December 15, 2017

Third Quarter Listening Report

Here we are at the end of September already, and it is time to give my reviews of some of the popular music that was released during this third quarter of 2011.

As I say in each of these posts, I don’t have the resources to check out a lot of music, so I generally stick to artists I know or about whom I receive recommendations. I have eclectic tastes and enjoy many different kinds of music, but the reviews here are limited to more popular releases.

This quarter, we have…

Something new that sounds old,
Something that’s more of the same,
Something that’s jumpin’ and blue,
And something so good it’s insane.

Nothing Is Wrong
Dawes

I cut my teeth on the music of the late 60’s and early ’70’s and loved the “Laurel Canyon” sound of CSN&Y, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and others. Dawes revives that vibe with this satisfying set of folk-rock tunes. They can rock, as on “Time Spent in Los Angeles” and “If I Wanted Someone” (channeling some vintage Neil Young sounds). Or, they can give you quiet, pretty acoustic sounds exemplified by “My Way Back Home” and “Moon in the Water.” Pleasing harmonies abound amid simple arrangements that always keep the song first. The best of all is “Fire Away,” with Jackson Browne singing background.

Young Love
Mat Kearney

There aren’t too many singer-songwriters more likeable than Mat Kearney. His combination of acoustic folk, pop, and hip-hop is not normally my style, but there is something infectious about his catchy hooks, and his rich, emotive vocals add a bit more depth than your normal top-40 artist. I thought he really hit stride with his last album, “City of Black and White.” This album continues the basic formula of that record while eliminating some of its darker atmosphere, pumping up the beats, and returning to some of the hip-hop sensibility he moved away from in “City.” Hey, it’s fun, sunny music about young love — lighten up a little, will ya?

Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play The Blues
Wynton Marsalis, Eric Clapton Live at Lincoln Center

Oh my. Two superstar legends, playing live with the Lincoln Center Jazz Band, exploring jump blues and New Orleans jazz with incredible freedom and virtuosity — what could be more fun than that? The band was formed according to the make-up of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (where Louis Armstrong first gained fame), adding guitar and keyboards. Louis would be proud, and wipin’ his brow. They start off at breakneck speed with “Ice Cream,” Clapton growling out the vocals. They can also play slow and easy, as on “Joe Turner’s Blues,” “Careless Love” (with a jaw-dropping Clapton solo), and a sultry arrangement of “Layla” (requested by a band member). I dig the driving “Joliet Bound,” with horns blaring out that relentless train movin’ down the tracks. And “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” evokes a New Orleans funeral with its stately, somber march — until it cuts loose and “we who remain” start feeling truly alive again. I haven’t seen the DVD yet, but I can’t wait. Hot dang, this is good.

The Whole Love
Wilco

OK, this is the one I’ve been waiting for, and I am not disappointed. My favorite rock band has released another winner, and I think it’s beyond good. Most critics think “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is Wilco’s best and it’s hard to disagree with that. But “The Whole Love” may be their most comprehensive record, bringing together all the experimentation and variety from their previous albums into one exuberant set of songs. It kicks off with the industrial strength avant garde groove and noise jam of “Art of Almost,” and then moves immediately into the sunny, surrealistic sixties sound of “I Might.” Lennon and McCartney are channeled in “Sunloathe” (John) and the old-timey “Capitol City” (Paul). They deliver pop magic in “Dawned on Me,” “Born Alone,” and “Whole Love,”  punk angst in “Standing O,” and contemplative acoustic folk in “Black Moon” and “Sunday Morning.” None of it is simplistic. Sonically perfect (to my ears), Nels Cline on guitar and the other band members add so many nuances and layers to even the most ordinary sounding arrangements that there is always more to explore, more to hear, more to be fascinated by. Jeff Tweedy’s voice sounds strong and confident. This album has more energy and bite than recent Wilco releases on which they explored quieter folk and country styles, and I would love to hear this set live; I think it would be fresh and exhilarating.

Here’s “I Might” from the Live on Letterman series. Love that organ!

Comments

  1. Ahh, I was hoping to see Wilco on here! Easily my favorite American band, and great new album. Nels Cline is a major guitar inspiration for me.