With hot new product out this week by Bob Dylan, Oasis, the Pretenders and the Clash, who could disagree? Music is getting better than ever!
Interestingly, however, there's every indication these artists have been around the block a few times!
OK, maybe that's true. But when you get right down to it, this new guy "Jon McLaughlin" has the same name as some famous English jazz guitarist, "Hey Monday" used to have another name but changed it because they're big Happy Mondays fans, and "Lambchop" used to be an actual hand-puppet on television! "Michelle Williams" used to be on Dawson's Creek! And "The Rosebuds" starred in some Orson Welles movie! I could go on, but why bother? There's absolutely nothing new under the sun!
Except for Rise Against! I've never heard any band quite like them! But still--and I can't emphasize this strongly enough--one exception does not make the rule!
Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8--Rare And Unreleased, 1989-2006 (Columbia) When distinguished artists like Mr. Dylan, who's been recording since the early '60s, start releasing packages bearing random date clusters like "1989-2006," you just know there'll be more to come! Which is OK by me, because he's kind of good! This 2-CD package features demos, unreleased tracks, soundtrack rarities, and a charming back cover picture of the man himself wearing a cowboy hat! Surprisingly for a songwriter with such an acclaimed grasp of the English language, a few tracks like "Ring Them Bells" and "Ain't Talkin'" are sloppily titled, grammatically-speaking, but considering his massive catalog, and advancing age, a little carelessness can be forgiven! Heck, wonder if he's got a blog?
Oasis: Dig Out Your Soul (Warner Bros.) Led by England's Gallagher brothers and known to each other as one of the biggest bands in world history, Oasis are back on a new label and achin' to be loved all over again! To that end, they've said smarmy things about hip-hop, gotten physically thrown off the stage while performing, and written anthemic songs that always sound vaguely familiar but you can't figure out why! This makes them good! If you've heard their first single "The Shock Of The Lightning," there's no point in checking out that old BBC series The Shock Of The New or hearing the Who's "Call Me Lightning"--they've done all the hard work for you! This makes them even better! Once again, like all great bands, they're standing on the shoulderpads of the Giants!
Michelle Williams: Unexpected (Music World/Columbia) Known to many as one-third of Destiny's Child--the band, not the being--Ms. Williams returns with her third solo-go-round, a likeable effort focusing more on flat-out R&B than the gospel-inspired material of her past. While admittedly the opening track fails to live up to the promise of its title--I mean, just imagine what someone could do with a song called "Unexpected Intro"--most of the music here is seamlessly produced by a collective including Andrew Frampton, Rico Love, Stargate, Soulshock & Karlin and other guys! You get the idea! Fans of well-performed popular music that leans toward R&B would likely prefer this to Metallica!
The Pretenders: Break Up The Concrete (Shangri-La) Can't say that I expected big things from Ms. Chrissie Hynde after all this time--it has been a few years since their last CD--but this new album is a surprisingly strong collection of material that nicely bolsters her legacy. Part of that may be from the informality of the recording--it wasn't labored over in the studio but in fact was quickly recorded--as well as the unexpected textures provided by occasional steel guitar. Additionally, the material doesn't seem to strive to recapture "former glories" but instead is thoughtful, mature, and rockish! Check out her recent Live Sets performance here, then check out your bank balance while you're at it! It's all OK!
Jon McLaughlin: OK Now (Island) One of those dudes that made a big noise on MySpace and got signed because of it, Mr. McLaughlin is a talented guy who now unwittingly stands as a prime case study: Can a so-called "internet buzz" translate into a lifelong career? Well, with a batch of producers including John Fields (the Jonas Brothers), The-Dream (Rihanna), and Tricky (weirdo space music), you can just bet that if one of these songs hits, a lifelong career awaits him! The Music Industry is cooler than ever! I like to think the album title came from what he was saying while posing for the album cover!
Hey Monday: Hold On Tight (Decaydance/Columbia) Formerly called Blake, but forced to change their name due to legal pressure from the God of Thunder, these West Palm Beach rockers play catchy and energetic rock and are led by an attractive female! Yippee! Sort of like Paramore! But even saying that suggests that major labels sign artists based on factors other than innate excellence, and that can't be true! Instead, let's just chalk it up to an enthusiastic recommendation from Monday--which, as a day of the week, holds significant sway over major record companies and other organizations!
The Clash: Live At Shea Stadium (Epic/Legacy) For the longest time I'd assumed this record was an audio documentary retelling the historic period during the '80s when these famous English punkers, down on their luck, spent their time sleeping and eating under the bleachers of New York's famous baseball stadium! Then a label guy mentioned the album title and I realized "Live" rhymed with jive, not give! Oops! Anyway, this set captures the lovable quartet in 1982 during their stint as openers of the Who's farewell US tour--the one in 1982, not a couple of months ago--and according to its enthusiastic product description is "destined to feature alongside James Brown At The Apollo, The Who at Leeds and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison as one of the greatest live recordings of all time!" Hey, that's a thought! The significant absence of Three Dog Night's Captured Live At The Forum notwithstanding, these guys had Rancid's every move down cold! But at least they meant well!
The Rosebuds: Life Like (Merge) Actually one of my favorite bands currently making records, the Raleigh-based Rosebuds return with their fourth official album and it is, as expected, exceptionally good. Why is it good? The songs are mature and non-derivative; the vocals are personality-filled and quirky; the guitar tone has that slight reverberated "beachy" tone employed by Fleetwood Mac circa "Future Games" and, for that matter, "Albatross"; and closing track "In The Backyard" subtly borrows from Joe Meek and the Tornados' "Telstar" as well as St. Etienne's ultrafab "You're In A Bad Way." That said, they really don't sound like anyone else! I just like to namedrop!
Lambchop: OH (ohio) (Merge) A band that's been consistently superb throughout the years--and one that's followed its own muse more conspicuously than most--Lambchop returns with yet another heartfelt, slightly skewed recording likely to please fans worldwide. Air conditioners, on the other hand, still seem to be into metal and anything featuring Sarah Brightman!
Rise Against: Appeal To Reason (Geffen) A scruffy Chicago-based outfit wholly devoted to the written works of German philosopher Immanuel Kant--and it's never before been so obvious!--the band here takes on his "Refutation of Idealism" in a big way, most notably via "Hairline Fracture" and "The Strength To Go On." Plus, their new video's got motorcycles in it! All told, a real winner!