Listening to Carole King’s “Legendary Demos,” you enter an alternate pop universe where her stardom didn’t begin with 1971′s “Tapesty” but actually got under way a decade or so earlier, with King herself enjoying the spoils of her songwriting instead of giving her hits away to everybody from the Shirelles and Righteous Brothers to Aretha Franklin.
It’s a fun exercise in “What if…?” – and maybe a slightly wistful one, since “Legendary Demos” makes you feel that maybe we lost something by not having King kick off her recording career until 10 years after she’d established her writing career. She could’ve been a great 1960s hitmaker; the mystery is why no one forced her Jane Hancock onto a recording contract years sooner. Read full review
Bands are rarely led by their drummers – there’s too big a risk of 25-minute tom-tom solos. But David Maclean, mastermind of the delightful new group Django Django, is an exception. He and his band take a light, spry approach to their groove-centered music, which is experimental but never dour. On their debut (which came out overseas in January), the Djangos are minimalists, working in the lineage of Stereolab, krautrock and the softly alien sounds of Brian Eno. Guitarist Vincent Neff sings about modern life (“the rattle of drums, the click of my thumbs”) and the dazed feeling of getting lost in nature. And wherever they travel, Django Django sound relaxed and joyful.
For an impeccably crafted pop-rock record, Train’s sixth LP is surprisingly deranged. That’s thanks to Pat Monahan’s lyrics, an eccentric, grammatically dubious mix of confessions and score-settling. In one song, Monahan pledges that when he gets to heaven he’ll hang with his wife and ignore the celebs (like “the dude who played the sheriff in Blazing Saddles”). There’s philosophy (“Even Bieber ain’t forever”), and a song where Monahan calls his beloved a mermaid and name-checks Johnny Depp. It’s all catchy enough to keep you listening, slack-jawed.
For the right kind of fuzzed-out rock band, gaining a bigger audience doesn’t have to mean leaving the garage. Sure, these days plenty of lo-fi acts– from Wavves to Dum Dum Girls to Cloud Nothings– have left the scuzzy sonics behind, as Pitchfork contributor Martin Douglas recently noted over at Passion of the Weiss. And it definitely works when, say, Smith Westerns embrace swooning Britpop balladry, because those Chicago glam-brats’ songs already had a certain teen-dream sweetness to them. But their former tourmates Davila 666 are a different case. You wouldn’t hire a big-budget remixer to scrub the grit out of “Wild Thing” or “Louie Louie”, would you? Read more...
NYC country folk collective The Little Willies have seen six years between the release of their debut and their latest album, For the Good Times. Still nursing a knack for twangy Americana, the group sounds more refreshed, energetic, and jazzier. With Norah Jones on keys, occasionally trading vocals with Richard Julian, the group’s breezy, swing-heavy sound is equal parts honky tonk and hopping jazz club. Each member of The Little Willies has his or her own solid musical identity outside of the group, but together they’re a powerhouse. For the Good Times is a covers record, sampling some legendary tracks from the country cannon, including Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, and these musicians give everything a fresh, breezy jazz tone much like that of Jones’ early work. The group’s adoration and close study of these staples occasionally alters or outstrips the power of the original, an important feat in a cover album. Their take on Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” fails to channel the fury of the original, but takes a steadier, more lamenting approach. Lynn’s original is feisty and cute, while The Little Willies make it mournful, with just enough rhythm to keep you engaged. The title track is an endearing take on the Kristofferson original, mirroring their sweetly haunting version of “Jolene” that serves as the album’s curtain call.Instrumental “Tommy Rockwood” is the only original track on the album, written by guitarist Jim Campilongo as the result of hours-long walks around New York City to kick his smoking habit. The distraction tactic clearly worked, as the whimsy shines in the tumbleweed, much like their idols. A well-crafted nod, For the Good Times finds the Little Willies showcasing their favorite pastime—giddily playing standards with their bandmates. Equal parts good time and fresh, original takes on these classic tracks, the band offers a medley of styles that color these standards in a new light.
Essential Tracks: “Permanently Lonley”, “For the Good Times”, and “Tommy Rockwood”
Do you remember when rock ‘n’ roll was fun? When you listened to rock to bang your head and yell the lyrics at the top of your lungs? If you don’t remember, or never have, well, it’s a shame. Bands like The Darkness, Electric Six, and Andrew WK have made rock fun again, and are continually trying to reclaim rock from the more serious folks. It’s easy to toss these bands aside as kitschy and over-the-top, but they just want to show you a good time. Foxy Shazam leads the pack. Their newest release, The Church of Rock and Roll, has crunching, blasting guitars, soaring vocals, and entertaining lyrics that will restore your faith in rock as a fun genre.
“Fallen Empires,” the sixth studio album from Northern Ireland’s Snow Patrol, drops today after more than three years of radio silence from the band. Despite the lull, lead vocalist Gary Lightbody explains that the six months they took to the make the record in the Malibu sunshine heavily inspired them, allowing a more creative process and dramatically affecting the tone of the album. Here’s a track-by-track look at “Fallen Empires”.
Old-school country outfit the Sweetback Sisters, who made their lauded 2009 debut with “Chicken Ain’t Chicken,” have no siblings in the band, are two-thirds male and hail from deep in the heart of … Brooklyn, N.Y. They call themselves a “renegade retro-band that mixes country, swing and honky-tonk.”
Truer words were never uttered as evidenced by this sophomore release.
Fronted by singing “sisters” Zara Bode and Emily Miller, the sextet specializes in close girl-on-girl rockabilly vocals like an estrogen version of the Everly Brothers. With nary a hint of irony or postmodernism, these six players revel in ’50s sounds to the point of recording on analog equipment, giving their music an organic warmth. Sporting four songwriters, the band creates originals that sound classic while making tunes by Patsy Cline, Hazel Dickens, Dwight Yoakam and the Traveling Wilburys sound fresh and energized. Read more...
Does the world still remember Gillian Welch? Maybe best known among mainstream listeners for her entanglement with the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack back in 2000, it’s been eight long years since Welch released an album.
But questions about timeliness lose meaning pretty fast when listening to Welch teamed with her nearly symbiotic collaborator David Rawlings. Long trafficking in a sometimes spare yet intricately drawn sort of Americana that could fit just as comfortably at the turn of the 20th century, their latest delivers the same deceptively simple alchemy of dustily lilting voices, vivid lyrical twists and crisp acoustic flourishes. Read more...
She’s a best-selling poet and has appeared in movies and on TV, but Jill Scott is tops when she’s at the mike. One spin of this Philadelphia native’s terrific new soul record makes you wish she was less distracted by side projects that have kept her out of the studio for five years. Every one of the 14 songs of “The Light of the Sun” — and even its lone spoken word poem, “Womanifesto” — makes you think of the words strong and soulful.
The collection starts on a high note with “Blessed,” with Jilly from Philly sashaying between R&B and hip-hop. It has a surprisingly gentle melody, almost a lullaby, accompanied by lyrics in which Scott tallies up what’s right about her life, such as her 2-year- old son. Uplifting, it sets the stage for other like-minded tunes that brim with grown-up themes. Read more...