David Sanborn: Only Everything


RIYL: Hank Crawford, David “Fathead” Newman, Kirk Whalum

David Sanborn has used his recent move to Decca as an excuse to renew his focus on the music that inspired him as a kid: Only Everything, like 2008’s Here & Gone, functions as a sort of loose tribute to the Ray Charles blues axis, with particular emphasis on the work of sax players Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, given Sanborn’s history of burying his formidable talent under synth-powered smooth jazz (listen to most of his ‘80s output – or better yet, don’t) or just aimless, albeit impeccably performed, noodling (most of the ‘90s). But this is still David Sanborn we’re talking about, and although Only Everything is billed as a Hammond-heavy, rootsy jazz record, it really only lives up to that description in the context of Sanborn’s exceedingly polite discography. (It’s certainly a good deal more mannered than 1992’s Upfront, Sanborn’s last foray into Hammond territory.) The end result, for the most part, is an album of well-played covers that will leave you with an itch to dig out the originals – with the exception of the two vocal numbers, which are sure to be singles on every smooth jazz station around the country. It’s hard to understand why anyone thought it would be a good idea to have Joss Stone step up to the microphone for “Let the Good Times Roll,” or why you’d ask James Taylor to sing “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” but all parties responsible should be horsewhipped: Stone’s showoff performance is stuffed with unnecessary melisma, and Taylor’s about as ill-suited a vocalist as you could imagine for the Ray Charles songbook. Skip over those tracks, though, and you’ve got a fine, if frustratingly mild, addition to Sanborn’s catalog – and if you’re at all familiar with his work, “mild” is probably exactly what you’re looking for. (Decca 2010)

David Sanborn MySpace page

Various Artists: Crazy Heart: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack


RIYL: Stephen Bruton, Ryan Bingham, T Bone Burnett

At the turn of the century – just about the time the record industry was experiencing its Wile E. Coyote moment before plunging into its recent sales abyss – Jeff Bridges decided to start a label, Ramp Records, and release a Michael McDonald album alongside Bridges’ own solo debut, Be Here Now. Neither release received much attention at the time, but as vanity-plate recording projects from actors tend to go, Bridges’ wasn’t bad; he had a rumpled, Dude-like charm as a vocalist, and although his songwriting tended toward the ponderous (“Buddha & Christ at Large,” anyone?), the songs communicated the same calculatedly offhand attention to craft as his acting. Point is, Bridges’ critically acclaimed turn as the booze-soaked songwriter at the center of “Crazy Heart” isn’t wholly revelatory – and Be Here Now might have stood a better chance at being a hit if he’d surrounded his songs with stellar, downbeat performances from artists like Buck Owens, Sam Phillips, and the Louvett Brothers.

And okay, so Bridges didn’t have much of a hand in writing “Crazy Heart’s” original songs, but he does steal the spotlight on the soundtrack – no mean feat when you’re sharing the stage with the aforementioned artists, as well as young Americana lion Ryan Bingham, who’s already won a Golden Globe for one of his contributions, “The Weary Kind.” There really aren’t any bad songs here, but it’s Bridges’ performances that’ll draw you in the most – when he sings “funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’ for a little while,” sounding for all the world like a more tuneful John Hiatt, you’ll flash back to every heartbreak you’ve ever suffered and every shitty bar you’ve ever been sorry you sat down in. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll want to own this, without question – but even if you haven’t, it’s the best cross-industry soundtrack we’ve seen since John Mellencamp starred in Falling from Grace in 1992. Pour yourself a strong one, sprinkle some sawdust on the floor, and get carried away. (New West 2010)

Crazy Heart MySpace page

The Villains: The Villains


RIYL: The Eagles, Poco, One Flew South

Don’t let their name fool you – pinup on the album cover notwithstanding, there’s very little that’s even slightly villainous about this six-piece Atlanta outfit. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you, especially for fans of the country-tinged Laurel Canyon rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s; in fact, at times, this eight-song self-titled effort suggests what might have happened if strands of DNA from members of Poco and the Eagles were stolen by a mad scientist 30 years ago and used to create a new band. The Villains’ strongest material boasts all the tight harmonies, spotless guitars, and sunny hooks you could hope for, and the album’s weak spots – like the shudder-inducing, Jimmy Buffett-esque “Where We Began” – are pleasantly few and far between. In a perfect world, an album with only eight tracks would kick ass top to bottom, but for Eagles fans weary of 25-year waits between albums – or country fans stuck between Willie Nelson and Rascal Flatts – The Villains will hit the spot quite nicely. Crank up “Let’s Forget About It Tonight,” pour yourself a cold beer, and be glad rock & roll is still alive. (DCM Records 2010)

The Villains MySpace page

The Flaming Lips: Dark Side of the Moon


RIYL: Les Claypool’s cover album of Animals, charity compilations, not Pink Floyd

The decision for the Flaming Lips to cover, in its entirety, Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side of the Moon has certainly been met with a lot of hostility by people who consider the original to be a sacred artifact of a bygone era that should be treated with an almost religious reverence. Those people have decided to hate this album without ever hearing it, and that’s a shame, because if they did take the time to listen to it, they would have plenty of reasons to hate it on its own merits.

Okay, that’s a little harsh; this bizarre little experiment isn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly not good, and is, as the purists love pointing out, entirely unnecessary. Most of the time the Lips (and on occasion Stardeath And the White Dwarf, who are credited as the sole performers on two tracks and as a back-up band on four others) just don’t seem to be trying. Their big creative decision seems to be on “Money,” when they sing through vocoders. The rest of the the time they just aren’t doing enough to make it really stand out from the original. “Time” gets some looping cough effects for some reason, and “On the Run” is transformed into a bass-heavy acid Jazz jam. The rest is pretty much just Dark Side with added wacky effects and cranked-up bass. It’s not weird or exciting – it’s just boring, not to mention lazy and predictable. Is anyone surprised by the fact that the Flaming Lips happen to be huge Floyd fans? I mean…duh. If the Flaming Lips really want to create a WTF moment, they should leave classics like Dark Side alone and take on something truly unexpected, maybe REO Speedwagon’s High Infidelity or Genesis’ Invisible Touch. Wayne Coyne singing “Land of Confusion,” now that would be a track worth hearing. (Warner Bros. 2010)

Flaming Lips MySpace page

Pavement compilation track list spans entire career

Pavement

On March 9, Matador will release Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement in light of the band’s worldwide reunion tour. I usually stay away from compilations if they don’t contain unreleased material, but Pavement deserves its own given the band’s stature. I expected Quarantine the Past to contain fan favorites, but also selections the band enjoys to play. In looking at the track list recently unveiled on the Matablog, I can say that those involved really did a great job putting it together.

The track list is below:

Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement

01 Gold Soundz (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
02 Frontwards (Watery, Domestic EP)
03 Mellow Jazz Docent (Perfect Sound Forever EP)
04 Stereo (Brighten the Corners)
05 In the Mouth a Desert (Slanted & Enchanted)
06 Two States (Slanted & Enchanted)
07 Cut Your Hair (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
08 Shady Lane / J Vs. S (Brighten the Corners)
09 Here (Slanted & Enchanted)
10 Unfair (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
11 Grounded (Wowee Zowee)
12 Summer Babe (Winter Version) (Slanted & Enchanted)
13 Range Life (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
14 Date w/ IKEA (Brighten the Corners)
15 Debris Slide (Perfect Sound Forever EP)
16 Shoot the Singer (1 Sick Verse) (Watery, Domestic EP)
17 Spit on a Stranger (Terror Twilight)
18 Heaven Is a Truck (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)
19 Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite at :17 (Slanted and Enchanted)
20 Embassy Row (Brighten the Corners)
21 Box Elder (Slay Tracks 1933-1969 EP)
22 Unseen Power of the Picket Fence (No Alternative compilation)
23 Fight This Generation (Wowee Zowee)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?


RIYL: Buzzsaws, static-laden AM band stations, bad distortion

Wow. The farther along the Brian Jonestown Massacre goes, the more one can only ask the question, “Why?” Who knows at this point? Undeniably one of the most unoriginal and utterly boring albums in the BJM catalog, Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? is a testament to sheer laziness. Thirteen tracks chock full of distorted vocals, droning instruments, and a whole lot of nothing going on in general will certainly test your patience. “Let’s Go Fucking Mental” pretty much sums up the whole feeling you’ll have when dragging through this mess. Other way-out imaginative titles such as “Tempo 116.7,” “Super Fucked,” and “White Music” are literal, people. The Massacre is over. And why did they ever get any attention, anyway? For that biopic that painted the group as a bunch of complete assholes? Well, there you go. But let me tell you, there are a ton of much more talented rock and roll assholes out there worth hearing instead of these guys. The faithful will argue that this is another creative peak. Anyone with a working set of ears will tell you otherwise. You have been warned. (‘a’ Records 2010)

Brian Jonestown Massacre MySpace page

Jimmy Wayne: Sara Smile


RIYL: Restless Heart, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington

Jimmy Wayne became a country music star so fast in 2008 when the title track to his Valory Music debut, Do You Believe Me Now? rocketed to #1 on the Billboard country music chart, Wayne and his label did not want to waste any time before issuing the follow-up. Fast forward to November 2009, only 15 months later, and Wayne returned with Sara Smile. The title track, as you have likely already gathered, is a cover of the Hall & Oates hit from 1976 that ultimately reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and has been a staple on soft rock radio for decades. And really, if you consider how much success the country music genre has had “borrowing” songs from the pop/rock world, releasing a track that already was a hit is a good strategy when trying to follow up on what was basically overnight success. The problem, though, is that “Sara Smile” is easily the best track on Wayne’s sophomore release, and it’s made better by the fact that Daryl Hall and John Oates sing backing vocals on Wayne’s version. The rest of the songs, while mostly catchy and serviceable, and having been written by the likes of Keith Urban as well as Nashville powerhouse songwriters like Hillary Lindsey and Rivers Rutherford, are pretty good, but not great. Along with the title track, the best of the rest are the upbeat opener, “Things I Believe,” written by Urban and John Shanks; and the sugary power ballad “Counting the Days.” And lest we fail to mention, Wayne is surely one of the better male vocalists in Nashville today, and he has the supporting cast for staying power. (Valory Music 2009)

Jimmy Wayne MySpace Page

David Bowie: A Reality Tour


RIYL: Mott the Hoople, Queen, Iggy Pop

David Bowie’s 2003-04 “A Reality” tour wasn’t billed as his last, but until he decides to jump back onto the stage for another go-round, that’s exactly what it is. And while the double CD A Reality Tour serves as a five-years-late memento of that occasion (and companion piece to the 2004 DVD of the same name), it still comes off as fresh and exhilarating as the concerts themselves felt five years ago. A big reason for this is Bowie’s achieving the sweet feat of placing copious material from his last two studio albums – 2002′s Heathen and 2003′s Reality – among his ’70s, ’80s and ’90s classics in the best possible light. That is, “Afraid” and “New Killer Star” sound quite at home among older gems like “Breaking Glass” and “Ashes to Ashes.” And while such a large amount of new material (ten songs out of 33) inevitably leaves no room for big hits like “Young Americans” or “Space Oddity” (I also clearly remember Bowie playing “Blue Jean,” also left off this set, at the show I attended in 2004), the strength of all the material here – which also includes his takes on tunes he gave to Mott the Hoople (“All The Young Dudes”) and Iggy Pop (“Sister Midnight”) – is enough so that the stray hits aren’t really missed at all.

One could call this a “career overview,” as the album’s accompanying press release would have us believe, but in practice, A Reality Tour feels more like a continuation of Bowie’s career arc, one that he has left open-ended despite its skewing towards the sound he created on his last two albums and his late ’70s collaborations with Brian Eno. Even if he decides not to return to the world stage, however, he has surely left his legacy in fine shape. (ISO/Columbia/Legacy 2010)

David Bowie MySpace page

The Heavy: The House That Dirt Built


RIYL: The White Stripes, James Brown, The Rolling Stones

When the Heavy broke with their debut, it truly was Great Vengeance and Furious Fire from every speaker. Listening to that album was like getting kidney punched by the raunchy, drug dusted love child of Curtis Mayfield and the Gallagher brothers. “That Kind of Man” and “Girl” were sheer aural addiction, funky and fun and groovy as hell. It was a smashing debut, chock full of powerful singles…and seemingly no one noticed it at all. The US release in 2008 made no discernible impact, and that is a crying shame.

The_Heavy_04

Now the Heavy are back with The House That Dirt Built, turning up the volume and the heat by taking their ‘60s and ’70s influence and punching it up with everything from jacked up Bo Diddley beats to Roland Gift-like vocals wrapped in roughly layered, minimalist production. “How You Like Me Now” is full tilt James Brown-esque bravado that shifts into a Mick Jagger-like pleading bridge before ending with a seriously hard-hitting, percussion-driven finale. They also continue to use digital samples to set mood and theme in a way reminiscent of Big Audio Dynamite’s first records. “Short Change Hero” is their Sergio Leone ode while at the same time begs for a Grace Slick vocal.

The most amazing part of this record is the fact that every song makes you sit up and take notice, every track distinct, but the album has an overarching consistency that pulls it all together with consistently dark and driving bass lines, fearless guitars and select horn lines. Throughout, Kelvin Swaby’s vocals chant, scream, croon, plead, growl and demand, always playful and soulfully sexy by turns. The Heavy know how to construct a song to be a hit, short and to the point, catchy without being predictable. This shows up in their hard rocking “What You Want Me To Do?” Two minutes and 38 seconds of grinding desperation and desire. Few bands can take such clear and well known influences and make it sound fresh and new, but The Heavy excel at it. Check this album out. Play it loud, and as David Letterman demanded, play it again! (Counter Records 2009)

The Heavy MySpace page

Corinne Bailey Rae: The Sea


RIYL: India.Arie, Des’ree, Roberta Flack

Corinne Bailey Rae’s self-titled debut was a Starbucks hit, selling nearly two million copies on the strength of the immediate chord it struck with fans of vaguely jazzy, vaguely folky pop singers like Norah Jones. It also took its share of lumps for being yet another in the chain of politely soulful albums that have flooded the marketplace over the last five years or so; though it showed flashes of real talent, VH1-ready singles like “Put Your Records On” put Rae across as pleasant at best.

Well, whatever else you might be able to say about it, Rae’s sophomore effort, The Sea, isn’t pleasant – like the body of water it’s named after, this is a collection of songs that might sometimes seem placid on the surface, but which boast unfathomable, often stormy depths. It’s an album steeped in grief, shadowed by death, and wrapped in yards of delicate, folk-and-jazz-tinged arrangements. Even on the album’s more up-tempo tracks, such as “Paper Dolls,” there’s an overwhelming sense of something – probably Rae – about to break. Even if you just play The Sea in the background, you’ll catch hints of its disquieting vibe.

Corinne_Bailey_Rae_01

All for good reason, of course – as you may recall, Rae’s husband died unexpectedly in 2008, and many of these songs find her coping – seemingly quite directly – with her loss. It’s always a mistake to treat albums like these as the artists’ personal diaries, but when the first track is titled “Are You Here” and features lines like “Are you here? Because my heart recalls that it all feels the same”…well, you get the idea.

So yes, The Sea is a rather dark and stormy record, but it’s never maudlin; partly on account of Rae’s vocals, which are lighter than air at their heaviest, the music’s grief never threatens to overwhelm the songs. That being said, a little overwhelming might not be such a bad thing – Rae’s aesthetic is one of slight shifts and slighter melodies, and if you’ve previously dismissed her work, it’s hard to hear much here that’ll change your mind. Perhaps more importantly, if you loved Corinne Bailey Rae, this album’s darker tone might be off-putting. Rae deserves applause for pouring so much of herself into these songs; still, even after you’ve plumbed its depths, it’s hard not to wish The Sea’s surfaces weren’t so calm. (Capitol Records 2010)

Corinne Bailey Rae MySpace page

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