Big albums of all shapes and sizes would be nice this week, but--perhaps predictably--all we're getting are shiny circular ones that are 120 millimeters in diameter!
Still, that doesn't make them any less good!
And while it's difficult to single out only 10 out of the countless hundred that deserve mention this week, let's arbitrarily focus on the ones that seem most promising! In other words, let's shine the spotlight on those classics likely to be handed down from generation to generation through the next millennium!
Also, they have to be within reach as I write this! Or at least have nice covers!
Jennifer Hudson: Jennifer Hudson (Arista) Here's an odd scenario! It's the debut album by an artist already enormously famous for her appearance on American Idol and her role as Effie White in the popular movie Dreamgirls! She's climbed every mountain, she's forded every stream, she's been produced by Clive Davis, and her single "Spotlight" has been written by Ne-Yo, a multi-talented human by any standard! She's already a multiple award winner, and she's clearly destined for greatness! Guests on the album include Fantasia and Ludacris--the performers, not the classical piece--and get this: also included is a "highlights" version of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going!" Yikes! All that's missing are the "ironic" versions of "Cry Me A River" and "Roll With Me Henry" many of us have been counting on!
Robin Thicke: Something Else (Star Trak/Interscope) There's something about Robin Thicke that you just have to like! He often sings in falsetto--a worthy tradition!--he's charismatic, he's got a great voice, he comes from good family stock, and he's a solid performer! He's a great writer and producer--as this, his third solo album, clearly demonstrates! Plus, the product description of this album quotes him sagely noting: "I asked myself do I have a light? What is that light? How can I spread it, share it and turn it into a Puff Daddy white linen Miami Beach party?" Heck, he could've just borrowed my lighter if he'd asked! The nut!
Mercury Rev: Snowflake Midnight (Yep Roc) An absolutely fantastic return to form for Mercury Rev--who attained significant heights with their Deserter's Songs of a decade ago and here have improved upon that markedly. Hard-up rock writers might call this disc a "sonic smorgasbord"--heck, even I would, if it helped construct a sentence!--and they wouldn't be lying: While soundscapes whir in-and-out, songs such as "Snowflake In A Hot World" and "Butterfly's Wing" grab your attention and ultimately lull you into sensory submission! Sort of like Soulja Boy, but, oddly, different! In all, I recommend buying this and even listening to it, when you have a minute!
T.I.: Paper Trail (Grand Hustle) Admittedly I may have been fantasizing a tad too much when writing about T.I.'s last album, T.I. Vs. Tip--he probably wasn't focusing on whether he should tip a Domino's delivery man who arrived 10 minutes late! Please accept my apologies! As a result, I'll avoid any suggestion that this, his new album, is devoted to an embarrassing episode in grammar school when he inadvertently exited the men's room with a lengthy sheet of paper stuck to his shoe--that would be tacky!--and point out that it's absolutely fabulous and has been totally worth the wait! Buy several copies!
Kellie Pickler: Kellie Pickler (19 Recordings) I'll be honest! I don't usually watch American Idol, even though it's quite popular, and often have to figure out what's what and who's who based on the many conversations all of us at work have around the water cooler! So while I'd normally have no idea at all who Kellie Pickler is (though I would enjoy her name!), I'm now proud to say I know who she is thanks to the world-renowned Framed blog, penned by John Kordosh, which cast a spotlight on her marvelous "I Wonder" video. Check it out here! Talk about putting your best face forward! She's clearly a gem! I'm thinking this may be her best album yet! You too?
James Taylor: Covers (Hear Music) I'm one of those guys who has a soft spot in my heart for those first two James Taylor albums--especially the first--and as a result have never been prone to poking fun at him for his singer-songwriterish, cultural-impacty ways! He's kind of cool! And for a change he's devoted this new album to performances of many of his favorite songs that are not written by him--but instead by such great songsmiths as Leonard Cohen ("Suzanne"), Jimmy Webb ("Wichita Lineman") and Eddie...uh, no!...perhaps most surprisingly, the Blue Cheer ("Summertime Blues")! Here's hoping "Doctor Please" pops up on Volume Two!
Dem Franchize Boyz: Our World, Our Way (Koch) I've always enjoyed rap's lovable Dem Franchize Boyz, not just because of the misspellings of their group name, but because I've dug the innate profundity of such fun-loving tracks as past hits "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It," "White Tee," and the soul-searching "I Think Dey Like Me." This time out, the gang--including Jizzal Man, Parlae, Pimpin and Buddie--are on a new label and have apparently taken their chosen name to heart! Familiar franchise Burger King's motto of "have it your way" has been appropriated and--perhaps presumptuously--inflated to apply to the entire Planet Earth! And here I always thought they were vegetarians! That said, I do like their hats!
Ani DiFranco: Red Letter Year (Righteous Babe) A defiantly "indie" singer-songwriter who's based her entire career on avoiding dependence on major labels, DiFranco returns here with her 352nd album and it's a total winner! Though "The Atom" feels slightly out of place--one wonders why it wasn't part of the Chemistry Class Volumes 1-54 series DiFranco released in 1998--it definitely--in no uncertain terms--tells it like it is! Absolutely! I'm thinking it's her best album so far this week!
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country, Green River, Willy And The Poor Boys, Cosmo's Factory, Pendulum (Fantasy/Concord) There are certain established artists--like, say, the Band, Bob Dylan, or Creedence Clearwater Revival--whose catalogs you can fixate on for a few months, listen to each album extensively, and then file away for maybe five years or so until you want to hear everything all over again. And when you do, you're guaranteed to hear something you haven't heard before--and you appreciate the artist all over again. That's the way it's been for me and this band--and circa 2008, these new reissues sound better than ever. They're sonically superb, musically visionary, and deserving of every bit of praise they've garnered over the years. I still tend to favor the band's first two albums--Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bayou Country--and think they were at their best when they were in the extended, psychedelic-trance mode of "Keep On Chooglin,'" "Born On The Bayou," and "Susie Q." They might even be better than Puddle Of Mudd!
The Beach Boys: The Beach Boys And The Satan [DVD] (Zeit Media) Say what you will about this film, newly released on DVD, but admit this: It's the best-named movie in history! I just like having it around my house!
- Jennifer Hudson