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Album Review Playlist: Volume 6

Our Album Review Playlist series takes a random group of new or reissued albums, pulls a single track from each into a playlist, and includes a mini-review for each album. Anything is game, and you'll never know what's coming next. This edition features 17 new albums or reissues for you to check out.

 

 

 
The first two tracks in this edition of our Album Review Playlist series are from two posthumous Frank Sinatra releases. They come on the 10 year anniversary of his death. Nothing But The Best is a single-disc collection from Sinatra's Reprise years that features 22 classic cuts remixed and remastered from the original master tapes, plus a previously unreleased recording of "Body And Soul" . The release coincided with the release of an official US postage stamp featuring the face of Ol' Blue Eyes as it appears on the cover art of the album. The disc contains all of the classic Sinatra tracks the casual fan will need.

As big as Frank Sinatra was (and continues to be) in music, he was also a huge film star. Turner Classic Movies is currently running 30 of Sinatra's classic films on the 10th anniversary of his death, and this excellent compilation contains 20 film-specific songs recorded by the Chairman of the Board including the title themes to The Tender Trap, From Here To Eternity, Young At Heart, Three Coins In The Fountain and Not As A Stranger.
Carole King's classic, sparsely produced and immensely influential album Tapestry was re-released in a Legacy Edition last month. This important album had a run of 15 weeks in the number one album spot after its release in 1971 and earned Carole four Grammy awards including: Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance (Female), Record of the Year ("It's Too Late") and Song of the Year ("You've Got a Friend"). This deluxe reissue also includes a previously unreleased live album. (Video Clip: ("You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman")

Konk is named after the London studio where the album was recorded. Konk studios happens to be owned by the famous Kink, Ray Davies. This fact would not be very important if the Kooks were not such a Kink-derivative band. Their straight-forward pop songs may leave most critics yawning "heard it before", but one cannot discount the infectious nature of the songs found on Konk. It'll get you moving and I would much rather have a new album pointing back to Bowie, The Kinks and The Stones than to Madonna.

Berkeley's The Morning Benders has released their first bona fide full-length and it's a high calorie affair with enough sugar to satisfy even the most serious of pop-loving sweet-tooths. This is not an indie band reaching for the next level of art in music, or trying to fool the critics with over-thought gimmickry. Instead the album reflects a band completely comfortable with bright and shiny pop songcraft. And that suits me just fine.

6. Drop The Phone - Shy Child

From the album Noise Won't Stop
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If you've ever said to yourself "I wish Kraftwerk had more balls", than this album by Shy Child is a must-listen. This keyboard, vocals and drums duo produces an awful lot of sound for such a small team. They combine this with a sharp and carefree new wave sensibility. The end result is a record that's fun, danceable and peppered with hooks. You'll be hard pressed not to listen to the whole thing. In fact, you'll be hard pressed not to come back to this one for sometime to come.

Local H have delivered a surprisingly stunning concept album titled 12 Angry Months. It contains 12 songs for 12 months of heartbreak during a year of a relationship gone wrong. The duo features vocals, guitars and drums and hits with the same force as a duo like the White Stripes, but leans more heavily on unapologetic classic rock and grunge than on the pre-punk styling of The Stooges. This track asks the ex-girlfriend in passionate fashion, "Where's my Pretenders record, you know the one, the one with 'Kid'!" That one line wins a gold star, and there's much more to be found on 12 Angry Months.
The canned beats and predictable production found on this eponymous record by Robyn are the kinds of things that usually have me running in the other direction. But I would be a liar and thief I didn't freely admit that this is a great mainstream pop album. It's just as chewy, but tastes better than anything crafted by a long line of current pop starlets raking in the major dough. But in this case the record is self-produced. Madonna is not worthy to sniff the dirty gym socks of Robyn, and if we must have glossy poptart music, this is the premium brand.

So I opened another CD package that arrived in my mailbox, looked at the cover and thought, "oh great, another California, new age inspired, granola chomping guitarist". But one day I popped the CD in and discovered that indeed, one should never judge a book by its cover. On Lawson Rollins' Infinita album you'll find a superior melding of world music with the highlights being beautiful bossa nova and middle eastern grooves. Lawson's guitar playing is virtuosic as its worst and mind-bending at its best. He also has the good sense to find truly talented vocalists to provide a complete package. So ignore the cheese-tempered album cover art and listen without preconception.

"Famous Actress Turns Musician!" is a headline that will give even the most talented artist an uphill road to climb, and probably for good reason. But when I read that Scarlett Johansson's debut foray into music was to be an album of mostly Tom Waits covers I was intrigued and impressed. After all, anyone who loves Tom Waits is ok in my book. Well, although the record is not as bad as a Heidi Montag or Paris Hilton, the atmospheric backdrop and seriously ProTooled vocals are an obvious attempt to create talent where none exists. Sure she's beautiful and sure, she likes Tom Waits, but a singer she's not. I suggest you keep looking at Scarlett and listening to Tom.

The avant garde outfit known as Kayo Dot
evolved from the ashes of progressive metal, but you would never know it by listening to the new album titled Selective Hearing. This is experimental music in its purest form. It's unpredictable, difficult to listen to and alternates between nightmarish chaos and brilliant musical ideas. I will be the first to admit that the record will not appeal to the vast majority of music fans, but it is a worthy effort that treads on Syd Barrett territory at times.

12. Crystal Skulls - Wolftron

From the album Flesh & Fears
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It may seem a bit melodramatic for a 23 year old kid from the Pacific Northwest to be challenging the status quo, but for Kenny Choi, the heart and voice behind Wolftron's ambient pop songs, Wolftron is your bedroom pop favorite of 2008. The debut LP Flesh & Fears, out on Eyeball Records, is a sweet melancholy narrative complete with haunting vocals and breathtaking composition which recalls a more ambient One AM Radio or a more techno savy Iron & Wine; perhaps a less nordic Sigur Ros.
13. 7 8 9 - Barenaked Ladies

From the album Snacktime
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Barenaked Ladies have now gone the way of  They Might Be Giants by releasing a "hip" alternative to the multitude of children's CDs available for purchase.  I was not surprised that the band would do a children's project considering their sense of humor and success with simple melody. Well, as both my children will attest, Snacktime is a success -- it had them both dancing, singing and smiling for days.
14. Purpose Was Angry - The Bloodsugars

From the album BQEP
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Jason Rabinowitz was diagnosed with diabetes at age 9, thus the name of his band The Bloodsugars. BQEP finds Rabinowitz'  songcrafting taking center stage with excellent melody, structure and vocal styling. Unfortunately, the band is overbearing (especially the overwrought keyboards and dynamically challenged drums), but even so, the songwriting manages to break free. Keep a keen ear open for Jason Rabinowitz, he has all the right stuff and as soon as he collects the right band the sky's the limit.
15. The Ladder In My Blood - Scott Kelly

From the album The Wake
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Scott's Kelly's The Wake sounds like that guy you know who just learned to play guitar, but can turn a small number of notes and chords into compelling songs. He does it by being completely in tune with the music he creates -- both emotionally and spiritually. The Wake is appealing as Outsider art. Kelly's rough-hewn voice and severely limited acoustic guitar work are merely annoyances if you allow yourself to be sucked into his world. And this isn't hard to do since Scott Kelly is already there 100%, talent be damned. This is Jandek for beginners.
16. Miami - Chin Chin

From the album Chin Chin
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The eponymous debut by Chin Chin on Def Jux is a feast to be savored. It melds so many influences so well that it quickly becomes something you can't turn off -- the curiosity of what will come next will leave you transfixed. Incredibly danceable, the record throws out funk grooves, disco beats, R&B sensuality and Steely Dan-esque styling.At times the album becomes a bit of an overload, but in the end Chin Chin have a fine debut on their hands here.
17. You Haven't Done Nothin' - Joe Cocker

From the album Hymn For My Soul
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With a voice that launched a thousand ships and a face that sank a few, Joe Cocker is back with Hymn For My Soul. I've always considered Joe a distant (not as successful) second cousin to Van Morrison, and the trend continues when you compare this one to Van's latest Keep It Simple. The band Cocker assembles here is a crack team of pros and Joe still has that guttural, gritty voice that made his career, but around the edges you can sense that Joe Cocker is no longer at the top of his game. Hymn For My Soul is pleasant, inoffensive and but a footnote in the career of a singer who is himself but a footnote.

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