This Week in Music, July 2, 2013: Fireworks!

In the days around the Fourth of July, the people who run record companies take a lot of time off. They assume you’re more interested in having picnics and watching fireworks than in buying music. Accordingly, this is a customarily light week on the album-release schedule.

Of course, you could always celebrate the holiday by cueing up some “American” albums that have already been released this year, such as Patty Griffin’s American Kid, the Putumayo label’s American Playground, and Willie Nile’s American Ride. Then there’s Wings over America. And don’t forget that bree is an All American Girl.

Yolanda Kondonassis is another American girl (born in Norman, Oklahoma), and if you’d like to hear some American music, you could (with a nod to Tom Petty) listen to her harp:

Kondonassis American

Her new album, released last week, is called American Harp (Azica; photo above by Mark Battrell). That’s because the composers represented are homegrown: John Cage, Elliott Carter, Norman Dello Joio, Hannah Lash, Lowell Liebermann, Stephen Paulus, and John Williams. All of the pieces were originally composed for the harp, and as Kondonassis says in her press release, she chose them because they share “a certain honesty, directness, and reflective quality that I think is uniquely American.”

You could also give a political slant to your Fourth festivities:

Capitol Fiscal

Fiscal Shades of Gray is the latest self-released album by the satirical troupe Capitol Steps. As you would expect, they’re equal-opportunity spoofsters, so here you’ll find both the “Embattled Hymn of the Republicans” and “Al Gore-Zeera.” Other selections — “Justice Roberts,” “Gay Dream Believer” — could have been torn from this past week’s headlines. Also included: “Greece! The Musical,” “New York Soda CSI,” and “Binders Full of Women.” The Steps’ motto: “We put the mock in democracy.”

Meanwhile, since I mentioned Jay-Z in the deck at the top of this post, here’s a photo of him:

Jay-Z Magna

His T-shirt might as well be saying “Go Home!” to me and my music-critic colleagues. In the old days, as Berklee College of Music instructor Mike King recently told The New York Times, musicians and their handlers would think, “How can you engage with the gatekeepers?” Now it’s “How do you remove these gatekeepers and go directly to the fans?”

Not to be outdone by Kanye West and his stealth campaign for Yeezus, Jay-Z is promoting his new album, Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail (Roc-a-Fella/Roc Nation), directly to fans. Well, at first, to some fans. According to his deal with Samsung, the first 1 million users of the company’s Galaxy S III, S 4, and Note II smartphones who download a customized mobile app will receive the album free on the Fourth, five days before the official release date of July 9.

As for the album itself, Jay-Z’s co-producers include Timbaland, The-Dream, Swizz Beatz, and Pharrell Williams, and guests include Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Rick Ross, and Justin Timberlake. Otherwise, to quote Eleanor Bron from Help!, I can say no more. After all, I’m supposedly one of the removed gatekeepers.

For the record, here’s the rest of the week’s notable releases:

Browns Hits

The Fall: Re-Mit (Cherry Red/MVD; U.K. import)
Judy Dyble: Flow and Change (Gonzo Multimedia; U.K. import)
John Scofield: Überjam Deux (Decca/EmArcy)
Bell X1: Chop Chop (Belly Up)
The Leisure Society: Alone Aboard the Ark (Full Time Hobby)
Roger Eno/Plumbline: Endless City/Concrete Garden (Hydrogen Dukebox)
Grant Olney: Hypnosis for Happiness (self-released)
Michael Chapman: Wrecked Again (Light in the Attic; reissue)
The Browns: Complete Pop & Country Hits (Real Gone)
Various Artists: Fire on the Mountain — Reggae Celebrates the Grateful Dead, Vols. 1 and 2
     (Real Gone; reissue)

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