John Mellencamp "On the Rural Route 7609, 4 CD Set and Book," Mercury/Island/Universal Music Enterprises
John Mellencamp blows you away with this book and CD collection that features music, stories and lyrics ranging from 1976, when he became active in the music scene, to 2009, the most recent recording date of the collection. From political declarations to love ballads to telling the intriguing stories of everyday people, the entire collection pulses with life. Mellencamp growls, calls, chants and sings his way through innumerable songs. The musical background is diverse in tempo and style. Still, the tunes flow smoothly together around and over the rocks and mud in the riverbed of Mellencamp's country-boy-come- rock-philopsopher life.
"On the Rural Route 7609" features his popular songs as well as special treats like demo recordings and guest appearances by Joan Baez, Cornell West and more than 20 others. Although all the songs are so familiar that you would swear they are collectively written folk songs, Mellencamp himself wrote almost all of them. But perhaps they were, in essence, written by the public after all: When Mellencamp writes from his soul, the outcome is poignant enough to implicate all of us who have rage in our heads and love in our chests.
EDITOR'S NOTE: MELLENCAMP'S UNDERSTANDING OF POP MYTHOLOGY IS PHENOMENAL. IF YOU'VE EVER DRIVEN ACROSS THE USA AS I HAVE, YOU PUT TREMENDOUS STOCK IN CULTURAL TOUCHSTONES, SMALL TOWN LIFE AND THE AMERICAN DREAM. HE EXPECTS HIS LISTENERS TO BELIEVE IN SUCH THINGS AS FERVENTLY AS HE DOES. AND IF YOU DON'T, DRIVE SLOWLY ACROSS THIS COUNTRY SO YOU CAN LEARN A LOT AND UNDERSTAND WHY HE'S SUCH A GREAT ARTIST.
"Inner Dance" glides effortlessly between classical, Spanish, electric and jazz style guitar playing. Fabrizio Sotti keeps things mellow overall, but excitement lies just beneath the surface, whether he is accompanied by Spanish singer Claudia Acuna, organist Sam Barsh, or is playing solo.
Sotti has worked with pop and hip-hop artists, even starting his own record label in 2006 to release an album with M1 of Dead Prez fame. However, on "Inner Dance," he primarily focuses on his love for jazz and its most thoughtful aspects. His unhurried style will transport you to a place of tranquility where music is the only real thing on your mind. He will undoubtedly inspire you to meditate on your own inner dance.
The concept for "Battle of the Sexes" hit some bumps when rapper Shawnna, who was billed to combine efforts with Ludacris in creating this album, changed record labels at the last minute. The result is a solo album by Ludacris with male and female guests alike. But although it's not evenly splitÑthere is certainly more rapping by men than by womenÑ"Battle of the Sexes" manages to incorporate more than the usual number of today's female rap stars into the mix, and they bring it just as hot and harsh as Ludacris.
The sound of the album is clubby, and while it's nothing special or groundbreaking, it can hold its ground in today's world of highly synthesized beats. Ludacris's deep voice contrasts well with his guests' vocals. The album is solely about the subjects of sex and partying, just as you might anticipate. However, Ludacris's good mood, clear desire to please women as well as be pleased, and catchy, storytelling style has managed to create a series of hits throughout the recording. Ludacris saves an album that was forced to change directions at the last minute with the loss of Shawnna's equal contribution (she still appears on the album). His equally-fun-sex-for-all-sexes attitude wins out in the end.
For Phil Gates, the blues means singing and playing the personal stories that drive each and every day of our lives. Gates gives songs with classic blues themesÑworking hard and loving harderÑmodern articulation with hypnotic guitar riffs and up-to-date lyrics. However, he maintains a scratchy sound throughout the album that lets you know he is down to earth and playing from the heart.
Gates is a fantastic guitarist, imbuing everything he plays with funk and sincerity. His lyrics are solid. His sound is tight, but not overcrowded. His aptitude at bringing electric blues into a more laid back sound makes "Addicted to the Blues" easy to listen to, as well as an energetic guitar solo showcase.
The music on "Infinite Arms" sounds like it is a part of the atmosphere, like all singer and band creator Ben Birdwell needs to do is hold up a microphone, and the music will fill in around him. This is to the credit of his bandmates' ability to play exactly in accordance with Birdwell's voice and sentiments.
The album is mysterious and mellow, but not without substantial lyrical and musical content. While the words voice the ideologies and anecdotes that hide just beneath the surface of consciousness, an acoustic guitar and other instruments send out melodic lines to contrast with the sea of steady, almost ambient music backing everything up. Band of Horses is an indie band just coming to the forefront of its career.
Mindy McCready shows sincerity in and around every line of "I'm Still Here." Modern country is at its most tender and but also its most honest when sung by McCready. Singing blues songs about the trials of life and the harsh realities of love, we know what is on her mind. And we can readily identify with her feelings.
McCready allows vibrato to echo through her full-on modern country singing style only enough to make us want more. Backed up sometimes with a simple piano and other times with a full country band, the songs range from ballads to dance tunes. Mindy McCready's gorgeous voice won't let you forget about her. She has made a successful comeback after eight years since her last recording. Welcome back, Mindy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: MINDY MCCREADY IS A REMARKABLE SINGER WHO CREATES POWERHOUSE PERFORMANCES THAT ALWAYS ELEVATE HER TO THE FRONT RANKS OF FEMALE COUNTRY SINGERS. IF I HAD A MILLION DOLLARS AND OWNED A RECORD LABEL, SHE'D BE THE FIRST ARTIST THAT I'D SIGN.
"Philly Soul" is packed with the hottest artists in music-loving Philadelphia's 1970s soul scene. These are undoubtedly also some of the best soul musicians of all time. Between them, these artists demonstrate how soul had its roots in old blues, how disco had it roots in soul and how hip-hop got famous sampling these talented innovators.
Philadelphia soul is motivating, upbeat and funky, and often has a political edge. Whether you are feeling playful or serious, let Teddy Pendergrass, The Spinners and The Delfonics, as well as others you have never heard of, rock your soul. This recording politicks, hollers, croons, and groovesÑit will introduce meaningful lyrics to the most stubborn instrumental connoisseur, and make even a stoic poet start to dance.
EDITOR'S NOTE: THE BAND'S CORE APPEAL IS CLEAR: WITH SOULFUL TWANG, MOURNFUL TENOR, AS WELL AS PERFECT HARMONIES, THEIR ROOTS-ROCK EDGE HAS ALWAYS BEEN CRISP AND BRIGHT, AND NEARLY JUMPS OFF THE DISC.
There's nothing more satisfying than an album that hands over the unexpected, especially when the unexpected is unexpectedly brilliant. Air Supply, a band that first became well known in the 1970s for its romantic soft-rock hits, has produced an ethereal concept album with trippy echoes, odd effects, rippling violin, funk guitar, spookily whispered poetry and a cohesive storyline.
Not all of the songs are strange, but a good proportion of them are. Many of the tracks also switch styles within a song, which is one of the best signs that a band is putting a lot of thought into their work and avoiding filler. The rhythmic and instrumental changes mid-song are artful and add extra layers of dimension to already interesting tunes. Air Supply is obviously staying alert to today's music movements and still has a feeling for just how far you can push the line.
EDITOR'S NOTE: AIR SUPPLY CAN STILL WARBLE LOVE BALLADS AS THEY DID IN THE EARLY 1980S WHEN THEY RECEIVED MASSIVE RADIO PLAY. THEY SOLD ALBUMS INTO DOUBLE DIGIT NUMBERS FOR ROMANTIC COUPLES WHO SPEND THE NIGHT WATCHING FIRES BURN. NOW, THEIR ROMANTIC NOTIONS ARE LESS LITERAL AND INSTEAD EMBEDDED IN THEIR EXPLORATION OF SOUND.
The Scorpions have steadily been releasing albums and touring since 1972, and they are still wailing out. Their metal throwback sound, complete with electric guitar pedal effects, falsetto singing, and call and response between vocals and guitar, all sound exciting again, because they are so far removed from their original introduction. Steady rhythms keep the Scorpion songs catchy while a dirty production style keeps them badass.
Originally from Germany, the Scorpions got famous from singles such as "Rock You Like a Hurricane." Similarly impassioned songs will continue to attract fans from within the world of hard rock and metal. Some of these fan will surely be old-timers, but hopefully, young metal heads too will be open to the sweet sting of the Scorpions.
EDITOR'S NOTE: FOR A LONG TIME, THE SCORPIONS WERE VERY POPULAR IN EUROPE AND UNKNOWN IN THE USA BECAUSE THEIR LABEL WOULD FORK OVER THE BUCKS FOR A SERIOUS TOUR. WHEN THAT CHANGED, THEY ROARED FORTH WITH A FULLY FINISHED SOUND, HONED AND POLISHED BY THE BAND AND ITS LONG TIME PRODUCER. THEIR SOUND WAS SLICK, MIXING CRUNCH AND MELODY IN A RECIPE FOR THE RAGING ROCKERS THAT THEY STILL ARE.
With a robust sound filled with piano, horn and backup vocals, and an declarative, impassioned front voice, Foxy Shazam's self-titled third album is anything but straight pop-punk. Yet it is uplifting, has plenty of distortion and certainly deserves popularity.
"Foxy Shazam" is filled with talented musicianship. The prominence of the horns and piano add colorful melody to the rock sound. According to lead singer Eric Nally, Foxy Shazam got not only its name, but also much of its musical inspiration, from African-American cultureÑwhite himself, Nally went to a mostly black high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. With candid and savvy lyrics, a true team effort from the band, and the soulful treat of abundant backup vocals, Foxy Shazam injects rock music with new, and tantalizingly experimental, life.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mark Knopfler is more interested in satisfying himself than any audience, but when he played "The Sultan's of Swing" with Dire Straits and you don't get a multiple orgasm when you listen, you need help.
Foreigner "Can't Slow Down/No End in Sight: The Very Best of Foreigner, 2 CD, 1 DVD Set," Rhino/Atlantic/Warner
"Can't Slow Down/No End in Sight" is a comprehensive Foreigner experience composed of two CDs and a DVD. One CD is an album of completely new and original songs, the other CD contains 10 remixed hits from Foreigner's past, and the DVD has live Foreigner footage from concerts, interviews, recording sessions and more.
The entire package will be a treat for lovers of pop rock, since it combines a best-of album, 13 original cuts and DVD goodies. There's nothing extremely different to expect from the original cuts. However, this should be just fine with Foreigner fans who love their straightforward arrangements and traditional rock instruments. Their original lead singer, Lou Gramm, is gone, and the new singer is Kelly Hansen, does his part to uphold the vocals. The lyrics are non-offensive, simple and easy to understand. The album of new songsÑForeigner's first entirely original release in 15 yearsÑhas some tracks that will soon be added to their vast repertoire of familiar classics.
EDITOR'S NOTE: THE KEY TO THE BAND'S INCREDIBLE SUCCESS HAS BEEN MAIN MAN MICK JONES. A BATTLE- SCARRED, HIT-SAVVY VETERAN, WHO PLAYED WITH THE ARTFUL ORGAN-ROCK OUTFIT SPOOKY TOOTH BEFORE FOUNDING PLATINUM-SELLING FOREIGNER. JONES IS NOT ONLY A MASTER OF THE HOOK, BUT ALSO A GUITARIST OF UNERRING EFFICIENCY.
A ho-down on the moon is indeed the sound of this absolutely abstract tribute album to jazz musician Mike Ratledge, who was an integral part of the Soft Machines. Often ambient, sometimes rhythmic and imbued with postmodern solos galore, "What's Rattlin' on the Moon?" is a jazz album for those who appreciate the spaces between the notes.
If you can understand the complexity of experimental jazz, and you are open to soundscapes created by a Mellotron, Wurlitzer electric piano, Hammond organ and grand piano, Beppe Crovella's recording is for you. This is not brain rattling; in fact, it's rather smooth. Still, it's a trip to the moon, so proceed with caution.
EDITOR'S NOTE: WELCH'S SONGS SPRAWL OUT LIKE GREAT, OPEN FLATLANDS, MAKING ELEMENTS OF FOLK, COUNTRY AND ROCK IN A CAPTIVATING WAY. WELCH HIMSELF- -HALF SINGING, HALF SPEAKING SONGS--COMES OFF AS A CROSS BETWEEN A RENEGADE STORY TELLER AND A HEARTLAND ROMANTIC.
Rounder Record's take on Lead Belly tries to bridge his musical career from his earlier years singing classic Louisiana blues, sometimes with acoustic guitar, other times a cappella, to the interactive style of music-making that he developed in his later years. Recordings for this album are from the 1930s and 1940s.
The album's intention is to tell a tale about the old-time blues artist that goes beyond the usual liner note blurbs about him. They achieve this by choosing songs that can be easily compared to one another, that have diverse themes and that illustrate in themselves, through words and style, Lead Belly's biography as well as his musical, political and relationship philosophies. For those who have never heard Lead Belly before: this is the real thing. You should take this opportunity to hear the blues in its early incarnations, as a form of folk music created in African-American communities of the deep south.
EDITOR'S NOTE: LEAD BELLY (HIS BIRTH NAME IS HUDDIE LEDBETTER) ROSE FROM PENITENTIARY PRISONER TO BELOVED FOLK TROUBADOUR. IT WAS REMARKABLE ENOUGH THAT A BLACK MAN ACHIEVED SUCH WIDESPREAD POPULAR ACCLAIM AT A TIME WHEN CROSSOVER WAS A NEAR- NONEXISTANT PHENOMENON. HIS SONGS ARE EVEN MORE REMARKABLE AND ENDURING.
Marian Petrescu can move fast. And that makes for some great traditional jazz. Taking turns soloing, the quartet moves through each theme with agility and a mission: to carry you, either through floating dream- clouds or through swinging dance clubs, to the end of each track, breathless.
It is true that traditional jazz can risk sounding repetitive if it doesn't have a twist or exquisitely talented musicians. Lucky, the quartet is good enough to keep things fresh, even without anything unexpected cropping up. The focus is on playing fantastically the theme of each song over and over in different ways, and it works out well on "Thrivin'."
EDITOR'S NOTE: WIDESPREAD PANIC IS ONE OF THE FINEST LIVE JAM BANDS AROUND. SINCE ITS RAW BEGINNINGS DURING THE EARLY 1980S, THE GROUP HAS TOURED INCESSANTLY GATHERING ONE OF THE MOST DEVOTED FAN BASES OF ANY BAND AROUND.
Singer-songwriter J.J. Cale isn't the most well known musician to most of the American public (although he recorded more than 20 studio albums). At the same time, his songs are world famous. From Eric Clapton to Beck, brilliant musicians have borrowed and covered Cale's songs for decades.
On this tribute album, Cale is honored by nine artists who play their own versions of 15 of his songs. The musical styles on the recording vary as widely as the bandsÑclean and grimy, heavy and easy, gospel- edged and bluegrass-riffed, the tunes stand together in showing Cale's songwriting talent and his wide draw. The album features The Persuasions, Swamp Cabbage, Jimmy Hall, Rufus Huff, Tim & Roddy Smith's Groove Gang and others performing songs including "Cocaine," "Crazy Mama," "Any Way the Wind Blows" and "Money Talks." Each and every track is a superb and unique rendition of a Cale song.
Al Miller is the front man in collaborative "Wild Cards," a Chicago blues album with abundant references to Chicago's city living and hard-times blues. But the lyrics come with a healthy dose of irony and consistently good musical backing. Harmonica takes a leading role, and guitar, piano and brass also keep the groove going.
Originally released in 1995, "Wild Cards" must have been rereleased by Delmark because the album was too packed with talented musicians to let it remain out of print. The recording is classic electric blues, minus the dominating distorted guitar; it adds instead a piano. The effect is that it takes you to an old-time pub at the heart of the city. Give "Wild Cards" a wild chance, even if you've never heard of them. They are good ol' heartfelt jamming, and they know how to play a blues song that'll make you dry your eyes and dance instead.
Nell Robinson is a yodeling and crooning bluegrass singer who fearlessly waltzes into the world of traditional music of the Deep South. Rooting her music in her experiences growing up with her grandmother in the rural south, a historical southern theme can be heard in her song choices. Many of the songs on the album are traditional tunes but some are written by Robinson herself. "I Walk the Line," by Johnny Cash, was an interesting inclusion as well.
She is backed by John Reischmand & The Jaybirds, a five-part string band including mandolin, guitar, banjo, fiddle and bass. The mandolin takes a front seat, giving the ensemble a unique edge. Nell's efforts to uncover her heritage through music is impressive and has led to the creation of a fun, genuine, female- fronted bluegrass experience.
A hopping blues organ pipes up smoky and expressive on "Blues Citizen," as if tickled by Radam Schwartz's hands. At the same time, you will be tickled by his talent alone. Even when mediated by a studio recording, the music sounds alive. All the musicians do their part to make this a great album, but the organ in particular dances, with its moaning and springing and humming and cooing. It brings with it feelings of city streets and raw love, of whispered gossip and overenthusiastic rants, of cool cats and good dancers.
Schwartz's style is known as soul jazz, and he keeps it as emotive and dynamic as he can while maintaining complex jazz themes in the melodies and harmonies. Play it over and over to draw out Schwartz's modern musical references as well as his homage to musicians that came before him.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Reba is one of the great, if not the greatest, women of country music, who has sold millions of albums. Her lyrics always come from the heart, and she has created another great Reba album for old fans as well as new ones.
Cash Box Kings are having a great time on this album jamming out to the boogie sounds of blues from the olden days. "I-94 Blues" celebrates the genre even as it covers plenty of songs about hard days and lost loves. Harmonica, almost saloon-style piano and the usual blues entourage of guitars are in most tracks, but some also include banjo and mandolin, a delightfully rustic addition.
The twelve bar blues thump out with acoustic delight here and classic Chicago blues come searing hot as ever there. While some of these songs are originals, plenty are actually covers of old tunes. The Cash Box Kings harness today's growing fascination with folk music to create a modern-day folksy blues recording that nods it head heftily in the direction of the past.
EDITOR'S NOTE: His political wordplay anticipated rap. As a novelist, poet, and pianist, Scott-Heron achieved an incredible synthesis of laid-back soul music long -- with jazz-fusion, embellishment borrowed from Bitches-Brew - period.
Fucked Up is punk rock, of course, complete with shouted lyrics, political and ironic introduction clips and lyrics that cover a range of topics from Dungeons and Dragons to the Spanish Civil War. "Couple Tracks" collects the singles released by Fucked Up, which have never, for the most part, been released on CD before, much less all at the same time.
It's nice to know that punk and hardcore is still being created in the fertile DIY environment of over- compressed distortion, simple arrangements and poignant, sometimes funny lyrics. If you've never had the pleasure of checking out this Toronto group because you don't have a record player, now is your chance.
Justin Bieber is the young Canadian R&B artist who will catch you off guard with his tender young age, powerful set of vocal chords, and heartthrob confidence. "My World 2.0" is, unfortunately, smoother than "My World," losing a lot of the clout formed by contrasting Bieber's sweet voice with heavier, more experimental beats. However, he follows through on his part, singing his heart out to the masses of young people who adore his image and his voice.
Bieber does, indeed, have a future ahead of him. He should keep from becoming drained of character by trying too hard to fit into a certain teen pop image, or else he risks fading away into obscurity, like so many other young artists before him. If he wants to make it in the long run, he needs to be himself and cut loose a little. As for talent: he has it in droves.
EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS ALBUM IS MORE WORD-CENTERED THAN EVER, WHICH NEVER GETS IN THE WAY OF INCREDIBLE MELODIES, ALLOWING STING THE LUXURY OF HIS ELABORATE IMAGERY WITHOUT COMPROMISING THE MUSIC'S ALLURE.