Known Johnson

October 3, 2005

Latest and greatest

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:36 pm

(Attempt #2, #1 having been unceremoniously dumped by a really annoying trait in the build of Firefox that I had – one click to see something on another tab and poof! – 20 minutes of writing disappears. Better luck this time.)

There have been some fantastic new releases the past few weeks, and I think they deserve a little attention (since I’ve been lax on my Overlooked Alternatives duties, and, in fact, may not return to doing them for Blogcritics because, frankly, I’m just sick of the general bad writing and bad critiquing going on over there lately. I know, I know, if I’m not a part of the solution, I’m part of the problem. Well, true as that may be, I just don’t feel like dealing much with Blogcritics right now. So consider yourself lucky to be one of the few visitors (average something like 80 or so per day) who stumble upon my little contribution to the mass uselessness we call the internet.)

King’s X: Ogre Tones – Yeah, I groan a little at the title too, but don’t let that dissuade you from checking out what I’m happy to report is the best thing the band has done since 1996’s Ear Candy. I think it’s safe to assume that it’s no coincidence that this album is much more focused, tight, and fun than anything since EC – it’s also the first album since that one to feature a producer. As much as I like bands calling all the shots, sometimes it’s clear that bands need a little direction with their sound, lest they drift off into unsuccessful experimentation (Please Come Home, Mr. Bulbous and Manic Moonlight both suffer from this) and just plain bad decisions (like commercially releasing Black Like Sunday, an album of songs that date back to the mid-80s that made it glaringly obvious why they were abandoned back then.) The catchy melodies and unusual, for metal, harmonizing that helped them make their mark are back – albeit to a lesser extent than on, say, the first four King’s X albums. Bassist Doug Pinnick’s voice is in top form here, but it’s nice to hear a song lead by guitarist Ty Tabor again – a staple of the band’s albums that had slowly disappeared as they aged. While not perfect – “Sooner or Later” simply drags on and on, and “Goldilox (Reprise)” is an unnecessary remake of the classic from their first album, and the one-note joke “instrumental” “Bam” is completely pointless – what does work nearly ranks up there with the band’s best material. “If” should be a tremendous, rousing success in a live context, and this album should stand the test of time quite well with fans.

Brad Mehldau Trio: Day is Done – I was left slightly disappointed with pianist Mehldau’s previous studio album, Anything Goes, more because it wasn’t the step forward from his previous album, Largo (an album consisting mostly of originals,) than because it was actually a disappointing listen. I was hoping to hear more new material from Mehldau, as his ability to take on standards is well-established from his previous outings. I can’t say that Day is Done offers that much new material but it does focus on more “new standards” than he’s done lately. The centerpiece is undoubtedly Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” which becomes virtually unrecognizable in Mehldau’s hands. Mehldau’s take on Nick Drakes’ “Day is Done” is a refreshing change of pace – the pianist lays back and lets his band members take the spotlight. The tune is propelled by Larry Grenadier’s beautiful but aggressive bass taking the melody, while Mehldau hints around him with sparse chordings. Elsewhere, such as on yet another welcome Radiohead cover in the form of “Knives Out,” new drummer Jeff Ballard displays a fluid and flexible finesse that he uses to reign in a nearly out-of-control performance – and as any jazz fan knows, the music is most exciting when it sounds like the players are just barely keeping ahead of themselves. Day is Done is truly an exciting album full of moments like this.

Jenny Scheinman: 12 Songs – Man, does Bill Frisell know how to pick his musicians or what? Scheinman has been accompanying Frisell on numerous outings the past few years as his violinist of choice. 12 Songs makes it obvious why. Frisell sits in on the entire album, making the whole affair harken back to the early 90s before Frisell embarked on his mission to redefine Americana, but it’s clearly led by Scheinman’s gorgeous sense of melody. This is less jazz than it is a very refined country, something that, like the best of Frisell’s late 90s work, could easily be heard as the soundtrack to midwest.

Bruce Cockburn: Speechless – A collection of instrumental works from throughout his career this may be, but unless you own all the albums they come from there’s likely to be a lot of new material to enjoy here (aside from the handful of brand new tracks that accompany them.) Think of this as the counterpart to 2002’s excellent retrospective, Anything Anytime Anywhere. Cockburn can’t help that his well-deserved reputation as one of the most inciteful and talented lyricist in music overshadows his guitar playing, but the mostly acoustic Speechless allows his talent to make the case for itself.

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