Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MATT'S MUSIC REPORT

Every six months I try to put together a list of recent and upcoming releases and tours.  This is all about music that I'm interested in and hope you are too.  I used to send this out as an e-mail to my disinterested friends and family.  Now I have a blog to foist it on the disinterested public.  It may scare you to learn I've been working on the list in bits and pieces for eight weeks.  Special thanks to fellow blogger Jim Bates for giving me a first look at his two album reviews (at the bottom of this post).


Recent Releases of Note - in for titles in red, a review follows in the last section of the post
  • Black Crowes - Warpaint
  • Johnny Cash - The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show
  • Johnny Cash - Live from Austin, TX [CD/DVD]
  • Elvis Costello & the Impostors - Momofuku
  • Elvis Costello - This Year's Model [deluxe edition reissue]*
  • Bob Dylan - The Dylan Trilogy**
  • Bob Dylan - Dylan [3-cd career retrospective]
  • Bob Dylan - Dylan [1-cd compilation of 3-cd set]
  • Electric Light Orchestra - Platinum***
  • Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords
  • Gary Louris - Vagabonds
  • Magnetic Fields - Distortion
  • Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch
  • Willie Nelson - Legends of the Grand Ole Opry
  • Willie Nelson - Live from Austin, TX [CD/DVD]
  • Willie Nelson - Moment of Forever
  • Willie Nelson - One Hell of a Ride [4-cd career box set]
  • Randy Newman - Leatherheads [movie soundtrack]
  • Frank Sinatra - Beautiful Ballads & Love Songs
  • Frank Sinatra - Sinatra at the Movies
  • Mark Stuart - Left of Nashville
  • They Might Be Giants - Here Come the 123s [CD/DVD]
  • I'm Not There soundtrack - cover versions of Dylan songs
  • Walk Hard:The Dewey Cox Story soundtrack - many songs written by Dan Bern

Upcoming Releases
  • Stacey Earle - Just Along for the Ride [Sept.]
  • Stacey Earle & Mark Stuart - Love from Stacey & Mark [May]
  • John Hiatt - Same Old Man [5/27]
  • Billy Joel - The Stranger [2-cd reissue] [7/8]
  • Billy Joel - The Stranger [2-cd/2-dvd box] [7/8]
  • Move - 4-cd box set ['08]
  • Move - Looking On [reissue w/bonus tracks] ['08]
  • Sam Phillips - Don't Do Anything [6/3]
  • Frank Sinatra - Nothing But the Best [5/19]
  • Traveling Wilburys - Volume One [6/3]****
  • Traveling Wilburys - Volume Three [6/3]
  • Neil Young - Archives ['08] [on Blu-Ray disc only]

On Tour in the Midwest
  • Crosby, Stills & Nash - 7/16 - South Bend
  • Stacey Earle & Mark Stuart - 6/17 - Bloomington
  • Davy Jones - 7/4 - Indianapolis
  • Alison Krauss & Robert Plant - 7/15 - Cleveland; 7/18 - Lexington
  • Gordon Lightfoot - 9/24 - Cleveland
  • Willie Nelson - 8/1 - Louisville
  • Tom Petty - 6/22 - Cleveland; 7/3 - Noblesville; 7/8 - Cincinnati
  • John Sebastian - 8/9 - Cleveland
  • Loudon Wainwright III - 9/27 - Indianapolis
  • Weird Al Yankovic - 7/3 - Indianapolis; 7/5 - Merrillville; 7/6 - Toledo
  • Weird Al Yankovic - 7/20 - Columbus; 7/21 - Cincinnati
footnotes
*Costello is reissuing his catalog yet again.  The first major overhaul was on the Ryko label in 1993 where bonus tracks were added to each album on a single disc.  In 2002, the entire catalogue was reissued as 2-disc sets, with the original album on 1 disc and a 2nd disc of bonus material.  This new reissue series on Universal represents a further expansion, with bonus tracks added to the original album on disc one and a complete live concert of the era on disc 2.  I’ve already bought ‘This Year’s Model’ three times, so…thanks, but no thanks.

**Box set of three most recent studio albums – ‘Time Out of Mind’, ‘Love and Theft’, and ‘Modern Times’.

***2-disc reissue of the compilation albums ‘Burning Bright’ and ‘ELO Classics’.  If you only get one ELO compilation, avoid these and buy the excellent ‘All Over the World’ from 2005 or 2-disc ‘Light Years’ from 1997.

****The Traveling Wilburys Collection released last year is split into separate discs, retaining the bonus songs from the box set discs.  

Reviews
Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords

This album is basically a collection of songs from the HBO series “Flight of the Conchords”. I raved about last year’s EP here and I think their series was the best comedy on TV in 2007 (find the DVD ). Packaging the songs outside of the context of the show (using the word “context” in the loosest possible way) lacks a little something. In the show, the songs are married to amusing/interesting video, such as the soft-focus French film pastiche of “Foux du Fafa.” The songs “Robots” and “The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)” worked better on the EP as live cuts. For their next album they should look at recording a club show. My recommendation is to buy the EP and the TV series, and maybe download “Bowie”, the song on the album that works best as a standalone.

ONE HELL OF A RIDE – Willie Nelson

It’s hard to sum up a 50 year (and counting) recording career in 4 discs, especially when the artist being memorialized has been as prolific as Willie Nelson. The red-headed stranger has 92 albums by this collection’s count (an album cover gallery is included in the booklet). So, remarkably this isn’t part of the ongoing plot to get you to buy everything you already have again.

The set is a solid overview of Nelson’s output, including the hits and highlights and choice duets. If anything is given short shrift it’s the more recent material. ‘Across the Borderline’ from 1992 was a creative triumph and a return to crossover success and his highest charting album since 1984 (it was also the album that got me hooked on Willie). It’s represented here with four tracks, while the dozen or so albums to follow garner only eight tracks between them. This is a shame, because rather than rest on legendary laurels, Nelson continues to search and explore the musical landscape. So, if your Willie collection is sporadic (I only have the Liberty set and about half his output since ‘Borderline’) this package doubles as an historical document and a great listen.

Gary Louris - Vagabonds

Gary Louris has created his own kind of gospel, but they are hymns for the desperate corners of life. They’re not just about the drifters and drug abusers, but folks like you and me, some drifting through life. The occasional use of a small choir, which includes Jenny Lewis and album producer Chris Robinson, elevates the emotional timbre, particularly on “She Only Calls Me on Sundays”, where it seems in conflict with the song’s subject. The album at times feels depressing, but the arching message is uplifting, as represented in the snippets of lyrics below and summed up by one song’s title lyric “We’ll get by but we don’t know how.”

Some folks look for saviors
Some for missing pieces
Some for earthly ecstasy
Some they look for Jesus
- “Omaha Nights”

I want to laugh or say a prayer
I never had a cross to bear so beautiful
- “To Die a Happy Man”

Find a way
Feel without a trace
Feel fulfillment in this small corner
- “True Blue”


EXCLUSIVE!!  Two reviews courtesy of A Scale Canadian

Mudcrutch
By Jim Bates

I have no idea what possessed Tom Petty to reunite his early 70s band Mudcrutch, but boy am I thankful that he did. Recorded mostly live in 10 days Mudcrutch’s decades late debut album has an early start as one of the best albums of 2008 and in many ways it adds a new chapter to Tom Petty’s storied career.

To catch you up on the story, Mudcrutch was formed in 1970 in Gainesville, Florida. Moving to California they signed with Shelter Records and recorded a single. In 1975 the band broke up and it appeared they would be best remembered as Tom Petty’s first band. However, here we are in 2008 with a Mudcrutch album. Mudcrutch is Tom Petty on bass and vocals, Mike Campbell on guitar, Randall Marsh on drums, Tom Leadon on guitar and vocals, and Benmont Tench on keyboards and vocals.


This is Tom Petty and company at their most country rock. They seem to have more energy and passion then seen in the last few Petty albums. It sounds like everyone is having fun. Apparently the loose fun breeds success. Standouts include the opening folk cover “Shady Grove,” the first single “Scare Easy”, and the Stills inspired “Bootleg Flyer.” You many not be surprised from the titles that these are story songs. “Crystal River” finds a way to be pretty, psychedelic, and hypnotizing. Petty tends to keep it tight on his records, but in “Crystal River” the band jams and stretches out. “Oh Maria” recalls the Almond Brothers and tells a tender love/stalker story about a drug dealer. “Topanga Cowgirl” makes me want to move to Topanga Canyon right this minute. Benmont gets to take lead vocals on “This Is A Good Street. Hey Ben…that is a good song…you should get to write and sing more often. Clearly the highlight of the album is a rocking cover of the Byrds “Lover of the Bayou.” In fact this album seems Byrds inspired. Not the early Byrds Petty usually references, but the later Sweetheart of the Rodeo and beyond Byrds. The album’s only misstep is a cover of “Six Days on the Road.” Not that it is bad, but the world just doesn’t need another average cover of “Six Days.” Note to rock bands…forget this song…

After the disappointing Highway Companion and a few predictable setlist summer tours, Tom Petty sounds rejuvenated and has crafted the most enjoyable album of 2008 so far. I wonder if we will ever hear from Mudcrutch again?

The Black Crowes - Warpaint
By Jim Bates 

Lets get this out of the way immediately. Warpaint does not reach the rarified plateau of Southern Harmony and Musical Companion or Amorica. Does that mean it is a bad album, or in any way a disappointment? No not at all. It just doesn’t rise to the level of two of the best rock albums of all time. Happy?

Ok, now with that out of the way, we can evaluate Warpaint in and of itself. Warpaint is the first Black Crowes studio album in seven years and the first since the Crowes reunited in 2005. It also marks the introduction of Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars on guitar and Adam MacDougall on keyboards. Produced by Paul Stanley, it clearly represents where the Black Crowes stand in 2008 and it appears the band is very happy with the album. This is an album by a band that has grown up and older. They have weathered many personal and professional storms and are still standing. They may not rock as hard as they used to, but the band appears comfortable in their skin and that shows in this album. It is not a new direction, just a continuation of the jambalaya of influences including the blues, folk and county intermixed with good old-fashioned rock and roll, which has been a staple since Southern Harmony.

The album opens with Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution a mid tempo rocker that is a Black Crowes signature. Chris Robinson spits out lyrics that appear to be almost a challenge to the conformity of American Society. In fact, that may be the theme of the album. We have become complacent in the millennial suburbs with out chain lives. It is time to wake up and fight for our utopia...whatever that may be. Walk Believer Walk is a song that so unifies the Crowes and the blues that it makes you wonder how wasn’t written and recorded for Amorica. Fire, brimstone, and guitars. If you aren’t on the bus, wake up and get off the bus. But then the album settles down with Oh Josephine. This song has been singled out by Chris and Rich Robinson as being one of their favorites on the album. What starts out as a folk ballad soon morphs into a jam and the clearly the lyrics “It's too late to play it safe, so let's let it all ride” have become a mantra of the band. In addition, Chris has never sounded better vocally. That being said, the chorus is slightly clumsy in the Chris Robinson way, and the jam and structure of the song does follow closely to Girl from a Pawnshop. Evergreen is nothing but a silly catchy rock song and it is an excellent example of such. We Who See the Deep is a psychedelic challenge to the non-believers and Locust Street is a beautiful country weeper that Gram Parsons could be proud of. In my opinion Movin' On Down The Line is both the centerpiece of the album and a huge shock. “It's all right, sisters, it's all right, brother, we all get down sometimes.” Life, depression, and the strength to hold on and keep moving. This song smacked me across the face and dared me to pay attention. A huge surprise and by far the strongest song on the album. Next up is an energetic bass drum fueled cover of Reverend Charlie Jackson’s God’s Got It. Sadly, we then reach the album’s only misstep. There's Gold In Them Hills is about finding riches in California...could that be the music business...set to an old west kinda tune. A cool concept, it just doesn’t work as a song. Another gold rush allegory Whoa Mule works. “Whoa mule, whoa mule, we're dirty but we're dreaming, whoa mule, whoa mule, we'll both get there someday” Pretty much that is life now isn’t it? The tune itself is a jaunty folk country song that was recorded outside in upstate New York. A very strong ending to a good album, it is another of my favorites on the album.

While they may never scale the heights of their early 90s success either in a musical or commercial sense, this is a better album then I expected from the Crowes in 2008. They continue to fight for what they believe in and while that makes them quite unique in the 2008 music business, it has been a long-standing trend for the band. Give it a spin with an open mind, you might find that you enjoy it.

P.S.: Hey Maxim, I listened to the album 100 times before writing this review. Thank you, that is all.

1 comment:

t-dub said...

T-Dub's List of Upcoming Midwest Shows That Matt Omitted:

The Whigs - 6/20 - Lexington

Shelby Lynne - 6/26 - Newport, KY

The Black Crowes - 8/6 - Covington, KY

My Morning Jacket - 8/16 - Louisville