You know, I'd like to pretend I'm extraordinarily interested in the current state of pop music-who's big, who's not, who wins awards, who doesn't, etc.--but there are times, I must admit, when I'd really rather be watching the season premieres of Game Of Thrones and The Killing than some dopey televised awards show!
And so it is that I missed last night's Academy of Country Music Awards!
But fear not! I already know the highlights, and so should you! Taylor Swift won something or other, country pioneers Kiss--who along with Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings rewrote all the genre's rules so many decades ago--finally acceded to popular demand and showed up, and other people won things, too! And apparently there were commercials!
Most jarring? The joint appearance of Mickey Mouse and Leopold Stokowski! And doesn't that just figure?
Still, without Kanye...what's the point?
Rascal Flatts: Changed (Big Machine) Certainly one of the biggest bands in country music, Rascal Flatts continue to amaze with their commercial appeal, their good-hearted, folksy nature, and their always superlative wardrobe! So perhaps it's no surprise that their latest effort, Changed, depicts the band in an entirely new set of clothes! They're nothing if not honest! Of the 11 songs to be had here, 5 are absolutely spectacular, 3 are utterly fantastic, 2 are pretty darn good, and 1 is, well, not bad at all! And that's just the good stuff! Take this CD and put it upside-down in your player and you won't hear a frickin' thing! I don't know how they do it, but still and all--as Stephen King might say--do it they do! I plan on buying a copy for every member of Congress! You too?
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson: Thick As A Brick 2 (Capitol) I don't know what it is, but here in 2012 I have lately found myself completely immersed in the works of artists that, shall we say, I overlooked during their commercial prime! Deep Purple! Golden Earring! And, perhaps most relevantly, Jethro Tull--who return here officially as "Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson" with an apparent sequel to their 1972 classic Thick As A Brick that is just as gloriously weird and nonsensical as its predecessor! Luckily, those days when we all would religiously buy 12-inch vinyl albums, bring them home and repeatedly listen to them in order to make sense of them--even when they were completely nuts--are long past! Now we just buy them, see if they sound good, open up junk mail about real estate, retirement plans, and refinancing your house, and let them play in the background while we open bottles of single malt scotch and ponder our lost youth! And if the dudes still play in tune? Spectacular! So this new album is pretty sweet, and its accompanying second disc--a DVD offering up the same album in 5.1 surround sound and a bunch of videos--is a wonderful additional value! Nothing will ever be this good again!
Dr. John: Locked Down (Nonesuch) Though in my heart of hearts I will always like Dr. John's 1969 classic Babylon album best of all--it really and truly embraced the weird more than any of his other works--he's yet to let anyone down in terms of overall quality, and here--more than 40 years later--we've got a new album that, remarkably, ranks up there with his best! Maybe because he sounded like he was 60 years old 40 years ago and not much has changed? Maybe because I like his new hat? Who's to say? But strip away the weirdness, which he really started doing back in 1972 with Gumbo, and you've got a masterful artist with a spectacularly musical background whose consistency borders on the legendary. Locked Down is more of the same, only better, and you should buy it!
Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday...Roman Reloaded (Young Money) A new album by Nicki Minaj? Surely God can't be that good! But the remarkable woman, who years ago, insistently told her stepfather Geppetto she wanted to be a real girl, is back--with 19 fantastic tracks oozing with the sort of wisdom that staggers the common man! "Come On A Cone"? "Stupid Hoe"? They're here, and they're absolute masterworks! "Whip It"? "I Am Your Leader"? They're here too! In many ways the finest works released by any woman in this millennium--and, they're audible!--the songs answer the oft-asked question, "What exactly would happen if an impressionable youth spent days on end watching Olive Oyl on TV and ground her teeth down to nubs asking 'What does that b**ch got that I ain't got?" One day I've got to listen to this!
Wilson Phillips: Dedicated (Sony Masterworks) It's difficult to offer up anything but good will toward this new release by Wilson Phillips--not just because they were cheery, upbeat faces during their commercial prime, but because here, they've returned singing the classic songs penned by their celebrated fathers, Beach Boy Brian Wilson and Mamas & Papas founder John Phillips, and really, how could they go wrong? Between "California Dreamin'," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Monday Monday," and "Don't Worry Baby" you've got the material; with the Wilson sisters and Chynna Phillips, you've got the genetic lineage; and as far as taste goes, let's not forget the gals were last heard covering Roy Wood's masterwork "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" just two years ago. And thanks to the recent Bridesmaids film, in which their hit "Hold On" figured prominently, the trio may find themselves delivering this album to an entirely new, younger audience. Good show!
Adam Cohen: Like A Man (Decca) While we're discussing the offspring of famous performers, let's also mention this excellent, surprisingly rich new album from Adam Cohen, son of Leonard--whose prior work, both as a solo artist and as a member of the Low Millions, never really resonated quite so deeply as Like A Man. The songs are carefully crafted, richly sung--in a tone unavoidably reminiscent of his dad, but slightly more melodic--and, each of them, subtly and colorfully arranged. Highly recommended.
Robin Gibb & RJ Gibb: The Titanic Requiem (Redbreast) To conclude our father/offspring study, let's take a look at this ambitious, unexpected return to the recording world by legendary Bee Gee Robin Gibb, who with his son RJ Gibb has composed his first full classical work--ironically echoing the themes of his band's classic Odessa album so many years later--and sings the lead vocal here on "Don't Cry Alone." His solo work has always been overshadowed by the commercial triumphs of his celebrated group, but since the days of Robin's Reign and the unreleased but much in demand Sing Slowly Sisters, Gibb's been one of pop music's more fascinating writers and performers. Here's hoping his current health issues are soon happily resolved.
David Sylvian: Victim Of Stars 1982-2012 (EMI) Those old enough to remember the Brit pop group Japan--who started out all glam & glitter and seemed unduly influenced by Roxy Music--might have lost track of them when they started getting all arty in the early '80s, but as the reworking of their "Ghosts" opens up this impressive retrospective by the band's vocalist-gone-solo, here's all you need to catch up. Sylvian's ensuing work, filled with collaborations with the likes of Robert Fripp and Can's Holger Czukay, signaled a determined pursuit of pure and noble art--and as a 2-CD digest of his work since, this collection could hardly be better. Along with the notable later work of Brit cult band Talk Talk, Sylvian's knack for making music out of spaces and, at times, complete silence, is something few artists have ever managed to equal. He hasn't stopped making fascinating music--but if you've never heard him, I'd start here.
David Axelrod: David Axelrod's Rock Interpretations of Handel's Messiah (Real Gone Music) One of the year's better, wholly unexpected reissues is this 1971 classic by arranger David Axelrod, whose stylings from the '60s onwards with the Electric Prunes and Cannonball Adderley marked him as man with diverse and fervently eclectic tastes. And though his albums of the time were less than bestsellers, their impact--through word of mouth and near-constant sampling by hipster musicians--grows more than 40 years later. This set, which reinterprets the celebrated work of classical composer Handel, finally sees its first official reissue and is welcome indeed--and even now, as then, remains a work that will puzzle record collectors who file albums according to their genre. How about under "A," dudes?