It's a big week for rock 'n' roll fans, as AC/DC--the legendary Australian rock band who set an entire generation on the "Highway To Hell"--has returned with their first new studio album in eight years.
And in these days of short-term artists who blaze to the forefront of pop with a giant hit single and then slowly fade away, how nice it is to encounter actual "career artists" today.
That said, eight years is a long time for any band to stay out of the spotlight--even giants like AC/DC--so the question of whether they still "have it"--that is, whether they still rock like nobody's business or are instead old, washed-up, kangaroo-loving rock hobbyists looking to relive their respective youths all over again--remains.
Plus, High School Musical 3 is out!
AC/DC: Black Ice (Columbia) In a remarkable retail coup, AC/DC's new album is exclusively available at Wal-Mart, so you can bet your boots that I--like most of my metal-loving friends--was waiting in line this morning to pick my copy right up! Unfortunately, at my Wal-Mart, the music section is sort of at the back of the store. And while walking there I noticed a fantastic deal on Hawaiian Punch--my favorite non-carbonated beverage--and an incredible bargain on one of those hats that have beer can holders and a straw on top! Who could pass that up? Heading toward the music section, I noticed a stylish apron/dishtowel set I just know my mom would love this Christmas, so guess what? My hands were suddenly full! Planning to return after hitting the checkout counter, I ran into some guy with tattoos and a crewcut who mentioned the album was actually streaming that very minute on the Wal-Mart website! Wow! So I drove home, checked out the site, and am listening to it right now! It's great!
Various Artists: High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Walt Disney) If you thought High School Musical 2 was something of a shocker--with the original kids slightly older and at a small private college--this sequel will completely astound you! Taking the concept of "senior" to shockingly literal heights, the plot now features the gang white-haired and, frankly, doddering in the confines of an oddly nameless senior retirement home! Thus there are two entirely different meanings to be had with such songs as "Right Here, Right Now," "A Night To Remember," and--perhaps most harrowing--"We're All In This Together (Graduation Mix)" likely to chill the most sensitive among us thoroughly to the bone! So it's pretty cool!
Labelle: Back To Now (Verve) A great return from the marvelously talented Labelle, a trio whose talents were evident back in the early '60s (as three-fourths of Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles) and highly conspicuous in the early '70s, most notably via the international smash "Lady Marmalade." The three ladies here--Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash--sound like they never left, and the music behind them, produced by Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, Lenny Kravitz and Wyclef Jean, is contextually perfect. Closing track "Miss Otis Regrets" was actually recorded in 1969, but for the most part, that's the only real backward look from this yet again very forward-looking trio. Give it a spin and then watch Jason & The Argonauts!
Various Artists: Love Train: The Sound Of Philadelphia (Philadelphia International/Legacy) Speaking of legendary producers Gamble & Huff, they're all over this superb collection of tracks from the Philadelphia International label--71 songs on 4 CDs, all filled with pure joy and pop standards. With nearly every hit you'd want from artists like Billy Paul, the O'Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, among countless others, the set pops with a consistency and verve that's almost astonishing in retrospect. Interestingly, the last track on the set, Patti LaBelle's "If Only You Knew," originally appeared in 1983--exactly the same year music stopped being good anymore! Heck, just buy this and move on to other consumer disposables!
Lee Ann Womack: Call Me Crazy (MCA Nashville) No, despite all the rumors and the album cover and the title, it isn't true that country star Womack had the upper two-thirds of her body removed in a plastic surgery mishap--because there's plenty of lung-power to be heard here! Featuring guest appearances by George Strait and Keith Urban, Womack's latest set is an expertly produced collection that any self-respecting country music fan will find immensely pleasing! Call her crazy? Crazy like a fox! But not like that annoying cartoon guy in the comercial!
Mary Mary: The Sound (Columbia) Inevitable comparisons to Duran Duran notwithstanding, this polished duo merge gospel, R&B and pop in a manner that's as fresh and invigorating as a spring rain or an old-fashioned Orange Julius! With guest appearances by David Banner, Kerra "KiKi" Sheard, and Deborah Winans, The Sound mixes up faith-filled tracks like "God In Me" and "I Worship You" with the intriguingly titled "Dirt" and is inspirational listening throughout! They certainly seem pleasant!
Brett Dennen: Hope For The Hopeless (Downtown/Dualtone) Anyone who's seen this singer/songwriter in full performance mode knows how appealing he is, and his recent tours with John Mayer, Colbie Caillat and Sheryl Crow ensured that many people saw him indeed. The follow-up to his So Much More, this CD is--like the singer--warm, emotional, uplifting and so gosh-darned huggable you just want to put it under your pillow and close your eyes so hard you start to see stars! Yeah, just like that! Incidentally, he's very tall!
The Dears: Missiles (Dangerbird) From Montreal and acclaimed in their product description as "elder statesmen of the indie rock renaissance"--which is quite an honor, sort of!--the Dears have produced a fine follow-up to Gang Of Losers, and this is it! There's 10 tracks in all, and with titles such as "Meltdown In A Major," perhaps you'll have an inkling of much of this album's subject matter! That's right--the guys are shrunken to microscopic size in a military encampment, strapped into a tiny vehicle capable of being injected directly into an army officer's bloodstream, and forced to photograph the physiological effects of excessive radiation exposure! Pretty cool idea, huh?
Of Montreal: Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl) Since we just discussed the Dears, who are of Montreal, why not discuss Of Montreal, who, I am told, are dears? Certainly near the zenith of that "indie rock renaissance" thing product descriptions are always raving about, these guys are actually getting better by the minute, so you should buy all their music or get left behind! Unfortunately, according to group leader Kevin Barnes, there may be a slight problem. "This record is only for broad-minded people," he told Billboard, "who like to dance, make love and freak the f**k out. It's not for most inanimate objects." So what's the problem? Simply this: CD players, turntables and even computers--they're all inanimate objects! Maybe he'll come to your town and hum a few bars of it!
Hank Williams III: Damn Right, Rebel Proud (Curb) Hank 3 is back with a new album--though sadly it doesn't feature his dad's newest composition "McCain-Palin Tradition," a rewriting of Pop's earlier hit "Family Tradition." But it does feature a track called "Candidate For Suicide," which is nearly as good and may even have a longer shelf life! Bless his heart!