Known Johnson

May 26, 2005

Overlooked Alternatives: new releases for May 24, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 8:15 pm

A little bit of everything for every taste in music this week, so it seems:

Dave Brubeck – London Flat, London Sharp: It’s hard to believe Brubeck is 85 years old this year and is still turning out new music that is nearly as sprightly and likeable as his classic Time Out, but here it is, another year, another Brubeck. His Quartet this time is filled out by familiar names: Bobby Militello on flute and sax, Randy Jones on drums, and Michael Moore on bass. I think it’s safe to assume that it’s not that Michael Moore.

Robert Cray – Twenty: My dad introduced me to Cray’s urban-blues long ago, and from the looks of things, little has changed with Cray: he’s still putting out dependable, if unspectacular albums of his smooth brand of blues music that fills in that overlooked category of music that can be played in the background for pretty much anyone and it won’t offend in any way. Cray’s blues are soulful, but have enough sheen that they aren’t going to drag people’s mood down, but they’re real, and therefore it never feels like inconsequential background music. Robert Cray’s music is the kind of thing that’s essentially safe, but not so safe that you’ll hear it all over adult-contemporary stations, and guitar-afficianados should find plenty to enjoy in his well-developed sound.

Bruce Dickinson – Tyranny of Souls: It’s hard to believe that, in 2005, the voice of Iron Maiden is still able to pull it off. More than 20 years after joining Maiden in the wake of Paul Di’Anno’s dismissal, Dickinson is still the “air-raid siren” he was back then, his voice hardly showing any age except for in the very highest registers. After two albums with the 6-piece Maiden collective, Dickinson’s turning out another solo album under the direction of producer Roy Z, who was behind his incredible Chemical Wedding and slightly less incredible Accident of Birth albums. Unfortunately, Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith isn’t along for the ride this time, but I’m sure he’s found a suitable replacement for him. Blogcritics’ Marty Dodge gives this one his stamp of full-approval.

Gorillaz – Demon Days: The sophomore release from the best cartoon-band in the world finds them skirting that dreaded sophomore-slump, for the most part. Out is Dan the Automator, in is Grey Album conspirator Danger Mouse, and the difference is notable in the tone of the album. Where the self-titled release was a little more happy-go-lucky, Demon Days is considerably darker and grittier. The good news is, it works. The bad news, however, is that it runs out of steam, the final four tracks of the album sounding like tacked-on bonuses rather than bonafide album material, and the blame may lie partially with the uncharacteristically dance-rhythm driven “DARE,” which sounds absolutely like nothing else on the album. From opening track “Last Living Souls” (I purposely ignore the intro) to “White Light,” the album is solid. After that, give it one listen and then forget those tracks exist – it’s a much stronger listen without them. Available in the seemingly now-standard single CD edition along with the “deluxe” CD and DVD in special packaging, which gives you an audio-only bonus track on the DVD as well as access to exclusive material on the official website (where another bonus track is available to download . . . if you can find it (I haven’t.))

There’s also a few notable best-of sets this week:

At the Drive-In – Anthology: This Station is Non-Operational: If you, like me, picked up on the Mars Volta, but never checked out the band that birthed them (as well as Sparta,) now’s a good time to take advantage of an easy way to check ’em out. Filled with a mix of hits, b-sides, live radio tracks, and even including a DVD of various things probably more of interest to die-hard fans than newbies.

Son Volt – A Retrospective: 1995-2000: If you wanted to know what happened to the other guys from Uncle Tupelo, this is it. Son Volt hasn’t, and probably won’t reach the heights that Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco has, but they do remain more true to their alt-country roots. Son Volt only has a few albums, so this retrospective might seem a bit premature, but what better time for the curious Wilco fan to give the band a shot? Blogcritics’ Johno has a review.

Screaming Trees – Ocean of Confusion: Songs of Screaming Trees 1989-1996: A sadly overlooked band, the Trees got lumped in with the grunge movement in the early 90s. What’s unfortunate is that, like fellow Seattlites Mudhoney, these guys were way better than what got popular. It’s a typical complaint, I know, but I dare you to listen to pretty much anything these guys put out and tell me it doesn’t stand the test of time. What sets the Trees apart is a heavy dose of 60s psychedelia that few other grunge bands exploited like they did – except for, again, Mudhoney. Luckily, comprehensive best-ofs like this come along and help to re-expose their music to the world, but it comes with the usual warning: once you devour this, you’ll be picking up the full albums and never listen to this again – there’s only three non-album tracks, which makes for little incentive for long-time fans to pick it up. But don’t let that stop you.


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