Shot Of Rhythm

[ Thursday, February 01, 2007 ]


New release round-up

Well, despite the unusually dismal state of the record business this January (which has currently fallen to its lowest level of album sales in the Soundscan era), a few notable new releases are starting to trickle in from across the stylistic spectrum. Here are a few worth a second glance.

-Norah Jones' popularity is one of the few sure things that the music biz can count on anymore, a seemingly niche-less guarantee. Her new record, NOT TOO LATE, is an interesting third step on what has - so far - been her steady artistic progression, combining the smoky jazz/R&B of her debut with the country inflections of her last LP. Granted, with Miz Jones and bassist/boyfriend Lee Alexander writing all the tunes on NOT TOO LATE, the material is not as consistently solid as in the past, but it's definitely not embarrasing, and the highlights - like the reflective "Rosie's Lullaby" - demonstrate the somewhat astonishing power of Jones' melancholy, country-soul-jazz balladry. I kinda wish she'd indulge her admitted rock-n-roll tendencies one of these go-rounds, and she's yet to sound as playful on her own releases as she has on any number of guest appearances (OutKast, Peeping Tom), but I can't really complain about something so reassuringly consistent and soothing.

Norah Jones - "Rosie's Lullaby," from NOT TOO LATE

-Sunshine Anderson had a huge hit in 2001, with the kiss-off anthem "Heard It All Before," but then the promising R&B artist literally disappeared from the scene, neither hide nor hair of her seen for five years. Thankfully, she's made her return with SUNSHINE AT MIDNIGHT, a strong follow-up that, while it doesn't quite justify its long gestation, surely stands up with the high-points of her debut. "Wear The Crown" is a sexy, soulful bit of hip-hop blues that is easily my favorite cut. Welcome back.

Sunshine Anderson - "Wear The Crown," from SUNSHINE AT MIDNIGHT

-Bill Kirchen's long and illustrious career as virtuosic country-rock guitar player began with the mighty Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, and has included stints with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and many others. Kirchen has also released a series of fine solo records for the past decade, which have recently shifted from the barrel-chested rockabilly of his earlier work to a more nuanced mix of rock, pop, country and R&B sounds that reflect a similar transition by his former boss and bandmate Mr. Lowe. On HAMMER OF THE HONKY-TONK GODS, Kirchen is in fact backed by Lowe, Geraint Watkins (another diamond in the rough) and Robert Trehern, who - with Kirchen - comprised Nick Lowe and the Impossible Birds, Lowe's smoking band of the mid-1990s. The personnel reflects the sound, as HONKY-TONK GODS sounds a piece with Lowe's creative renaissance, Watkins' underappreciated solo work, or Kirchen's recent stylistic experimentation. Kirchen's voice, a limited instrument, has never sounded better or more supple, the material (both original and covers of Arthur Alexander, Shorty Long and others) is consistent, and the band is still as fire-ballin' as they ever were. "Truth Be Told" is a beautiful, gospel-based country-soul ballad, and most directly reflects the artistic journey that has brought Kirchen onto such solid foundation.

Bill Kirchen - "Truth Be Told," from HAMMER OF THE HONKY-TONK GODS

-I approached ENDLESS HIGHWAY, the new tribute to The Band, with a mix of skepticism and optimism. I can count on one hand the number of tribute albums that were worth more than a damn, and I wasn't too excited about some of the talent lined up for this one (My Morning Jacket or Guster, for example). Yet and still, The Band's work has never been memorialized in this fashion, and the material is so damn strong that I couldn't imagine how the better members of ENDLESS HIGHWAY's roster (Lee Ann Womack, Allman Brothers, Rosanne Cash) wouldn't turn in performances that were at least acquittable. I've come to realize that both my initial impulses were correct: this 79-minute behemoth is too long and too ridden with well-meaning, boring versions by artists for whom I've never devoted much attention (like Jack Johnson, who manages to turn "I Shall Be Released" into something listless and lethargic). On the other hand, Lee Ann Womack rocks "The Weight," Jakob Dylan and Lizz Wright find the fragile soul of "Whispering Pines," and My Morning Jacket flat-out nail "It Makes No Difference." The similarity in voices between Rick Danko and MMJ leader Jim James works perfectly, and the strange majesty of both bands comes through.

My Morning Jacket - "It Makes No Difference," from ENDLESS HIGHWAY: A TRIBUTE TO THE BAND

On the box right now: Ronnie Lane, KUSCHTY RYE: THE SINGLES.


Dove With Claws [8:23 AM]

[ Sunday, January 28, 2007 ]


This and that

A few virtual treats from around cyberspace...

-Lil Mama has been getting a TON of online hype recently, showing up on nearly every hip-hop blog that I frequent. Even though I respect the sites that have been hyping her, I was dubious: I've seen one too many young future-of-hip-hop type folks to truly believe that each newcomer is the genre's next big thang. Yet and still, I'm damn impressed this time. Lil Mama's debut single "Lip Gloss," produced by DJ Green Lantern (***CORRECTION: Jamie "Groove" Chambers produced "Lip Gloss"), is one of those roof-shakingly great singles that is, if all goes well, sure to be ubiquitous in no time at all. The track is fresh and energetic, and Lil Mama's rhymes are both age appropriate in terms of theme (thank God) and snarly precociousness. A rock and roll heart nestled inside a hip-hop jewel, "Lip Gloss" may just be the sound of young America. Mark my words.

Lil Mama - "Lip Gloss"

-Speaking of young folks with soul, Joss Stone has always been better, for me, in theory than in practice; I love her spirit, sensibility, and choice of mentors (Betty Wright, first and foremost), but her recorded material hasn't yet equalled her least until now, since - judging by her new single "Tell Me 'Bout It" - Ms. Stone is ready and equipped to rock the block in 2007.

Joss Stone - "Tell Me 'Bout It"

-Wu-Tang damn sure wasn't nothin' to fuck with in 2006, and Raekwon seems poised to make this year no different. Built around The Dells' R&B classic "Stay In My Corner," Raekwon delivers pure Wu soul, with a solid-gold heart and an open mind.

Raekwon - "My Corner"

-Finally, we have a preview of one of my most anticipated releases in the year to come, namely Timbaland's first true solo album. After dominating the charts for the past year-and-a-half, pop's most infectiously creative producer calls on two of his most successful clients (Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake) to help him skitter and shake over another epedemically addictive beat, which follows Timbo's recent fascination with Middle Eastern sounds. Maybe not the best we could've hoped for, this track still sounds mighty good, and hopefully falls in the well-worn hip-hop tradition of dropping first singles that don't represent the record at its best. Of course, I will follow Timbaland wherever he may go.

Timbaland (feat. Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake) - "Give It To Me"

On the box right now: Sunshine Anderson, SUNSHINE AT MIDNIGHT.


Dove With Claws [4:03 PM]