I'm the last guy in the world to say the best music ever was made years ago--heck, that new Trapt album may be their best album yet--but sometimes the facts just speak for themselves!
Though most of the 10 major releases this week aren't exactly the works of babes in the woods, that may just be a function of today's major labels holding their strongest releases until the year's fourth quarter. Students return to school loaded to the gills with moolah, the holidays roll up and people are out there shopping for gifts, and somehow a new release by an AC/DC or a Neil Young seems more of a "sure thing" than a new release by someone no one normal's ever heard of!
Who knows? Maybe next year things will be different!
R.E.M.: R.E.M. Live (Warner) You can't knock the track selection on this fine collection of R.E.M. tunes, recorded live in Ireland two years ago. A bountiful package including two CDs and a DVD--not to mention a striking portrait of Michael Stipe on its cover--this is about as good a summation of the ups and downs of America's premiere highly paid alternative rock 'n' roll band as you're likely to find this year! I'd say they have a lot to be proud of, if I were so inclined!
Jimmy Eat World: Chase This Light (Interscope) Hard to believe that this band of young upstarts now seems somewhat long in the tooth, but with a career that extends all the way back into the '90s, they may already be grandparents! Always a cut above the emo-esque competition, the Jims are produced here by no less than Butch Vig--famous for Nirvana and Garbage--and have put together a surprisingly substantial, sonically adventurous album that may be their most mature product yet! Between you and me, if they wanted to change their name to "James Eat World," I'd be into it!
Angie Stone: The Art Of Love & War (Stax/Concord) A completely fabulous package of contemporary rhythm & blues, this is one of the year's better albums by far--and that it's on the classic Stax imprint is both appropriate and gratifying. Recorded at Marvin Gaye's former studio in Hollywood and featuring R&B legend Betty Wright, The Art Of Love & War is an ambitious disc that seems very much a full album rather than a slapdash collection of singles, sadly often the norm today. It's a "Stone" groove!
Neil Young: Chrome Dreams II (Reprise) Though his fan base continues to wait for his long-promised Archives box set, looks like this new set--taking its name from his never-released Chrome Dreams album of the late '70s--is all we can expect this year. A stylistically diverse outing that mixes grungy extended riffing, soft stuff, wave files, and a few "older" tracks, the package will be delivered free to those purchasing tickets to his upcoming tour. In return, ungrateful fans are expected to secretly record those shows with hidden minidisc recorders and then circulate them for free all over the Internet. It's a beautiful world!
AC/DC: Plug Me In DVD (Columbia) The godlike status of AC/DC can only be royally affirmed via this deluxe 3-disc DVD package that offers over 5 hours of ultrahot live content, over which fans will likely go gaga! Loaded with historical footage including both of the band's singers--Bon Scott and Brian Johnson--and the scorching guitar crunch of Angus Young, it's one of the best live video collections since, I dunno, that comprehensive Led Zeppelin set of a few years ago or something. The perfect gift for fans or AC/DC haters you dislike intently but nonetheless must buy a gift for. Everyone's a winner, baby!
Toby Keith: A Classic Christmas (Show Dog Nashville): As the Christmas albums pour in--as they certainly must--one must take one's enjoyment where one can! In this case, I must admit to being completely captivated by the cover art of this superb release by country star Toby Keith. Please take a look!
Dan Wilson: Free Life (American Recordings) Here's a jewel of a solo album by a guy already recognized for his work with Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic and who is now very likely pushing away piles of money to get into his bed at night! For this is the same Mr. Wilson who has penned enormously successful tracks for popular combo the Dixie Chicks, among others--and a man who actually seems focused on writing excellent songs rather than works that will generate ungodly amounts of cash. Oddly, this seems to make a difference! Produced by Rick Rubin--now even more famous for being Rick Rubin!
Aretha Franklin: Rare And Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul (Rhino) One would think that just about all that could be wrung from Aretha Franklin's Atlantic Records catalog would have been wrung long ago, but this spectacular 2-CD set of unissued tracks, rarities and demos proves that just isn't so. Nearly two hours of material recorded between 1966-1973--what many consider Franklin's peak years--may finally prove, once and for all, that in her prime the singer could likely land a spot on American Idol if she were lucky!
Soulsavers: It's Not How Far You Fall, It's The Way You Land (Columbia/Red Ink) Featuring highly regarded vocalist Mark Lanegan, this disc has already been very well received in the UK, which, by law, means it will also be very well received here! Weird! Including guests such as famed indie humans Bonnie "Prince" Billy and P.W. Long, it's secretly quite good--though, considering its title, not the sort of thing you'd want to give a skydiver for the holidays!
Gov't Mule: Mighty High (ATO/RCA) Criticism that this outfit sounds like a "sterile" version of Band Of Horses in many ways misses the point--though, were it to ever be voiced, might be compelling!