Scant weeks before the holidays, here I sit perusing the week's new releases as Boz Scaggs' Silk Degrees plays in the background. Shoes are off, the fire is roaring, and I'm wondering if this will be the best Christmas ever!
While two distinguished record labels celebrate their very existence via exclusive commemorative box sets, top-notch R&B folks like Common, Avant and Musiq Soulchild release their latest works--and exciting rockers Thrice have seen fit to gift us with a three-disc set recorded live at the House Of Blues!
Did you ever have the feeling that--I don't know--things are just about as good as they're ever going to get?
Of course, that might be "Lido Shuffle" talking instead of me!
Common: Universal Mind Control (Geffen) Renowned as a truth-talkin' master o' Hip-Hop with a musical base stronger than many of his contemporaries, Grammy-winner Common returns with a solid set featuring production by the Neptunes and Kanye West and a title track that's getting some radio "traction," if you'll pardon the expression! Predictably the man's knack for candor has him taking on his entire record label--Universal of course owns the Geffen imprint--and its alleged sinister use of high frequency hypnotic tones within its corporate headquarters, so God love 'im for spreading the word! Centuries from now, young record collectors will ask "Is this record rare?" and be told, "No, it's Common!"--so buy it today! Brandy: Human (Epic) According to a knowledgeable product description, "Human shows a side of Brandy no one has ever seen before"--and between you and me, Human is actually the album title, so it has positive connotations! Her first recording for Epic Records, this disc reunites the attractive young singer with producer Rodney Jerkins, who helped propel Never Say Never to the top of the charts, and together they've crafted a marvelous work sure to please Brandy fans worldwide! Speaking as a man with some degree of copy-editing skills, I'm a tad distressed to note that the spelling of Brandy's name is deliberately ambiguous on Human's cover--does it end with a "Y" or an "I"? Sheesh! Additionally, you wouldn't want to see this sort of artwork on display on any planet containing an intergalactic zoo--but luckily we haven't run into one! Yet! Maroon 5: Call And Response (Octone) Heck, if I made albums, I'd try my hardest to get something out in the stores every Christmas! Even if I was lying on a lounge chair in Saint-Tropez with a vodka gimlet in one hand and a hot babe in the other! So why not have a "remix album" put together featuring material from your first two albums messed around with by people like Swizz Beatz, Mark Ronson, Questlove, and, I dunno, maybe Pharrell Williams, too, and simply approve it by phone while your masseuse applies suntan lotion on your back? Not that this is the case with Maroon 5, mind you--they're cool!--but it's fun to think about! Avant: Avant (Capitol) Nothing but nice things to say about R&B ballad specialist Avant, who may be best known for his track "Four Minutes," which made what could have been a very dreary list of microwave cooking instructions "sizzle" with excitement! His soulful sound shines through on opening track "Sensuality" and on the admittedly rap-friendly title "French Pedicure," and a guest appearance by Snoop Dogg on "Attention" will certainly get yours, if you get my drift! That said, while on one hand he spins a convincing tale--one certain to appeal to the ladies--there is a sense that not all of the story is being sung, that in some ways--ways admittedly hard to pinpoint--careful listeners may find Avant guarded! Frank Sinatra, the Everly Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, and, of course, Disturbed! Available both in a 10-CD "regular" edition and a deluxe edition featuring lots more--a 240-page book and a USB flash drive --this could only be topped by a large corporate conglomerate actually purchasing Warner Music itself! Some chance, huh? Thrice: Live At The House Of Blues (Vagrant) Ever hear the expression "Good things come in small packages"? How about "Deaths always come in threes"? Boy, there's a cliché for everything! Anyway, this long-awaited collection features two CDs and an extra DVD showing the Thrices performing live at the Anaheim House Of Blues earlier this year! Interestingly, by the look of this album's cover, the House Of Blues is also using Red and Yellow now, too! I think it may be the best album I've ever heard! Musiq Soulchild: OnMyRadio (Atlantic) There's a saying that in the most advanced forms of music, the actual spaces between the notes are more important than the notes themselves. Of course, it was my Uncle Larry who said that, and he was a dope! Oddly, though, the very musical Mr. Soulchild has chosen to remove all spaces from not only the words of his new album's title, but between the words of every song title on the album, too! If I were a critic getting paid by the word, this would seriously bum me out! Anyway, this record's great and features guests like Damian Marley and the awesome Mary J. Blige, and reportedly "blends old-school soul fervor with new-school hip-hop rhythms"! Heck, that sounds good! Roy Wood: On The Road Again & Super Active Wizzo (Warner Bros.) Guess we're at the historic turning point where labels are reissuing great records in purely digital form--meaning if you liked either of these albums by the former leader of fab English band the Move, the way to get them in 2008 is via digital download from Amazon, Rhapsody and "other" places! Falling later in Wood's illustrious career, 1979's On The Road Again featuring great pop songs, superb playing and singing, and a guest appearance by Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. The earlier album, 1977's Super Active Wizzo, actually makes its US debut here, finally, and is very welcome, though slightly more "jazzy" (and less accessible) than Wood's other classic works. Interestingly, Wood's earlier effort Wizzard's Brew is also available digitally via EMI! Buy them all and look at them at your leisure! Britney Spears' Circus in my CD changer! I thought it was long for a single disc!
- Musiq Soulchild