A fascinating array of new releases by well-known names, reissues by people who've been making records for 40 years or so, and debut albums by talentless know-nothings make this the best album release week ever!
Oddly, however, here on Earth we must content ourselves with a rather dull array of mildly OK releases by not-bad-at-all artists whose new albums each cost more than a single month of Spotify or other all-you-can-eat Internet music services!
And one could easily pop for 10 bucks a month and spend the rest of one's financial allotment for more meaningful products like alcoholic beverages, Frito-Lay products, and cheaper-than-ever hard drives!
And after that? It's all up to you!
Peter Gabriel: New Blood (Special Edition) (Real World) A disarming collection of singer Peter Gabriel's best songs performed live with innovative orchestral backing? Hey, I'll take a dozen! The latest by the former lead singer of Genesis is as innovative as you might expect, from its compelling cover illustration--apparently a heat-sensitive photograph of an especially forceful game of bowling--to its well-known, well-loved material, including "Rhythm Of The Heat," "Mercy Street," "Red Rain," "Don't Give Up" and other equally compelling great stuff! And I don't know about you, but the special edition's bonus disc of instrumentals is exactly what I'm looking for when I buy an album by one of my favorite singers! My only regret? There's no mention of where he buys his shoes--as, frankly, I need some new ones, and the shoes one of my favorite singers wears might be right up my alley! Which I guess is where the bowling comes in!
Evanescence: Evanescence (Wind-Up) Those who've followed the previously mentioned Gabriel realize that his last album, a bunch of cover songs entitled Scratch My Back, was recorded with the intention that those artists covered would then record Gabriel covers in return! And in keeping with that theme, here dramatic rockers Evanescence have surfaced in a timely manner with a brand new album paying tribute to Gabriel's latest album cover: Boasting a similarly unique album cover, featuring a heat-sensitive photograph of a bowling album literally being blown to bits for kicks, the so-called Chick & The New Guys are back with an extraordinary batch of rock 'em, sock 'em cheery pop tunes, including highlights "Sick," "Erase This," and laugh-a-minute "My Heart Is Broken"! Word is the album was inspired by some guy who mentioned to the band's lead singer that he always thought "evanescence" was the sort of thing one could observe after dropping a pair of Alka-Seltzer tablets into warm water! Experts agree: He's right!
Ryan Adams: Ashes & Fire (PAX*AM/Capitol) It's been said that Ryan Adams could write a song--or for that matter an album--about virtually anything, but I don't think any of us expected he'd compose an opus this fantastic purely as a result of holding the original soundtrack of To Live And Die In L.A. in his hands one Tuesday afternoon at Amoeba Records! As always featuring a uniquely Adamsian twist--here, as the album cover illustrates, the singer imagines a world in which he now stands nearly a mile in height and is oddly transclucent--the songs are a series of deeply felt odes, most of them dealing with that weird height thing ("Save Me," "Dirty Rain") or the geography of Los Angeles ("Dirty Riverside"), or other stuff that is probably equally compelling if you're a mile-high translucent giant instead of a normal guy or gal driving to work and living from paycheck to paycheck! But, like, I'm just normal-sized! And between you and me? So is everyone else!
Lauren Alaina: Wildflower (Mercury Nashville) "I have always dreamed of making an album and I can't believe it's actually happening," says Lauren Alaina, this year's American Idol runner-up--and all things considered, it's a less disturbing thing to hear than "I have always dreamed of flying a plane and I can't believe it's actually happening" over a Delta Airlines loudspeaker! And it may actually be appropriate to judge albums such as this as being "less disturbing" than being good or bad--after all, it exists purely because a horrifying percentage of American humans deemed this singer "less bad" than any of the other howling, histrionic, and hairy hussies that populate everyone's favorite TV variety show! Sadly, my suggestion that the singer move to Brazil and release an album of bossa nova standards certain to sell purely because of the eerie legitimacy of her name went unheeded--largely because it was uttered in a darkened Sherman Oaks bar to a waiter who barely spoke English! And that was where I lost my wallet!
Ben Folds: Retrospective: Best Imitation Of Myself 1995-2011 (Epic Legacy) I do think a retrospective like this is exactly what a songwriter as talented as Ben Folds needs: All in one place, a collection of his best, most charming and hook-filled songs, the work of a guy who was probably inspired by the likes of Elton John when he was younger, but who somehow managed to craft songs that were just a little bit quirkier, and was that much more likeable for it. Featuring his best work with the Ben Folds Five as well as his later solo material, the album is a rich collection of sharp, snappy pop tunes, always musical and always filled with that extra dash of intelligence that has made him more than just another rockin' piano-playing dude! Buy this now, before he ends up being a judge on some stupid reality TV show!
James Morrison: The Awakening (Republic) The latest album by the acclaimed English singer who most recently made his mark by winning a three-way wrestling match featuring fellow Brits James Blunt and Paulo Nutini, The Awakening features a great batch of zesty tunes, a guest appearance by Jessie J., and--perhaps disappointingly for a generation disenchanted by today's less-than-controversial pop stars--absolutely no mention of his being the Lizard King, an aging Irish fiddler, a member of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, an Australian jazz musician, or a member of the Noisettes! And that's been happening a lot lately! This is so frickin' good, I swear!
Gloria Estefan: Little Miss Havana (Crescent Moon) I find it interesting that as the record business implodes, certain artists now release albums via special deals with retailers such as Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart--and, if you don't hit those particular stores, and don't frequent iTunes, you may never know. Hopefully that won't be the case with this new album by Gloria Estefan--who returns here with her first English album in eight years, in fine musical context thanks to producer Pharrell Williams. A welcome return to dance music, Little Miss Havana boasts four additional bonus tracks in its Target version and will appeal to those who've been missing her. Do check it out.
Martina McBride: Eleven (Republic Nashville) A significant step up for country star McBride--who's moved to a new label, released an album featuring tracks the majority of which she's actually written, and produced one of the more substantial records of her career. Recorded in Atlanta with co-producer Byron Gallimore, Eleven features songs certain to resonate with her loyal fan base and--in the case of the emotionally wrenching, cancer-themed "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," perhaps reach an entirely new audience. Well-meaning, and well done. And like the Gloria Estefan album above: The deluxe version of this album, exclusively available at Target, features three additional tracks ("You're In My House Now," "Closing Time," "Ask the Boy," and "I Give it to You") and three music videos--so fans, take note.
Cream: Live At The Royal Albert Hall 2005 (Blu-Ray) (Eagle Rock) Not to sound like an extraordinarily elder gentleman, nor a namedroppin' mofo, but I did manage to see Cream twice back in the late '60s when I was a mere youth and, unexpectedly, in the early '90s when they reunited and played upon being admitted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. During the latter occasion, I marveled that guitarist Eric Clapton in particular had it within him to sound "like that"--screeching, fuzzy, howling, loud--when it was called for, and was grateful that I was able to see him in concert with Cream that one last time. But wait! He did it again, of course, and the occasion was captured before cameras and is yet again available here, this time in the Blu-Ray format. Featuring Clapton and his hallowed bandmates Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, Cream were extraordinarily good and--strangely--now seem less celebrated than I think many of us back then might've imagined, ironically eclipsed in popularity by the groups formed by the guitarist's later Yardbird replacements, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Stupid hippies! Buy this today!
Mayer Hawthorne: How Do You Do (Universal Republic) Everyone's talking about Michigan singer Mayer Hawthorne! Unfortunately, most of the talk is focusing on the precise moment when he was born and his parents looked at each other and said, "What a lovely baby! Let's call him...Mayer!" But if this album title is any indication, he's certainly polite! So cut them some slack!