Blog Posts by Dave DiMartino

  • Leonard Cohen's Elegant Return


    Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (Columbia) Given the enormity of his work and the duration and consistency of his output—he’s been making stunning albums since his first, back in 1967, and that’s only part of what he does---it’s difficult not to over-praise Leonard Cohen. And here he is, offering up a spotlessly produced studio album—only his 13th, mind you—just days after his 80th birthday. And like literally all of his others, it is expertly produced (this time by Patrick Leonard), crafted without a wasted note or excessive lyric, and about as wry and knowing in its vocal delivery as any artist out there could ever be. Popular Problems oozes with the Cohen persona, so how could that be less than great? Still, there is the issue of Cohen’s voice; it was never a remarkable instrument (as he acknowledged in his own “Tower Of Song” over a quarter century ago), but its range has diminished over the years and now seems to dwell in territories perilously close to spoken-word. Cohen is of

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  • Morrissey 1, World Peace 0

    Morrissey: World Peace Is None Of Your Business (Harvest) There are very few people in popular music more interesting than Morrissey: He is driven, with the Smiths alone he has left a spectacular legacy—and that was long ago—and, whether via scattered interviews or his own autobiography, his every utterance is persistently fascinating. He is also the best song-titler in the business, and between this album’s title track, “I’m Not A Man,” and “Kick The Bride Down The Aisle,” he has not lost his knack in the slightest. His first album in five years, WPINOYB is substantial, predictably quotable (“Wolf down/ T-bone steak/ Wolf down/ Cancer of the prostate” from “I’m Not A Man,” etc.), and just on the right side of being catchy, which is not insignificant for a man whose major talents have historically been penning catchy lyrics, giving good quotes, and occasionally, almost randomly, being unusually profound. Nancy Sinatra and Pamela Anderson didn’t simply appear in this album’s

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  • Carry On & On!

    Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: CSNY 1974 (Rhino) While fewer records than ever need to be sold in 2014 to be included in Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, one of next week’s expected hottest records will be this 4-disc set recorded in 1974 by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It is indeed a fascinating world. That said, this is actually a pretty hip set: The 3 CDs capture the iconic & hirsute dudes at their mid-‘70s commercial peak, which oddly has so far gone strangely under-represented in their released catalog. And that’s a good thing. Rather than depend on the chestnuts that populated their first two albums, the guys instead offer up a surprising number of tracks from their own solo albums—Neil Young’s On The Beach stuff is the big win, but Stills, Nash & Crosby also benefit by this 2014 re-hearing of their non-hits. Actually, put in that context, it’s worth mentioning that some of the songs that helped define the baby-boomer generation sound distinctly odd all these years later: Think

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  • 'X' Rated And Proud Of It!

    Ed Sheeran: X (Atlantic) There’s a school of thought holding that today’s biggest biggest pop stars should be as visually striking as they are musically memorable. In purely literal terms, that’s completely so here. But is it a compliment? Brit songwriter Sheeran, red-headed and oozing pure guy-next-door friendliness, returns Stateside with an album likely to sell by the boatload—like him, it’s upbeat, friendly, clever almost to the point of pain, and defiantly non-innovative. Kind of boring, but that’s OK. It goes down easy, it’s a guy and a guitar, there’s a backstory here that involves young pop stardom, intercontinental relationships with famous musical celebrities, and, as is his style, there’s “rappish” wordplay that sounds slightly clever now but will sound increasingly sillier in the weeks to come, though thankfully somewhere in here he informs us that he’s “not a rapper.” All told, there’s nothing here less than pleasant, Sheeran seems an all-around young, rockin’ dude with

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  • The Arrival Of Sam Smith

    Sam Smith: In The Lonely Hour (Capitol) Aside from being especially good and conspicuously talented, Brit singer Sam Smith is one of very few artists positioned exactly right to be the very next Big Thing. He’s already caused a stir in the UK charts via appearances with Disclosure and Naughty Boy; Stateside TV buzz via appearances on Fallon and Saturday Night Live (particularly the latter) was major and well-publicized; he’s a Brit Award winner enthralled with the legacy of Amy Winehouse; and his live appearances here, as in last week’s slot at Bonnaroo, have been drawing unanimous raves. In short: he’s got skills, class, doesn’t seem to be tied to any particular overly hyped scene, and his record’s pretty good, too. He and we could do much, much worse. Recommended listening.

    [Related: Chart Watch: Sam Smith Zooms Into Top 10]

    Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (Interscope) It would be nice to feel some genuine warmth and affection for a record that uses all the sonic tools that signify

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  • Rhymes With Geppetto!

    Jack White: Lazaretto (Third Man/Columbia) While it’s easy to admire much that Jack White has done in his career—his melding of business and aesthetics that has focused a whole batch of much-needed attention on old record companies, the glory of vinyl, and art for art’s sake—it’s not especially easy to listen to the guy. This new set is fascinating at first listen: deliberately abrasive arrangements, unexpected wordage like “avuncular,” and song after song gleefully lacking a bottom end, but…the vocal whining? The high-pitched squeals? Please, no more. Rather that seeming genuine and authentic, much of what appears to be deliberately “quirky” and artful on Lazaretto seems forced and academic after a few runs through. Not to mention grating. With the hubbub of the White Stripes long gone, and White’s multiple side-projects now the norm rather than unexpected diversions, when he makes a solo album like this one can’t help noticing: Stripped of his 2014 context, White sounds like the sort

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  • A Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin

    Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin (Deluxe CD Edition), Led Zeppelin II (Deluxe CD Edition), Led Zeppelin III(Deluxe CD Edition) (Atlantic/Swan Song) Certainly the week’s biggest music news must be the gala reissuing of the first three Led Zeppelin albums--remastered, filled to the brim with bonus tracks, and further proof that all great and progressive popular music reached its peak 45 years ago! Well, no, not really, but…if, like me, you return to the catalogs of a certain class of artists—the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, Doors, the Who—every five years or so, then put them away again for a long time, this is a good time to re-evaluate Led Zeppelin. First, all three of these original albums sound even crisper and more dynamic than you might remember; secondly, despite the proliferation of bootlegs that has followed this band since their origin, new “official” releases—such as the first album’s bonus disc’s live in Paris 1969 tracks—remain surprisingly rare; and, equally important, this stuff

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  • Neil Young’s Dream Letter

    Neil Young: A Letter Home (Third Man/Reprise) Between the massive hubbub generated by Young’s celebrated high-fidelity Pono venture and the good/bad vibes associated with the painfully ubiquitous former White Stripe Jack White, it might be difficult to accept this deliberately gimmick-laden missive for what it is: A nostalgic and revealing walk down memory lane. Is it not fascinating that, icon that he is, Young reveals that he is not above being profoundly affected by the works of such contemporaries as Tim Hardin, Bert Jansch, Phil Ochs and Gordon Lightfoot? Or even Bruce Springsteen? For a man whose early work is being systematically reissued via an official “archive” series—featuring him and his guitar playing folkie gigs all over the place—Young is entirely believable here, as a traveling troubadour who might as well be wheeling out various covers during the course of playing three sets a night at anonymous coffeehouses. Given the Jack White-inspired vinyl recording booth, the

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  • Black Keys = Bee’s Knees!

    The Black Keys: Turn Blue (Nonesuch) With its gleefully psychedelic cover and its dreamy, drifting opening track “Weight Of Love” coming in at close to 7 minutes, the eighth album by the Black Keys is really quite good. Part of that may simply be where the band now finds itself in its career arc: Past the point of having to prove much of anything to anybody, young enough to want to do things they or others haven’t simply because they have the opportunity, and as players, pretty sharp guys. Assisted by co-producer Danger Mouse, the band’s Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have put together what they have called “a headphone record,” which is code for the subtle and intelligent sort of music people with three-digit IQs enjoy most while exploring the Internet’s most popular social networks. Turn Blue is evidence that the Black Keys are getting better and not repeating themselves, as often happens with today’s most popular artists, and that even the merest hint of psychedelia is always a

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  • Picturing Lily!

    Lily Allen: Sheezus (Warner Bros.) There is something unexpectedly complete, satisfying and against the grain here on Lily Allen’s third album: For something so intrinsically wrapped up in the notion of fashion—the new and the now—it is every bit as substantial as it is cute and of the moment. There is timely wit, as in its title’s Kanye nod, there is incessantly aggressive name-dropping and social media plugging, and there are a whole lot of words delivered with the singer’s uniquely appealing brand of snark—but, more importantly, there are a lot of good songs here. And a lot of good sounds. I’m inclined to credit Greg Kurstin, a producing, co-writing Allen collaborator who’s back for another round, Allen herself, who is on just the right side of not taking the bastardized celeb-world she made her name in too seriously, her self-imposed “career hiatus,” smartly announced five years ago and largely lived up to, and the boatload of very good songs to be found here. Throw in her

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