Van Halen: Bet And Backer Than Ever!

Dave DiMartino
New This Week (NEW)

Like most of us, I'm sitting at home with a bag of ice perched atop my head, still trying to recover from the horrendous spectacle of Sunday's Super Bowl performance--in which popular star Madonna, ready to emerge with a brand new album, dared to dance and sing in front of the entire world in an effort to promote it!

How offensive was it? Let me count the ways!

First, she was disarmingly attractive! Secondly, she seemed a skilled dancer! Thirdly, she was singing a catchy song! Fourthly, the onstage choreography displayed by her entire onstage troupe was precisely performed and a marvel to watch! Fifthly, it was a pleasure watching the onstage guests--celebrities in their own right Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., LMFAO and Cee Lo Green--artfully singing, dancing and performing, abilities we as Americans have paid them vast sums to display on their own! Sixthly is a word I never thought I'd have to use! Seventhly, she's into World Peace! You mean to tell me you're not?

And eighthly, I think M.I.A. likes me!

In short, it was the greatest Super Bowl show of all time! And I have a bag of ice on my head because it's fashionable! I am going to buy two copies of the new Madonna album just to prove my point!

In many ways, we're a lot alike!

Van Halen: A Different Kind Of Truth (Interscope)  One of last week's personal highlights was being able to catch Van Halen's "surprise" West Coast show last week in Los Angeles, and let me tell you right now: It was completely and utterly fabulous beyond belief! A marvel to witness! Nothing bad to report whatsoever! David Lee Roth is still an absolutely fabulous frontman--funny, in good voice, deliberately obnoxious to a delightful degree--and Eddie Van Halen, as always, is one of the world's most spectacular guitarists! Seeing them live and watching him riffing--shrieks, whoops and electronic gurgles in full force--only drove home the point that the man's guitar style has influenced an entire two or three generations of electric guitarists! Drummer Alex remains a dynamo at the back of the stage, and new bassist Wolfie holds his own--and, importantly, together with his dad Eddie, pulls off the onstage backing vocals that former VH bassist Michael Anthony once offered in an entirely acceptable manner! I'm betting this new album will be great! Er, have you heard it yet?

Paul McCartney: Kisses On The Bottom (Hear Music/Concord)   A surprisingly adventurous album for former Beatle McCartney here, in that the multi-instrumentalist plays nothing whatsoever, focusing only on vocals, and the songs, with two exceptions, are classics from long, long ago--penned by the likes of Harold Arlen and Frank Loesser, the sort of thing his dad used to play around the house when he was a mere, pre-Beatle tyke. With superb production by Tommy LiPuma and stellar contributions from pianist Diana Krall, the album is a smooth and cohesive marvel, a labor of love that, however unexpected, helps paint a picture of the forces that have made McCartney's one of the past century's greatest songsmiths. And between this album and Momus's recent Thunderclown set, I do believe we're in the midst of an "Inch Worm" renaissance. In all: fine, and--considering it's Paul McCartney--daring work.

The Fray: Scars & Stories (Epic)  I often get grief from my many thousands of readers--those from Indonesia the most--for supposedly reviewing "album covers" rather than the actual music works within, and let me assert right now: I find that enormously offensive! Take this new album by the Fray, for instance. Apparently their third album, the disc takes its visual cues from the graphics department of Columbia Records during the early '70s; in some ways, perhaps in terms of font or typeface, it recalls the sort of "bonus disc" that used to come regularly packaged with albums by, say, the Flock, Moby Grape or the Electric Flag! And hey--those bands were cool! Clearly, the band agrees, as the music contained within--marvelous songs by the post-Left Banke band of Michael Brown and singer Ian Lloyd as well as Scottish post-punk band Scars--similarly evoke a time long past, when melodies and harmonies and complex ideas and emotions ruled rather than commerce, and you could buy a Hostess Apple Fruit Pie and can of Dr. Pepper for maybe a dollar-fifty and then drive home, watch Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live, and dream of a time when all bars offered free beer and the world could live as one! But yeah, as they used to say, this is one bitchin' album cover!

Dierks Bentley: Home (Capitol Nashville)  One of the current Country market's classiest artists--most obviously in it for the music rather than hitting the Greatest Common Denominator and ringing cash registers--Dierks Bentley returns with an excellent set of well-played, well-sung tunes that derive their inspiration from today's topical events, but never on a blatantly exploitative level, of which first single "Home" is a superb example. Also highlighted by "When You Gonna Come Around," a duet with Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild, Home is a fine effort by Bentley and further proof that he is one of contemporary Country's finest artists.

Air: Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Astralwerks)  Back in my college days I spent some time working the sound and lights at a local "showbar" that would feature repetitive sets by fascinatingly dull bands punctuated by breaks during which I would activate a film projector and show clips of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's always agreeable 1929 film Un Chien Andalou--perhaps you've seen it? That marvelous clip where a seated woman's eye is slit open?--and Georges Méliès' Le Voyage Dans La Lune (aka A Trip To The Moon), which boasts the memorable scene depicted on the cover of this great new album by hip French duo Air. Yep, the man in the moon getting a rocket in his eyeball is pretty much what my life's been all about since the '70s--and if you buy this fabulous album at this very minute, you'll also get a special DVD bonus including the entire 16-minute movie itself, with bonus Air accompanying soundtrack. Classy stuff, delightfully psychedelic, it's a fab return from one of music's most interesting bands and well worth every penny you might want to spend. Featuring Beach House's Victoria Legrand on "Seven Stars," the album is so hip that--religiously speaking--its purchase guarantees you immediate access to Heaven upon your death! Limp Bizkit tried but could never get the rights!

The Carpenter Ants: Ants & Uncles (Alpo Records)  A moment here to make note of a wonderful record from Charleston, West Virginia's Carpenter Ants--a fine, long-lived super-musicianly unit exploring those peculiar regions where blues, country and gospel music intersect--back here with special guest guitarist Bill Kirchin (whose work with Commander Cody long ago remains highly revered) for 16 tracks of memorable, high-quality material. Also present: legendary dobro player Jerry Douglas and producer Don Dixon. The band's interesting links with some of popular music's greatest unknown heroes, like former NRBQ guitarist Steve Ferguson (to whom the final track is dedicated) and similarly departed Brit songsmith Kevin Coyne (whose voice can be heard at the end of one track), should signal that they're a cut above the ordinary; looking forward to seeing them at this year's SXSW fest. More details here.

The Unthanks: The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & the Johnsons: Live at the Union Chapel (Diversions Vol. 1) (Rough Trade)   A superb, unexpected live set from British folk band the Unthanks (real names: Rachel and Becky Unthank) delightfully covering two of pop music most notable individualists, highlighted by impeccable harmonies, creative musical arrangements and spectacular song selections--which, in some ways, makes the admittedly idiosyncratic aspects of the two songwriters' works performed here more "palatable" for newcomers. I'm especially taken with the Robert Wyatt covers--his songs don't get nearly the exposure they deserve--and, considering the rawness of the recordings, am deeply impressed by the talent on display here. Highly recommended.

Mark Lanegan Band: Blues Funeral (4AD)  Commendable artistic growth evidenced by singer Mark Lanegan, who's been around for years with groups like the Screaming Trees, Queens Of The Stoneage and the Twilight Singers, among others, but hasn't released a solo disc since 2004's Bubblegum. Featuring a cast of millions--including Alain Johannes, Greg Dulli, Josh Homme and most of South Dakota--the album boasts well-written material, subtle but always pleasant arrangements, and a maturity that comes with regularly shaving for several decades! It's hip!

Sharon Van Etten: Tramp (Jagjaguwar)  I like the personality and songcraft that permeates most of Tramp and find a lot to enjoy here--in terms of subtlety, sensitivity, and songs that get directly to the heart of things from admittedly obtuse angles. I'm also taken with any press clip that refers to her as "more Anne Briggs than Vashti Bunyan"! I think she's more mammal than bicycle tire, but you'll never catch me writing that!

Of Montreal: Paralytic Stalks (Polyvinyl)  In many ways at their commercial peak, Of Montreal recently shared the Hollywood Bowl stage with no less than Grace Jones--an artist that, if one takes an excess amount of hallucinogenic drugs and stares at her album covers, might be said to resemble actual asparagus! Thus this album title! Word has it the "entire idea" of the Smashing Pumpkins freaks them out!

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