There are some weeks when one looks at new album releases and wonders what year it is!
Here we sit, proudly discussing the latest releases by Bonnie Raitt, Counting Crows, Todd Rundgren and German rockers Accept! It's great! Will they be the biggest releases in music business history and catapult their respective makers to superstardom? Heck--maybe, or maybe not!
Or will their simple existence be just enough to catapult those of us increasingly insulated from reality into a horrendous whirlpool of spiritual apathy and desolation? Like...will anything ever change? Shoot! You never know!
Or will we march to the nearest retail outlet, happily purchase all of them, and find a winning lottery ticket on the walk home?
Nope! That will never happen!
Luckily, there still exist some new artists--some proud, exciting new artists--who will record breathtakingly fresh music, lift us out of our emotional doldrums, and provide all of us with a respite from the same old same old and give us all a reason to live zesty and exciting lives in the years to come!
Guess what? They're scheduled to start making albums in 2015--and most of them are blonde!
Bonnie Raitt: Slipstream (Redwing) It might be easy for some people to take Bonnie Raitt for granted: She's an illustrious Grammy winner, she's been around since the early '70s, making good and sometimes near-great records, and unlike nearly all of her contemporaries, as trite as it may sound, she's never "sold out" even once! As a bonus, she's not bad! Her latest album--her first studio recording in seven years--comes via her own label and offers up a mixture of interesting collaborators, including producer Joe Henry (with whom she's recorded an as-yet unreleased entire set) and NRBQ's masterful songwriter/guitarist Al Anderson. The result? One of her best albums in some time: musical, emotion-packed, and concerned less with raw commerciality than in simply crafting the best record she could make. Never less than a class act, Bonnie Raitt continues to have the goods. See for yourself.
Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls (ATO) Those fascinated by the notion of buzz bands--artists who suddenly seem to arrive fully-formed, immensely loved, and the subject of near-universal discussion--have likely already heard the Alabama Shakes and formulated their opinion of them. As a special bonus, they've just released their first album! Led by compelling vocalist Brittany Howard and originally formed in Athens, Alabama, the charismatic combo plays with a soulful impact that sounds strangely of another era: It's almost like hit singles aren't even in their agenda! Dopes! That this music seems to be resonating with the general public is a marvelous sign; that the band opted to take this approach after experimenting with "many different styles of music including roots rock, progressive rock, soul music, country music and classic rock" is an even better one! Talk about genuine! Still, a part of me listens to this record and wonders, however briefly, how they might have taken "Tarkus" to even greater heights! A winner? You bet!
Counting Crows: Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) (Collective Sounds) Not to sound like a name-dropping, hanging-around-with-the-stars mofo, but I remember a video shoot we did here at the Hollywood Hills residence of main Counting Crow Adam Duritz, and how impressed I was by his more-than-obvious proud membership in the Record Collector Geek Club--he had rows and rows of vinyl LPs he clearly treasured and proudly showed off! This new set, released on the band's own label, now puts that devotion in plain view: 15 cover songs by the likes of Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, Gram Parsons, Fairport Convention, Pure Prairie League and more. And an album title that pays tribute to both Fairport Convention and the Soft Boys? Dude! A well-intended, frankly welcome gesture by Duritz and company, the album will turn on an entire new audience to some music they might have overlooked, and for that, I give them a complete thumbs up. Well, for that and maybe a couple of bucks.
Florence + The Machine: MTV Unplugged (Universal Republic) Renowned for the use of a plus sign in her band's name rather than the quite ordinary ampersand--which I for one am tired of!--Florence and her so-called "machine," actually a few humans, are quite an exciting venture! And surely it could not be clearer via this long-awaited satisfactory cover version of Three Dog Night's "Try A Little Tenderness"! God, they were giants! Frankly, between continuing in the "Unplugged" format "popularized by legends including Paul McCartney, Nirvana, Bob Dylan, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill and Oasis" and with both Kanye West and Q-Tip in the audience, this could be the most exciting album ever! Or, on a planet populated by lifeforms that actually consume vinyl and polyvinyl chloride as food, the tastiest! Here on earth, though, it sits...awaiting your purchase! Do you have the courage?
Monica: New Life (RCA) "To define oneself as 'still standing' is a bold statement," asserts Monica's fascinating bio, apparently from last year, when she released an album and had a BET reality show with that name! But is she standing this year? You bet! The Grammy-winning singer took some time off, got her doctorate in microbiology, discovered a few kind-of-cool new organisms, and returned with a hot album entirely devoted to the subject! Featuring a host of well-known guest artists, including my personal favorites Pop & Oak--damn, that name is fine!--this fab disc by the gal with mostest is a complete mind-blower! Word is that it'll serve as a prelude to her long-promised, "tell-all" album project, All Eyez On Me: The Search For My Last Name--The Saga Continuez--unless, of course, Monica finally sits down! Most people do, eventually!
Lukas Nelson & The Promise Of The Real: Wasted (POTR Music) A surprisingly strong, sturdy venture into that peculiar region midway between roots rock, jam-band fun and straight out rock 'n' roll, this latest album by Lukas Nelson--son of famed country troubadour Willie--is a fascinating listen. Vocally, he sounds quite a bit like his old man might've were he making rock 'n' roll records in the late '60s, but the sound isn't exactly retro: More like Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, at least in terms of their flat-out fandom of pure rock tradition. Highly musical and undoubtedly a live band to reckon with, these guys are worth your time and mine.
Elliott Yamin: Let's Get To What's Real (Purpose Music Group) Another artist fixated on the term "real"--dudes, this never happened before 3D movies started getting popular again--Elliott Yamin was once an American Idol contestant! Sheesh, by now there must be about 250 of them! It's hard to tell them apart! But Elliott, who wears a fine hat now and then, stands out from the crowd! He's wisely realized that by giving his album a title that sounds like it was coined by Winston Cigarettes in the late '60s, someone else has done all the marketing he needs! Now he can shop for more hats! And so can we! Elliott sings good! Like a former America Idol contestant should!
Todd Rundgren's Utopia: Live At The Hammersmith Odeon '75 (Shout Factory) If it seems like there's been a flood of live Todd Rundgren albums in the past decade or so, it should. There has! But this one--a live set captured by the BBC documenting Rundgren's band Utopia's first UK concert appearance--is something a little special. The band is fiery hot (especially Rundgren himself on guitar), the song selection is varied--everything from the Nazz's "Open My Eyes" and the Move's "Do Ya" to some of Rundgren's lesser-known solo songs--and the overall feel is of a band at the very peak of their powers. Recommended for those who maybe stopped listening so much after Todd.
M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion (Merge) A solid and ambitious assemblage of tracks by M. Ward--now, oddly enough, perhaps best known as one-half of She & Him--this set features a number of respectable players, a variety of song styles, some oddball cover songs, and an appealing depth and complexity that may bring you back to it again and again. But eventually the shrinkwrap will come off!
Accept: Stalingrad (Nuclear Blast America) Now working purely as a band for hire, legendary German rockers Accept have begun taking bids from various cities looking to boost their image! Next up? "We're thinking someplace in Arizona," confide the guys! Du bist das, was ich nicht sein will!