It's a week highlighted by solo projects--or collaborations from artists who've made a name for themselves in other contexts--and guess what? Most of them are pretty good!
Among those doing solo rounds are Depeche's Mode's Dave Gahan, System Of A Down's Serj Tankian, Del Amitri's Justin Currie, and--with bluegrass/country star Alison Krauss in tow--Led Zeppelin's own Robert Plant!
And in a stunning twist, most of these artists have made their living playing music people liked rather than appearing gussied up and lip-synching in a surplus of music videos!
Hopefully that won't happen again!
ROBERT PLANT & ALISON KRAUSS: Raising Sand (Rounder) The combination might look strange on paper, but throw in the superior production skills of T. Bone Burnett--for in fact he has been thrown in--and you've got one of the most surprisingly tasteful albums of the year. Krauss's high voice and country leanings keep Led Zep crooner Plant's tendencies to veer off into coyote-frequency in check, and the resulting textures are strangely more than the sum of their parts. No, wait--if "Plant" equals X and "Krauss" equals Y, the resulting textures are greater than X+Y! Yeah, let's do it that way!
JUSTIN CURRIE: What Is Love For (Rykodisc) A excellent return to the scene by Currie, the driving force behind Scotland's Del Amitri, What Is Love For is a more personal, deliberately less rocking affair than his previous band's work, and one that amply showcases his growing depth as a songwriter. Though his original audience may be scattered somewhat since the last Del Amitri album, if this finds them, all of mankind may benefit and the world will be as one!
COHEED & CAMBRIA: No World For Tomorrow (Columbia) An interesting, deliberately arty band who seem to feverishly pursue a direction that is something of a head scratcher to non-fans, most of whom consider the band to be a 21st century Rush derivative, Coheed & Cambria would be wise to never name one of their albums Music Factory! That said, they're just dandy!
DAVE GAHAN: Hourglass (Mute/Virgin) Depeche Mode's enormous fanbase has long been a puzzle to aged rock critics who somehow never got their intrinsic gestalt--I didn't really mean that, though it is fun to write!--but facts are facts: They've recorded a very distinguished body of work, sometimes to excess, and band member Gahan's new album carries on that very credible legacy. An unsung hero? A giant of the form? Likely to call his next album Abacus in a systematic refutation of earlier criticism that his band was too technology-dependent? Nope--just a darned nice guy!
HURRICANE CHRIS: 51/50 Ratchet (Polo Grounds Music/J) I would imagine in some quarters, a satisfactory review of this album would consist of the words "It blows." But that would be missing the point about this superb artist--whose massive hit "A Bay Bay" recalls the finest work of other guys who've had one really big single then watched their careers gradually fade away into nothingness, but is even better!
THE THRILLS: Teenager (Virgin) Bearing one of the year's finest album covers, especially if you're troubled, Teenager is a strong step forward for this Dublin-based quintet. Produced by Tony Hoffer--as was their debut--this third album shows a continued refinement of the band's songwriting ability and makes a strong case for always putting derivations of the words "teenage," "thrills" and "Virgin" on any album cover you can! It just makes marketing sense!
CARRIE UNDERWOOD: Carnival Ride (19 Recordings) Given the massive industry that the American Idol factory has become, it's always a pleasure when one of the artists to emerge from the show seems to display actual taste, talent and personal believability. Definitely shifting more firmly into full country mode, Underwood is as good as it gets! "It" in this case being "one of the artists to emerge from the show," but hey--who's splitting hairs?
SERJ TANKIAN: Elect The Dead (Serjical Strike/Reprise) One of the more interesting figures in American music, Tankian is the frontman of System Of A Down, a commendable talent scout--check out the roster on his own Serjical Strike label--and now a very respectable solo artist. With ambitious plans to release a video for every one of the tracks on this album, Tankian seems to enjoy picking up the record industry by its tail, putting it in a big burlap sack, spinning it around his head a few times and then hurling it directly into a brick wall, thrilling to its mewing welp and...uh, well, never mind.
BO BICE: See The Light (StartArt) Given the massive industry that the American Idol factory has become, it's always a pleasure when one of the artists to emerge from the show seems to display actual taste, talent and personal believability. Incidentally, Bo Bice has a new album!
SAY ANYTHING: In Defense Of The Genre (Doghouse/J) I felt some compassion for the earnestness expressed by reader Drew P in his comment in last week's blog: "Dave, if you didn't listen to the music please don't write a review." You make a very valid point, Drew, so rest assured I won't make a fool of myself or you by asserting that This completely unexpected album of polka covers by rising emo stars Say Anything runs the gamut from Lawrence Welk, Jimmy Sturr and Frankie Yankovic to--surprisingly--Joey Miskulin and may be the most daring recording of the past 50 years! Instead, I'll just watch TV!
- Justin Currie
- Del Amitri
- Alison Krauss
- Dave Gahan