It's been a somewhat mild year in music, but as always I've found plenty of new stuff to enjoy. The last two reviews are copies of earlier reviews by fellow blogger A Scale Canadian and are reprinted with permission. The 'Vagabonds' review is also reprinted from my own bi-annual Music Report. In an interesting 2008 twist, all of these releases are also available on vinyl LP.
JOHN HIATT - SAME OLD MAN - I initially wasn’t all that thrilled with ‘Same Old Man’. Hiatt’s voice seemed rougher and more strained than even a couple of years ago, the songs made me recall songs of earlier albums, and “On With You” seemed to borrow too much from “All Along the Watchtower” to be considered an original composition. All my complaints fell away on the second listen, with his odes to love and aging struck a chord with me (though only in my mid-thirties, I’ve always felt like an old man). The set opens with “Old Days”, a humorous autobiographical ramble of his early career, spent opening for blues greats like Sonny Terry and John Lee Hooker. The rest of the album is full of love songs: love’s desired (“Let’s Give This Love A Try”), love’s regret (“Love You Again”), love’s forged over time (“Two Hearts”, “Same Old Man”). Another love song, “Our Time”, features some of his cleverest lyrics in awhile:
I traded your arms as you laid spread out on the Sunday paper.
Looked like the crime scene of an angel ghost.
I heard the gate clatter to on the elevator.
I wrapped myself up in it like a cold beef roast.
Fell asleep, was cooked medium and placed on a dining room table in Brooklyn.
THE FIREMAN - ELECTRIC ARGUMENTS - I originally panned this album, but did it before I ever heard a note. The two previous Fireman albums were Paul McCartney’s ongoing collaboration with Youth in making ambient/electronica/experimental music that sounded nothing like normal McCartney or like anything the public wanted to hear. They were primarily anonymous in that you had to be a Macca devotee to know that he was the man behind it. I was puzzled by this release because the patina of secrecy was wiped off and Sir Paul was promoting the album in interviews and on his website
McCartney kicks off with a bluesy rocker, letting the listener know right away this isn’t their weird uncle’s Fireman. He follows with “two magpies”, a quiet acoustic song that would have been at home on the recent ‘Chaos & Creation in the Backyard’ and is a direct descendant of “Blackbird”. The third track is a pop song, and any pretense of hiding behind the heavy coat of the Fireman has sloughed off. That’s not to say it’s your typical solo McCartney, either. There are soundscapes, funky double-track harmonizing, whale song, dog growls, and landing alien craft. On the fourth song, “traveling light”, I swear he’s using the old Beatle mellotron (he owns it). So, while there are flights in to the bizarre, there’s also some classic Macca. The song “highway” sounds like a refugee from the ‘Driving Rain’ album. In fact, I’d put this up ahead of ‘Driving Rain’ in the catalog. Bottom line – McCartney is in a particularly joyful mood that passes through to the listener.
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”
MUDCRUTCH - MUDCRUTCH - 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…
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? [Matt's note - since this writing, Mudcrutch have toured and released a Live EP]
JENNY LEWIS - ACID TONGUE - In 2006 Jenny Lewis broke free from the reins of Rilo Kiley and released 'Rabbit Fur Coat', not only one of the best albums of 2007, but also one of the best solo debuts of all time. 'Rabbit Fur Coat' was a flowing masterpiece of county rock/folk singer-songwriter tunes with great lyrics and nice harmonies provided by the Watson Twins. After the success of 'Rabbit Fur Coat', Jenny returned to Rilo Kiley for an attempted pop cash-in with 'Under the Blacklight'…a highly uneven effort with both some great songs ("15" and "Smoke Detector") and some bad (the woeful "Dejalo") Now, Jenny returns with her next solo album, 'Acid Tongue'. It doesn’t have the flow of her debut and at times comes across as a disjointed set of songs.
Jenny opens up the album with her little girl voice on the pretty "Black Sand". "Pretty Bird" could be a Neil Young and Crazy Horse song…but without the guitar freak-outs…and…well, with a girl singer. Next up is the slinky and shape changing "The Next Messiah". Here, Jenny drops the little girl voice and starts to rock out. The song is eight minutes and forty seconds of Bo Diddley beat rock and male/female sing-alongs. If Jenny wanted to be less generous it almost could have been broken up into two or three songs. Other highlights include the “interesting family dynamic” tempo-shifting rocker "Jack Killed Mom", and the energetic country-rock pop of "See Fernando"…no not the ABBA tune. "Carpetbaggers" starts out strong and only stalls when Elvis Costello starts mumbling his way through the second verse. Jenny recovers, but she really should just have excised Elvis from the song. Also, don’t miss the stunning title track with Chris Robinson on backing vocals. Here Jenny strips down to just acoustic guitar and vocals and comes out with an amazing song about a hole in her shoe, liars, acid, and love. A few of the lesser songs echo 70s pop/rock/country/jazz with a few chamber music touches…nothing bad, they just aren’t that memorable.
This is a good album and it is growing on me, I just don’t think Jenny has equaled Rabbit Fur Coat…yet.