If you're like me, you're probably shivering in anticipation about the next two weeks!
This Sunday will bring us the exciting return of Madonna--whose appearance at the Super Bowl is certain to be the stuff of legends! I'm betting she'll be controversial, maybe sort of sexy, and say the word "pigskin" more than once!
And the next week will of course bring us the exciting Grammy Awards! Packed with superstars, controversy, outlandish wardrobes, and, every now and then, music, it's sure to send consumers directly to record stores--where they'll drop hundreds of dollars purchasing the latest product by today's acclaimed superstars and keep our good friends in the record industry employed for at least eight, heck, maybe nine more months! And I understand there are more than 50 record stores left!
Whoever said "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" was half-right!
Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas (Columbia) New records by Leonard Cohen are a cause for celebration, and this latest--his first studio album in eight years--merits all the praise it's receiving. Wonderfully arranged, precise, dominated by his now scarily deep voice, the album is personal and intimate and a fine addendum to the recent Legacy box set collecting all of the man's recorded works. I've spent the last few weeks listening to each of his albums in order of their release, and I remain impressed by how few there have been (only 12 studio recordings since 1968), how little repetition there is among them, and how completely enjoyable they are as musical experiences--which, considering the flak he's long received regarding his vocal skills, is no small issue. I'd recommend anyone who's quibbled with Cohen's singing give a fresh listen to his Field Commander Cohen: Tour Of 1979 album, belatedly released in 2001, which features a fine mix of his material, a wonderful band, and Cohen at his absolute vocal peak: He's mesmerizing, with no qualifiers needed whatsoever. Now in his late '70s, Cohen can't quite reach those heights, but stylistically, his talk/sing approach seems much more palatable than that of, say, Lou Reed or Tom Waits, and as always, the strikingly personal nature of the words he sings hits home in a way that no other artist out there could possibly duplicate. He is a contemporary master, and this wonderful album is more than welcome. Superb stuff.
Lana Del Rey: Born To Die (Interscope) It's difficult to have a valid impression of Lana Del Rey that's not directly affected by things that have nothing to do with her music. Before really giving her new album a listen, I had been told, directly or otherwise, that she had already released another album which was a flop (which I apparently have, somewhere in this mess), she changed her name and got her lips pumped up, she has a rich daddy who bought her a career, and she was something to behold on Saturday Night Live. All of this, mind you, before this album came out. And it's not a bad album at all. Looking at her bio I see a mention of David Lynch, which makes sense, since much of this evokes that whole Angelo Badalamenti/Twin Peaks thing, but its evocation by nature makes it less than a wholly original and compelling experience. Some of the songs go on too long, I can't say I'm picking up on any wholly original persona here, and calling herself "the gangsta Nancy Sinatra" is not only hokey but a redundancy--yet, all things considered, it's not a bad approach, and she might even get interesting with a more colorful arranger and producer, a little less mid-range, and, of course, the same bikini Nancy herself wore on the cover of Sugar. Meanwhile, all this hoo-hah borders on the hilarious.
Ringo Starr: Ringo 2012 (Hip-O) After reviewing the most recent record by a dude in his late '70s and a woman who deliberately wants to evoke Nancy Sinatra, what say we now focus on a former Beatle who's 71 years old? In fact, Ringo 2012 is a fine album: A nice pop music focus, a gaggle of distinguished guest stars including Van Dyke Parks, Charlie Haden, Joe Walsh, Don Was, Edgar Winter and others, a minimum of cover songs (cool ones--"Rock Island Line" and a Buddy Holly track), some respectable originals, and no particularly unrealistic "commercial" moves. In short, a good Ringo album. If anything, I'm glad that Starr's status as a legendary musical figure allows albums like this to be made: Were this to be offered up to any label from an unknown singer from Anytown, USA, heavy laughter would heartily ensue. I'd be happy to see any of these songs performed live by Ringo and his occasional superstar touring units, and so would you.
Queen: Days Of Our Lives [Blu-Ray DVD] (Eagle Rock) Further driving home the point that in 2012, the week's hottest products are by artists who made their marks in--or drew their inspiration from--decades long past, this DVD represents the finest audiovisual telling of the Queen story yet, in large part due to the participation of band members Brian May and Roger Taylor. Jam-packed with performance footage, promo videos, candid interviews and a welcome historical perspective, the set steers clear of the redundancies that often dog artists whose works are perpetually reissued and recycled, and in fact offers a near perfect introduction to the band for anyone who's yet to hear a note they ever recorded. I understand a half-dozen people like that live in New Guinea. Recommended.
Gotye: Making Mirrors (Universal Republic) There are, on occasions, records that sneak up on the public, cause a stir worldwide, almost anonymously, in which people hear a track, absolutely crave it, and ask their friends, "Hey, who does that song?" Of late they are probably talking about Belgian-born Gotye, whose "Somebody That I Used To Know" is such a massive hit Down Under that no one bothers asking the dude why he changed his name from Wally de Backer and moved to Australia in the first place! Between you and me, I plan to move to Nova Scotia and change my name to GorillaHead, but--sadly--I'll refrain from making records for fear that no one will like them! But hey--this thing is catchy!
Blue Cheer: Vincebus Eruptum (Sundazed) It is a time for serious rejoicing in this household that Sundazed Records has seen fit this week to reissue the first two albums by the ultra-fantastic, incredibly great and all-time classiest hard rock band of all time--the marvelous Blue Cheer--and that in the case of the band's 1968 debut, it can again be heard in its staggering mono mix, which, all things considered, is probably the way God intended it! I am of the sort who contend that this is the finest Heavy Metal album ever recorded--not insignificant, considering that the term didn't come into common usage until several years later--and that even now, years later, it has yet to receive the worldwide acclaim it has long deserved. I am beyond thrilled to be able to give this album yet another listen, and now, with one functioning eardrum, I'm sure it will sound exactly the way I always imagined it! If you buy no other album this week, make this your choice!
Richard Thompson: Live At Celtic Connections [Blu-Ray DVD] (Eagle Rock) The number of artists out there whose consistency and longevity can rival that of British guitarist & singer/songwriter Richard Thompson is almost laughably miniscule: Thompson, since his late '60s days with Fairport Convention, has yet to record a wasted track or half-hearted effort, and this--which captures the man live in Glasgow early last year--covers a significant portion of his distinguished career exceedingly well. Featuring 20 live tracks, some great bonus material, and, throughout, masterful playing and singing by Thompson, the DVD is an excellent opportunity to sit back, appraise his value as an artist, and perhaps wonder why so few of today's more popular artists are likely to be around for anywhere near as long. See for yourself.
Ruthie Foster: Let It Burn (Blue Corn Music) An excellent set from Texas singer Ruthie Foster, this disc features her superb blues/gospel inspired singing over an inspired musical backing featuring George Porter, Jr. of the Meters, the Blind Boys Of Alabama and Stax legend William Bell, and a collection of original and inspired cover songs that simply ooze with sincerity and soulfulness. An unexpected gem that deserves your full attention.
Hugh Masekela: Jabulani (Razor & Tie) Belatedly issued in the US and very welcome is this superb album from South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, whose presence in the States has been felt since the early '60s via a consistent series of innovative and stylistically diverse albums and performances. This new disc is devoted to, in the trumpeter's words, the township weddings he witnessed as a child in South Africa, and the overriding sense of joy, love and friendship that has always been a part of his playing simply leaps out of every track you'll hear here. One of his very best--and the man has recorded many.
Black Bananas: Rad Times Xpress IV (Drag City) The latest effort by Jennifer Herrema, once of the Royal Trux, renowned for many things in this world--not least of which is the finest album cover of all time with 1997's Sweet Sixteen--this record is rockin', raucous, and precisely the thing you'd want to play for your mother when you bring Jennifer over to the house for coffee and that frank talk you've been putting off for years! Time's getting short! Hey, so's your mom!