Sunday, March 12, 2006

MUSIC: What's On In the Car, Vol. 2

Ok kids, time for the second installment of me talking about the six cds currently playing on the cd changer in my car:

1. Tommy Keene—Crashing The Ether (Eleven Thirty)
The eternally classy songwriter delivers yet another brilliant addition to his legendary body of work. Tommy’s pop remains definitively powerful, his trademark sound firmly intact as he continues to easily rise above others working the angle of the jangle. Simply put, Tommy makes outstanding and intelligent melodic rock music. Some may complain he keeps making the same record over and over again, to which I say, "And the problem is?" From where I sit, it’s always been a great record. Tommy’s taken the obvious influence of classic ‘60's & ‘70's power pop and developed an instantly recognized sound all his own, and it’s all on display once again on this new record. Tommy’s resplendent guitar work remains the most formidable weapon in his melodic arsenal. Every riff melodically imaginative, every guitar solo perfect and exactly what you want to hear. And as always, Tommy’s lyrics intelligently rise above the usual sophomoric displays of others in the same genre. This time out they’re even more world-traveled and cinematic, with specific cities and persons name checked. We’ll assume the song "Warren In The ‘60's" is about you-know-who. I’ve loved everything Tommy has ever done, and I certainly hope he continues to forever make records as good as this one.

2. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs—Under The Covers Vol. 1 (Shout! Factory)
In which the two pop masters team up and cover every great song from the late ‘60's that you’ve ever wanted to hear them sing. Simply put, it’s all very breathtaking. If you’ve ever loved any of the following classics, listed here, then prepare to be completely blown away. What’s so damn wonderful and refreshing about this record is how the duo let the greatness of the original versions be their guide. We’ve had years and years of artists offering their own various "original interpretations" of these tunes, so it’s fantastic and dare I say quite courageous to hear the fandom and passion Sweet and Hoffs have for this music obviously coming through as they deliver versions faithful to the vocal arrangements, instrumentations, and overall vibes of the originals. Sweet and Hoffs each posses distinct and classic pop voices of their own, which is why I think they were able to stick to the original arrangements of these songs and successfully pull them off so effortlessly. I mean c’mon already, Hoffs was born to sing the Left Banke’s "She May Call You Up Tonight", easily the standout track of the album. And for my money, Sweet’s vocal highlight comes on a devastating version of Neil Young’s "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"—a version that can teach the poseurs out there a thing or two. But hey, every track here is a gem, and I honestly think that their versions of the Bee Gees’ "Run To Me" and The Stone Poney’s "Different Drum" could actually be big hits even in today’s fractured commercial climate. I also need to give major props to my old homie Ric Menck’s outstanding drumming on the record as well. Faithful to the originals, yet like the singing on this record, Menck’s drumming is also refreshing and original in it’s own unique way. Ric is one of the best drummers in all of rock, and deserves greater recognition of it. The record also serves as a nice little homage to Sweet & Hoff’s hometown, as seven of the fifteen cuts are Los Angeles rock classics. I just keep playing this record over and over again, as it’s already my favorite album of 2006.

3. Sparks—Hello Young Lovers (In The Red Records)
Our heroes choose various takes on love and lust as the thematic center of their twentieth album. Of course love is never ever easy in Sparks-world, meaning you get songs knee deep in majestic yet bitter irony like "Dick Around" and "(Baby, Baby) Can I Invade Your Country." The overall sound and shape of Hello Young Lovers picks up where their previous masterpiece Lil’ Beethoven left off: A sound so original it can only be described as Sparks, but if you must have something to go on, disjointed-Broadway-show-tunes-on-the-strongest-acid-possible-yet-still- somehow-qualifying-as-rock-n-roll is the best I can do. The rock this time is represented by the increased use of crunchy electric guitar, something absent from their music over the past ten years. You either "get" Sparks or you don’t, and if you do, then you’ll be wanting to run out and get this one. It also features what may arguably be their greatest album cover ever, which is really saying something, given the many classic album covers in their legendary catalog.

4. Hampton Hawes—northern windows plus (Prestige)
A Prestige two-fer that pairs the jazz piano legend’s 1973 Montreux Jazz Fest live recording Playin’ In The Yard, with the David Axelrod produced funky masterpiece from 1974, Northern Windows. I picked this up after reading an interview with legendary bassist Carol Kaye in which she raved about her playing on Northern Windows as some of the best of her amazing career. ‘Ol girl wasn’t lying either, her playing on Northern Windows is pretty unbelievable. You rock fans out there who love Steely Dan’s Aja will probably find much to like with Northern Windows. Same era, same vibe, similar grooves, same outstanding musicianship all around, with both Hawe’s & Kaye’s respective genius meeting as it’s center. Definitely a document of it’s time, you’ll feel as if you’re cruising LA’s Sunset Strip in the Starsky & Hutch Gran Torino!

5. Electric Six—Senor Smoke (Metropolis Records)
I’ve always thought of Detroit’s Electric Six as the bastard punk rock sons of What Up, Dog? era Was Not Was. And like the Was Brothers before them, this combo offers a non-stop melting pot of every great musical style to emerge from Detroit over the last forty years. Everything great about Detroit music is represented here, from the hardcore kick-out-the-jams hard rock to the hardcore R&B grooves, and everything in between—all delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer! What I’ve always liked best about Electric Six is their courageous use of good old "four-on-the-floor"disco as their main groove. And what’s so great about it is how effortlessly they make that undeservedly derided beat rock like a motherfucker. Lyrically, new school takes are offered on the old school Detroit "guns, dope, & fucking in the streets" socio-political. Their stance is "The world is fucked, we’re all gonna die, so meet me on the dance floor and we’ll dance our way through the apocalypse," all sung with humorous pirate-like flair and gusto also reminiscent of Was Not Was. Though not quite the full frontal assault of Fire, their masterpiece debut, Senor Smoke is still an impressive follow up. Simply put, Electric Six kicks some major ass!

6. Ray Davies—Other People’s Lives (V2 Records)
Though definitely not a Kinks record, it does happen to be one of the best records this man has ever made.


Anonymous said...

The Sid n Susie stuff is gorgeous. In the hands of lesser talents, this concept would fall flat. Instead, it cements their icon status.


Stephanie said...

Yeah, but does Ray still want you for your body?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Ray used to call me a magnet, though I didn't know it was him until years later. Ray is good at hiding.

-joe said...

Hoffs & Sweet's version of "She May Call You Up Tonight" is a magical revelation. The arrangement remains the same, the performance is true to the original, but with one minor (and earthquaking) difference: They do it as a dialogue between a man and a woman, which both opens up AND distills the lyrics. It's pure genius, and much like Aretha Franklin taking "Respect" away from Otis Redding (with his awed permission), Sid & Susie's version trumps the Left Banke's. It's now THEIR song, and it's spectacular.