When I compile my weekly list of the new releases most deserving your attention, it's often a simple exercise in addition and subtraction!
First I jot down the name of every album I feel is the slightest bit worthy of special attention! Then, carefully, I draw a line through each and every one that--when push comes to shove--really isn't worth my time or yours!
But every week, however miraculously, enough names can be removed to finally leave only the very best for your perusal!
Sadly, after doing that this week, I only ended up with four albums! So I threw some other junk in and hope you won't notice!
Reba McEntire: Keep On Lovin' You (Valory) The first album in six years from country goddess Reba McEntire shows an unexpected spunk and verve that some experts attribute to the singer's recent road forays with American Idol star Kelly Clarkson! It's, like, "sassy"! It's hard not to wish the best for McEntire--just as it's hard to stop fantasizing about the mysterious arrival of an alien race on this planet 15 years ago who landed their ailing craft in front of a billboard advertising a performance by McEntire, made repairs and returned home, then established an entire religion prominently featuring statues and head busts of the woman! But like Reba, we all have to do whatever it is we have to do! I'm taken with the track "She's Turning 50 Today" and presume you'll find a selection of your own to like! Maybe even by Reba!
Third Eye Blind: Ursa Major (Megaforce) The long-awaited return of Third Eye Blind! Life is too kind! Even when you thought the band had shuffled off downcast, following Seven Mary Three, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Our Lady Peace and Collective Soul down into the heart-wrenching Valley Of Playing County Fairs, the dudes--led by super-speller Stephan Jenkins--were out there, building up a following yet again, slowly but surely winning new friends from members of a generation too young to have heard of them before, let alone know the way "Stephen" is supposed to be spelled! The finishing touch: Canny Stephan wanted a hit album cover featuring "someone bare"! Hah! Serves him right! Their best since 2003!
MUTEMATH: Armistice (Teleprompt/Warner Bros.) Described by one press organ as "the No. 1 band you need to see live before you die," this excellent band has since been hampered by a less-than-bright audience who took that accolade to signify that they would never die so long as they never see the band! Yikes! But this New Orleans-based quartet seems to keep getting better and better, and now that they've changed their name to the One-Word-All-Caps format, success is likely to be theirs just as it was for KISS! Unless copy editors worldwide muddle things up and--search engines and naming conventions being the way they are--databases now split the band into two or three separate units and their overall commercial presence is inadvertantly diminished! Meanwhile, accountants at Mute Records watch them warily! I like this band!
Brendan Benson: My Old, Familiar Friend (ATO) Though some have pondered whether this record's title signifies an entire album devoted to the practice of self-gratification, it is instead a very worthy album--Benson's fourth solo disc overall--and one that all fans of the Raconteurs would be well-advised to purchase! Great, hooky songs polished up with help of producer Gil Norton, the timely inclusion of a song entitled "Garbage Day," and enough uplifting, well-crafted rock 'n' roll songs to make one forget that with each passing day the number of hours we have left on this earth is diminishing, it's got a nice cover, too!
Terence Blanchard Group: Choices (Concord Jazz) A powerful arrival for jazz trumpeter Blanchard at his new label, Concord Records, this live album has grand ambitions to make a statement via both music and words, and largely succeeds. The music comes via his highly skilled band (Derrick Hodge, Fabian Almazan, Kendrick Scott, Lionel Loueke and Walter Smith III), the words--and there's a lot of them, spoken at various intervals--come via respected writer/educator Dr. Cornel West, and the overall effect is less like the sermon it may sound like and more like the sort of thing one may listen to while sipping wine, eating cheese and crackers, and asking someone if they'd rather fly or walk through walls! Maybe that's what the title's about! Great album!
Pissed Jeans: King Of Jeans (Sub Pop) It is loud, it is raucous, it is aggressively dumb, and it is the third album from Allentown, Pennsylvania's charismatic Pissed Jeans! Tracks such as "Dominate Yourself," "Request For Masseuse" and "Half Idiot" show a warmth and compassion entirely unique, and "False Jesii, Pt. 2" likewise spotlights an intellectual acuity one rarely encounters alone at home! Imagine an entire generation of young people marching to record stores tomorrow to ask the friendly clerks whether they have Pissed Jeans!
Joe Henry: Blood From Stars (Anti-) Yet another superb album from undersung hero Joe Henry, who has one of the best musical resumes in the business and album-by-album keeps getting better and better! "The Man I Keep Hid" here instantly evokes the better days of Tom Waits--back in the mid-'80s when he wasn't aping Captain Beefheart--and the mixture of deliberate stylistic eclecticism (jazz, folk, rock) is not entirely dissimilar to Elvis Costello's work of the last decade, but more sharply focused! Still can't believe he raced against that steam-powered hammer and won!
Sister Hazel: Release (Rock Ridge Music) I remember watching a set by Sister Hazel at "grad night" at Disney World back in 1999! I had just interviewed Britney Spears, the night's headliner, and I spent the entire show rooted to one spot holding an expensive video camera with the instructions to "just focus on Britney" while she performed! How could they have trusted me with a camera? How could Britney get so big? And how could I have known Sister Hazel would soon go on to sell two million albums? Like their namesake Shirley Booth, this album rocks hard! Do you?
Rasheeda: Certified Hot Chick (D-Lo) Perhaps I should confess that in my other job, I get to name all the new albums!