A healthy mix of new albums and worthy reissues make this one of the best weeks for music releases since March 2, 2006!
Between new product by Johnny Cash and up-and-coming indie harp weirdo Joanna Newsom are several other CDs, perched vertically on my desk and waiting to be heard!
Let's explore them all, have a healthy discussion about their worth--especially now, during these troubled political times--and then decide that in many ways, anything is better than nothing!
I am convinced that as a musical culture we are nearing our peak! You too?
Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain't No Grave (American Recordings) This fascinating recording by late country music giant Johnny Cash is a marvelous but eerie collection of tunes, not least because it's a posthumous release. "Ain't no grave can hold my body down," he sings on one track. "Oh death, where is thy sting?" he sings on another. By the time he gets to "Satisfied Mind," one can't help but recall '60s folksinger Tim Hardin, who recorded the same track back in 1971 and sounded equally close to death, though at a much younger age. The difference? His death would be self-inflicted nine years later. Johnny Cash's wasn't, though it was just around the corner, which makes his version even more chilling. Terrific stuff.
Alkaline Trio: This Addiction (Heart & Skull/Epitath) Eleven years on, Alkaline Trio's punk roots have never been so obvious! Their seventh album--the deluxe version of which includes a DVD showcasing the guys at Las Vegas's House Of Blues--details precisely how much they're not like everyone else! In the course of one album, the guys spell out the gory details of all three of their individual addictions...and they're not what you might expect! Macramé and needlepoint? Manicures and pedicures? Little Debbie Boston Creme Rolls? As Green Day hits the Great White Way, so too moves the rest of the punk nation! Totally rockin'!
Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me (Drag City) Having listened to delightful harpist Joanna Newsom previously and finding her interesting, but not interesting enough to spend a lot of time thinking about--except for wondering why she called her last album Ys instead of the more eye-pleasing Yes--I was puzzled about what to write regarding this ambitious, well-arranged, conspicuously arty, brand new 3 CD set. I mean, sometimes even music writers can be stumped! At wit's end, I decided her high-pitched vocal style might merit a humorous comparison, but ultimately decided against it after consulting a search engine and discovering there were already 122 matches for the search string "Joanna Newsom" and "Olive Oyl"! Instead, I opted for a slice of coconut cream pie, some coffee, and listening to an old Tori Amos album at 45 RPM! Between you and me, my cat thought I was nuts!
Sarah Buxton: Sarah Buxton (Lyric Street) A fine album by a singer who's still on here way up--even after writing award-winning hits for the likes of Keith Urban and for ACM kudos for Top New Female Vocalist in 2008 and 2009! Her new album features her latest hit "Outside My Window" and the intriguingly titled "Space," always a great subject for a song in any genre! Frankly, she sings so well, she looks so gosh-darned friendly, one would have to be a complete cad to take exception to her on any level! Let the record show that I am--and soon all of America will be--completely for her!
Daniel Merriweather: Love & War (J Records) Big buzz on young Australian Merriweather, who emerges here with his first solo album after making some international noise via his work with producer Mark Ronson. "Do you remember when we first listened to Amy Winehouse's Back To Black," asks one enthused fan on this album's Amazon page. "Well, we are here on the same territory." Jeez, somebody broke one of my car windows that night! Anyway, should impress fans of Simply Red and American Idol! And people too young to remember Michael Bolton!
Was (Not Was): Pick Of The Litter 1980-2010 (Micro Werks) Really the only thing you need to hear is opening track "Wheel Me Out" on this spectacular anthology by Detroit's Was (Not Was) to get an inkling of how special--and forward looking--this duo was. The band's first single, released in 1980, was an aural dance collage, and the soon-to-come track "Out Come The Freaks" solidified what was there and injected the whole package with a personality that is, in retrospect, about as weird as pop music gets. With a batch of unlikely guest vocalists--Mel Torme, Leonard Cohen, Ozzy Osbourne, Kim Basinger--as well as band regular Sweet Pea Atkinson, the band's 30-year legacy, including unexpected hit "Walk The Dinosaur," gets the royal treatment it deserves. Great liner notes by former CREEM editor Brian J. Bowe as well!
Sambassadeur: European (Labrador) I am a nut for good Swedish pop music, and this third album by Sweden's Sambassadeur is as good a definition of that as any! Orchestrated and art-rocking but never cloying or pompous, it's unfathomably pleasant! Check out opening track "Stranded"--the sort of female vocal thing troubled rock critics might compare to Judy Dyble's work with early Fairport Convention before realizing no one was reading them--and begin searching out all Swedish pop merely because it's exotic! Buy a used Saab and imagine what might have been!
Julian Cope: Peggy Suicide: Deluxe Edition (Island) It's great when "deluxe editions" of albums by hip UK artists like Julian Cope or John Martyn get released, mainly because there's so much great stuff that's never been released before and probably never will be again! Originally released in 1991, Peggy Suicide is one of Julian Cope's best solo albums, in that the former Teardrops Explodes singer has since tended to release album after album of great tracks sitting next to an equal number of crummy ones! He needs some discipline in this regard! But if you hear this you will like it very much! Buy his books, buy his earlier records, and admire him for following his own personal muse, even if it is leading him into a very loud factory where metal is crunching metal and flames are everywhere! Just a thought!
Essra Mohawk: Primordial Lovers, Sandy's Album Is Here At Last [released as by Sandy Hurvitz], Essra Mohawk (all on Collector's Choice) A big thanks to Collector's Choice Records for releasing some of the earliest and very best work by the fabulous singer-songwriter Essra Mohawk. The singer's first album emerged in the late '60s bearing Frank Zappa's Bizarre Records logo, a picture of the man himself on the TV on the front cover, and a recording credit as Sandy Hurvitz--which she'd soon change to Essra Mohawk. Its follow-up, Primordial Lovers, ranks as her all-time classic: gorgeously melodic, intimate songs, wonderful vocals, and an outstanding group of backing musicians make the entire project one of pop music's best ever albums, no lie. After that came her self-titled set--the last of the new reissues--and much more good stuff. Seek it out and see.
- Johnny Cash
- Joanna Newsom