Great new albums by long-established artists, excellentalbums by emerging artists, and nondescript albums by mildly interestingartists with excellent hairstyles make this an album release week to remember!
As a special courtesy to readers purely interested inhair--and admittedly, that includes most of us--I've decided to spare thoseartists with less than compelling hairstyles any mention about that issue in the reviews that follow!
Still, it's important that each artist mentioned hereconsiders the fact that this week we're judging not only the quality of theirmusic, but the degree to which they're well-groomed!
Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (Nonesuch) Well, not togive the game away, but the extremely well-respected Ms. Harris clearly rulesthe roost when it comes to nice-looking hair! Significantly, the quality of hermusic--and especially this new album--renders such judgments inconsequential,since Hard Bargain is one of thisyear's very finest releases! Expertly sung, devoted to meaningful people fromher past--Gram Parsons, Kate McGarrigle, even her parents--and loaded withsurprisingly astute self-penned songs, all from a woman who's recorded asignificant amount of cover songs during the course of her career, the album ismusicianly, meaningful, and overly burdened by quality! Suffice to say: Youshould own this and be grateful it exists!
The Airborne ToxicEvent: All At Once (Island) Few would deny that there's a growing buzz on theAirborne Toxic Event--but perhaps most surprisingly, that's because of theiractual name! Indeed, earlier thisweek it was disclosed that despite past discussions about how that whole "ToxicEvent" thing came about, the California alt-rock band took their name from thememorable story of Gladys O'Malley, a young Irish tourist who despite repeated warnings from Virgin America airlineattendants, gave her young baby a diaper change while in flight without wearing her seat belt, causingvisible discomfort among those seated nearby, severely bumming out others onthe flight, and causing extended dialog in the weeks that followed amongscientists discussing the probability of disease spread via airborne versusintravenous means! And playing on the jukebox of the airport bar near the terminalwhere they landed: some record!
Roy Orbison: The Monument Singles Collection (1960-1964) (SonyLegacy) The exquisitely-coiffed Mr.Orbison was blessed in life not only with outstanding hair but among the mostmemorable voices in rock 'n' roll history--and this superb anthology, a 2-CD,1-DVD set collecting his very best work, is an outstanding testimonial to thatlegacy! Featuring mono mixes--as this stuff was originally meant to be heard--allhis great singles, and some of the most compellingly dramatic singing you've everheard, this album is required listening for any and all self-proclaimed fans ofpop music! Boasting such classics as "Oh, Pretty Woman," "Only The Lonely,""It's Over," and "Running Scared," it's the perfect soundtrack to a night in which you invite a friend overto dress up like Gene Pitney and pretend he's him and you're Roy and you startplaying "Mecca" and then "Blue Bayou" and then....oh, never mind.
Augustana: Augustana (Epic) Word from a reliableproduct description has Augustana as "quality purveyors of well-crafted,melodic piano-driven rock"--which admittedly sounds great until you think aboutit! Like, when was the last time you were on the freeway and a car driven by apiano passed you? Still, to give them the benefit of the doubt--and not to claim a pathological tendency toconfuse them with fellow Epic Records band the Fray for reasons of whichyou're unsure--when it comes to bands whose names also serve as an anagram for"a sauna tug," Augustana rank among the very best of them! Still, if theylengthened their name to something more respectable--say, Augustana Jones--theymight command a tad more respect!
Bowling For Soup:Fishin' For Woos (Brando) Like many people, I consider myself bestjudged on the merits of the bands I like--so you can imagine how proud I am tostop passersby on the street and announce that there is a brand new Bowling ForSoup album out, and its name is--get this--"Fishin' For Woos"! Ironically, mostof the people I stop tend to be the sort that ask me to actually spell"fishin'," and then, perhaps pointedly, ask me why I would even botherlistening to any band that would spell "fishing" without a 'G"! It does get abit wearing, admittedly, but frankly, I do it because there are very few otheropportunities to talk to people and, I don't know, Bowling For Soup are kind ofa fun band! Besides, the frickin' Playstation network has been down all week!
Orchestre National DeJazz: Shut Up And Dance (BeeJazz) One of the year's finest albumshands-down comes via this French outfit who--after recently recording a similartop-notch tribute to legendary Brit icon Robert Wyatt--return here with afascinating document devoted to the music of John Hollenbeck of the excellentClaudia Quintet. Superbly arranged and played, the music dwells in the samejazzy-classical-art-rock terrain of, say, prime Slapp Happy/Henry Cow, withoutsounding the slightest bit retro: It is energetic, nimble, and at times subtlebeyond belief. Do yourself a favor and seek this out.
David Kilgour &Heavy Eights: Left By Soft(Merge) It is reassuring that asfashions come and go, there are some artists who remain distinctly cool--andhave been so for years, regardless of their level of public acclaim. So it iswith David Kilgour, who for years has been the guiding light of New Zealand'sClean, and whose consistent output has been fairly remarkable. It's enough togive a guy who at this very moment isripping Gary Wright's The Light Of Smiles album with the computer at my left and listening to some Bizet albumvia the CD player at my right enough faith to sleep soundly, wake up with aclean conscience, and stop by the 7-11 tomorrow morning to see if they have anymore of those creamy peanut-butter crisp flavored MET-Rx Protein Plus bars atthat fabulous 2 for $5 price! I recommend buying all of Kilgour's albums andmaking a general nuisance of yourself among all your less-hip friends!
Dennis Coffey: Dennis Coffey (Strut) Having spent aconsiderable portion of my life in Michigan, I'm pleased to report thatguitarist Dennis Coffey--a much-admired, comparatively unsung hero of theregion--is still around, still making wonderful music, and still fullyfunk-filled and fashionable! A member of the Motown Funk Brothers band, Coffeywas first heard by many playing the "psychedelic" parts of many Temptationshits, but he was similarly evident on a fairly staggering array of well-knowntracks--and it is his sound, more than most other guitarists', that is beingemulated on most of the best Blaxploitation soundtracks of the early '70s. Inshort, he's probably not a Maroon 5 kind of guy! Buy this album, save a city!
The Wombats: The Wombats Proudly Present...This ModernGlitch (Bright Antenna) Bedecked by an album cover that peculiarly remindsme of a Wombles album--it must be the drugs!--this latest set by England's Wombatsis fantastically catchy in the same manner as, say, the best of Squeeze,utterly contemporary, surprisingly sophisticated, and precisely the album youneed if you find yourself downtrodden by a continual parade of mildlyinteresting, somewhat OK albums that lack the sort of punch that used to compelyou to dance in front of your mirror, sing into your hairbrush, and nervouslywonder if anyone was peeking into your bedroom window! Plus, what the heck were you wearing?
An Horse: Walls (Mom + Pop) A great Australian duowho not only make compelling music and win accolades from Rolling Stone, Spin,People and Pitchfork, but use the article "an" instead of the more appropriate"a" purely because, well, who the heck knows what goes on in Australia?