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The Best Year Yet!

New This Week

Happy New Year, faithful readers!

Sorry to have been absent for so long, but let's get down to brass tacks: Exactly one week ago, I was sitting in this very chair, preparing to write my first blog post of 2011, and I discovered that the week's only new release was by some ukulele player named Jake!

And if I just wrote about that--and made the rest, unthinkably, filler--would I really be doing any of us a good turn?

But, to be fair--most of all to Jake, for whom I assume album release schedules really aren't in his control--let's get last week's blog out of the way:


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Jake Shimabukuro: Peace Love Ukelele (Mailboat)  A single listening to this hot platter makes one thing abundantly clear: Everything's jake!


Whew! Done deal! So let's begin the New Year by offering up even more of the criticism that has made this blog a favorite of readers around the world and elsewhere!


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Cake: Showroom Of Compassion (Upbeat)  I'd be the last guy in the world to argue with the label's product description that this hot new platter is "vintage CAKE," were it not for the fact that the older cake gets, the drier, crummier and more stale it becomes! Plus, ants seem to go for it! Instead, I'd be inclined to describe it as "thoroughly moist--at times even damp--and a grisly reminder that what was once flavor of the month can become an eventual cause of embarrassment to those who listened to music as a mere backdrop while pursuing laughable and now trivial, non-musical pursuits!" That said, alerting readers that they can have their Cake and eat it too hardly seems a public service! Still...what a lovely logo!

Cake - "Sick of You"

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Cage The Elephant: Thank You, Happy Birthday (Relentless)  There's a major buzz going on right now about Cage The Elephant, largely because several members of PETA have been delicately pursuing the question of exactly how large the cage itself might actually be, if in fact elephants should actually be caged or allowed to roam freely, as they did long ago, when the world was a happier place, and "tickling the ivories" was a cliché without the obvious unpleasant underpinning! But one thing's for sure: I think these guys rock--even though they did all go to high school with a troubled, overweight classmate name Julian Cage who caused their suspension en masse and is now paying the price every time he sees one of their albums! But what's in a name? In the words of this album's product description, "one of the most loved bands in rock music today"!

Cage The Elephant - "Shake Me Down"

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Steel Magnolia: Steel Magnolia (Big Machine)  Not to imply that much has changed in the world of country music since the road-weary days of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, but is the fact that the members of Steel Magnolia first met in a karaoke bar and sang Air Supply's "All Out Of Love" together really all that different on a sociocultural level than being an actual coal miner's daughter? I say no! Nominated for oodles of awards and on the precipice of a level of fame so vast it makes me shudder merely to type it--well, this is about my seventh Diet Coke in about an hour--Steel Magnolia are about to break big on a level that we don't often see! Largely because we stay at home and look at pictures of ourselves when we were younger and happier, wonder why the phone never rings, and occasionally forget to put on pants!

Steel Magnolia - "Just By Being You (Halo and Wings)"

N*E*R*D*: Best Of N*E*R*D (Virgin)  For the level of buzz Pharrell Williams and his partner Bucky gets, you'd think that a so-called hits collection would be chock-full of familiar tunes that if you didn't already love, you'd be sick of because you've heard them walking into various coffee shops and dry cleaners in your neighborhood! But when I put this CD on, I didn't recognize a frickin' thing! So, like, what's the deal? It's not like I accidentally put Satriani Live!, the 2006 Epic/Red Ink album in my CD player and decided, Oh, what the heck, if I simply pretend this is the Best Of N*E*R*D album no one out there will even notice the difference! And even if I did, I would never admit it!

N*E*R*D* - "Rockstar"

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British Sea Power: Valhalla Dancehall (Rough Trade)  An unexpected gem from these critically lauded geezers who I should probably have listened to more than twice, Valhalla Dancehall is an ambitious rock opera centered on a mild-mannered, wimpy medical doctor named Donald Blake, who upon finding a mysterious wooden staff in a forest, taps it and unexpectedly transforms into '80s dancehall star Yellowman! Between watching out for traps from evil, grinning Loki and wondering why he can't simply destroy the Hulk since he's an immortal and the green guy is just a freak, Blake spends nearly all the album searching America for Bruce Springsteen in hopes of asking him what the heck was the deal with that "Born In The USA" song! It's a winner!

British Sea Power - "Living Is So Easy"

Wire: Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)  One of the year's best albums--hey, it's been less than two weeks!--is clearly this unexpected gem from long-lived, UK post-punk, delightfully but excessively modified legends Wire--who in retrospect now seem one of the best bands of the last few decades, and whose new album is surprisingly good. Alarmingly good. So good it will singlehandedly seek out writers who use the expression "(X).(X).(X)." for emphasis with absolutely no notion of how idiotic that looks! Long past being abrasive, Wire are hardly scraping by--it may be shocking, but they're delightfully current! I sicken me!

Wire - "Please Take"

Surf City: Kudos (Fire Records /Redeye)  A marvelous album from a fabulous New Zealand band that--and I suppose they can't help this--evoke the Flying Nun Records sound of such Kiwi predecessors as the Bats, Able Tasmans, etc. without seeming purposefully derivative, for which they deserve vast credit! While offering up nothing exactly out of the ordinary, their overall slant--noisy guitar, obscured vocals, unexpected hooks--drives home the point that absolutely fabulous music is being made at this very moment in locales most of us know nothing about! Perhaps they've all gathered in the respective locales and are talking about us in hushed tones! But now...we're hip to them! So what's this water going down the bathtub drain clockwise thing, dudes?

Surf City - "Kudos"

Punk: Attitude [DVD] (Shout Factory)  A fascinating documentary now released on DVD, this Don Letts-directed film studies the history of punk rock and features a wealth of famous names--the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, etc.--and other famous faces discussing the meaning of punk, the difference between punk in the US and the UK, the effect of punk rock on the world's culture, and whether anyone in the world ever expected people to be walking around with Mohawks in 2011 when they could living at home and downloading songs on the Internet! As a sociological document, it's priceless! As a meal, it's completely inedible!

The Sex Pistols - "Anarchy In The U.K."

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Broken Records: Let Me Come Home (4AD)  A tasteful Scottish band who play folkish rock--in a manner of speaking--and don't seem to naturally evoke anyone, which is always a good sign, Broken Records are hampered only by their unfortunate name and need for oxygen and food, which many of us have transcended in the last few years! Were I to be forced to choose between their continued existence and that of Trust Company, Papa Roach, or Lit, I would have absolutely no qualms in extolling their virtue! Sadly, though, these decisions are rarely mine to make! For now!

Broken Records - "A Leaving Song"

The Grascals & Friends: Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin (BluGrascal)  Far be it from me to say anything nasty about a record featuring guest appearances by Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley and Charlie Daniels and benefitting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital! Best of all, it's only available at Cracker Barrel! Like most of their employees!

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