Barbra Streisand, Dream Theater, AM Taxi, Various Artists, The National, Jeff Healey, Green Day, Mark Chesnutt, Skyforger, john Arthur martinez, Melissa Etheridge, Cyril Neville, Chumbawamba, Lauren Kinhan, The Dirty Heads, Easton Corbin, Saving Abel, Various Artists, Watermelon Slim, Mew, Common
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
AM Taxi "We Don't Stand a Chance," Virgin/EMI
THE HIGH FIVE!!
- Jeff Cook "Shaken, Not Stirred," Quest
- Jenn Franklin "Girl Invisible, Vol. 1," Groove House
- Ashley Ray "Ashley Ray EP," Show Dog/Universal
- Austins Bridge "Times Like These," Daywind/New Day
- Glee "Glee: The Music, Journey to Regionals," Columbia/Sony/Fox
Barbra Streisand "One Night Only: Barbra Streisand and Quartet at the Village Vanguard, September 26, 2009, CD and DVD," Columbia/Sony
Barbra Streisand sings jazz, accompanied by a simple piano and jazz drums, in front of only 123 people at the Vangaurd. You get to listen in, right down to her comments about the songs. Her much-loved voice rings out, a little bit husky, as she explores various aspects of love and reminisces about the old days.
You can truly hear that Streisand drives the songs, rather than the songs informing what she is to sing. She is in control. And it is not the quality of her voice, but rather the quality of her energetic singing that grabs your attention and draws you into her fold once again. When you listen, you'll feel as warm as if you were in the audience too, and she was winking at you as you sat there in the back row.
EDITOR'S NOTE: THE VILLAGE VANGAURD IS A UNIQUE, TINY JAZZ CLUB IN GREENWICH VILLAGE, BUT NO TOURIST OR VILLAGE FREAK EVER GOES THERE, IT IS SO WELL HIDDEN. ONLY JAZZ FREAKS, LEGEND FREAKS AND REAL NEW YORKERS KNOW OF THE VILLAGE VANGAURD. THAT MS. STREISAND SANG AT THE VANGAURD IS EXTRAORDINARILY UNIQUE. THIS 47-YEAR VETERAN OF THE CITY STREETS IS PLEASED AS HELL.Barbra STREISAND'S STATUS AS ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SINGERS OF OUR GENERATION IS ALL THE MORE REMARKABLE NOT ONLY BECAUSE HER POPULARITY HAS BEEN ACHEIVED IN THE FACE OF A DOMINANT MUSIC TREND - ROCK AND ROLL - THAT SHE DID NOT FOLLOW, BUT ALSO BECAUSE, DESPITE AN AMAZING SINGING VOICE THAT ENTHRALLED PRACTICALLY EVERYONE WHO HAS HEARD IT, SHE HAS ALWAYS USED SINGING AS A STEPPING STONE TO OTHER CAREERS. SHE IS A TRUE HERO.
One part stormy ambiance, one part gleaming metal and one part attention to detail, Dream Theater gives us a dramatic epic in six tracks, ranging from five to 20 minutes. This is their eleventh album, and their proficiency at playing their instruments and the high production quality can be appreciated by progressive metal fans and plain-old adventurous music-lovers alike.
If anything, the album could stand some dirtying up. The three band mates, who met at the Berklee College of Music, focus on creating well-orchestrated pieces using unusual chords changes, choral effects, complicated time signatures and numerous other techniques. This, combined with the clear, heartfelt, story-telling lyrics found on "Black Clouds & Silver Linings," make for yet another trance-inducing, Dream Theater metal success.
Unpretentious and focused on their music, AM Taxi comes to you through a haze of rock guitar and lyrics chanting in that old-fashioned punk style. They talk to us about living in the big city - in this case, Chicago - and convey these tales in the songs' form as well as their content. Vocals crowd like commuters on the elevated train, gentle moments rise above wailing distortion like the stars that rise each night above the concrete streets of Chi-town.
It's fun and rhythmic music, even while it's thoughtful. Its excellent production quality allows it to fade from punk to pop and back again without it ever losing a familiar and over-compressed closeness. AM Taxi is the best pop-punk coming out right now - and that's a respectable distinction, considering how blown up that genre has become.
Various Artists "Twistable Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein," Sugar Hill/Welk
A delightfully oddball combination of songs, all sprouted from the mind of poet/storyteller/songwriter/cartoonist/humorist Shel Silverstein. Though he is best known for his work for children, he wrote a large amount of more complex material for adults as well. Perhaps even more impressively, his material for children was just as fascinating to the adults that read it, showing his deftness for grabbing people's attention on many levels.
This comes out strongly in the songs chosen for "Twistable Turnable Man." The Bobby Bares, both Jr. and Sr., My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog, Lucinda Williams, Frank Black and many others grace this album with their folk, rock and country renditions of his songs. "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" and "A Boy Named Sue" are a couple of the better known titles on the album. These and other dashing tracks will seal your heart into the grasp of Silverstein's winking spirit.
EDITOR'S NOTE: AN EXTREMELY HILARIOUS SINGER/SONGWRITER WHO WAS COVERED BY EVERYONE FROM JOHNNY CASH TO LORETTA LYNN TO LUCINDA WILLIAMS TO NANCY GRIFFITH. NEXT TIME, THERE WILL BE A REALEASE OF HIS OWN MUSIC AS SUNG BY THE LATE, GREAT MR. SILVERSTEIN.
Hypnotic and holy, with ambient sounds and sparse guitar hovering behind a rhythmic drum beat, The National have finally broken through with "High Violet." The vocals are rich and multi-layered, leading us further down a winding path toward the heart of The National's mysterious world.
This isn't a perky album. This is dead serious and beautiful. But just because it's not fancy-free doesn't mean it's not energetic; it certainly has driving force behind it. Modern-day ballads with delicious percussion backdrops define the album. "High Violent" will spook you out if you listen to it at 3 a.m., or provide a existential edge to your morning as you get ready for work. Once The National gain more prestige, they will have the choice to go pop or reign in their talent to produce any number of groundbreaking albums.
"Songs From the Road" was recorded at three live concerts played by Jeff Healey shortly before his death in 2008, and perfectly showcases his abilities as a blues guitarist and singer. The band behind his highly distorted guitar keeps the music tethered to earth while Healey explores the heights of sound that can be achieved by the tapping of fingers on a keyboard.
Familiar covers such as "White Room" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" are played in a straightforward way, but with such dexterity as to set them apart from versions played by other artists. Most importantly, however, is the attitude you feel emanating from the album: Healey may be gone, but his passion will be forever embodied in his music.
Billie Joe Armstrong at first seems to have grown younger over the years. His first fans have reached the age he was when he first became the heartthrob of teenaged punk girls across the U.S. Armstrong was the founder of pop-punk before pop-punk was washed up. He could still shock our parents back in those days. He has been around for a while now.
And thus, because of the laws of nature, he has grown older, and so has the rest of Green Day. With a little attention to the new "21st Century Breakdown," we see that, behind that same faux-Brit-punk accent, the lyrics and music have both matured. That bouncy sound so pronounced on "Dookie" is still there, but more subdued. The rock is just as heavy, but alternates with moody clips and even tracks that could be defined as "groovy."
Lyrically, the band is trying to make a statement about where it stands in this insane world. Rebellion is the general conclusion. Revolutionary love, burning cars, graffiti and bandanas are the themes. Concept albums, including this one, generally have their own charm, anyway. There isn't anything too poetic going on here, or anything too politically specific. But this hand grenade is presented with more than a dusting of music passion and experience.
EDITOR'S NOTE: DOOKIE, THEIR THIRD ALBUM, TRANSFORMED THE ENNUI THAT RULED THE DAY INTO A RACKET THAT AFFIRMED LIFE. THEY PLAY PEPPY POP-PUNK, UNCOMPLICATED BY HEAVY METAL OR DEEP THOUGHTS AND ARE LODGED ON RADIO, WHERE THEY STILL REMAIN.
Creating good-time country flair without regard to any laws except for the laws of music, Mark Chesnutt brings us classic songs from his honky-tonk world. He isn't trying to charm our pants off or make us sob recklessly; rather, he's trying to get us dancing and singing along, he's trying to show us the power of intuition, he's trying to get us to let go a little. And it feels good.
His daring but absolutely inviting image will bring you right on down to the bayou. Accompanying female vocals shake up the sound a bit during a well-placed waltz, as does a surprise accordion cameo. So pull on your favorite outfit, grab a partner and a whiskey, get out into this loveable god-forsaken world and enjoy it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: MARK IS THE ONLY ARTIST I KNOW WHO WOULD HAVE THE NERVE AND THE SKILL TO SING SONGS THAT WERE ORIGINALLY CLASSICS FOR ARTISTS LIKE WILLIE NELSON, KRIS KRISTOFFERSON, WAYLAND JENNINGS, ETC. THE MAN IS A REAL HONKY-TONKER WHO PARLAYED A SOLID GROUNDING IN CLASSIC COUNTRY INTO CHART-TOPPING STARDOM. THAT HE'S BEEN DROPPED BY MAJOR LABELS SHOWS YOU WHERE OUR PROFIT-ORIENTED SYSTEM IS FUCKED UP. THE MAN HAS ALWAYS HAD A TRUE TEXAS VOICE THAT CONTAINS BOTH THE KNACK FOR HUMOR AND THE DEPTH FOR HEARTACHE. I'LL DRINK TO YOU TONIGHT.
Very metal, very headbanging and very costumed in medieval outfits, Skyforger incorporates bagpipe into a hard-driving, percussion-loving backdrop. "Kurbads" is about the Latvian mythological hero of the same name, and all the magic and olden-day adventures associated with him.
The use of bagpipes in the album keeps it fresh, as does a distinctive double-bass drumbeat that, for once, doesn't move too fast for the average music-loving Jane to wrap her head around. It seems to have everything you'd want in an epic metal album - adventure, legend, folk instruments and sincerely beastly electric guitars.
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.
john Arthur martinez (jAm) isn't afraid to step into the real world, harsh though it may be, on his recent country album. Drawing on his own experiences and his upbringing as a Mexican-American living in Texas, jAm has given us a melancholic but beautiful recording imbued with sounds from his heritage and from classic Texas country music.
Several upbeat songs keep the album moving, while their stories and banjo riffs still manage to touch your heart. "On the Run" is about a gambler-outlaw, "Cobalt Blue" a love poem, and "Utopia" about jAm's ironically distopic love for California. Overall, jAm has created a touching, multi-dimensional album that firmly establishes him as a great poet as well as a sweet cowboy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: SINGER-SONGWRITER JIM LAUDERDALE HELPED LAY OUT THE BLUEPRINT FOR THE AMERICANA MOVEMENT EARNING HIGH CRITICAL MARKS FOR ECLECTIC SERIES OF ALBUMS THAT SPANNED HARD COUNTRY, SLICK POP, ROOTSY ROCK AND ROLL, BLUES, FOLK, R&B AND BLUEGRASS. HE WAS ALSO RECORDED BY SUPERSTARS LIKE GEORGE STRAIT, VINCE GILL AND GEORGE JONES AMONG MANY OTHERS. COMMERCIALLY, THE MAN HAS TOO MUCH INTEGRITY FOR HIS OWN GOOD, BUT CRITICALLY, LAUDERDALE IS AS INTERESTING AND HEARTFELT AS IT GETS.
Rocker Melissa Etheridge is steeped in experienced confidence and power chords on "Fearless Love," though some ballads show off just country she can get. Her wailing, big voice and, sometimes, bigger instrumentals, can feel overwhelming, but if you love Melissa, you get her fearless self in droves on "Fearless Love."
The lyrics are sensitive to the subtlety that the music on the album lacks. Etheridge writes about unique love situations ("Miss California") and life's struggles ("Indiana"), and even gives us a call to action ("We Are the Ones"). It's not the most exploratory jewel on this queen's crown, but her tenth album is a solid, hard-rocking addition to her other work.
EDITOR'S NOTE: YOURS TRUELY FIRST MET HER IN THE 1980S, WHEN HER FIRST ALBUM CAME OUT. I'VE NEVER STOPPED DANCING TO THE GREAT MUSIC MELISSA HAS PLAYED. SHE IS A TRUE HARD-ROCK IDOL SUITED TO A BIG, BLUESY VOICE, BUT ALSO A SUBJECT - SEXUAL DESIRE - TO WHICH EVERYONE CAN RELATE. SHE HAS NEVER LOST ANY OF HER BITE.
Sometimes, "new" blues albums begin to get repetitive. Well, not this one. "Brand New Blues" needs only launch into its first song to let you know this really is something different. The organ-heavy reggae flavor was not expected, but it was welcomed. This and other genres blending in on the album, such as dub, gospel, 1950s rock, soul and funk, sound mature and tasteful in the deft hands of long-time percussionist and vocalist Cyril Neville. His syncopated beats top off the music treat. In the end, these are what launch "Brand New Blues" musically above the rest. As any music aficionado can tell you, a good rhythm is what makes or breaks any song.
However, Neville takes the tasty goodness further by getting political. "Mean Boss Blues" goes beyond simple reflections on a big bad boss and explores the discontents and suffering brought on by U.S. capitalism. Another track covers the wave of racism that hit New Orleans after Katrina. Songs that are less explicitly political, including his love songs, maintain a high standard lyricism, especially when Neville dives into innuendo ("Let me cream your beans / Need some fixin' in your kitchen!"). You will not regret, in any way, picking up a copy of the youngest of the Neville bothers' fantastic take on the blues in the new millennium.
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.
This is some bad-ass anarchist...British folk music? Yes, that's right, well-known as a punk band and even a dance music band, Chumbawamba seems to love music in all its incarnations. The result of the band's efforts to make an album reaching back to the roots of working-class British folk music is spectacular, and would be a great way to slip radical politics into your grandma's music collection. Sung a cappella or with folk instruments, the sound of the album stays true to its theme.
Songs were written at different times in the last 630 years, with the earliest harkening from the 1381 Peasant's Revolt. This album is truly a history lesson, as it addresses the struggles of the Diggers, the Luddites, industrial workers and others. Welcome this one into your collection. You will learn a bit about the brilliance of music from days of yore, as well as just how radical your own foremother and forefathers were. You will find yourself scrambling to match them.
EDITOR'S NOTE: ANI DIFRANCO LEARNED EARLY HOW TO LIVE BY HER WITS. AS A TEENAGER, SHE WORKED HER WAY AROUND BUFFALO, NY, FOLK CLUBS, AND RELOCATED TO NEW YORK CITY BEFORE SHE TURNED 20. PLEASE DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND CHECK OUT HER HISTORY. SHE HAS BEEN OFFERED CONTRACTS WITH ALL THE MAJOR LABELS. SHE HAS NEVER, EVER SIGNED WITH THEM. SHE HAS NEVER, EVER BEEN A SELL-OUT. SHE IS A COMPLETE, IRREDUCABLE ORIGINAL.
Lauren Kinhan has been involved in vocal music for more than 20 years, often in collaboration with others. This tendancy toward collaboration is visible even on solo album "Avalon," in the talents she choses for backup singers and supporting musicians.
The feel of this album is loungy and mellow, though not without strong emotion coming through Kinhan. Over here, it is contemporary pop, and there it has a Latin beat, and now it is jazz. Its variability is its strength, along with Kinhan's rich honey-like voice. Strong harmonies feel good when they pop up, too. The subject matter is varied, which is also a plus. "Avalon" is a lovely vocal collection by a singer with plenty of experience.
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.
This is white boy rap, at its max. The Dirty Heads are from Huntington Beach. And they never let down their self-seriousness, which is the saving grace of other rappers in this type of situation (think of fantastic artists like MC Paul Barman, Ugly Duckling and even the Beastie Boys). In fact, The Dirty Heads emphasize their cultural appropriation even more with Eminem-sounding moments and the occasional acoustic reggae song.
The Dirty Heads appear to be more bros than brothers. Oh well. Here are highlights: solid beats, with an interesting dispersal of guitar, and good arrangements. "Any Port in a Storm" will be a hit with plenty of college kids. In fact, The Dirty Heads are already packing stadiums (they will play with Matisyahu). Perhaps they will mature with time, but as long as they have a huge fan base, they will probably continue as they are.
Easton Corbin gives us a record of radio hits straight from the bottom of his heart. On this debut album, you can hear that he has fun playing guitar and jamming with his band, and his songs are simple but catchy. Nice, non-electric guitar riffs spruce up the album, bringing the pleasure of acoustic and slide guitar melodies into the mix.
Corbin doesn't manage to make himself stand out incredibly from some of his great male country vocalist predecessors, but his traditional country sound is as pretty as a silver belt buckle gleaming in dusty sunshine. Enjoy the laid back sound, and keep your ear open in case he decides to get more create on future albums.
Saving Abel is one of those only-sort-of-Christian-rock bands. They also incorporate a heaping dollop of patriotism, and for their over art, chose a highly sexualized model dressed in an American flag. Perhaps they represent a certain American demographic. At least one member of the band loves his whiskey, but on the whole, the group will make the average nonconformist rocker feel uncomfortable.
Is this libertarian rock? Is it the legacy of metal? Is it a lesson in modern morality? It's a strange combination of these things. The band writes about a number of subjects. One song is about the devastation caused by heavy drugs; another song is an ironic tale about the folly of a sexual relationship without any love; a third is about a soldier who continues bravely fighting overseas though he longs to be home. While the rock music on "Miss America" isn't at all bad, it's nothing that could redeem the conservative tone of the album.
Putumayo, a company that puts out themed compilations featuring musicians worldwide, is great at introducing you to wonderful but underappreciated artists. On "Rhythm & Blues," we hear from those who didn't make it onto today's Clear Channel oldies stations, but who have just as much soul as the well-known legends. In fact, the songs from the older artists on the album seem more sincere and interesting since they lack the context of ever being played in a supermarket or Salvation Army store.
About half (or more) of the musicians on the recording are not old-timers at all, but part of today's soul revival. Keb' Mo', The Quantic Soul Orchestra and Sharon Jones are just a few of those new soul musicians on this collection. Turn it up next time friends come over, and test them to see just how true of R&B fans they are. Or, better yet, forget the competition and sing along to the compilation.
EDITOR'S NOTE: AS THE REAL HALF OF THE JUDDS, WYNONNA IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR AND SOULFUL FEMALE COUNTRY ARTISTS EVER. JUDD HAS DEMONSTRATED AN ECLECTICISM THAT INCREASINGLY CONFOUNDS HARDCORE COUNTRY FANS AND RADIO PROGRAMMERS, BUT ALSO IT HELPS HER RETAIN A CORE OF ADMIRING FOLLOWERS. I'M DEFINITELY PART OF THAT CORE.
With a charismatic sense of humor, upbeat arrangements and conscious lyrics, Watermelon Slim has done it again. The slide guitar, fiddles and harmonica on "Ringers" will make the most prude man dance, and the lyrics will make the most stiff-hearted lady smile.
Long-time member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Slim is an old-timer who has worked with Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker and "Country" Joe McDonald. He has experience in playing and writing music, and his distinctive voice works well with the sounds he creates. Characters in his songs range from an innocent who steps into a saloon in a tight denim outfit to a philosopher widowed by war. Watermelon Slim's working-class background influences his music and his role as a rabble rouser. "Ringer" will have you not just falling in love with country-blues again, it will have you falling for Watermelon himself.
Mew "No More Stories Are Told Today, I'm Sorry They Washed Away / No More Stories, The World Is Grey, I'm Tired, Let's Wash Away," Evil Office/Columbia/Sony
An exquisitely long album title goes along with an exquisite album from hipster-trendy electro-indie band Mew. The Danish group conveys, with a healthy sense of humor, tales of love and poems about life.
The morsels on this album, tenderly encased in falsetto vocals, are creative and diverse. The listen carries you through even the mellower songs because it is so cleverly arranged. While it maintains the feel of other electro-pop, it brings stimulating elements into the fold, including long drum phrases and appearances from such instruments as the kalimba and the piccolo. Strewn with synthesizers as well as unplugged instruments, "No More Stories..." carries you along in a tide you can sometimes dance to and will often relax to.
Some of Common's best stuff is collected on this retrospective. I say "some of" because there are so many good songs he wrote, they couldn't possibly all fit on one recording. On "Go! Common Classics," Common's amazing lyrics, sexy flow and personal charm will carry you back to great moments in his history.
Common is one of those brave souls who not only rings with revolutionary assertions, but has also confronted homophobia, a demon that, in the world of traditional hip-hop, is often intensely difficult to prod apart. Vocal guests include Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, The Last Poets, Erykah Badu, Lilly Allen and Kanye West. If you don't have every Common album yet, you'd better get this one.
EDITOR'S NOTE: ONLY AFTER RELOCATING TO BROOKLYN DID COMMON BEGIN HIS MOST ARTISTICALLY FERTILE PERIOD. THE ANTI-GANGSTA RAPPER HAS A MONUMENTAL PROFILE THESE DAYS. HE'S DOCUMENTED HIP-HOP'S CREATIVE DECLINE BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, HE HAS CREATED A HYPNOTIC TURN INTO THE NEW HIP-HOP DIRECTION OF TODAY OF REALITY.
POLITICAL SONG OF THE WEEK
Song: "Declaring Peace"
Whisper the words of wisdom no more
Speak the words of wisdom no more
Shout the words of wisdom no more
The governments of the world agree
That people need bombs and banks and barriers
Harriers, tanks, and aircraft carriers to carry us to war
To drop it at my front door
But if no one pulled a trigger then no one would get shot
If no one made the bombs, no one would get blown up
If nobody believed in stinking countries
There wouldn't be any territories to fight over
If nobody held money as sacred
There'd be food for all, not just those who can't afford it
And if nobody voted for a government
They wouldn't have the right to make people fight
But first they treat us like we're nobody, no one
Then it's "Join Britain's fight, be someone--bomb someone"
But dead we're no more than dust on the floor
Of the next generation
Who are marching off to war
But no more war, we won't go away
'Cause no more war is something we've got to say
No more war, we can try to make the fighting cease
No more war, advertise for peace
No more war, I know it's easier said than done
But we can make a start by declaring peace
No more war, look I know it's easier said than done
But we can make a start by declaring peace
By declaring peace
Just remember in 1982 when the Falklands war was happening
The New Musical Express didn't say a word about it