Bob Seger: Ride Out (Deluxe Edition) (Capitol) Bob Seger is remarkably still in the game, well after most people first heard his “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” single in 1968, and his hometown Detroit area heard his local classics even earlier. To his credit, all those years have done nothing to destroy his reputation as one of rock ’n’ roll’s very best good guys—nobody doesn’t like him—or diminish his artistic achievements. And despite his intermittent recording, Ride Out—only his second new album in nearly 20 years—does Seger’s legacy proud. From its opening track and first single “Detroit Made,” penned by John Hiatt and perfectly Segeresque, to closer “Let The Rivers Run” (track 13 on the Deluxe Edition, which considering how rarely he records, is the recommended listen), Ride Out boasts all that is good about Bob Seger: Thoughtful lyrics—about climate change and guns, no less, which is no small thing considering the breadth of his fanbase; a mix of music with a smattering of country and R&B but always, at its core, rock; and the sense that an actual statement of some sort is being made. And best of all? He can still sing. You get the impression Bob Seger doesn’t make records unless he wants to–and unless people actually want to buy them. It’s looking true on both counts, and that’s getting harder to come by every single day.
Exodus: Blood In, Blood Out (Nuclear Blast) Back in the days before Popular Music hadn’t completely finished eating its own tail, when there were enough slight deviations in form and musical approach, hard rock and heavy metal combined—at least to some extent—with punk and gave the world Thrash Metal, as it was called back in the early ‘80s, and of which California’s Exodus were among the first and best. Since the amazing Bonded By Blood, released in 1985 and featuring a memorable illustration of “good and evil conjoined twin infants,” the band has continued, personnel coming and going, but the volume, energy and attitude never straying. This new set is something of which they may be proud: Guests include early Exodus member Kirk Hammett (now of Metallica) and Dan The Automator, and the tunes—cheerily bearing titles such as “Food For the Worms,” “Body Harvest” and “Honor Killings”—are texturally varied but always, lovably, way, way loud. Returning to sing on this go-round is Steve Souza, who’s been with Exodus for three stretches now and has never in his life sounded more like Sylvester The Puddy Tat. Just one more reason why Exodus offers a good time for all! Recommended.
Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (Slate Creek) This record jumps out the week’s new releases for a couple of reasons. First, its candor: Presley, one third of colorful country trio the Pistol Annies, is a character, and the aggressively personal songs here could not paint that picture any clearer (“My mama ain’t none too happy about me spreading my business around but I have to do it,” Presley told Rolling Stone recently). Secondly, between the guests (Patty Loveless, Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, and her father Jimmy Presley) and the arrangements, which explore the polished side of contemporary country/rock fusion, there are interesting, unpredictable sounds and textures all over the place. And they sound good. Finally, she is singing a song called “Knocked Up”—which she co-wrote with Mark D. Sanders for a 2008 album by Heidi Newfield, apparently, but deserves mention merely for its title and the tradition it invokes. Non-formulaic and quite inspiring country music, actually.
Ozzy Osbourne: Memoirs Of A Madman (Epic/Legacy various CD/LP/DVD combos) One gets the sense that 21st Century commercial music product is being put together with an odd sense of finality: To complete the package recently offered by Rhino Records of Black Sabbath’s Complete Albums Box 1970-1978, essentially all the best Black Sabbath albums to feature singer Ozzy Osbourne, here’s a dandy post-Sabbath Ozzy roundup, featuring 17 of the dude’s best known tracks, a DVD collection loaded with everything Ozzy, including live stuff and video clips galore, and about everything you’d ever want to know about the man, tied up and presented in colorful bows of varied prices. Interestingly, while the singer’s image has always leaned toward the cornier aspects of Hammer-type horror films, after his TV stints and general acceptance into pop culture, these days what he does here has an odd, cartoonish appeal that seems extraordinarily kid-friendly. I liken it to cheese, on many levels. And I like cheese.
Kenny Barron And Dave Holland: The Art Of Conversation (impulse!) A very fine showcase for the recently re-launched impulse! label, which with its colorful history as “The House That Trane Built” is probably not the easiest jazz label to attempt to revitalize. Smartly, a few records in now, the label is focusing on master musicians like this pair—pianist Barron and bassist Holland—who have been around for decades, who have never sounded less than fresh, and who, given this well-recorded, basic duet context, have ample room to shine. And they do, throughout. The album is well-titled: Instrumental interplay abounds, and tasteful spaces make each note that much more meaningful. Most memorable track may be “Waltz For Wheeler,” dedicated to the late Canadian trumpeter and colorfully evoking his melodies. A beautiful set, and a triumph for the label.
Stars: No One Is Lost (ATO) It’s been difficult to not feel an ongoing affection for Canadian combo Stars since their 2001 emergence in the States via the charming Le Grand Magistery label–which bore an unmistakable character in its packaging, its excess, its A&Ring, its delightful foppishness, and its fixation on Momus, Louis Philippe, among others. And its additional fixation on good songwriting, which Stars practiced then and continue even now. With its lengthy, dance/pop opener “From The Night”—sharp, familiar-sounding and catchy—and the songs that follow, No One Is Lost, like its well-chosen cover art, evokes a look into the past that seems an odd mix of delight and cynicism. Cheerily depressing? With its opening track, “You Keep Coming Up,” and the scattered between-track found-audio quotes, Stars are pioneering a genre that could well be all their own: Sophisticated Evil Nostalgia. Crafted with the best intentions, and perky as all hell.
Godflesh: World Lit Only By Fire (Shellshock) A fascinating listen today for both fans of the pioneering Brit industrial metal outfit—who are likely overjoyed to see the band’s first new album since 2001—and those who are curious about what all the fuss was back then. While the new stuff is equally compelling and even more stark when compared to the band’s influential ‘90s work, it’s oddly somehow easier going down—and easier for uninitiated ears to digest—due to the hefty number of Godflesh-influenced bands that have followed in their wake. Powerful, culturally significant stuff that has lost none of its impact all these years later.
Vashti Bunyan: Heartleap (Fat Cat) Since albums by cult Brit folkie Ms. Bunyan are so rare—this is only her third since 1970—it would be callous to not make due note of it. It is, like her other work, quiet, tasteful, moody, melodic, and constructed of songs that sound very much like mature, polished work. There are very few artists like her—really the only one I’ve ever heard to touch the same parts of the brain was Bridget St. John and her 1971 classic Songs For The Gentle Man—and she is an absolute, singular treasure. Very likely to be, for at least a few, some people’s most favorite record ever.