Monday, December 9, 2013


Here's what I liked best of the new music this year.  Some kid me about my musical taste being older than me.  The average age of the artists featured below is 56.  Norah Jones sort of spoils it.  Take out "foreverly" and the average jumps to 64.

Spirit in the Room - Tom Jones (Rounder) - For fans of Praise & Blame, this is a sequel that equals the original.  This is the comeback that stuck for Jones, returning to his soulful blues and gospel roots to overcome his own kitsch appeal.  Like its predecessor, the album is a treat of interesting covers, including Leonard Cohen, Odetta and the Low Anthem's "Charlie Darwin."  Jones also plays tribute to his peers' viability by covering recent tunes from Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan.  Like the best song interpreters, even without writing the words you believe he lived all of it.  Originally released in the UK in 2012, it did not receive U.S. distribution until 2013, so it counts.

Love Has Come for You - Steve Martin and Edie Brickell (Rounder) - Having only known Brickell from her hit of, yikes, 25 years ago, her vocals and lyrics were a captivating surprise.  Being used to following Steve Martin on the talk show circuit, I couldn't help to keep running into this special duo.  Her lilting drawl set against Martin's expert banjo picking makes you feel so good you almost don't realize all the songs involve some type of heartache.  The forgotten love, the friend waiting to be seen as something more and the old saw about a man finding a baby in a suitcase that had been thrown from a train.  I now think of her as way more than Mrs. Paul Simon #3.  On "Letterman," Dave asked, "Does Garfunkel ever come by?"  Brickell answered, "If he does, it's not when I'm there."

New - Paul McCartney (MPL/Concord) - "New" is your required dose of Macca, to be administered every 4-6 years.  I'm not sure if there's anything edgy modern or revelatory to warrant all the critical hooha, positive and welcome as it is.  It hit me as more of a sequel to 2005's "Chaos & Creation in the Backyard."  Well-written tunes punched with inventive production.  I think McCartney's at his best with producers who let him do his thing, but not fall into self-indulgence.  Many of the songs, including the title track, are bright, catchy pop.  That said, it's amazing how arresting it is to hear him presented with just guitar and vocals, as he is on "Early Days" and "Hosanna."  This is the first album where his voice is showing his age, but it's aged well.

Quality Street - Nick Lowe (Yep Roc) - When you've remade yourself as an old-fashioned crooner, albeit with rockabilly tendencies, a Christmas album may have been inevitable.  Lowe presents a mix of original, traditional and cover tunes.  The highlight for me is "Christmas at the Airport," which finds Lowe eking out holiday cheer while snowed in and then abandoned at the terminal.  That's the cheekiest it gets.  Most of the album is done without winks, sometimes even with solemnity.  "I Was Born in Bethlehem" tells the Christmas story from the point of view of a reflective Jesus - "Where my sweet mother/meek and mild/and herself only a child/gave her best/then took her rest."  Anyone else covering Roger Miller's "Old Toy Trains" would either load up on schmaltz or corn.  Lowe makes it a heartwarming ballad.  Overall, the album's a smooth  sleigh ride that, while I have it on CD, begs for a turntable.

foreverly - Billy Joe Armstrong + Norah Jones (Reprise) - I haven't read up too much on this, but for some reason the guy from Green Day and Norah Jones found out their voices harmonize really well.  So well that they decided to remake the Everly Brothers' 1958 album "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us," one of the earliest mainstream efforts to showcase what we now call American roots music.  The result is supremely satisfying, not just from their vocal blend but the timeless sound of the session players.  I have to admit I was hoping for at least one track where they would have the Everlys (still alive and singing) guest.  I guess the album's a hit, as the NFM label as issued "Songs That Daddy Taught Us: The Original Foreverly Recordings and More" which combines the Everlys' "Songs" and a greatest hits package.

Monday, December 2, 2013


John Ellis of the Milton Caniff Estate announced last month that Steve Canyon on DVD Volume 3 will be coming back from the factory this month.  Fingers crossed that everything runs smooth.  Ellis has gone above and beyond in his efforts to give fans the best, most comprehensive experience possible.

Steve Canyon Volume 4, 1953-54 hits the shelves on February 11th.  This book series is edited and designed by Dean Mullaney with historical essays by Bruce Canwell.  These were two jam-packed years for Steve, as he encounters Princess Snowflower, Miss Mizzou, Herself Muldoon and the future Mrs. Canyon.

Cartoonist Leonard Sansone is profiled in the latest issue of Alter Ego.  Sansone was a contemporary of Milton Caniff during WWII.  Both had popular strips published by Camp Newspaper Services.  Caniff had "Male Call," starring Miss Lace, an affable pin-up come to life.  Sansone had "The Wolf," a leering lycanthrope-headed G.I. on the make.  The article features an interview with Sansone's widow, providing insight into "The Wolf" and Sansone's other work.  There are remembrances of Caniff and a page of specialty crossover art with the two characters appearing together (see above).

The lastet issue of Comics Revue (October 2013) reprints the "Steve Canyon" daily and Sunday strips from October 29th through November 25th, 1972.  This issue concludes an Oley Olson football story.  Will Oley be strongarmed by gambling interests to throw the big game between Maumee and Scioto State?  Ask your comics retailer to order you a copy!

Pappy's Golden Age of Comics is a blog that posts complete stories from vintage comics.  Recently Pappy turned his eye to the Terry series published by Harvey Comics.  Terry and the Pirates Comics debuted in 1947, reprinting Milton Caniff stories from the 1930s.  Pappy has scanned the first four issues.