A mixture of great new LPs, welcome returns from skilled pop practitioners, and albums with fabulous cover art highlight this week's staggering array of astoundingly tolerable new releases!
Many of them are, intriguingly, audible!
Still, if you're like me, and you're still buying albums, you probably hit the stores religiously, buy actual CDs or vinyl rather than downloads--they're more tangible that way--and then leave them lying around conspicuously, hoping that the inevitable flood of friends who always drop by--and between you and me, why can't they just leave you alone?--will see them and judge you purely by your musical taste!
And later, as you cluster around your big-screen TV, pour a random drink here and there, and discuss the latest in celebrity gossip, perhaps you'll pull one out, play it for your friends, and argue whether it was 2006 or 2007 that stands as the greatest year ever in pop music!
Of course, all of this presupposes you can pay your electric bill! But heck--who can't?
Kelly Rowland: Here I Am (Universal Motown) A new album by Kelly Rowland in many ways represents all that is great about today's music business! First of all, she's quite attractive! Second of all, she was once a famous member of Destiny's Child! Third of all, according to Wikipedia, she's not only a recording artist, she's an actress, a dancer, a songwriter and model! Fourth of all, this great new album features guests like Rihanna, Lil Wayne and Pitbull! Fifth of all, if you're one of the 900 people out there who'll actually go to a record store and look for this thing, it's helpfully titled "Here I Am," saving you that much more time before you march up to the cash register and pay whatever ungodly sum they're probably now asking! Finally, if you're into buying vinyl, you can cut up the album sleeve with scissors and wear the cover as a Halloween mask! Listening to it would probably be a kick as well!
Eric Church: Chief (Capitol) If an album cover represents all that an album--and an artist--is truly all about, then clearly the much-anticipated Chief proves that acclaimed country singer Church spent a lot of the time sitting in front of a mirror, trying on hats, sunglasses, and, one supposes, sweatpants! Of course, due to today's art direction standards, the pants themselves aren't visible, but you can just imagine what they look like! Sagely, by obscuring both his face and hair with the hat and sunglasses, Church will sell albums galore to truckers who'll sneakily pick up this CD at truckstops, then cannily don similar-looking garb, pick up attractive female hitchhikers, and casually ask them if they'd like to hear "their" new album! That's always worked for me--especially around Roanoake and Ashtabula--and I'm betting you'll score, too! Highlights: "I'm Getting Stoned," "Springsteen," "Country Music Jesus" and "Homeboy"! This thing almost sounds like it exists!
Joss Stone: LP1 (Stone'd/Surfdog) Brit singer Joss Stone has won awards left and right, is currently part of a so-called "supergroup" that includes Mick Jagger, Eurythmic Dave Stewart, and Damien Marley, and now has released an album on her own label, cleverly titled "Stone'd Records"! Well, you're asking, does it rock? Does it literally sound like the black and white close-up picture of Sheryl Crow with her nose pierced it looks like? Does the album's clever title mean she considers this to be her very first "real" album--or is it merely an acronym for that MBA project focusing on the unexpected commercial bonanza reaped by the invention of Liquid Paper? I've given this a lot of thought--and you can't overlook the nose thing!
Jimmie Vaughan: Jimmie Vaughan Plays More Blues, Ballads & Favorites (Shout Factory) I'm not sure it bodes well for the future of rock 'n' roll that one of the week's better rock albums is one so deliberately backward-looking--covering the likes of Ray Charles and Jimmy Reed rather than more contemporary legends like Christopher Cross, Counting Crows, and Culture Club! Still, with its superbly-played execution, its dazzling vocal appearances by fellow Texan Lou Ann Barton, and its album cover evocation of Sprite, Teem, Bubble Up, and the latest in terrazzo floor wax, this album makes me want to move around, holler, get up and dance, and do all sorts of things that other, more conservative types might find unbecoming! Frankly, any time you spell "Jimmy" with an "ie," all bets are off!
Vanessa Carlton: Rabbits On The Run (Razor & Tie) There's something to be said for that steady stream of female singer-songwriters who populated the upper reaches of the pop charts nearly a decade ago--think Paula Cole, Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, Joan Osborne, or Meredith Brooks--and now seem to have vanished mysteriously from the spotlight! Like, where did they go? What did they do? Did they have book club meetings? Did they all get together in someone's living room for a baby shower? Did they write the curriculum for an especially astute college class entitled Imagine A World Where The Least Offensive Pop Stars Had Hit Records Until Everyone Realized They Couldn't Remember A Single Song They Sung? Nope, I'm betting they all played Euchre, wore sunglasses, and tried on each other's clothes until someone--probably McLachlan--remembered they were all supposed to make albums or something! And now...this!
Thomas Dybdahl: Songs (Decca) An excellent collection of songs from Norwegian singer-songwriter Dybdahl, who is enthusiastically being described by American fans as some sort of cross between Tim Buckley and Nick Drake--which really doesn't do him any favors--Songs represents some of the singer's finest work from his previous albums and is a welcome introduction to a fine, very subtle talent. Worth many repeated listenings, and fairly groovy.
Alice Coltrane: Universal Consciousness / Lord Of Lords (Impulse) Anyone who's had a hankering to hear the works of saxophone legend John Coltrane's wife but never has is hereby advised to pick up this great double set, which pairs two fine albums from 1972--the most notable being Universal Consciousness, which features Coltrane's spaced-out organ playing and string arrangements, with transcriptions by Ornette Coleman, and 40 years later now sounds like the unreleased soundtrack to The Invasion Of The Space Pharoahs. Highly recommended.
America: Back Pages (eOne Music) There's something mildly surrealistic about hearing pop group America--the band whose rise to fame came via the stunningly Neil Youngish "Horse With No Name" hit of the early '70s--returning with an album paying tribute to that era when Neil Young actually sounded like Neil Young, but hey--why not? Buried amid the perhaps too-well known covers (Simon & Garfunkel's "America," Buffalo Springfield's "On The Way Home," the Zombies' "Time Of The Season," Dylan & the Byrds' title track) is one song that absolutely should've been a hit: Jimmy Webb's "Crying In My Sleep," sung to perfection years ago on one of Art Garfunkel's lost solo albums and sounding wonderful here as well. I still give these guys credit for covering John Martyn years ago, so more power to them.
Roxette: Greatest Hits (Capitol/EMI) Did you notice the change in tone back there between the Vanessa Carlton and Thomas Dybdahl reviews? That's what happens when I kick over a hard drive that's been spinning for 14 hours and possibly ruin a half-day's worth of work! But I just got it working again after writing that America review, so now everything's cool! Sort of like Roxette, who in some ways recall a cross between Roxy Music and an old Police hit but mysteriously...are Swedish! Loaded to the gills with smashes that you'll probably recognize the second you hear them--unless you're 10--this hits collection is a staggeringly great collection of pop music, and a reminder that in the world of absolutely fascinating rock 'n' roll names, "Per Gessle" ranks up there with Dobie Gray!
Falling In Reverse: The Drug In Me Is You (Epitath) Though I take some degree of pride in my abilities as a writer, it's difficult to top the editorial review provided by Amazon.com for this fine disc, so let me quote it precisely: "Ronnie Radke from Escape the Fate's new band, produced by Elvis Baskette." Concise, warm, informative, reassuring--as the saying goes, I know when I'm licked!