I have brand new ears!
Well, maybe only figuratively, but it's worth explaining! For the past few weeks, I've been randomly running through my vinyl LP collection and pulling out albums to digitize into CDs, and listening to them as if they were contemporary new releases! And enough time has passed, for most of them, that it absolutely works!
The sticking point is that they must be at least 20 years old or so and never have been issued on CD! At least, CDs that I have! And I'm pretty up on this stuff! So within the last week or so, I've been listening to de-clicked and "restored" albums by Champion, Melton, Levy & The Dey Brothers, the Chanter Sisters, Supercharge, Charlie, Fandango--and guess what? I think that old albums that were made to be played on the radio but never were sound best of all! Why? Because in 2010, they sound avant-garde as heck!
Color TV is also pretty cool!
Brian Wilson: Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (Walt Disney) I have mixed emotions about this new Brian Wilson album, which is sonically spectacular, texturally reminiscent of some of his finest work, and terrifically sung throughout--but still, only a tribute to another songwriter, no matter how legendary, when I think the world might be better off with a brand new album of great Brian Wilson tunes! And while "be true to your school" or "I'm getting bugged drivin' up and down the same old strip" may not be the easiest lyrics in the world of 21st century humans to relate to, "I loves you Porgy" doesn't quite make the cut either! Listened to in terms of the arrangements--which are exceptional--and Wilson's adept use of harmonies and smoother-than-usual, latter-day vocals, this is hard to knock on most levels, but I still wish he'd spent a few months polishing up some brand new material of his own!
Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier (Universal) Speaking of songwriting geniuses, I just mentioned Brian Wilson in the last paragraph! This, however, is a review of the new Iron Maiden album--which is actually everything you might expect, bedecked with a fine, tasteful cover, and emerging in an era where it now has more meaning than ever, since Iron Maiden has become, almost by default, the Heavy Metal icons an entire generation must now strive to equal! I kind of like them! Not to be a name-droppin' dorkboy, but I distinctly remember enjoying a fine, informal lunch with Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson in a Santa Monica deli in the early '90s and thinking him to be a bright, funny, and warm character who knew entirely what he was doing and seemed to be having a great time in the course of doing it! Strangely, I can't remember who picked up the check!
Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs: God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise (RCA) The fourth album by New England singer/songwriter LaMontagne is quite good, filled with mature, well-written songs, earnest and emotional, and almost strangely context-less--in that here he is, signed to a major label in 2010, putting out a well-crafted album that might easily have been released in the late '70s or early '80s, when an artist could structure an entire career--and perhaps be well-paid for it--purely on the basis of the quality of his work! Hah! Still, he's no dummy--and he now realizes that whatever God may intend, the complete unpredictability of the creek--Will it rise? Will there be a drought?--ultimately controls not only his career, but that of the entire industry in which he now foolishily finds himself involved! Like LaMontagne and so many others, I simply can't get the image of Irene Ryan out of my mind!
Trace Adkins: Cowboy's Back In Town (Show Dog) It's hard not to admire the rapid rise to fame enjoyed by Trace Adkins, who in a few short years has managed to score many country hits, appear on the much-loved TV show Celebrity Apprentice, write a book, and generally be better than anybody ever! Still, those aren't quite hip to the Adkins mythos--and here let me quote from a snatch of his bio--which includes "a restless intellect, wide-ranging interests, [and a] great ability as a communicator," may be interested to learn that his dandy new album reflects all that and more via such tracks as "Hold My Beer," "Ala-Freakin'-Bama" and the pensive "Whoop A Man's Ass," which sounds nothing at all like Sade! He is a fascinating figure and we are lucky to have this great new album to enjoy!
Kem: Intimacy: Album III (Universal Motown) Kem is pretty cool, not least because he's from Detroit, has as undeniable feel for classic R&B forms, and has a nickname that sounds like everyone's favorite science class! He's got some momentum going on--particularly in the radio marketplace--and clearly is following his own muse! Cool! Still, the product description accompanying Intimacy alerts us to the fact that "for the first time in his career, KEM will lay all of his cards on the table and grant fans the opportunity to get up close and personal"--and I'm standing so close to him right now, I can see that he's only got a 4 of clubs, 3 of hearts, 9 of spades and 10 of diamonds on the table! And he's about to lay down his last card! What will it be? Come back next album, when Bankruptcy: Album IV spells out in detail the misery these new-fangled casinos have brought the Motor City!
Darker My Love: Alive As You Are (Dangerbird) An excellent return here from Darker My Love, one of LA's very finest rock 'n' roll bands--whose combination of musical sophistication, pounding drive, and not-small ability to craft songs with hooks make them better than a significant number of their peers! But is that damning them with faint praise? No! Take the best work from the most interesting bands of the last 30 years, combine it into one surprisingly individualistic whole, and you've got it--exactly what should have been playing in the background years ago when the dudes here finally got their girlfriends to properly adjust their TVs so they could split for band practice! And their own music wasn't bad either!
Aretha Franklin: The Best Of Aretha Franklin (DTS DVD) (Rhino Handmade) Coming on the heels of Rhino's recent "quad reissue" of the first Chicago album, this represents one of the most fascinating musical trends of the last decade or so: Though quadraphonic albums were a major format failure of the early '70s--few really embraced the entire dual-amp/four-speaker scenario required--recent home theatre/surround sound technology has established an entirely new "quad" marketplace. Thus releases like this: a DVD video disc that is basically a carrier of four channels of audio (in DTS or Dolby formats), one which can re-introduce some of the pioneering quad mixes of years ago that very few people managed to hear. And what could possibly be better than hearing four discrete channels of Aretha Franklin's greatest hits? From a quad hits set released in 1973, this disc sounds stunning--and Aretha, all by herself in the mix and wailing, has never sounded more magical. Highly recommended--and let's see more of these!
Esperanza Spalding: Chamber Music Society (Heads Up) Unexpectedly in the midst of a significant burst of national publicity--which is what happens, I suppose, when you're exceptionally good on your instrument and also, um, really good looking--25-year-old Ms. Spalding is a bassist and vocalist equally adept at jazz and classical music, and this new album, also featuring drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and pianist Leo Genovese, is quite good and receiving frenzied attention all over the place! Including here! That Afro sure helps!
Lissie: Catching A Tiger (Fat Possum) I find it interesting that the first person I ever heard mention American singer/songwriter Lissie was one of the dudes from Mumford & Sons, who stopped by our office earlier this year and told us what they'd been doing for the past year or so! Lissie is apparently from Rhode Island, then moved to LA, and then to Nashville, and this fine new album is the result! It's quite good, quite legit, and seems to be focused on singing and songwriting rather than make-up and clothes--so I guess it'll just have to do! Try some today!
Hey Monday: Beneath It All (Decaydance/Columbia) The second studio album by an attractive group of young people from West Palm Beach, Florida--where they have apparently been taught that the days of the week are sentient beings who will respond if they are actually addressed! Dudes--that hasn't happened in decades!