Well, it's one of those weeks when it pays off to be a rock critic!
Among the week's new releases are reissues of The Beatles' so-called "red" and "blue" albums--their famous pair of 2-CD greatest hits collections--Bob Dylan's Bob Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings, his first eight albums re-released in glorious mono, and The Complete Elvis Presley Masters, a 30-CD set containing all 711 of his master recordings!
After considerable listening, here's the verdict:
Next week: On becoming a book critic!
Kings Of Leon: Come Around Sundown (RCA) Some people call them the greatest American rock 'n' roll band going, others call them potential dunderheads who have never before come so close to repeating themselves at every turn, and still others--particularly residents of Leon--call them "your majesty"! Others call them at 615-555-LEON, order their carpets cleaned, and with a gnawing pain in the pit of their stomachs, watch Oprah and try to focus on the better days that must surely be ahead! But one thing's for sure--this new album is their fifth, and in the years to come, it will be regarded as the one that came between their fourth and sixth!
Sugarland: The Incredible Machine (Mercury Nashville) Admittedly it's a bold stance for one of the biggest country bands in the land to devote an entire album to the invention of the eggbeater, but still--country music can be enjoyed by both men and housewives! And if perky singer Jennifer Nettles can sound as convincing as she does here singing songs such as the title track, "Stuck Like Glue," "Every Girl Like Me," and "Find The Beat Again," then God bless her! The big question, of course, is that if this album takes off like wildfire can we expect a solo album by Sugarland dude Kristian Bush extolling the merits of Zoysia grass? Plus, is there life after death? I'm only asking!
Shakira: Sale El Sol (Epic) For her ninth album, international superstar Shakira returns with a zesty and danceable international mix, heavy on the Latin side, and thankfully less focused on cracking any particular market! Featured is her World Cup super track "Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)," guest appearances by reggaeton artist El Cata and the always charming Pitbull, an interesting cast of musicians, and a great picture of her apparently lying on her back and keeping her eyes open for any colored bracelets walking by! Whatever keeps her happy, that's what I say!
Elton John/Leon Russell: The Union (Decca) With its title and striking cover photo suggesting a musical interpretation of the American Civil War, or a gas station, or a teamsters' strike, or a Duran Duran tribute, The Union may offer loads of great interpretations! But it's difficult to argue with the pairing of true musical icons Elton and Leon--with the former effusively praising the latter as a personal inspiration nearly everywhere--or the top-notch production here of the ubiquitous T Bone Burnett, who has allowed the natural talents of these much-admired artists to shine through in ways heretofore unimaginable! The Ferrante & Teicher of the 21st century? It just may be!
Rod Stewart: Fly Me To The Moon: The Great American Songbook, Volume V (J Records) While we're discussing '70s icons still flying high, let's not forget Mr. Rod Stewart, whose latest album--his fifth in a series of bestsellers devoted to classic songs of the 20th century--is smooth, kind of slick, but still kind of nice! Among the tunes heard here: "Beyond The Sea," "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "Moon River," "That Old Black Magic," and a bunch of other things your mother or grandmother probably liked dancing around to! Not to share too much, but my own mother asked me to get her this for Christmas! Glad she's finally off that Cramps kick!
Miley Cyrus: Hannah Montana Forever (Walt Disney) The soundtrack to the final season of Disney's Hannah Montana series is here, and like the show itself, it's a surefire winner! With a crew of guests including Sheryl Crow, Iyaz and her pop, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley's in top form throughout--particularly in those tracks from the show's final episode, when an onstage Hannah points to a faraway planet she apparently believes worships her because "they can pick up our TV signals"--and then announces to her stunned audience that she plans to depart Earth and move there! Her poignant version of "Que Sera," delivered to the masses moments before she finally enters her spacecraft, may well have been television at its finest--and it's not bad here, either!
Ravi Shankar & George Harrison: Collaborations (Dark Horse/Rhino) A welcome repackaging of the collaborative works of these two musical giants, these are "collaborations" in the sense that Beatle Harrison produced the music here--which is all Shankar's--both when the master sitarist was signed to his Dark Horse label (producing Shankar Family & Friends  and The Ravi Shankar Music Festival From India ) as well as his Chants Of India set, released on Angel in 1997. Additionally including a DVD featuring a 1974 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, the package is a lovingly crafted collection additionally commemorating the long-lived Shankar's 90th birthday. Inspirational, lovely stuff.
Liz Phair: Funstyle (Rocket Science) Oftentimes I rely on product descriptions to inspire me when I write this much-loved blog--frankly, I often have nothing to say!--so I'm thankful when I can read the following and follow its intrinsic, linguistic beauty: "The ever prolific Liz Phair is back with her first release, Funstyle, in 5 years." So, like, let's think this through! Can it be that she is 995 years old, and thus by releasing an album every five years she might accurately be called prolific? Do prolific fruit flies release albums every 10 minutes or so? Heck, it works for the Jonas Brothers! This great record contains "Bollywood," the track which is so sublimely ridiculous it apparently has alienated longtime Phair fans, most of whom have invested a considerable portion of their past raving about how great Exile In Guyville supposedly was and now feel deeply ashamed! Me? I think it's all great!
Tammi Terrell: Come On And See Me: The Complete Solo Collection (Hip-O Select) Some superb reissuing at work here via Hip-O--who've assembled just about all the tracks ever recorded by Motown star Terrell, who died in 1970, just 24 years old. Included are works for other labels such as Scepter/Wand and Checker/Chess--not just the Motown stuff--and 10 previously unreleased works from the vaults. Given Motown's distinguished history, and its sometimes slipshod reissue programs over the years, it's great to see this level of attention devoted to fine detail on their catalog artists. Recommended.
The Beatles: The Beatles/1962-1966, The Beatles/1967-1970 (Apple) Both sets here have been newly remastered by the same team who did the recent Beatle reissues--they sound great!--each feature fine liner notes by Bill Flanagan, and, as always, if you can only afford to own two Beatles albums, these two would be the way to go. Ever think about getting a job?