I believe that a significant number of excellent albums continue to be released year after year, and that music today is as good as it ever was!
At the same time, those excellent albums aren't necessarily recognized either commercially--i.e. they rarely sell--or, for the most part, critically.
But that's OK!
I say this only because as I make a checklist of this week's 10 most noteworthy releases, I must note with some chagrin that literally half of them contain music that was recorded many years ago! Or by artists who've been around for years!
That being said, I'd like to put a positive spin on all this. The newer artists? They're all exceedingly well-groomed!
Neil Young: Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 (1963-1972) Believe it or not, after all these years of promises and postponements, this is finally the week the first volume of Neil Young's multi-disc career retrospective hits the street! And what a package! Available as an 8 CD set or a 10-disc DVD or a 10-disc Blu-ray set--depending on how much you, the eager consumer, wishes to spend--the package is a dream come true for longtime Young fans, especially those who relish a closer look at his earliest, least-documented days. Featuring recordings with his early band the Squires and a plethora of other fab stuff extending through 1972, the set is so chockfull of goodies (photos, videos, interviews, rarities, films--if you pay top dollar you get his film Journey Through The Past), buyers will simply take the set home, listen, watch, eat, drink, go to the bathroom and eventually die, partially satisfied but still--ironically--oblivious to the further promised volumes to come! As it happens, my favorite Neil Young album is his very first one, so this release fits my needs perfectly! See you later and please feed my dog!
Dave Matthews Band: Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King (RCA) If there's a jarring disconnect in the world of the immensely successful Dave Matthews Band, it's the fact that for all their celebrity, their popularity on the concert circuit, their rise to interstellar success in the past few years, I can't for the life of me recall, you know, a single hit record! The kind you hear on the radio over and over again until you're sick of it! It's, like, a "you've gotta see 'em live, man" phenomenon! And I can respect that, sure--but at the same time, they've got to respect that some of us want to stay at home and watch the entire Battlestar Galactica series on DVD! You know what, though? This is the first record of theirs I've heard in years that actually sounds like a record record! With songs that sound different from each other! That I don't have to see them play live, man! I'd call it a step up--something these guys have long needed to cement their status as the icons everyone seem intent on making them be! More importantly, it's got a cool cover!
Funny the Way It Is-Dave Matthews Band
Taking Back Sunday: New Again (Warner Bros) Like many, I thought Taking Back Sunday were just one of those gazillion "emo" bands that record labels figured "the kids" liked because they sold brisk numbers while on an indie label and thus signed and expected to--with a major label push behind 'em--sell their next album in the billions! But it never happened! So now, apparently, the band has a brand new guitarist--Matthew Fazzi is his name--and as the new album's title indicates, are starting all over again in a new direction! And while, admittedly, devoting an entire album to a dual adaptation of Stephen King's Christine and '60s sitcom My Mother The Car may not be quite what everyone expected, the resulting album cover and its brilliant use of a faded, sun-drenched barcode makes this a winner six ways to Sunday! In a manner of speaking!
Sink Into Me-Taking Back Sunday
Jeff Buckley: Grace Live Around The World (Columbia/Legacy) I may have been a bit too hard on Jeff Buckley in the past--mostly because I dug his dad so much--but I've got to give the man his due: He was an artist, pure and simple, and I don't know how many times I later interviewed much more prominent artists who swore by his talent and pointed to him as a major source of inspiration! Maybe I should have just taken a nap before I saw him live that time! But his many fans will finds lots to like here in this deluxe package, which features various live performances from his Grace album--on both CD and DVD--as well as a limited edition, hour-long DVD documentary entitled Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley which tells his (unwittingly tragic) story very well. A beautifully put together package by an artist who'd likely be sounding even more interesting today were he still around.
Grace (From MTVs "120 Minutes")-Jeff Buckley
311: Uplifter (Volcano/Jive) Rumors that 311 were legally forced to change their name to 1 (311) due to harsh new AT&T-imposed area code rules have now been proven untrue with this, their ninth album, incredibly! Produced by Bob Rock, of Canadian duo Rock & Hyde, the band continues to be well-loved and popular in that "cultish" sort of way, largely due to the nickname of their longtime bassist Aaron "P-Nut" Wills. Hopefully fans will not find the new album's theme--that of a revolutionary brassiere invented in Paris in the late 1800's--unsettling, but you never know!
The Who: The Who Sell Out: Deluxe Edition (Geffen/UME) If there were but one Who album I had to choose as their all-around masterpiece, it would be this fantastic set--originally released in 1967 and now bolstered with bonus tracks galore and, more importantly, the album's much sought after mono mix, which really does sound significantly different than the better-known stereo version. Track for track this is simply the best Who album ever--Pete Townshend's songs are short, sharp melodic gems, John Entwistle's contributions via the inter-track jingles are spectacular, and the album's sole no-original, John Keen's "Armenia City In The Sky," is, as opening tracks go, as good as the Who ever got. There are guitar screeches everywhere, Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon are in peak form, and the original albums's closing track "Rael" is everything we ever liked about the much more heralded Tommy in much shorter form. Like Eminem's new album, it's distributed by Universal!
Track 6-The Who
Chickenfoot: Chickenfoot (Redline) Those who scoff at the notion of the "wisdom of the masses" best think again--as a quick glance at this album's page on Amazon reveals a very significant fact! Other customers also looking for "Chickenfoot" products additionally recommend Cardinal Industries' Double Fifteen Color Dot Dominoes In A Collectors Tin (just $19.99!) and, more to the point, Blah...Blah...Blah..Love Songs by rockers Scum Of The Earth! Is this what Ex-Van Halen dudes Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony had in mind when they joined forces with guitarist Joe Satriani and drummer Chad Smith? Heck, I don't know! Do you? Their best album yet!
Various Artists: Last Days Of The Fillmore DVD (Rhino) A welcome return to the marketplace of a film that captured the closing era of San Francisco's Fillmore in 1971--and not a bad document at that! Featuring many of the artists near and dear to concert promoter Bill Graham (whose appearances throughout are worth more than one chuckle), the film boasts Santana, the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service among others, and as anthropological documents go, it's priceless! While no one here is absolutely at their peak--though Santana comes close--the look and feel of the long-receding Summer Of Love is still there, between the lines! And for that matter, so were the lines themselves! Boy, life was simple then!
Fresh Air-Quicksilver Messenger Service
Eels: Hombre Loco: 12 Songs Of Desire (Vagrant) Between first assuming the artistic pseudonym of "E" and fearlessly taking on that always fashionable Unabomber look, Mark Oliver Everett has spent much of his colorful career writing commercially zesty tunes often at odds with bad things that have happened in his life! Luckily, with a brand new album titled "Crazy Man" and bandmates named Koool G. Murder and Knuckles, all is clearly looking up for Mr. Everett! Heck--maybe one day he'll write a song about desiring a new electric shaver! Here's hoping!
Rancid: Let The Dominoes Fall (Hellcat/Epitath) Those who have long thought punkers Rancid to be tired and repetitive retreads of an era that has long passed them by will be stunned at the new militancy on display here--particularly in the band's take-no-prisoners attitude regarding the often fascistic rules governing the games of checkers, dominoes, and, ominously, hopscotch!
Last One To Die-Rancid