Welcome to the week before the worst week ever!
Well, let's refine that. Welcome to the week where all the really good stuff has already been released two weeks ago by record companies intent on making big bucks before the year's all over!
This week's new releases are those borderline projects that someone somewhere decided to release now, purely because it didn't seem worth it to wait until the New Year for what would likely be a minimal cash return! Or that labels were simply contractually obligated to release, so what the heck! Here it is, take it or leave it!
In short: Looking for a good holiday present and Target's all out of fingernail clippers? Check out the album department!
Anthony Hamilton: Back To Love (RCA) Well, now I feel kind of bad, because--to be honest--Anthony Hamilton's one of this era's more interesting R&B singers, he's never really compromised his music for the sake of raking in big bucks, and with a name like that, he sort of seems like he used to act in Perry Mason or something! This new set, which features a guest appearance by the abnormally attractive Keri Hilson, continues in Hamilton's fine tradition of soulful stylings, superior arrangements, and Grammy-winning tunes certain to warm you up on those winter nights when you're huddled around the fireplace and longing for days long past! With songs like "Writing On The Wall," "Pray For Me," and the appealing title track, Hamilton's fashioned an album that takes R&B fully into the future, buys it an ice cream, then takes it to a doctor for a much-needed genetic screening! He's "all that" and more!
Rammstein: Made In Germany (Deluxe Edition) (Vagrant) "Some bands entertain," proclaim the people who are releasing this thing, but--as they wisely add-- "Rammstein destroy!" And it's true! The always entertaining German rockers, who have been studiously mixing hard rock, heavy metal and industrial sludge for 15 years now, return with their sixth album, a collection of their best work, and a snoozefest it isn't! Featuring a bonus disc of remixes---and truly, what could be better?--Made In Germany is loaded to the gills with fabulous tracks that could clearly be Stateside smashes--such as "Keine Lust," "Ich Will," "Pussy," and "Ohne Dich"--if only America spoke German instead of English! But, of course, it doesn't! Still, if you're looking for great music to play loudly in your car when you're cruising up and down shady neighborhoods looking for some action, Rammstein's the band for you! Talk about high praise!
Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa: Mac & Devin Go To High School (Atlantic) The sizzling soundtrack to a science fiction flick in which contemporaries of Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa actually go to high school, graduate with honors, attend college, become stockbrokers and, due to some sharp financial maneuvering, become wealthy enough to purchase a record label to release their music--hah, some chance!--no, actually, the soundtrack to a movie in which poor Snoop is hypnotized into thinking he's an actual Plymouth Belvedere bearing New Hampshire license plates--no, wait, a fantastic social commentary featuring such thought-provoking tracks as "You Can Put It In A Zag, I'mma Put It In A Blunt," "French Inhale" and "Smokin' On"--this album is completely audible, features 13 full tracks, and could well be the album of the year! "Frankly," confide the pair, "our goal here is to further convince an entire generation of impressionable youth that `I'mma' is an actual word!" I'd say they were gods among men if there were any real men out there!
Nero: Welcome Reality (Cherrytree/Interscope) Known to some as British producers Dan Stephens and Joe Ray, apparent big wheels in this whole dubstep thingamabob, and to others as that weird emperor who had a thing for violins, Nero here are apparently aiming for "a dance album that takes you on a journey," and to say they've succeeded would be a wild understatement! When I got an advance copy of this CD and tried to play it in my car, it leapt out of my hands, zoomed down to the gas pedal, and wouldn't let up until I was in Santa Barbara! When I finally grabbed it, it pulled me to a nearby travel agent and forced me to book a flight to Maui! In Hawaii, then pulled me into an airport bar and forced me to order a banana daiquiri! The kicker? I hate banana daiquiris! Overall, it's a pretty good album, though!
The Monkees: Instant Replay (Rhino Handmade) An absolutely wonderful deluxe edition of one of the latter-day Monkees album originally released on Colgems, this Rhino Handmade box set features the original album, a wealth of unreleased tracks and mono mixes, a vinyl 45, some well-written liner notes, and--in short--is just about the finest reissue treatment of a pop treasure any fan could ask for. With its batch of superior Mike Nesmith tracks cut in Nashville, the disc yet again reaffirms that track for track, the Monkees' raw output was vastly underappreciated by critics of their era, and it now appears to be very much their loss. This version of Instant Replay is yet another triumph, assembled with love by the Rhino Handmade people, for which we should be thankful. More details here.
Charlotte Gainsbourg: Stage Whisper (Elektra) Some kudos to be had here for this fine album from Charlotte Gainsbourg, who generously offers up seven new tracks, 11 live tracks, consistently original, thought-provoking material, production via Beck--and who seems to have met a critical Stateside reception strangely overshadowing that of her famous father, perhaps because English appears to be the dominant language here! It's all good stuff, and as such, there would be no point in positing a fictional world in which a young, attractive entertainer has devoted her entire life to protesting the cruel hijacking of her surname to denote a type of dog food that comes wrapped in cellophane and can be crumbled up to trick common house pets into believing that they are eating actual hamburger! That always bugged me!
Miles Davis Quintet: Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 (Columbia/Legacy) Though it's been out for a few weeks, I would be remiss were I not to make note of this fabulous collection--a 3-CD, 1-DVD set featuring jazz legend Davis's marvelous '60s quintet at the peak of their power. With a line-up now stunning in retrospect--playing alongside Davis are Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Willams and Ron Carter--the group tears through several of their better-known numbers with unparalleled adeptness, and--considering that this stuff was recorded nearly 45 years ago--could not begin to sound even more fresh or contemporary. The additional DVD, which showcases the group in Germany and Sweden, is the real jewel here, as it was previously only available via Davis's seriously expensive The Complete Columbia Album Collection. Given its title, let's hope there are more releases in The Bootleg Series coming soon.
The Marvelettes: Forever More: The Complete Motown Albums 2 (Hip-O Select) While it seems like the much-respected Motown catalog has been reissued in various configurations since Stevie was a pup, there's still a significant amount of material that--perhaps due to the label's intrinsic focus on singles rather than album releases during its heyday--hasn't received the methodical, scholarly treatment it's deserved. Following the first release in this series, here's yet another focusing on the complete works of the delightful Marvelettes--one of the label's more interesting acts, best known for early hit "Please Mr. Postman" but responsible for much more, high-quality material. With 4 CDs and a total of 108 songs, this new collection is certain to please fans and collectors alike: mono tracks, rarities, unreleased songs and more accompany the group's final four albums (The Marvelettes, Sophisticated Soul, In Full Bloom and The Return Of The Marvelettes) and in all make this one of the year's finest reissues. Highly recommended.
Picchio Dal Pozzo: Picchio Dal Pozzo (Goodfellas) What the heck, it's a slow week, why not make mention of this worthy reissue by one of Italy's most interesting bands--who first issued this debut album in 1976 and seemed strongly influenced by England's bustling Canterbury scene (Robert Wyatt, Soft Machine, Hatfield & the North, etc.) yet were proficient enough to fashion something slightly similar but now, in retrospect, still markedly different. Excellently recorded and wonderfully arranged, the album sounds fresh, innovative, and adventurous enough to make contemporary listeners wonder what else is out there that they've yet to hear. Check this out if you can.
Thomas & Friends: All Star Tracks (Red General) Brimming with potential hits like "Doing It Right," "Misty Island Rescue" and "Night And Day," the latest effort by rocker Petty and his fearless Heartbreakers crew borders on the avant-garde in terms of its surrealistic art direction--but, as always, rocks to its very core! Steamy!