It struck me last night--while the Emmys ceremony was apparently on TV--that I was not being deliberately obtuse or contrary by instead preferring to listen to the complete discography of Kiki Dee--or at least as much of it as I could muster--than watch a show celebrating humans I was barely familiar with!
Indeed, hearing the strangely attractive Ms. Dee exchange promises with her good friend Elton John that she would not go breakin' his heart--bless them both--filled me with an unexpected warmth and excitement that, dare I suggest, I might not feel watching an episode or two of Glee!
Still, on the drive to work this morning, I saw a dead squirrel on the side of the road and two people arguing in the car next to mine! The marine layer was thick over Santa Monica, and for a moment, quite profoundly, I wondered how many years I had left on this earth!
Then some jerk in a Subaru cut me off and the guy behind me couldn't keep his hand off his horn!
It was then I decided to write my blog this evening and focus on life's most positive aspects! And indeed, I'd just been to Costco two days earlier!
Tony Bennett: Duets II (Columbia) I think most people would agree: As talented as Tony Bennett may be, as distinguished as his recorded catalog is now that he's in his 85th year--there's always been something...missing. Call it what you will--an essential spark, that little something extra that would catapult him to god-among-men status, a hit record--but I'm absolutely convinced he's finally found the answer! And that, of course, would come via this marvelous series of duets with singers the like of Lady Gaga, Michael Bublé, Faith Hill and vocal powerhouse Queen Latifah, who apparently also stars in movies on occasion! Though Bennett may be mixed up a little too loudly on the Latifah track--what the heck, she is the Queen!--I'm convinced he's brought us something here at the very least on the same level as his early hit "I Left My Heart In San Francisco"! I'm also convinced that taxing the rich will put me out of work, evolution is a "quaint" theory, and my unhealthy preoccupation with actress Kat Dennings could lead to unfortunate legal entanglements! Buy this today!
Tori Amos: Night Of Hunters (Deutsche Grammophon) It's not often that entrancing songstresses offer up a "21st century song cycle inspired by select classical pieces spanning the last 400 years"--well, if you disregard that last Ke$ha album--but here's the always appealing Ms. Amos, artful as ever, skirting the bounds of tradition and offering up a fascinating disc that she says features a female protagonist in the midst of apparent relationship problems! Imagine that! Eminently listenable, soothing and jarring at the same time, and centering on a fascinatingly long recitation about a fellow named John Johnson--who comes from Wisconsin, and works in a lumber yard there--the album is essential listening for all of us who enjoy making mincemeat pies and fruitcakes in preparation for the coming holiday season! Not into that? Well, the Chili Peppers album kind of rocks!
Gavin DeGraw: Sweeter (J Records) Call it what you will, but there has always been something special about singer Gavin DeGraw! And I think I finally found out exactly what it is! Staring at the fabulous cover pic on his new album, it suddenly struck me that he's a dead ringer for actor Danny Aiello--who's acting career of course peaked with Madonna's marvelous "Papa Don't Preach" video--and that he wears some of the finest hats in the business! His fourth album, Sweeter--like all of his past work--is entirely inedible, so don't be fooled by desperate record companies and their attempts to sell you things that may not live up to their hype! Still...what a hat!
Ivy: All Hours (Nettwerk) I've been a long-term fan of Ivy, and I'm pleased to announce their latest set--their first new album in six years--offers up the same quirkily appealing, melodic but strangely somber pop music that has made them an entirely distinctive proposition! The trio--featuring vocalist Dominique Durand, and other dudes Andy Chase and Adam Schlesinger--are slightly less subtle than usual here, relying on machine-generated beats more than they have in the past, but the meat of the songs, generally sung by Durand and addressed to some unnamed party, remains thematically consistent, dandy, and better than you'd generally expect in these days of Taylor Swift, reality TV, and five-dollar cups of coffee! Plus, the album cover makes them look like superheroes! I'd buy this and probably take it home and listen to it!
SuperHeavy: Superheavy (Universal Republic) While a part of me says, "C'mon you've got to be kidding" about this project--which teams Mick Jagger with Eurythmic Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley and Slumdog Millionaire composer A.R. Rahman--I'm detached enough from all of life to simply step back, let it play, enjoy the rhythms, and, every once in a while, say, "Hey, that guy singing there sounds just like Mick Jagger! Cool!" As Stones-related projects go, this beats Jamming With Edward, most of Keith Richards' albums, and maybe even Monkey Grip! Bottom line: this sounds like one big party, and the last time Jagger was involved in that sort of thing, it was called "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)" and drugs were being glorified! Sadly missing: Carly Simon! I want to play this right now!
The Jayhawks: Mockingbird Time (Rounder) In my spare time, I often make delicate decisions about what does and what does not constitute actual "country music"--it sort of comes with the gig here--and I have to say that, upon listening to this album today, Mockingbird Time is absolutely not country music! What it is, however, is one of the year's better albums--the long-lived group's first with this line-up since 1995's Tomorrow The Green Grass--and the sort of thing that, had it been released on a small indie label in 1974 or so, would have cemented the Jayhawks' reputation as one of the finest bands going: great songs, well-played, well-sung, and crossing nearly every genre imaginable. Unlike most of my rock crit pals, most of whom are much shorter than I am, I have been long bored by that whole Son Volt/Wilco thingie and find this album, years after the fact, immensely more appealing! Perhaps it's time we rewrite rock history, get a few cups of coffee, and discuss that whole Nirvana thing! I mean, can you believe that guy's hair?
S.C.U.M.: Again Into Eyes (Mute) A part of me wonders about the overall worth of seeing the acronym S.C.U.M. and instantly thinking "Society For Cutting Up Men"--like, shouldn't I have been reading The Brothers Karamazov that week? I mean, heck--my own kid has, and I've never touched it--but who cares? This great debut, apparently the product of some sibling of hip Brit band the Horrors, is subtle, sophisticated, mature-sounding and completely into showing the bare back of some English babe, and I think we're all of us--each and every one--in agreement that that's a good idea! Immensely more listenable than the new Gavin DeGraw album and--between you and me--boasting a much hotter cover! Bingo!
Jim Capaldi: Dear Mr. Fantasy: The Jim Capaldi Story (Interscope) If I told you that a month ago I spent a complete week listening to the full solo discography of former Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi--and that the late musician's works have been lovingly compiled here in this unexpectedly rich boxed set--would you even believe me? But Capaldi, always overshadowed as a vocalist by his vastly talented bandmate Steve Winwood, had a highly credible career as a singer prior to Traffic's late '60s formation, and since his first solo album, 1972's Oh How We Danced, produced a consistent string of excellent solo works that this 4-CD set artfully contextualizes. Though he received his fair share of accolades for his work in Traffic, the music on display here deserves similar critical reappraisal. Good stuff indeed!
Leslie West: Unusual Suspects (Provogue) Though he was in the news earlier this year due to some serious health problems, "problems" are about the last thing that may be on your mind after hearing this return to form by guitarist Leslie West--once of highly-lauded Mountain--whose musical skills have not been diminished one iota. Featuring an impressive cast of guest musicians, including Billy Gibbons, Slash, Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde and Joe Bonamassa, Unusual Suspects is a well-played collection of originals, covers, and heartfelt, expressive rock 'n roll. Let's all be grateful he's still around making it!
Demi Lovato: Unbroken (Hollywood) Word is that zesty young singer Lovato dubbed her new album Unbroken after spending a harrowing night determining her name was an anagram for Avoid Motel, Violate Mod, Load Motive, Metal Ovoid, A Devil Moot, and Avoid Me Lot! Hey, that happened to me once!