It's a fascinating week of new releases!
On one hand we've got incredibly great records by obscure artists you've probably never heard of!
On another, we've got great reissues by older artists whose collective works dwarf those of all the latest hitmakers!
And on the third--and come on, admit it, three hands is what it's all about--you've got new releases by hot "new" artists whose shelf life rivals that of your typical mosquito!
Luckily, recently proclaimed new rules that dictate that all music has the same ultimate value--since, after all, our time on this planet is relatively limited until we pass on to the hollow darkness that awaits us all--mean it doesn't make any difference whatsoever!
Besides, I've been thinking that buying some new shoes might make all the difference in the world!
Josh Groban: Illuminations (143/Reprise) There were maybe two times in my life when I watched Ally McBeal, and one of them featured an appearance by the rockin' dude who would soon be known to the world as Josh Groban! Only months later I was sitting in the Staples Center in Los Angeles as Bruce Springsteen broke in the venue, complained about the venue's sound, and performed unaware that only an aisle away sat the actress who played Ally herself, a fan in love with the rapture that only Bruce could provide, little suspecting that her show's onetime guest star would soon be among the most popular singers named Josh of this decade! And so it is years later that Josh is back, with an album produced by none other than Rick Rubin, with distinguished contributions by former Semisonic dude Dan Wilson and legendary keyboardist Spooner Oldham and, even more impressively, others! And I'm here to tell you that when it comes to classical crossover artists who have appeared on Ally McBeal--especially those named Josh--this dude ranks among the very highest! Please don't think less of me when I tell you that this may be one of the year's best albums merely because he wears a scarf well!
Keith Urban: Get Closer (Capitol Nashville) All things considered, if were an attractive Australian singer/songwriter with a well-known wife and considerable music ability, I might not choose to feature a picture of myself mere seconds after finally learning how to tie my shoes on my brand new album cover! For that matter, if I were a boa constrictor, you wouldn't even be reading this, as--lacking arms--I couldn't even type! I'm just sayin'! Still, I am never less than impressed with Keith Urban, as all the non-musical aspects of his life--and there are many, some attractive, some less so--cannot overwhelm the sheer talent and drive that make him one of today's finest artists in his chosen genre! His new record, like those he's previously recorded, is quite good and, if you feel so inclined, you should buy it! He would!
Nelly: 5.0 (Universal Motown) According to something I just read, 5.0 puts Nelly "right back in the center of the Hip-Hop map"! For the sake of argument, let's assume that's a good thing--after all, I've got a Tired Old '70s Rock Dudes map that prominently features both Bachman-Turner Overdrive and REO Speedwagon completely in the prime positions--and let's also assume that since most pioneering softwares are in their ninth or tenth iterations by now, that "5.0" must signify the dude got the top grade in some advanced placement class or other! Now let's assume that the people over at Interscope haven't just released a brand new best of Nelly Furtado album just to mess with him! Finally, let's assume the world is completely flat, and if you sail a few miles east of the Bahamas, you'll probably fall off and never be heard from again! Yep, as new albums go, it's just that good!
Lee DeWyze: Live It Up (19 Recordings) It makes complete sense that by the time that tired old American Idol show got to the decade mark or so, its big winners would start making albums that--like the show itself--border on the surreal! And so it is that DeWyze, who I'm told often appeared on the popular show, has created a debut album that is wholly devoted to Crosby, Stills & Nash's 1990 Live It Up album, largely because he found its cover--which featured an illustration of hot dogs being grilled on the surface of the moon--so striking! Like most of today's best Idol winners, DeWyze has taken on an assumed name that implies that he--like so many others--was an early member of Iron Butterfly who left the band when they "went commercial"! Me? I like him just fine, and wish people would simply take him for the artist he is!
Momus: Hypnoprism (American Patchwork) In a stunning twist, here's a mention of one of the year's best records, the first in a while from Nick Currie, who in the course of the last few decades has consistently proven himself to be one of the finest songwriters out there--largely because his intellect is matched by his musical ability (no small feat!), his sense of humor in the world of pop music is largely unparalleled, and his conspicuous need to grow artistically--to change up his style--is really quite courageous and something of a rarity. His latest album manages to combine the melodic sense that marked his earlier career with the sonic adventurousness that has hallmarked his last decade or so, sometimes to his detriment. Still, he's got a knack for coming up with catchy songs--he always has--and he's assembled more here than he has in the past 10 years or so, for which he should be rewarded. It would be interesting to see what he might come up with if someone were to shower him with untold riches and tell him to come up with something "big." Do check him out!
Rihanna: Loud (SRP/Def Jam) It must be nice to be referred to as a "world class megastar," and that is indeed what they call Rihanna these days--especially in all those South Asian sweatshops where they manufacture red wigs and know who's got all the big bucks! Described by some as a "return to her roots," Loud indeed recalls one's early days in elementary school, when one's social standing was a function of the images on one's lunchbox, when one could spray milk out of one's nose if one was unexpectedly hit in the back by a large girl riddled with personal insecurities, and where one could always dream of success in the popular music field if the X-Men weren't accepting any new applicants! As far as records go, Loud is everything you ever expected from Rihanna--but since it's a recording, you can't actually see her, which is sort of a drag! As an artist? Absolutely in the top five of images you'll see if you perish in the next decade and your life flashes before your eyes! Cool!
Rascal Flatts: Nothing Like This (Big Machine) Named after a type of shoe that irks overly tall women, Rascal Flatts are one of the most popular artists now playing country music--and their latest album is certain to further their cause, and justly so! With excellent musicianship, tried and true harmonies, a guy in the band named "Joe Don," and a guest vocal appearance by Natasha Bedingfield--a blonde woman--this record is a complete winner! Interestingly, unlike the music of most of the band's contemporaries, not a single reference to "Songe D'Une Nuit Du Sabbat"--the fifth movement of Hector Berlioz's classic Symphonie Fantastique Op. 14--is anywhere in evidence!
Jimi Hendrix: West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology (Experience Hendrix) Over-anthologized though he may seem to be, Jimi Hendrix had a recording history prior to his days with the Jimi Hendrix Experience that has been much discussed but--all things considered--rarely heard. This collection, comprised of 4 CDs and a DVD, rectifies much of that, not least because of its "official" status--meaning that unlike the thousands of bootlegs circulating, the recordings here, particularly on the first disc (featuring the guitarist with the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Don Covay and Rosa Lee Brooks among others), are high-quality and ear-opening. With a wealth of previously unreleased recordings, many from the earliest days of the Experience, this anthology is filler-free and, if you're a Hendrix fan, essential. Great stuff!
Robert Wyatt, Gilad Atzmon, Ros Stephen: For The Ghosts Within (Domino) One of the year's best albums, and a thing of beauty indeed, this new collection--which teams former Soft Machine drummer/vocalist Wyatt with saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and violinist Ros Stephen--features the trio taking on several jazz standards ("Round Midnight," "Lush Life," "What's New"), a new version of Wyatt's unforgettable Chic cover "At Last I Am Free," and some originals, all marked by fascinating arrangements and Wyatt's inimitable vocals, still more than up to the task here. A gorgeous, artful record that pretty much defines the concept of a labor of love; do check it out.
Bee Gees: Mythology (Rhino) A four-CD set profiling the works of the completely fabulous Bee Gees--with a disc-each allotted to main 'Gees Barry, Robin & Maurice and a fourth to baby brother Andy! The hits are here, the cool, arty stuff is here, and, song for song, the raw talent on display--that has been on display for years, mind you--is close to astonishing! So good they'll make your teeth hurt!