Don Henley, New Order, Dead Weather: Back and Not Bad
Don Henley: Cass County (Capitol) Most artists who’ve attained the level of fame and commercial success as Don Henley have to deal with certain unpleasantries as life rolls on: their audience departs and gets older, as do they, and their physical abilities, including their voice, tend not to improve with age. And styles do change. But lucky Don Henley. His band the Eagles created a sound that literally took over commercial country music in the late ‘80s and has yet to depart. Country music is more popular than ever, and Henley—via the various Eagles tours and DVDs and cable specials that pop up every year or so—here with his first solo album in 15 years, seems to never have left the scene at all. There are a variety of famous people on hand—Mick Jagger, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Miranda Lambert—and yes, producers Henley and Stan Lynch have crafted a fine, perfectly contemporary album that is well played, well sung, and likely to keep Henley’s reputation and legacy intact for years to come. It is unlikely to change anyone’s life, but at this point, what will?
Related: The 50 Most Anticipated Albums of Fall 2015
New Order: Music Complete (Mute) Their first full-on studio album in a decade, Music Complete is a striking reminder of that unique place New Order regularly explored from the ‘80s onward, that peculiar blend of rock, dance, pop, hooks, lyrical obscurity and deliberate abrasiveness. Though lacking bassist Peter Hook—no small contributor to the band’s sound—the band now features returned keyboardist Gillian Gilbert (gone since 2001) along with two “newbies,” onboard since 2011, and generally sound wonderful throughout. This is a very strong set: Both the songs and Bernard Sumner’s lead vocals are crisp, memorable and contemporary sounding, and the 1-2-3 punch of “Restless,” “Singularity,” and “Plastic” makes Music Complete sound like the return of on old friend you’d forgotten how much you’ve missed. Often these kind of things are a blatant money run, but this sounds like an absolute, hi-cred return to the fray, and it’s so good.
The Dead Weather: Dodge And Burn (Third Man) From pounding opener “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)”–which manages to simultaneously evoke “Apricot Brandy,” “Something’s Got A Hold Of My Toe” and “Salt Peanuts,” a nice move—to the concluding, keyboard & strings-swept “Impossible Winner,” Dodge And Burn is an enthusiastic embracing of all that is glorious about rock ‘n’ roll: dramatic vocal swoops, taut rhythms, grating noise on cue, and that familiar sense of excess that has marked nearly every project Jack White has had his name on. With the Kills’ Alison Mosshart, White’s crafting some exciting stuff that oozes raw love for rock music. It’s appealing stuff that—lucky for all parties—is commercial precisely because it strives not to be. And in 2015, that is no small novelty. Play it loud and it actually sounds better.
Dr. John: The Atco/Atlantic Singles 1968-1974 (Omnivore) Just about a perfect introduction to the world of Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack, the New Orleans-bred musician known as “the Night Tripper” in the ‘60s and then, unexpectedly, a hitmaker with “Right Place Wrong Time” just a few years later. There are 22 tracks here, and between the originals you may have heard (“Right Place,” “Such A Night,” even “Mama Roux”), the oft-covered “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” and the N.O. classics (“Iko Iko” ) you’ve got the best possible representation of all that’s magical about the man’s work. In some ways the Rebennack’s most interesting music came between his 1968 Gris-Gris debut and his straight embracing of the New Orleans’ sound via 1972’s Gumbo—and the single-by-single approach here, along with Gene Scullati’s illuminating liner notes, contextualize the man and that magic period perfectly.
Michael Chapman: Fish (Tompkins Square) Yet another album by distinguished British guitarist Michael Chapman–who got his start as a British folk contemporary of Bert Jansch and that crew in the ‘60s, was an early signee to the UK’s adventurous Harvest label, featured a cast of backing musicians including Mick Ronson, Keef Hartley and that sort, went on to record a host of adventurous albums that were rock and more, and then just kept going. His early albums continue to be appreciated thanks to the Light In The Attic label reissues, but his resume—and the people he’s been associated with–keeps getting hipper than ever. This new instrumental album on Tompkins Square is absolutely fab, well in keeping with his better stuff, and something you’ll likely enjoy very much if you hear it. And if you get a chance to see the man—he’ll be in the States next month–don’t pass it up. More info here.
U.S. Girls: Half Free (4AD) A very strong, personality-driven album featuring a diverse array of sonic textures, a batch of hip guest stars (Slim Twig from DFA, Amanda Crist, Ben Cook), and the amazing work of Meg Remy, who makes her 4AD label debut a polished, astounding affair. With a vocal approach not unlike that of Ronnie Spector’s, Remy writes and sings intelligent, emotion-drenched songs that cut deep, ooze impressionistically, and linger longer in the back of your brain than, might, say, your typical Lana Del Rey track. This is sophisticated stuff that would easily impress both the millennial and boomer audiences were they to hear it. Fiercely intelligent, with hooks that simply leap right out at you. Hear it.
Tennessee Ernie Ford: Portrait Of An American Singer (Bear Family) Music fans with the money to spend and a taste for scholarly completeness know that Germany’s Bear Family label essentially set the standard for quality popular music reissues. With a focus on compiling truly definitive collections—whether on vinyl in the early days (they’ve been around 40 years) or CDs later—the company has a history of devoting volume upon volume to artists that mean very much to (often) a surprisingly small number of fervent fans. They’ve done their typical masterful work here with this 5-CD collection by country singer Tennessee Ernie Ford, reputed to have sold over 90 million albums worldwide in his day, and a cultural fixture on American radio and television for decades. Collecting all of his non-religious stuff released between 1949-1960, the sonically superb set is all over the place: classic country smashes such as his 1949 hit “Mule Train,” the genre-busting “Ballad Of Davy Crockett” from 1955, and his very famous “Sixteen Tons” are in the mix, as you’d expect, but the consistency and sheer amount of classic stuff to be had here, all superbly recorded and mastered, drives home Ford’s artistry in unprecedented manner. Accompanied by a hardcover book filled with excellent liner notes, photos and a full discography, the set is about the best way any music fan can presently experience an artist, and as per usual, Bear Family Records has not let us down. Details and much more here.
John McLaughlin: Black Light (Abstract Logix) Brit jazz guitarist John McLaughlin has had a colorful career since the mid-‘60s, whether as a solo artist (his 1969 set Extrapolation remains his pre-buzz peak), with his famous Mahavishnu Orchestra and its many permutations, or his memorable collaborations with fellow guitarists Al DiMeola and the late Paco De Lucia. And while he’s by no means faded into the woodwork—check out his 2011 Montreux collaboration with Carlos Santana here as further evidence–an album like this one, with new band the 4th DImension, kicks things up into high gear again. Consisting of drummer/vocalist Ranjit Barot, keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband, and bassist Étienne M’Bappé, the group is spectacular in their interplay, in the intricacy of their improvisations, and via the overall strength of what guitarist McLaughlin is providing us here. A superb reminder of one of our finest talents, still very much in his prime, this is a top-notch John McLaughlin set.