But for now I guess I play my part in this puppet show/ And keep my eye on the weekend where I can go to Mar a Lago.”