Category Archives: Music Reviews

Album Review: The Bad Plus (Joined By Wendy Lewis): “For All I Care”

badplusforallicareAll About Jazz — If you are The Bad Plus, and you’ve spent your acclaimed and wacky career dismantling pop and jazz tunes down to their barely recognizable components—spreading those components around like bike pieces on a garage floor and building them back together into a state that bears only occasional resemblances to its source material—it is not the easiest thing in the world to advertise for helpers.

But when the band found itself looking to employ a singer for the first time, the hiring process was surprisingly speedy. “We felt like it was time for something different, (but) we didn’t want to get a jazz singer,” says bassist Reid Anderson. “We wanted someone with a direct approach, because that’s really what we do as well.”

The Extended Review, over at All About Jazz.


PopDose Flashback: Tone Loc, “Loc’ed After Dark”

c90402m5yqlPopDose — There’s no way around this: Tone Lōc’s 1989 debut, Lōc-ed After Dark, is COMPLETELY ADORABLE. The elementary, dubious and occasionally tortured rhyme scheme (”lax-adaiscal’ with “that’s the way to go,” “night” with, uh, “tonight”)! The sustained reports about how skilled a rapper one can be without actually rapping anything! The neurotic reliance employment of the first four break-beats in the history of the world! Lōc-ed After Dark may be the only album with the word “motherfucker” in it you sort of feel like you could play for your kids.

The full review, via the extremely good people over at PopDose.



Review: Guns N’ Roses, “Chinese Democracy” (No, really)

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Popdose — Unless you spent a lot of time in the company of William Shatner, “Chinese Democracy” will likely be one of the most ridiculous audio recordings you ever come across. It is sprawling and stupid and ludicrous and hilarious and will make you shoot milk out of your nose and cringe and it is not very good and sometimes extremely terrible, and just when you think things cannot possibly get any more extraordinarily strange, that’s when Axl Rose drops the MLK sample on you.

Originally slated for release in 1948, “Chinese Democracy” comes out Sunday exclusively for people shopping for Black Friday-sale plasmas at Best Buy, a wise promotional stunt and kind of an all-in proposition — if putting this record out this week doesn’t create interest or move units, nothing will. Because one thing is sure: The songs won’t sell it. Read the full review via the good people at PopDose.


Concert review: Against Me!, Ted Leo continue the debate on, um, Hilton Head

Billboard — To say that local music fans were surprised to see Against Me! and Ted Leo booked on Hilton Head is to substantially repurpose the definition of the word. If they’d have woken up tomorrow with their head sewn to the carpet they wouldn’t have been more surprised.

It’s tough to overstate how weird it was that an agit-punk show featuring the left-leaning Ted Leo + the Pharmacists and the lefter-leaning Against Me! occurred at all Hilton Head, a lovely and moneyed barrier island known more for its well-manicured golf courses, unmanageable traffic circles and superb landscaping than punk, or rock music, or music. Frankly, watching the smokers from the sweaty, multiply pierced punk crowd mingle outside with the Polo-and-khaki-shorts set from the adjacent swanky tourist piano bar was kind of worth the price of admission alone.

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Live review: Jimmy Buffett at the Time Warner Pavilion, Raleigh

Billboard — Jimmy Buffett has dubbed his 2008 summer tour “The Year Of Still Here,” a title that denotes a bemused disbelief about the 61-year-old troubadour’s continued success that is, needless to say, profoundly insane: Barring some sort of catastrophic crash in the grass-skirt industry or the subprime blow-up pool market, what possible reason could there be to get this show off the road?

Buffett’s beach blanket blowouts are as reliable as the waves, the stars and – to be slightly less breezy and escapist about the whole thing – the gross receipts at the end of each prove that. The shows are sellouts and the songs are staples. Sure, pavilion seats – and beers, alcoholic squishies and goofball plastic cups – are expensive as hell, but Buffett has held face value for the lawn seats to around a relatively ridiculous $30 for years. And the continued spot-development of small, friendly hamlets built from inflatable items, pickup truck pools and insta-tiki bars in parking lots across the land is also an annual spectacle.

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Live review: Drive-By Truckers in Charleston — Let there be rock

Billboard.com — A lot of ground is covered at Drive-By Truckers shows these days. In addition to the band’s typically roaring takes on lives, politics, the broken social contract, Southern and Northern identity, violence both domestic and in foreign sands, whiskey-fueled sadness and fast-fading hope, they’ve now expanded to take on soldiers returned from overseas, revenge and the various horrors involved with family (so much so that in this Charleston stop, they tossed an abrasive cover of Springsteen’s already-abrasive “Adam Raised A Cain” into a little mid-show mini-set about Father Issues).

That they continue to pull it off in such hammering, consistent fashion is not only a credit to their staying power (and ability to weather waves like the departure of Jason Isbell last year), but, as they showed on a sweaty and Jack Daniels-fueled 25-song set in Charleston, proof that it still might make sense to buy completely into the notion that rock n’ roll is the literal answer to many, many things.

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Live review: Springsteen’s “Magic” in the night

PopMatters — If The Rising was Bruce Springsteen’s soaring, spiritual attempt at making sense of whatever parts of 9/11 one could make sense of—its title track, you’ll remember, found a heroic firefighter ascending a burning building with “spirits above and behind (him)”—his newest record, Magic, is the crashing aftermath, a darkened, defiant survey of the emotional and political wreckage since that dark day. Its 12 songs are laden with alienation, disappointment, and evaporated hope. These themes certainly aren’t new to Bruce’s notebook, but it’s still something to hear such themes so prevalent, so front and center. In a few cases, Magic takes Springsteenian lyrical chestnuts and turns them on their disenfranchised ears: the girl in the Motown/boppy “Livin’ in the Future” sways into town on high heels that sound like the clicks of pistol, while the “flag flyin’ over the courthouse” in “Long Walk Home” inspires not hope or redemption but a subtle national sense of remorse for crimes committed in the names of people who never wanted anything to do with them.

These are not easy tales to spin to a crowd that is used to leaving your live show feeling as though the world was a searingly hopeful beacon of justice, rainbows, truth, and fresh-baked oatmeal cookies. But maybe the magic-est thing about Springsteen’s Magic show is that, even in a slightly abbreviated and grayer form, Springsteen maintains the uncanny and increasingly unbelievable ability to identify hope in a daily rain of chaos.

Springsteen is 58 years old right now, the first of many reasons that the Magic tour shouldn’t be anywhere near as vibrant and relevant as it is. Other obstacles include, but are not limited to, perceptions that: he’s overly preachy and political, his band is too old (Clarence is 65!), and he’s too rich to identify with the common man. And given his own superlative, impossible history, going out and putting on simply a “good” show might not be enough for a fan base that’s come to rightly expect a regular stream of “greatness.”

Lucky for us, there seems to be something about these challenges that’s making him dig deeper. Dark or not, alienating or not, there’s never a moment in the two hour-plus show where you think that Springsteen—all six decades of him—might not be able to pull this off.

None of this is to say that there aren’t the usual, scorching moments of cathartic release: the D.C. show’s opening salvo of “Radio Nowhere”, “No Surrender”, and “Lonesome Day” roared with a vengeance; the first set closed, if you can call it that, with “Badlands”. This show also found Springsteen leaving time for a stomping, galvanic “Working on the Highway” (complete with Elvis poses), as well as the one-two punch of the new, better-on-stage “I’ll Work for Your Love” and “Tunnel of Love”—the later of which sounds more ‘80s than ever and closed with an absolutely bonkers solo from Nils Lofgren.

Elsewhere, “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” shimmered and waved. Aside from that great chorus, it’s one of a few songs on the new record that find Bruce—grudgingly, one imagines—copping to his age: they might pass him by now, but Springsteen allows himself a twinkle to the Sandys and Rosalitas anyway. (For the setlist hawks, this night found Springsteen and band killing an audibled “Growin’ Up” and taking it directly into a roaring “Kitty’s Back”—both songs going on 35 years old).

But for the most part, there’s more darkness on the edge of the Magic show than any tour before it. In the context of such alienation—especially in the D.C. setting, which Springsteen acknowledged with the hot-cha zinger, “I’m so glad to be in your wicked, I mean beautiful, city tonight!”—“No Surrender” became a fierce challenge (the “wide open country in our eyes” seemed a lot more distant). “Reason To Believe”, meanwhile, was rebuilt as a dust-spitting Western rocker in the vein of “La Grange” and “Radio Nowhere”. The tune opened with a war cry (“Is there anybody alive out there?”, which Bruce has been stage-pattering since the ‘70s) that was part call to arms, part indictment—a line that can kick off a big rock show while slyly wondering what, exactly, in the hell have we let happen around here.

Springsteen has said that the hook, the whole turning point of the show happens near the end of the first set, when the cathartic, hopeful-against-odds “The Rising” gives way to “Last to Die”, the new record’s most direct indictment of the war. It’s made more potent when one realizes that the title character, whoever it is, may not have enlisted yet (the song’s based on a speech by John Kerry, no less). When that moment comes, it’s a killer: the shift, the tension, the tone, are like a kick to the stomach. Out of the “li li li”s of “The Rising” comes a black highway, an aimless wander and the question of who’ll be “the last to die for a mistake.”

That’s Springsteen’s challenge this time out: serving the bitter pills of “Last to Die” and “Devil’s Arcade” (given a stern, hammering, Max Weinberg-heavy reading in honor of Veterans’ Day) next to the fizzy release of “She’s the One” and the roaring-as-ever “Night”. The final song of the evening, “American Land”, is a Celtic-punk holdover from his Seeger Sessions experiment. It turned the GA section of the pit into a rubber-floored free-for-all, lobbing these lyrics at the lobbyists and lawmakers in the audience: “The hands that build the country we’re always trying to keep out.”

No one is more hip to the inability of American audiences to read between the lines than Springsteen—these are the people that wanted to use “Born in the USA” to sell pickup trucks, and if anyone can drag Pat Buchanan out of his crypt maybe he could explain why he once used the song as entrance music—but that Springsteen is as invested in such seemingly aging ideals is maybe the biggest reason he’s still doing all this. Such is the assignment that Springsteen has given himself: to keep arguing for the points and people he’s spent nearly four decades arguing for, to allow just the briefest glimpse of nostalgia (via “Born to Run”, of course, and a revved-up “Dancing in the Dark”), to allow more for age and experience. He’s there to to cast light on the horrors of a government run amok, and to make people leave a concert thinking that redemption is not only possible, but is possible by tomorrow morning.


Concert review: Ben Harper saves some soul for Florida

Billboard — Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals shaped their new record, “Lifeline,” during several months’ worth of soundchecks and knocked it out during one busy week in a Paris studio. So it couldn’t be less surprising to see that it migrates back to the stage with an assured, groovy ease.

Harper’s tour in support of “Lifeline” has been christened “Acoustic Soul,” part of an overall cozy, sit-down-y theme that looks to extend the record’s straight-to-analog vibe, and with good reason: Harper is perfect with this sort of fuzzy, soulful stuff. His Web site encourages folks to follow the Criminals’ snappy dress code, the show has a gentle, rolling arc to it and the tour’s hitting a number of smaller houses. This comfy Jacksonville room in particular — the site of Elvis’ first indoor concert, according to local lore — has a highly endearing, Gryffindor-common-room vibe that fit the music like a crisp suit.

On stage, Harper always keeps one foot in the new record, which was played nearly in its entirety — this isn’t a show for “Steal My Kisses” or “Burn One Down” or the ambitious sprawl of “Both Sides of the Gun” or “Diamonds on the Inside.” But the name’s also a bit of a head-fake. Though the show is heavy on the warm, Stax-y tracks that make up the bulk of the record, there are moments when the notorious genre-jumper lets his crack band bring the funk, as they say.

A sprawling cover of “Use Me” turned into an extended funk-soul vamp that found Harper howling at the moon while guitarist Michael Ward went nuts all around him. A Florida-ready cover of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” was more straightforward but just as welcome.

Harper’s other set list nuggets nestled into the night’s vibe: “Gold To Me” let him retrofit a little sun-splashed pop, the frothy “Put It on Me” quickly whipped up a bit of jumping ’70s soul and “Gather ‘Round the Stone” served as one of a number of sly gospel detours — not the least of which was the opening, scene-setting “11th Commandment,” performed by Harper alone on stage with his slide guitar.

But by the time Harper closed the show — alone again — he managed to calm the crowd from its noise, dancing and frequent marriage proposals for the pretty instrumental “Paris Sunrise #7″ and the new record’s title track, a crying ballad that needed no more than the less-is-more approach Harper gave it. By that time the room was tellingly, absolutely silent, fully in the command of a soul man.

Here is Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals’ set list:

“11th Commandment” > “Well Well Well”

“Excuse Me Mr.”

“Fight Outta You”

“In the Colors”

“Gold To Me”

“Whipping Boy”

“Younger Than Today”

“Fool for a Lonesome Train”

“Needed You Tonight”

“Breakdown”

“Gather ‘Round the Stone”

“Use Me”

“Put It on Me”

“Like A King / I’ll Rise”

Encore:

“Suzie Blue”

“Where Could I Go”

“Paris Sunrise #7″ > “Lifeline”



Review: Linkin Park’s “Minutes to Midnight” serves up no-metal

Billboard — Rap-metal’s sell-by date expired many, many years ago, and no one noticed more than Linkin Park, whose “Minutes to Midnight” finds the band throwing all manner of styles at the wall to distance it from a genre that currently enjoys a lower approval rating than Cheney. Linkin Park’s ambitions are nearly palpable, but songs likely conceived as homages end up sounding too close to their sources. One can detect bits of Metallica (“No More Sorrow”), the theme from “Halloween” (first single “What I’ve Done”), “With or Without You” (“Shadow of the Day”) and a breakup ballad that could have been written by the Matrix (“Leave Out All the Rest”). Sometimes the band hits: The hand clap-powered “Bleed It Out” works up a nice lather, and Shinoda’s anti-war monologue “Hands Held High” proves there might yet be more in Linkin Park’s backpack than self-doubt and identity crises.


Concert Review: Guns N’ Roses – Democracy Now! Or, Who The Hell Are You People?

Billboard — Even on a sticky Halloween night in Florida, with much of the crowd in costume and spooky holiday decor swinging from the rafters, nothing could quite out-weird the main spectacle: watching 1/8th of Guns N’ Roses perform a batch of 20-year-old smashes — as well as a few from a record originally slated for release during the first Clinton administration — in front of, among other things, a large and inflatable Homer Simpson balloon.

Welcome to the jungle, kids. We’ve got fun and games.
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