Out of town four weekends in a row. That may be fun when you’re 25, but not when you’re a 35-year-old crank like me. Frankly, I’m exhausted.
But I can forget about catching up on sleep, because no sooner do I get home than I get word that my awesome, awesome wife has scored tickets to Games 1 & 2 of the NLCS at good old Wrigley Field. Two words: Suh, weet! Sosa’s dinger in Game 2 was so big, the Pentagon threatened to shoot it down as it passed through White House airspace. The crowd cheered so loudly at his homer in Game 1 that my ears are still ringing. Man, that was fun. Now I could use a nice long nap…
What’s that, Jamey, my fearless editor? I said I’d review about a million six albums this week? Oh yeah, right. I’ll get right on it. Give me about five minutes...
New Zealand native Carla Werner may be a guitar playing folkie (just to fit the stereotype perfectly, she performs barefoot), but don’t dismiss her as a Jewel clone. Werner has considerable writing chops, and a husky soprano for which men would go to war and women would sell their souls. The songs hover in that no man’s land between Neil Finn and early (read: good) Cranberries. That, and she does a killer version of Zeppelin’s “Going To California” live. Greatness awaits for this one
Tragically under appreciated pop troubadour Marshall Crenshaw releases his first proper album since his 2000 best of This Is Easy (a must-have), and his first album of new material in seven years. Not much has changed, except the complete absence of a recording budget: Crenshaw’s songs are still filled with his trademark knack for hooks, melody, loss and a tasteful guitar solo. His 9/11 song, “Where Home Used To Be,” hits just the right note, being a tender tribute without being melodramatic. His cover of Prince’s “Take Me With U” fares better than his cover of Bootsy’ Collins’ “I’d Rather Be With You,” but both, like everything else here, could use a little studio polish. After making some of those most immaculately crafted records of the 1980s, the overall sound on Bag is a letdown. But he can still write better tunes than most.
Ted Nesseth’s Heavenly States, rounded out by siblings Genevieve and Jeremy Gagon, sounds like the kind of album the New Pornographers would make after listening to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for a week and a half straight. It’s smart, aggressive guitar pop, but it’s much, much more at the same time. Opening track “The Story Of,” with a chorus of “Hey, hey/Everybody’s gonna die today,” is the best rewrite of “So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n Roll Star” that the Byrds could ask for, and the firestorm with a fiddle that is “New Parade” will bring a tear to the eye of anyone who remembers the Wonder Stuff at their peak. With guitar pop turning into separate camps of chamber pop classicists and lame Big Star knockoffs, The Heavenly States couldn’t have come at a better time.
Radio is awful, and not only do listeners know it, but the artists do, too. The Pernice Brothers and Josh Rouse have both paid homage to the AM radio days of the 1970s, and now we can add Suggs to the group. Amigo Row is chock full o’ songs that recall Steve Forbert (remember “Romeo’s Tune”?), with a voice that’s a dead ringer for Ray Davies. The music doesn’t gallop so much as it gaits, with an occasional spring in a song’s step but otherwise content to go at a leisurely pace. Suggs may not be a worshiper of the almighty hook, but that doesn’t mean his tunes aren’t catchy. The ballad “New Years,” in particular, is lovely.
Who knew that a harmless medieval waltz would become both the song that catapulted Seal into superstardom and then sent him hurtling into the abyss? The success of “Kiss From A Rose,” which originally appeared on his 1994 sophomore effort but springing to life when it was put on the “Batman Forever” soundtrack, shocked everyone, and Seal now had the task of not only turning in another good record but another hit record as well. The end result: 1998’s Human Being, which was a tuneless mess. The more R&B-oriented Seal IV, luckily, is much better than its predecessor, but still feels off, as if he and producer Trevor Horn were more concerned with retracing their steps than breaking new ground. In the end, the new groove feels forced, rendering Seal IV little more than dance music for people who don’t dance anymore.
Perhaps we have finally seen the end of bands ripping off Radiohead, and instead are staring down three years of bands ripping off the bands who ripped off Radiohead. In the case of Iceland’s Leaves, that would be patently unfair. Their US debut, Breathe, admittedly bears the marks of a band well steeped in Coldplay’s deliciously melodic melancholy, but a better comparison would be to the Doves, who are not Radiohead ripoffs but rather their peers. The standout track is the string-driven rocker “Catch,” with lead singer Arnar Gudjonsson sounding like Ian McCulloch, Thom Yorke and Chris Martin rolled into one. Only time will tell if they overcome their influences and become something truly special. For now, though, Breathe shows a band with tremendous promise.
It’s unclear why this album is being released now, as opposed to 20 years ago, which would have made more sense. (The most recent recording on this disc is from 1977.) But fans of the Beatles and/or classic 1960s soul should run to the store and get this regardless. The lineup is impeccable: Otis Redding’s “Daytripper” is revved up James Brown funk, while Ike & Tina Turner’s take on “Come Together” gives Aerosmith a run for its money. One thing’s for sure: you’ve heard nothing until you hear Al Green sing “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” And the rest of the artists aren’t exactly slouches either, with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Earth Wind & Fire and Marvin Gaye all paying loving homage to a little R&B group from Liverpool. The worst thing about it is that whole soulless cash-in aspect of it, since this album’s sell-by date is long past. But with performances like this, it’s definitely better late than never.
Next: Music Quickies Part 2, featuring Ben Folds, New Amsterdams, and a lost 1980s soundtrack brought back to life.