It's once again that time of the year when, unbelievably, great new records mystically appear!
Some say it's a natural function of greedy record labels holding back their hottest product until the holiday season approaches--at which time, the theory goes, potential customers will a) have money to spare and b) actually be able to locate a record store somewhere!
Others say it's a natural by-product of nearly a year's worth of crummy records being released! At this rate, informed sources report, nearly anything will look good!
Still others suggest it's all purely a coincidence--don't worry, more crummy records will be coming out soon, so don't start thinking you should save up your money and lose out on hot new video games and luscious energy drinks! There's bound to be a new Ke$ha album coming down the pike!
Meanwhile...heck! My pulse is racing!
Lady Antebellum: Own The Night (Capitol Nashville) Few can deny the entire world has been waiting for the new Lady Antebellum album! One of the biggest success stories of the millennium has been the feisty work of this mysterious member of Britain's elite royalty! While her mysterious husband Lord Antebellum tragically remains missing, an apparent victim of a mountain-climbing expedition to the Himalayas, his ditzy-but-attractive spouse has put down her tea and crumpets, taken her private plane to Nashville, and established a credible, award-winning career singing "country music" to hapless Americans who are taken with her fashion sense! Word is her private parties feature her old royal "gang"--Prince, Baron Stewart, Count Five, Duke Ellington and her loyal German shepherd Rex--singing Hank Williams tunes and spitting a mixture of Earl Grey and absinthe into her roaring fireplace! And this record? It's hot, mate!
Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton: Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play The Blues: Live From Jazz At Lincoln Center (Reprise) In many ways reminiscent of the classic blues albums recorded by Robert Johnson when he played at Lincoln Center, or Bukka White's unforgettable live set at the Vatican, this contemporary classic--which we'll simply abbreviate as WM&ECPTB:LFJALC for purposes of brevity--focuses on such vintage pieces as "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" and Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Layla" and completely puts to rest the opinions of arrogant naysayers who'll likely note that such over-dressed, over-polished and horrifyingly sanitized versions of classically gritty blues works--performed so clinically and with such precision in a venue that likely as not might've refused admission to many bluesmen in their prime--are the veritable antithesis of what the blues is all about! Yep, they'd probably use the word "veritable" and everything! Like Canned Heat? You'll dig this!
Dream Theater: A Dramatic Turn Of Events (Roadrunner) I think I've always been into Dream Theater first and foremost because of their name--I mean, aren't dreams really like a theatre?--and also because I completely dig staring at arty album covers while humans with exceptional fingering skills diddle about in ways that were it not for studio tomfoolery might seem physically impossible! Don't get me wrong--I'm sure these guys played everything here, I've just been hankering to use the word "tomfoolery" since the early '80s! As always, I find some of the reviews to be had at Amazon to be extremely compelling, and I suspect this quote--" Longtime fans of the band intrigued by the speediness of the notes on display from Dream Theater have much to study on the album"--pretty much nails it! And while the "dramatic turn of events" suggested by the album title ends up being something of an overstatement--I mean, would you want to write a rock opera about dropping a beer on your Xbox?--I don't think it would be appropriate to say anything negative here! In my car, sure--but not here!
The Drums: Portamento (Frenchkiss) It's always a shock when I find myself writing about an album that I consider to be very good and one of the year's best--and yet here I sit, having listened to this thing about four separate times today, completely entranced, captivated, and wondering whether writing a review dropping names like China Crisis, the Smiths and Polyrock really does anybody--least of all these dudes--any good whatsoever. An exceptionally interesting, melodic, precise collection of superior tunes here, highlighted by first single "Money" and "I Need A Doctor," Portamento is completely fabulous, extremely forward-looking, and one of the best things I've heard all year. Buy it and change the future of contemporary pop music! Then go buy a protein bar!
Jonathan Wilson: Gentle Spirit (Bella Union) Actually, while we're talking about exceptionally tasty albums that would appear to be released purely because they're musically interesting--as opposed to being blatant attempts at milking the market for megabucks--let me plug one of this year's nicest surprises, by a North Carolinian who apparently now lives in LA, works with a variety of distinguished music types, features a boatload of impressive guest players here with lineages extending back into the '60's and onward, and apparently used a recording console that was built in 1972 and once used by Shelter Records. Which would mean nothing if this album wasn't extraordinarily good, and it is. Very highly recommended.
Jimi Hendrix: Winterland, Hendrix In The West (Experience Hendrix/Legacy) Who in their right mind would quibble with top-notch packages featuring legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix at the height of his powers? Those who followed his career as a posthumous record-maker are likely familiar with much of the music here, as the Hendrix In The West set (featuring Hendrix at the Isle Of Wight and California in 1969-70) came and went shortly after his death--and at least a portion of the 1968 Winterland emerged via a Rykodisc set in the late '80s, but here, in its deluxe format, is expanded to five very worthwhile discs. All are remarkable, and all, though they feature many of the same songs played repeatedly, are worth hearing purely for the guitarist's stunning ability as an improviser. If there's a bottom-of-the-barrel when it comes to Jimi Hendrix reissues, the Experience Hendrix people haven't begun to approach it. Check these out.
Kristin Chenoweth: Some Lessons Learned (Masterworks) When it comes to digging country music, I'm completely into it when it's sung by television actresses who've won Tony Awards and also star in Glee! Throw in material written by country legends Dianne Warren, Desmond Child and Eric "Hooters" Bazilian, and I'm totally hooked! And give the album a title and theme like Some Lessons Learned, and it can't get any better! Between Chenoweth's earthy take on sines, cosines and tangents, the differences between a democracy and a republic, and what happens to a tadpole's heartbeat when you immerse it in nicotine-tinged water, we may have this year's candidate for Album Most Likely To Succeed! Say what you will about the way it looks--it's got a heck of a personality!
The Beatles: 1 (Capitol) Perhaps you've heard of the Beatles! They were quite good, and this newly-remastered collection--completely filled with the many No. 1 records they produced in the course of their illustrious career--is a joyous listening experience through and through! I would suggest you buy it for gift-giving purposes and surprise someone who's never heard their music before! Word has it that Kanngg Po of the Thetan province of Uruguay has never heard it and...oops, too late!
Slow Club: Paradise (Moshi Moshi) I enjoyed the debut album by this Brit male/female duo immensely, and find this follow-up even more appealing: Charming, melodic, folksy, clever, arty, funny, and the sort of album that one might eventually love and...who knows?...marry! Hey, inanimate objects are hotter than ever!
Anthrax: Worship Music (Megaforce) In the tradition of Sting's Bring On The Night, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and Rick James' "Give It To Me Baby" comes another artist frickin' ordering us around! Why can't they all just leave us alone? We don't tell them what to do!