On this historic night—Election Eve, 2012—I am compiling a list of this week's most compelling album releases and marveling at the history also on display!
Which is to say: Maybe half of these are by people who are really old or dead!
And while it would be easy to look inward, to perhaps say the blame is mine—for not keeping up with all that is cutting edge, to look for a familiar name to blather about semi-intelligently rather than to have to actually listen to stuff more than once—that would be inaccurate!
Between you and me? I'm just really into inoffensive stuff by artists with nice logos!
Aerosmith: Music From Another Dimension! (Columbia) The long-awaited sequel to Thomas Dolby's multi-platinum masterwork Aliens Ate My Buick, this new Aerosmith disc—their first all-new set in 11 years—offers up an intriguing concept that is startlingly unique: What if a giant Aerosmith logo came down from the heavens and wreaked havoc throughout all our greater metropolitan areas? From its spoken intro, borrowing heavily from The Outer Limits—a show that, oddly, came and went when the aged dudes involved were in elementary school and has no relevance to their contemporary audience—to its outro, which probably features the same thing if you can listen long enough, the album is a parody of a rock 'n' roll album by a band that was a parody of a rock 'n' roll band midway through their first album. So yeah, it's pretty great! And like all great albums, Music From Another Dimension provides answers to questions you never knew were being asked! So to save you some time: 1) The dimension the music is coming from is the 16th, where the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds never existed and Aerosmith were actual innovators; 2) Yes, it is true that the only logical word that can precede "havoc" is "wreak" and 3) Ending your album title with an exclamation mark is a profound way to ensure sales, establish both your enthusiasm and creativity, and catch the attention of morons! So I've been told!
Ne-Yo: R.E.D. (Motown) Few would argue with the talent of Ne-Yo—unless it detached itself from the man, took on human form, and said uncomplimentary thing about one's mother—and there's no denying that R.E.D. may be the album of his career! Though word is the title is an acronym for "Realizing Every Dream," it's obvious to most of who are deeply enmeshed in the inner workings of the music industry that the album's title is a direct retort to the recent bestseller by Taylor Swift—whose album shares not only the same title (sans the punctuation) but also the unexpected statement of allegiance to Communism! It's like—hey, did I miss something? Still, this album rocks, grooves, swings, and other verbs, and is exactly the album you'd want to be playing if a TV crew came over to your house and wanted to catch a cameo of you "just chillin'" at home! On this night of nights, however, can one be blamed for wondering exactly what the talented performer will say tomorrow when he dutifully goes to the polls to vote and is asked—in all innocence, one hopes—"Let me get this straight, sir. Your last name is 'Yo'?"
Jethro Tull: Thick As A Brick: 40th Anniversary Special Edition (CD/DVD) (EMI) One of the highlights of being a longtime music fan in 2012 is my ability to hear music that I was perhaps less than impressed with during its initial emergence and "rehear" it, now that all musical standards have enthusiastically leapt into the toilet! And so it is that I now wholeheartedly embrace legendary Brit album rockers Jethro Tull who—if I might be candid—I became less interested in after their 1968 debut This Was, perhaps unfairly, and thus never really gave a fair shake! I like them quite a bit now, and am even more enthused about their work with this release, which features the album's original mix, and a whole batch of new mixes, 5.1 and otherwise, by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson! The latter's extracurricular remix work on Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Caravan, and the King Crimson catalog is consistently remarkable and worthy of your hearing; not incidentally, by listening to at home, where most 5.1 stereo systems work best, you can avoid going out and maybe—who knows?--getting mugged by thugs who like to beat up old guys because "they're fun"!
Imani Coppola: The Glass Wall (Plush Moon) Boy, the number of times I've been deeply impressed by female artists who are smart, sassy, wise-ass, great singers and songwriters, and the sort of people I'd like to go hang out at a bar with for half a night must number about three at this late date—and I would put Imani Coppola at the top of the list. The singer, who's been around for a while and completely sold me with her whole Little Jackie persona back with 2008's The Stoop, is scarily intelligent--and her albums, however uncompromising, are never less than fascinating, wholly enjoyable documents. She's completely fab, and I get the sense the world has yet to fully catch up with what it is she's attempting to do. And that would be: make a living.
Paul Kelly: Spring And Fall (Gawd Aggie) Here's the first new album in several years from distinguished Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, and it is fine indeed. The singer, highly regarded in his homeland and equally by songwriters who recognize the staggering consistency of his catalog—this is his 19th album—has rarely repeated himself, and this latest, an emotional song cycle, is one of the year's unexpected jewels. Listened to from start to finish, the mostly acoustic tracks detail aspects of a personal relationship that are accurate, often jarringly intimate, and penned with a degree of intelligence and warmth that few contemporary songwriters can match. Highly recommended.
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Ultimate Creedence Clearwater Revival: Greatest Hits & All-Time Classics (Fantasy) For its price and the music contained within, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better deal than this 3-CD collection of tunes by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the John Fogerty-led band whose diverse music throughout the '60s sounded timeless the moment it was recorded. Jam-packed with familiar hits still heard regularly on the radio--and on movie soundtracks attempting to document life in the '60s—the album features two discs of familiar tracks and a third disc of live performances that still sound freakishly fresh. In retrospect, it's interesting how the band rose to fame during a period when its contemporaries were focusing on albums rather than singles; while this set collects the hits, their over-familiarity to people of a certain age might indeed make the band's first two albums (with their extended "Suzie Q" and "Keep On Chooglin'" landmarks) an even more inspired purchase. But who could ever argue with the goods on display here?
All India Radio: Red Shadow Landing (Inevitable) Must continue to sing the praises of Australian combo All India Radio, who while being neither All or India or Radio, are nonetheless masters of putting together dreamy instrumental rock music that evokes Italian film soundtracks, the sort of music you want to hear while you are watching credits rolling down a screen and wondering who wants to drive you to the liquor store, or the stuff you'd want playing in the background were someone to film you driving into the ocean from a steep cliff and play it in extremely slow motion. Largely the work of one Martin Kennedy, who has worked with many people whose names you'd probably recognize—though, sadly, neither Mitt Romney nor Herbert Hoover—Red Shadow Landing is precisely the album you'd want to hear if you were watching your blood sugar levels and the waitress forgot you ordered a Diet Coke! No tip for her!
Simon Townshend: Looking Out Looking In (Eagle Rock) I've got more than a few albums by Simon Townshend; if you don't know, he is a guitarist and singer/songwriter much like his famous brother Pete, and is, in fact, also a touring member of the Who at this late stage. While I'm sure he's sick of seeing the name of Chris Jagger—Mick's brother, who managed a few respectable albums of his own in the past—what the heck? It gave me something to write about a second ago! But as albums go, this is not bad at all; he's got quite a bit of his Pete's melodic ear and is apparently less self-consciousness about penning lyrics that will be examined ad nauseum by generations of the future--and as the album cover illustrates all too well, has absolutely no idea where his big brother has hidden his guitar! Hah!
Bert Jansch: Heartbreak (Omnivore) A legendary figure in early British folk circles, and a hugely influential guitarist, Bert Jansch left us an extensive and quite wonderful catalog upon his passing in 2011. Whether by himself, paired with fellow guitarist John Renbourn, or in Pentangle, the pioneering group in which they both rose to considerable fame, Jansch was heard and deeply appreciated by a diverse lot of musicians that included Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Donovan, and Johnny Marr, among many others. This set, a fine one recorded in 1981, is now reissued and bolstered by the inclusion of a separate live set recorded at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California. Those who've heard his name but not his work might want to explore his early '60s catalog first—but for fans, this is welcome indeed.
All That Remains: A War You Cannot Win (Razor & Tie) An unexpected reunion album by one-time Nickelodeon stars Kenan and Kel, this fab set boasts a surprisingly "hip" cover considering its subject matter! Still, devoting an entire disc to a "never ending war against kitchen grease" may be just the thing you'd expect from these orange soda-lovin' mofos! You bet it rocks!