Though this purports to be a weekly recap of the week’s best, most exciting and best-decorated album releases, there are those certain times when, to be blunt, your guess is as good as mine!
Back before my friend Larry invented the Internet, most music critics dealt in a world of print publications with three-month album review lead times, advance cassettes, promises not to leak said cassettes to over-eager radio stations, and a well-orchestrated publicity and promotion plan perfectly timed to guarantee maximum consumer interest and, hopefully, sales! Sometimes the writers had months to figure out if the albums were any good!
Not any more!
These days, when there’s a Monday holiday such as, say, Presidents’ Day, lazy writers can simply stream the new albums once on Spotify on a Tuesday morning, write their reviews on Tuesday afternoon, then, with appropriate drink in hand, sit back and laugh at their witty reviews just hours later thanks to the marvelous Internet!
Luckily, everything’s good now, so reviews don’t really mean much! Say, have you seen my new shoes?
Benmont Tench: You Should Be So Lucky (Blue Note) A quietly spectacular album here by longtime Heartbreaker keyboardist Benmont Tench, who appears on the distinguished Blue Note label with a batch of original tunes, a couple of covers, a significant array of popular collaborators, and a musical mood and feel that can only surface when its creator has spent decades playing in one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands in the universe. Vocally, Tench occupies an interesting middle ground between ‘80s-era Bob Dylan and, I don’t know, maybe ‘80s era Ron Wood, but there’s enough there there to stand on its own, and at least two tracks that can’t help but sound unavoidably Heartbreakerish. With production by Glyn Johns, a version of “Corrina, Corrina” and Blue Note prez Don Was on hand, the overwhelming scent here is of exceedingly well-played, well-produced material with warmth, subtlety and unmistakable character. Some records are made simply because they can be—and this doesn’t seem to be one of them. It's very good.
Candice Glover: Music Speaks (19 Recordings/Interscope) Though I am not the world’s biggest fan of American Idol, or of reality television shows in general, I am not so emotionally tied to my sentiments that I can’t step aside from my prejudices and declare one of that show’s contestants—like singer Glover, last year’s Idol champion—to actually be quite good and worthy of all the praise she has been accorded! That being said, I can also drive over to Subway and order a Chicken & Bacon Ranch Melt sandwich for lunch, and that will likely be quite good as well! If I wanted one! Get my drift? On a related note: This album contains a pair of songs entitled “I Am Beautiful” and “Kiss Me”--both commonly used to make yoga mats and shoe soles!
Phantogram: Voices (Republic) Catchy 21st Century synthpop is still synthpop—and that doesn’t make it bad in the slightest. The latest album from New York-based duo Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel has the expected unexpected textures, to be sure, but there are enough strong songs here to get your attention and fully keep it until the next Hunger Games soundtrack comes along. Lots of momentum going on with this band at the moment, and they don’t look likely to be going away anytime soon. Male/female synthpop like the Eurythmics? Check! A Hall & Oates album title? Check! Easily confused with French crime fiction hero Fantômas? You bet! As someone famous once said, it’s all meat on the same bone! So dig in!
Temples: Sun Structures (Fat Possum) Missed writing about this last week, so here goes: It’s easily of the year’s best new albums, this debut set from a Brit combo who aggressively embrace the psychedelic sounds of yesteryear without sounding embarrassingly retro, and I’ll be damned if I can’t stop playing it over and over. Apparently people the likes of Johnny Marr, Noel Gallagher and even Robert Wyatt have said nice things about them; they are a band that writes actual tunes rather than simply create interesting textures and hope that’s enough to get by; and at times, once or twice, their vocals evoke the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, which at this end pretty much seals the deal. With bands like Temples, Toy and Cheatahs all out there making very good and very contemporary rock n’ roll music, I’d say pop music is doing just fine at the moment, thanks.
Cheatahs: Cheatahs (Wichita) Another very bright hope, this UK-based quartet of multinationals here produce an absolutely dandy LP after a few EPs and capture perfect rock 'n' roll precisely: A blur, a distinct melody, reverb, pounding drums, and an evocation of the shoegazer cliché from 20 years back but sounding entirely forward-looking. Good, strong, powerful stuff, blending sophistication and lo-fi in a way that wouldn’t have made sense 20 years ago, Cheatahs and their scattered few contemporaries are making rock ‘n’ roll sound fresh and vibrant again. Recommended.
The Allman Brothers Band: Play All Night: Live At The Beacon Theater 1992 and Live At Great Woods (DVD)(both Legacy) Two packages here commemorating the Allman Brothers Band during their “Second Coming” phase—that is, after reuniting in 1989 and establishing that just as in their early days, they could still be a cracking live band. Package One is a 2-CD set showcasing the band’s extended run at New York’s Beacon Theater; Package Two is a full-length concert performance video from 1991, previously available in heavily edited form. Those who maybe lost interest after the band’s initial break-up and never investigated the reunited band may be surprised by what’s to be had here. The same impeccable musicianship--featuring original band members Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, bolstered by “newcomers” Warren Haynes and Allen Woody, later of Gov’t Mule, and Marc Quinones—is all over the place, and everything sounds fresh and exciting all over again. It’s no small feat for a band with this large a legacy, and these releases are very much worth investigating.
Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else (Bloodshot) Superb showing from this Columbus, Ohio singer whose third album evokes that same peculiar blend of rock & country that the new Lone Justice reissue managed and throws in a little Stevie Nicks just to rock things that much more. Solid and exciting stuff, with an energy and personality that simply leaps out at you, the collection ends with a cover of the Kirsty MacColl/Tracey Ullman hit “They Don’t Know,” evokes that early ‘80s vibe when every new artist was exciting in his or her own right, and then demands a repeat play. A big step up here artistically and, one hopes, commercially.
Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar) Very compelling set from a young singer who’s worked with Will Oldham and Neko Case, has a marvelous voice and a singular style of songwriting that evokes the early L. Cohen/T. Rapp mode without blatantly borrowing from it. She’s an interesting artist who’ll only be getting better, and this is a great second album. Get it.
Camper Van Beethoven: Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweethearts and Key Lime Pie (both Omnivore) This is the pay-off for record collectors, when every single album ever released is having some kind of anniversary and being reissued in a new “deluxe” edition. In the case of Camper Van Beethoven, both albums here are roughly celebrating their 25th anniversary—and that’s probably exactly the right interval needed to pick both of these sets and enjoy them to the fullest. CVB’s adventurous, intelligent approach to music still sounds exactly right to these ears, and Omnivore’s superb packaging and bonus tracks make these indisputable bargains. Next up: The Cracker reappraisal!