You know the drill by now, folks. These are the new songs or albums to which I’ve been grooving, so I suggest you check them out to see if they’re equally grooveworthy to you.
“Almost Like The Blues” by Leonard Cohen
It was with great excitement that I learned of Cohen’s new album, Popular Problems, coming out on September 23. And the first taste of that album doesn’t disappoint. Over bongos and bass, Cohen muses on the world’s problems with the typical combination of sly humor and understated grace. What a wonder that he hasn’t lost anything off his fastball after all these years. Check it out in the link:
“Gimme Something Good” by Ryan Adams: Another hotly-anticipated album around these parts (by “these parts”, I mean my office) is Adams self-titled release on September 9. Chances are if you’ve listened to rock radio in the past month or two, you’ve heard this forceful attention-grabber which cops a vibe more Heartbreakers (can we be sure that isn’t Benmont Tench playing those creeping organ riffs?) than Heartbreaker. As direct and powerful as I’ve heard Adams in a while, this bodes well for the new release. And, for some reason, Elvira is in the video, so it’s got that going for it.
“Dangerous Days” by Zola Jesus: In a perfect world, this sepia-tinged electronic anthem would be a summer radio smash. Nika Danilova, who performs as Zola Jesus, has one of those voices that sound amazing in any setting, but in the midst of this track, it’s damn near overwhelming. Listen to the wordless belts in the outro and I guarantee you’ll want to cue thing up again. From her upcoming October album Taiga.
“Even The Darkness Has Arms” by The Barr Brothers: Words and melodies never go out of style, and this one proves that eternal fact in captivating fashion. This act based on Montreal has one album under their belt and have another, Sleeping Operator, coming out in September. This is pretty, haunting stuff that effortlessly seeps into your consciousness. Check it out below.
The Reconsider Me Tout of the Week- Cloud Nine by George Harrison: It may seem silly to ask you to reconsider an album that was a huge smash and contained an unavoidable #1 single (“Got My Mind Set On You.”) But I feel like this one gets forgotten amidst the wave of Wilbury-related albums that came out around that time. This is Harrison at his most accessible, full of killer melodies and lyrics that alternate between spiritual and sardonic. It also features perhaps my all-time favorite song about the Beatles, “When We Was Fab,” with a video that includes, Ringo, Elton, Jeff Lynne, John (via album cover), and a left-handed walrus on the bass.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out my books on the songs of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan in the links below.)
Here we go, folks. Another heaping helping of great new music you should be checking out pronto.
They Want My Soul by Spoon: The indie-rock mainstays are garnering some of the best reviews of their career for their new disc, out today. What I’ve heard so far certainly warrants those accolades. This stinging single, all pounding drums, jagged guitars, and Britt Daniel’s wolf howl, is a great place to start.
“She’s Not Me” by Jenny Lewis: Lewis has always been a critical darling as the singer in Rilo Kiley and as a solo artist, but here she releases something that has wide-audience appeal yet is still captivating and mysterious. It’s a standout track from her just-released album, The Voyager, even though it sounds like an American Top 40 hit circa 1977.
“The No-Hit Wonder” by Cory Branan: Getting help from members of The Hold Steady, Branan paints a rollicking, affecting portrait of a struggling musician. It’s the title track of his new album, due out on August 19, which also features an appearance by Jason Isbell. Running in such heady company might overwhelm lesser artists, but Branan’s songwriting chops here prove that he’s worthy.
“Cleopatra” by Sloan: These Canadian fellows are on their 11th album, and it’s a shame that more folks don’t know their stuff. Maybe that will change with their upcoming September release Commonwealth, which allows all four members a side of music to show their songwriting skills. Lead single “Cleopatra” is power-pop perfection.
The Reconsider Me Tout Of The Week: Lost In Space by Aimee Mann: Following up the sublime Bachelor No.2, it was almost a given that this 2002 album wouldn’t be as kindly received. And yet I find myself going back to it more and more these days, mesmerized by Mann’s typically brilliant songcraft. Take the gorgeous “It’s Not”, which you can check out below, for just one example, and then tell me how this undervalued album can possibly be considered a letdown.
No Touts next week due to a family vacation, but I’ll be back after that with more great new stuff. And I’ve also identified a new Retro Review topic. I’ll give you a hint: He has an album coming out later this year. Any guesses?
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs is now available all over the world at every major online bookseller.)
Things are finally settling somewhat in the CK household, which means it’s time to touch base again with my loyal readers. I promise to start thinking about another list real soon for you all, but in the meantime, here are some of the things that I’ve enjoyed listening to since the last time we talked.
Hypnotic Eye by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: It’s good to know that some things in the rock and roll world don’t change much. Knowing that TP is out there keeping the flame alive is reassuring; knowing that he’s releasing material that can stand proudly alongside his best is thrilling. Out today, Hypnotic Eye features the Heartbreakers at their fiercest (Mike Campbell is in particularly ripping form), while Petty’s songs are attheir most incisive and invigorating. My full review of the album will be available at the American Songwriter site soon. In the meantime, take a listen to the thundering kickoff track “American Dream Plan B” below.
“Back To The Shack” by Weezer: Just when you count out Rivers Cuomo and the boys, they fire back at you with an impossibly catchy, righteously rocking track like this one. It certainly speaks well of their upcoming fall album Everything Will Be Alright In The End. As self-referential as ever, Cuomo promises a return to form for the band and then wills it into existence with the track itself.
“Start Again” by Bishop Allen: From the album Lights Out, due on August 19, this buzzy new single has the deadpan New Wave rush of classic Cars. It’s been five years since these Brooklynites debut album, but, based on this exciting evidence, the new album will be worth the wait.
“War On The East Coast” by The New Pornographers: I’ve been in the bag for these power poppers since I heard “The Laws Have Changed” a decade or so ago. Dan Bejar takes the lead on this one, and, as usual, adds just a touch of dreamy introspection to the sugar rush. The new album, Brill Builders, arrives next month, and the first two singles have me drooling in anticipation.
The Reconsider Me Tout of the Week: The Invisible Band by Travis- Sometimes it feels like an album gets dismissed because the tastemakers decide that a band’s time in the spotlight has already passed. That’s my roundabout way of saying that I can’t understand why this gorgeous 2001 album from Travis didn’t gain more of a foothold here in the U.S. Nonetheless, the evidence of its excellence is there for anyone who wants to seek it out, including this track, “The Cage”, my personal favorite.
See you next week with more Touts. Don’t forget to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.
The Tuesday Touts will have to wait another week due to my busier-than-expected schedule (House renovations are never-ending, let me tell you.) Nonetheless, here’s a little something to tide you over: My most recent article at American Songwriter, profiling the gorgeously sad “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” by Jeff Buckley.
Sorry for the radio silence for the past few weeks, folks. I’ve been busy promoting the book and, last week, getting married and going on my honeymoon. You can understand why the Better Half might not have liked me compiling lists of songs during that time period.
Anyway, I’m still playing catch-up this week, which means I’m just touching base today to let you all know I’m alive. For those of you who may have missed it, American Songwriter ran a bunch of excerpts from Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs in the last week or so. Check those out when you get the chance.
Speaking of the book, hopefully everybody in the U.S, who ordered it has received it by now. If you have and you’ve had the chance to read it, and if you have a few minutes in your day, a review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or whatever book site you use would be greatly appreciated.
Next week I’ll be back with another edition of the Tuesday touts, and I may have another list in me soon, although when that occurs depends on how quickly I get into the research for my next Counting Down book project (stay tuned for that as well.)
So keep watching for updates, and thanks, as always, for reading.
(Here is another exclusive excerpt from my new book Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs. Stay tuned for more excerpts from other outlets in the coming weeks.)
“When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose,” Bob Dylan once sang.
The protagonist of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” takes that theory to the fiercest extreme. Serving as the title track to Springsteen’s toughest,
rawest album, the song not only serves as a summation of many of the
ideas proposed in the previous songs on the record but also as a musical
release of all the tension that has been building and waiting to uncoil.
Much of the song’s power lies in the arrangement of the music. In the
verses, everything stays quiet and composed, as if to reflect the staid
nature of the life the protagonist once knew. In the refrains, called into
action by Max Weinberg’s furious snares, the music explodes into a
lurching powerhouse, with Weinberg banging the house down and Roy
Bittan playing like a mad scientist.
Springsteen’s vocals are pitched in much the same manner. The verses
capture him in a croon so polite as to sound innocent. When he gets to the
refrain, it’s a serrated cry, the lyrics shouted out as if they’re tumors that
need to be forcibly excised by the power of his lungs. In the instrumental
break, Springsteen punctuates his solo with guttural cries.
The narrator quickly sets up a contrast between the life that he’s chosen
and the one that his ex now lives. Actually, “chosen” might not be the
right word since this separation is described as something that was beyond
his control, the product of an innate desire that his wife never had:
“Well they’re still racin’ out at the Trestles / But that blood it never
burned in her veins.” Instead, she has moved on to a life of “style,” a far
cry from the street racing that he still favors.
As he has throughout the Darkness album, Springsteen is once again
shining a harsh spotlight here on those characters that once populated his
songs with their wild and innocent exploits. Those characters morph into
the man-child at the heart of “Darkness” who clings to that past lifestyle
long after the romance of it has faded. He does it now because it’s preferable, to him anyway, to the folks who hold in their innermost secret “Till some day they just cut it loose / Cut it loose or let it drag them down.” Say what you will about this guy, at least he is no longer burdened by
In the final verse, Springsteen crystallizes the conflict that the whole
album has been forging. The narrator has shed all of his connections to
home and stability: “Well I lost my money and I lost my wife / Those
things don’t seem to matter much to me now.” And as the refrain approaches, he makes his case for a life that many would call reckless,
wasted, or doomed. “Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop / I’ll be
on that hill with everything that I got,” he screams, reinforcing the notion
that his fate is settled and glossing over the fact that he no longer has
anything at stake. His only possessions now are those primal impulses
burning inside of him.
So he willingly goes to a place with “lives on the line and dreams are
found and lost.” And he willingly makes the ultimate sacrifice: “I’ll be
there on time and I’ll pay the cost / For wanting things that can only be
found / In the darkness on the edge of town.” That “cost” is stability,
serenity, maybe even sanity, but he pays it because this world of danger
and recklessness is the only thing that now makes any sense to him.
As the music plays out with some delicate piano from Roy Bittan and
one last moan from Springsteen, the songwriter leaves his audience with
some profound questions. Are we to admire this character or scold him?
Are the things he has given away worth what he has gained? And is a life
spent on the invigorating yet precarious edge of the abyss preferable to
one where the stable ground runs on forever even as the skies press
You’d like to believe there’s a happy medium somewhere, but Springsteen’s point with this extreme character, and with the entire album, is that life doesn’t allow that sometimes, so what can you do? Having already lost it all, this character makes his peace with the fact that for him, it ends in the “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” one way or the other.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs, available now in the U.S. and soon in Europe.)
After a week’s hiatus, here are the Touts, back and ready for your enjoyment.
Heal by Strand Of Oaks: I already praised the lead single, “Goshen ’97”, from this album a few weeks back. I’m here to tell you now that, having had a chance to review it for American Songwriter, the whole album from Tim Showalter, the man behind Strand Of Oaks, is a beast. Not for the faint of heart at times, Heal is part paean to the power of music, part harrowing breakup dissection, but 100 % musically potent. Check out the link below to the ominous dirge “JM” below:
“Dear God” by Jess Klein: Some people might get upset with Klein’s political stance on this rabble-rousing track, which, in case you’re wondering, is not a cover of the old XTC hit. I just admire her fearlessness in tackling something other than the relatively benign topics of most pop songs. Plus, the song has hooks galore into which you can sink your teeth and she sings the heck out of it. “Dear God” appears on Klein’s album Learning Faith, which is available today. The link appears via the fine website The Bluegrass Situation.
“Strange Weather” by Anna Calvi and David Byrne: The former Talking Heads frontman knows how to pick out duet partners. After a successful album with St. Vincent, he joins Calvi for an atmospheric, brooding, and ultimately beautiful cover of a Keren Ann song. It’s the title track of a new EP of covers Calvi will be releasing in July. Check it out in the link below.
“Radio” by The Cold And Lovely: The Cold And Lovely are Megan Toohey and Nicole Fiorentino, each of whom have long resumes in the alternative rock world. Their new Ellis Bell Deluxe EP is an introduction to their collaboration, and this track, which features evocative atmospherics, a snaky guitar riff, and pop smarts galore, speaks well of the new project. Listen below:
Reconsider Me Tout of the Week- Challengers by The New Pornographers: They’re on my mind because they have a new album coming out in August. The power-pop supergroup’s initial trio of hyper-speed, hook-heavy albums are definitely superb, but I feel like people sleep on 2007’s Challengers, which slowed things down with often gorgeous results. Check out the captivating opening track, “My Rights Versus Yours”, in the YouTube link below.
(E-mail me with your own Touts at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs, is available now in the U.S. and coming soon in Europe.)