It's a great sign for the music business--at leastcreatively--when the week's best new releases have been produced by artists bothold and new!
It puts to rest that tired old notion that only older andwiser artists with less-than-minimal attention spans can produce full-lengthalbums of significant merit!
It also proves that younger artists can stop playing thosedarn video games--or put down those wacky twittering iPhones--long enough tocreate artistic and compelling works longer than three-minutes in length!
And perhaps most significantly, in today's puzzlingconsumer-driven economy, it provides an up-to-the-minute test case of thatalways charming query: If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does itmake a noise?
Experts agree: No,not at all! Why do you ask?
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop) Few would have expected Seattle's FleetFoxes, of the aggressively arty Sub Pop label, to be releasing one of theyear's most anticipated albums--but lo and behold, here, bearing a title thatcan't help but recall the title of a well-known song by ancient rockers Crosby,Stills, Nash & Young, come the Young Dudes, with a well-crafted, melodiousalbum that could well be a white-label bootleg copy of an unreleased Crosby& Nash album recorded mere months before the tragic duo were unexpectedlyswallowed by that great big white whale, Rapunzel! Or something! And while Ifind the textures pleasant throughout this entire affair--and especially dig thesquealing saxophone about three-quarters through--I must point out that howevergroovy the harmonies, I don't hear the nut of too many actual songs here, much as I'd like to! Justlots of nice textures! And since I'm into velour and paisley, that just won't do! Still: Great initials!
Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (Capitol) If there is an inevitable cut-off date, an artist I can point to and say, youknow, I understand these guys are enormously well-respected and influential--orat least they know a lot of very talented producers--but considering my age, for thelife of me, I just don't see the appeal, or the ultimate attraction of a bunchof East Coast wise guys who have good taste in music, are mildly witty, and putout music that becomes dated mere seconds after it is released! That said, thisnew album, entirely devoted to a lengthy and spirited panel discussionregarding whether today's best hot sauce come from Mexico, Thailand, Cambodia,or South Carolina, is at least topical--in more than one sense!--and if not themasterwork some will declare, at least better than stubbing your toe on aterrazzo floor! Most of the time!
Sade: The Ultimate Collection (Epic) Now we'retalking! A two-CD set collecting the very best of ultra-cool chanteuse Sade,all the way back to her debut album, featuring 29 tracks, four of which arepreviously unreleased, and all of them spotlessly recorded,completely timeless, and the sort of thing all of today's best pop musiciansshould completely aspire to! Sounding as fresh as the day they were created,the tracks have such zest, such icy passion, such raw understated emotion, youwould not be blamed were you to literally pluck them from your stereo, assignthem names, dress them up in fancy clothes, take them out for a night of dinnerand dance, stop for a nightcap at a neighborhood bar, then gallantly attempt toply them with fancy drinks until they return home with you, weak-willed andready to capitulate! Sadly, however, since they are songs, they have nophysical form, and you've wasted another night at home alone while the rest ofthe world is out having fun! No biggie, though! There's still tomorrow!
Sixx: A.M: This Is Gonna Hurt (Eleven Seven Music) I hate to quote bios, but in this case, it'srelevant: "When Nikki Sixx, James Michael and DJ Ashba get together, somethingspecial happens." As the saying goes, truer words were never spoken! In a stunning turnabout from Sixx's earliercareer as one of rock's "bad boys" in Motley Crue, here in the new millenniumthe colorful former bassist and his two pals gather together in a Malibu kitchen anddocument, on a track-by-track basis, the steps necessary in concocting ascrumptious pineapple upside-down cake! Hard to believe? You bet! So where does the album title come in? Humorouslyenough--and Sixx & Co. have always beenloads of laughs!--it's from a barely audible aside uttered by DJ Ashba when heholds up the frosting knife spreader so Nikki can grab a lick before they allhead off to the living room to check out Humble Pie's "Red Light Mamma, RedHot" and "One-Eyed Trouser Snake Rumba"! Rock doesn't get any better than this!
Jennifer Lopez: LOVE? (Island) She's sold over 55 million records worldwide,she's an international film star, and now she's in everyone's living room twonights a week as a judge on AmericanIdol! You'd think she'd be the picture of contentment! Still, I can't helpbut chuckle to think about a recent dialog I had with her: We were sitting atCasa Vega in Sherman Oaks and I was telling her that I thought she should becareful because word was getting out that she wasn't really that good of asinger and people were talking about it, and she got all moody and huffy andasked me what the heck did I know about music and who did I think was a good singer, who was my favoriteband, and I said "Love" and she looked up at the ceiling, laughing so loudlyshe sprayed her margarita, and said "LOVE?" Little did I suspect that the crazychick actually spoke in capitalletters! Later we made up and startedtalking about Clay Aiken! But I guess I spooked her!
John Martyn: Heaven & Earth (Liaison Music) Ironically one of the week's best newreleases comes unheralded, unannounced, and without any sales expectationswhatsoever--but is the first posthumous release by the now legendary Britfolk/psych singer-songwriter John Martyn, and it is worthy indeed! Rough, but tastefully finished up by producer friend Jim Tullio, the album is spacy, Martyn's voice is gruffer than it would ever be, the famous exploratoryspirit that colored most of his music is ever-present, the songs arewell-structured and varied, and even old buddy Phil Collins shows up. Anunexpected pleasure--and a welcome reminder that Martyn's contributions topopular music are still grossly under-appreciated. Look for it!
Loudon Wainwright III:40 Odd Years (Shout Factory) Speaking of enormously gifted singer-songwriters, you could ask for no better package to represent Loudon WainwrightIII, whose lengthy career has bordered on the consistently brilliant, and whosetalent for melding the witty and the ascerbic into one lyrical passage isperhaps unequalled in popular music. This means he's good! A fabulous collection including 4 CDs and oneDVD, 40 Odd Years is jam-packed with hisbest work--from his popular '70s hit "Dead Skunk" to his oddly-covered (PaulJones, Big Star) "Motel Blues" to his less humorous, comparatively harrowingmaterial of the mid-'90s. He's extremely literate, but his songs are rarelywordy and, to a fault, are genuinely unique. Highly recommended!
Bruce Hornsby: Bride Of The Noisemakers (429) In a way, the fame that came to Bruce Hornsby25 years ago via his hit "The Way It Is" has been something of his undoing: Itwas such a hit, so much the right song at the right time, that all that hascome since--and there has been much--has maybe been unfairly overlooked. He wasand is an excellent pianist, a fine singer, a skilled songwriter, and a very musicianly performer--of which I wish wehad more. This collection--25 live songs performed during 2007-2009 by histouring band the Noisemakers--is a good summation of his work and a great placeto catch up with him in 2011. That said, I'd shy away from any weddings hemight be playing at!
Ulver: War Of The Roses (Kscope) If you're like me, every once in a while youget a hankering to listen to a Norwegian band playing music that's classifiedin the "rock/electronic/ambient" category! Well, we're in luck! A surprisinglystrong, well-crafted, deeply melodic and superbly played set, this is groovyart-rock that completely works in 2011--and if that sounds good to you, you'reabsolutely going to love this. And if that sounds incredibly dull, I understand there's a new Transformersmovie coming soon! And if you wear an aluminum hat, you get in free!
Dredg: Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy (Superball) In many ways the best-titled album of the decade, Dredg's long-awaited returnis marred only by the puzzling absence of Binky, Bobo, Otis, Elmo and Beppo! Where are they?