It's a week filled with familiar names! Larry, Bob, Otis, Mike, Linda, Anne Marie and Belinda!
Similarly, many of this week's new releases are by familiar names as well!
I'd like to think it's pure coincidence! After all, if the middle of 2012 brings us a batch of music releases by artists who've been around the block a few times, perhaps have a few gray hairs or, even less tactfully, are dead--what does that say about today's biggest hitmakers?
Could it be that many of them are talentless fops unworthy of any press coverage whatsoever? Could it be that rather than recording albums and making music, today's best and brightest talents are making millions of dollars as computer programmers and entrepreneurs by exploiting the recorded works of other, lesser individuals--directly taking from them whatever small pittances they might make as recording artists until, heartbroken, they begin new careers as short-order cooks who could have once had promising careers but now work the late-night shift at Denny's?
Nope! It's just a crummy week! And hasn't it been hot?
Zac Brown Band: Uncaged (Atlantic) There's no denying that the Zac Brown Band are one of country's music's brightest stars: They're award-winners, they have serious musical chops, they don't worship at the altar of country radio, and, any way you look at it, they rock. This latest set, their third, features an intriguing array of guests--including Trombone Shorty and Amos Lee--and most notably seems very much the work of a band, a group of humans who've been out there on the road, playing together regularly, knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses, and crafting their music accordingly. The result, which is the big win here, is that they don't really seem to belong in any one genre--certainly not just country music--and they're cultivating a brand new audience that seems to be growing with each new release. Perhaps that audience should watch what they eat!
Hank Williams, Jr.: -(Warner Bros.) A colorful figure who apparently says whatever he wants whenever he wants to, and occasionally sings, Hank Williams Jr. is back with a brand new release! Among the highlights are two duets--one with Brad Paisley titled "I'm Gonna Get Drunk And Play With Hank Williams," another with Merle Haggard on Haggard's own "I Think I'll Just Sit Here And Drink"--and a batch of other songs that, perhaps not coincidentally, sound progressively better with each drink you, the listener, systematically imbibe! Cool! With the added bonus of a track likely to become a much-covered classic in today's risqué teen-pop circles--"The Cow Turd Blues"--Old School New Rules may be the best album you've ever heard! Of course, it may also be the cure for cancer or the logical compromise between the oral and rectal thermometer! Above all, this music has possibilities!
Jimi Hendrix: Jimi Plays Berkeley (Experience Hendrix/Legacy) Once you disregard the massive volumes of bootlegs out there in the real world, the number of legitimate recordings released by legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix is depressingly slim. This collection, recorded in 1970 and taken from the same gig that resulted in the making of the Jimi Plays Berkeley documentary (also out now on Blu-Ray and highly recommended), is an invaluable document of Hendrix in his later days. Featuring the entire second set of his May 30th performance at the Berkeley Community Theatre in its original sequence--alongside drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox--the disc is highly listenable, revealing, and a powerful example of an artist whose interest in musical exploration, rather than the trappings of show biz, resulted in works of art that still resonate a half-century later. Recommended.
The English Beat: The Complete Beat (Shout! Factory) Unexpected and a sheer delight, this Shout! Factory collection features the complete recorded works of Brit band the English Beat, whose earliest work, alongside that of the Specials, Selecter and a few other UK artists of the early '80s, launched a memorable resurgence in Jamaican ska music of the early '60s and still sounds quite sophisticated today. The Beat in particular, with such songs as "Mirror In The Bathroom" and "Twist And Crawl," added a degree of songwriting smarts that touched many of their fans at the time; if you haven't listened to them in a while--and frankly, I haven't--you'll be surprised how well all this holds up. Priced extremely reasonably, the collection is a superb value and, for fans especially, praiseworthy for its completeness in terms of B-sides, 12-inch tracks, etc. Track for track, clearly the week's biggest bargain.
P.O.D.: Murdered Love (Razor & Tie) When it comes to American Christian Metal bands--and it generally always does!--you can't get any better than P.O.D.! Renowned for their fierce metallic sound, their general love of puppies and lollipops, and the stubborn insistence on being regarded purely as an acronym rather than thinking, feeling humans, P.O.D. tells it like it, in no uncertain terms, with no holds barred, three sheets to the wind, katy bar the door! This new set, which tells the tragic tale of the emotion Love--mystically given human form, allowed to walk the streets of Van Nuys, California, then randomly hit by a car--starts, goes on a bit, then, perhaps predictably, finishes. It's kind of cool that way! Sometimes when I listen to it, I shiver!
Blodwyn Pig & Mick Abrahams' Band: Radio Sessions 69 to 71 (King Midas) I find it kind of interesting--perhaps you won't--that when this Brit band was out running around, they represented one-half of the choice any self-respecting rock fan was forced to make between them and early Jethro Tull--for indeed, Tull's original guitarist Mick Abrahams departed after This Was to forge his own career via Blodwyn Pig. I favored Blodwyn Pig at the time, especially because their debut set Ahead Rings Out rocked more profoundly than early Tull, but Abrahams' talent as a songwriter would eventually wear thin, while Tull's Ian Anderson grew more impressive as a writer with each of that band's albums. This set--a delectable collection of live tracks by Blodwyn Pig and Abrahams' later band--spotlights the band in their prime and deserves your attention. Buy it today and rethink rock's golden age!
Mission Of Burma: Unsound (Fire) One of the fortunate flukes of my unsuspecting life came back in 1979 or '80 when I was walking around Boston and stepped downstairs into a club where Mission Of Burma--who at the time had released just one, quite extraordinary single--were playing. They were loud, they were spectacular, and, as odd and random as it now sounds, they were the first American band I'd ever heard who actually sounded like they'd listened to Neu! records. Much has happened to them since--acclaim, albums, no albums, splinter groups, reunion albums, and now this: intelligent, fierce stuff that upholds the tradition they displayed all those years ago and bizarrely assumes that those who hear it are intelligent and perhaps have an attention span that exceeds random five-second intervals. Dopes!
Robert Plant & The Band Of Joy: Live From The Artists Den (Blu-Ray) (Universal) The evolution of Robert Plant from iconic Led Zep screecher to glorifier of all that is right with music has been fascinating to watch: Always blessed with spectacular personal taste--repeatedly raving about Arthur Lee, Tim Buckley and Skip Spence, say--Plant found post-Zep redemption via his collaboration with Alison Krauss, skipped out on what would have probably been a depressing full-on Led Zeppelin reunion, and now continues to impress all these years later. This set, recorded last year in Nashville with a skilled band including Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller, features old stuff, new stuff, and stuff stuff--but it's all good, and again shows Plant to be one of the '60s' most unexpectedly adventurous performers as the 21st century unfolds. Excellent.
Debo Band: Debo Band (Sub Pop) Those hankering for a welcome taste of zesty Ethiopian-American music that resides somewhere between the artificial genre classifications of world music, dance music and jazz music will find a lot to like in Debo Band--a classy, healthy signing for Sub Pop, and a sure sign that good music, whatever its origin, will be heard when it deserves to be. Led by saxophonist Danny Mekonnen, the 11-piece band has an earthy appeal that will likely excite anyone who hears them. Maybe you should!
Staind: Live From Mohegan Sun (Eagle Rock) I've heard albums recorded in plush studios, magnificent theaters, tiny bathrooms and cramped closets, but I've never heard a live recording of a band playing obliviously as their spacecraft plummets directly into the center of the Mohegan solar system! But man--these guys cook!