Friends created an app for Facebook called Iamthemusic and invited a handful of folks to submit initial reviews. Here are reviews for several 2008 releases and a few older favorites:
The Kills – Midnight Boom
After a three year hiatus, the dirty duo of VV and Hotel hit back with Midnight Boom. It did not seem like much of a salvo as I critiqued the new material along with favorites during a pre-release performance. However, once I heard the album I was able to appreciate the new material in its more conceptual state. And while guitar and snarl still dominate (as they do in the live set) there is a hodge-podge of pop flourishes (and theft) that really do flesh out the new tunes.
“U.R.A. Fever” opens the disc with an Art of Noise style that includes machine-shop sounding guitars and telephone keypad tone notes; the lyrics even contain a passage from the 80’s hit “Pop Music” to further set the stage. Hotel’s vocals are also more in the forefront on this album, as with “Getting Down”, “Sour Cherry” and the opener, and I’m not sure how I feel about it, really. “Cheap and Cheerful” is about not playing it safe and embracing the darker side; the military drumbeat partnered with the repeated line “it’s alright to be mean” drives this point home. “Tape Song” is another track where the riff is lifted directly from an early 80’s Brit Pop song and is smothered in Warren Cuccurullo (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons) style guitar. There are plenty of songs that are all Kills, like “Hook and Line” and “Black Balloon”, plus the show stopper “Last Day of Magic”. A song about the end of a tempestuous relationship is a driving guitar rocker that reminds me of a thematically inverted, strung-out version of Stereophonics’ “Dakota”. The album wraps up with an “it aint shit these days” ‘tude in “What New York Used to Be” and finishes with the wonderful Lou Reed/Mo Tucker-like “Goodnight Bad Morning”.
Midnight Boom is exciting to listen to and probably not worth holding up to such inspection. But any chance I get to rack my musical data-banks and blow ear-drums for a critique is time well spent.
She and Him – Volume 1
She and Him and the other members of the touring band assembled on-stage like a hipster Carter Family: Zooey, with her hair up ala Loretta Lynn 1967, and M Ward playing guitar/piano/mouth-organ at the end of the stage (the others in-between). Both smiling with recognition of pride, definitely joy. Their performance near note perfect, it could have been lip-synched. I’m not one for an exact live retread of an album, which can sometimes leave me non-plus, but in this case a perfect soundtrack for a foggy festival afternoon.
The performance reinforced all of the reasons to enjoy this partnership while public and active. Volume 1 is fresh, not remotely groundbreaking and 100% satisfying. Zooey’s vocals are like a nosey-throaty (not really a term, but whatever) Jeannie C Riley. And the music very heart-felt and infectious. The novel covers are well executed, the originals fit comfortably into the country-western genre and may themselves be fodder for re-interputation one day, too. So where do I sign up for future volumes?!?
Alejandro Escovedo – Real Animal
It’s a better world with Alejandro Escovedo in it. Since his recovery from Hepatitis C in 2004, and even before that, he has kept busy with various autobiographical projects, including this latest recording. Co-written and produced by Chuck Prophet, Real Animal is a musical time-line exploring people, places and scenes from Alejandro’s storied career. “Nuns Song”, “Chelsea” and “Sensitive Boys” all evoke the sentiment of the early punk and alt-country days with great verve. Where as “Swallows of San Juan” and “Slow Down” suggest what he has come through to get to this point in his life. Fleshed out with moody, hypnotic songs like “Golden Bear” and “Hollywood Hills”, and coupled with the rocking “Real as an Animal”, helps secure this as one of the best albums of his career and 2008.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band – What’s Going On
In response to the destruction and tumultuous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band recorded Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On in its entirety with the aid of a strong vocal cast. It’s not only a fine tribute to the source material but also a call to action. There is also a great deal of funk and inspired musicianship at work here. The title track “What’s Going On” is charged with a pointed rap by the incensed Chuck D and supported by an amazing horn section and infectious grove. “What’s Happening Brother” follows with yet another funky drum beat and perhaps the most relevant narrative and vocals as provided by the incomparable Bettye LaVette. “Flying High” is presented as a slow swinging instrumental that eventually moves up tempo and ends with the continual return of “help me somebody” with a surprisingly uplifting result. “Save the Children” is another successful instrumental, phrasing Marvin’s words perfectly with music, including a searching and eventual honking sax solo.
“God is Love” is yet another funky number lead by the passionate Ivan Neville and punctuated with B-3 organ and horn blasts. G. Love’s vocal performance on one of Gaye’s finest, “Mercy Mercy Me”, feels flat and inflected, but give him credit for attempting a part that was probably turned down by others out of fear. The horn part that plays the song out brings it all back, though, and returns the listener to the course of the album. “Right On” is a little freer in interpretation, with its repetitive guitar part, tambourine rhythm and hot-ass sax, horn and trombone parts. “Wholy Holy” is played like a funeral march, but the exploratory sax and horn parts take us to a higher ground. Finally, the album culminates in the all too relevant “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”, with Guru on vocals and offering his take on the truth: that poverty is seen as a curse and even in 2006 a class of people can go unrecognized by the highest office of the land.
Fruit Bats – Spelled in Bones
Spelled in Bones is an uplifting propulsion of pop – a jet stream of substantive melody and affectionate imagery. The Fruit Bats sophomore recording is an inventive folk-based rock sound with multi-track vocals, falsetto choruses, hand-claps and acoustic instrumentation (hello banjo solo!) melding with creative synth add-ons and overlays. Great pop tunes that hold-up after wanton repeated listens, such as “Canyon Girl”, “Legs of Bees” and “Born in the 70’s” are perfectly matched with the more wistful “The Wind that Blew My Heart Away” and “Spelled in Bones”. My personal favorite, “The Earthquake of ’73”, evokes a time and place that carries throughout the entire album; the piano-guitar duet with drop-ins of hand-claps and steel-pedal guitar and the glorious youthful images of skinned knees, roller skating, chipped tooth’s and losing one’s voice singing along to “Raspberry Beret” just deliver me to a very happy place.
After the tour for this release, Eric Johnson took to the road with The Shins; and as there is no set plan for another Fruit Bats disc, his website claims he has been writing with hopes of making a new recording. Here’s hoping so…
John Lennon - Lennon Anthology (boxset)
Lennon is god and this is his tome.
In the years after his death, there aired a weekly radio program on Sunday nights called The Lost Lennon Tapes. Each broadcast discussed a portion of his work, presented interviews with Lennon and others and also included the treat of one or two musical rarities. The demos, alt-tracks and unreleased all exhibited the same rawness and urgency in his best (and worst) work. Anthology attempts to categorize and timeline a treasure trove of songs that range from historical to questionable. One thing is certain, this box set (as many are) is much to dense for the casual listener (is there such a thing as a casual Beatle fan?) and will force even the most die hard to skip tracks multiple times (but there are multiple repeats, as well). There are, however, hours of relevant music worth anyone's time among this five disc set.
The Plastic Ono Band recordings on disc 1 remind you what all the fuss was about: punch-you-in-the-gut, stripped down and raw, raw, raw ("God", "Mother", "Working Class Hero"). And for me, the disc covering the mid-1970's Phil Spector produced Rock n Roll sessions (including fiery and wacko interludes between Lennon and Spector in-studio) are a real treat. The various live recording are in good shape and thoroughly rock; the countless demos are fascinating to hear in their early stages and are even down right moving.
The final disc covers the home recordings from the Dakota in NYC and offers a true glimpse of a relaxed artist and a happy family man. "Beautiful Boy" is still one of the most moving tributes to flesh & blood ever recorded and the 4-track recording makes it even all the more endearing. And the set ending demo of "Watching the Wheels" is a more satisfying resolve than I ever would have imagined, after hearing the song ad nauseam for three decades now. Perhaps one of the greatest joys I took away from these recordings is that for a brief moment, however fleeting, Lennon is alive once again.
For a podcast of said Lost Lennon Tapes, visit here: http://littleabby.podomatic.com/
Charlie Rich – Feel Like Going Home: The Essential Charlie Rich
Arguably the most talented combination of singer/songwriter/performer to come out of Sun Records, and singular in his critical success in every American musical genre (rock-n-roll, blues, gospel and country), Charlie Rich deserves to be mentioned in the same class as his chief inspiration Ray Charles. Better known for his Countrypolitan hits from the early 1970's like "Behind Closed Doors" and "Most Beautiful Girl", this collection also provides equal time for his early rockabilly A-sides and some of the finest rhythm and blues recordings from the 1960's including "I Washed My Hands in the Muddy Water" and "Big Boss Man".
There are very few artists whose "best of" collection is as solid and wide ranging as "Feel Like Going Home". In fact, it would take the combination of Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Bobby Bland, George Jones and Ronnie Milsap just to cover the same ground!
Get Rich or get lost.