Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Through a combination of the generosity of others and imprudent purchases on my part, I've acquired, or at least heard, a number of new CDs lately, and here are some quick impressions for all of youse:

David Bowie-Heathen
Quite simply the best Bowie record in over 20 years. I had frankly given up on the possibility that he had any worthwhile music left in him; every new release was accompanied by "Bowie is Back" hype, and every new release from 1980 on was disappointing at best, with one or two good tracks and a lot of conflicted-sounding mediocrity. In my opinion, of course. Apparently Mr. B came to the realization that he was embarrassing himself by latching on to the likes of Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan in what seemed to be an attempt to stay "hip", and after a tentative beginning with ...hours he has bounced back in a large way with this album. He hasn't sounded this relaxed, innovative or focused in ages, and I gotta believe that his old Eno-trilogy days producer Tony Visconti had a lot to do with it. The opening track, "Sunday", sounds like Robert Fripp playing with Manfred Mann's Earth Band; the Pixies cover "Cactus" sounds like Eno producing Chuck Berry. "Slow Burn" is a reflective reminisce with an arrangement that reminds me of "Life on Mars?" for some reason. He does a great, swaggering cover of Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting For You" (a great song from his obscure debut solo album) complete with glam-star oohs and aahs in the BV's; and songs like "5:15 The Angels have Gone" and "Everyone Says 'Hi'" benefit from nice synth-and-string arrangements. Dave is in fine voice throughout, and it shows how much he's learned since the 70s. I passed on this when it came out in 2002; I had given up on him. Now, I'm thinking I need to pick up a copy of the follow-up, last year's Reality. Color me impressed.

Liz Phair-Liz Phair: Finally broke down and bought this, and I can see why its detractors were all worked up...emulating the Ashlees and Avrils of the music world seems hardly a fitting ambition for the erstwhile Indie darling. The melodies are obvious and the lyrics are shallow when they're not forgettable. But I guess she has bills to pay like everyone else, and while this is produced to distraction there are several catchy songs like "Why Can't I" (I still get a charge out of that video, which you can access on her website) and "Extraordinary". So while I realize that I probably shouldn't, I still find this more listenable than Whip-Smart. Go figure.

John Lennon-Acoustic:
Fortunately, I was sent this one, because I would never have bought this for myself...I already own the 1998 John Lennon Anthology from which nine of these tracks were taken, and while I am as hardcore a Beatle fan as you'd ever want to meet, more often as not I get a little bored by the unadorned solo acoustic demos I've heard. Still, there are a few of them that are pretty good, such as a doo-wopish "God" and 1974's "What You Got", and the live tracks here aren't bad either. I would have preferred to have some liner notes and track info inside the booklet instead of guitar tabs, but nobody asked me. Not essential, but as a Fab fan I'm happy to have it just the same.

John Lennon-Rock 'n' Roll
Wrote about this one a little over a year ago, in a Vinyl-O. It's been remixed and re-released, and as with last year's remixed Mind Games, it sounds better, punchier and louder anyway... but the remixers took liberties once again. There's an extra "one, two" before the "a-well..." in John's cover of "Be-Bop-A-Lula", which kicks off the album, which means that some sort of alternate vocal track was used, or perhaps the count-in was restored, whatever the reason, it's not welcome as far as I'm concerned. If John had wanted it on there, it would have been on the 1975 vinyl release. Plus, they also take it upon themselves to clean up John's signature mid-70's muddy mix, which didn't really favor the vocal or the instruments, but kept them all in a sort of consistent midrange- very distinctive, and much liked by yours truly. As with the organ fills on the 2003 "Mind Games", it's disconcerting to suddenly hear a guitar lick or organ riff that was buried in Lennon's original mix. Anyway, the revisionism isn't as egregious on this one as it was on Mind Games, so this remains listenable. It's a very inconsistent album, but the good songs are very good, and it's still nice to have it on CD now. See my review, link above, for more.

Macy Gray-The Id
I bought and enjoyed Gray's debut CD On How Life Is very much, but I was slow to pick up this, her 2001 follow-up, mostly because of lukewarm reviews. Kinda sorry I waited so long because it's a solid retro-soul effort, not as good as her debut, but often more imaginative, especially arrangement-wise. Of course, how much you enjoy Gray depends a lot on how much tolerance you have for her voice, which reminds one of the love child of Sly Stone and Carol Channing. On almost every cut Macy proclaims what a "freak" she is about sex, and her determined freak flag-flying becomes a little tiresome after a while, but it's not really that much of a negative. She alternates between Sly and Clinton-style funk rock on cuts like "My Nutmeg Phantasy" (that's the song she performed in the first Spider-Man flick, remember?) and big Aretha-style ballads like the flop single "Sweet Baby", which benefits from a gorgeous string arrangement. We also get the charmingly titled "Gimme All Your Lovin' or I'll Kill You", which is still catchy and the weirdest song on the CD "Oblivion", which sounds like a all-synth German polka band and would have been a dandy track for Grace Jones. There are a couple of duds, but mostly The Id is an underrated little album.

Todd Rundgren-Liars
Surprisingly strong set from Todd, reminiscent of albums like Nearly Human, alternating soul ballads with synth-pop/rock. Rundgren is another artist I had kinda given up on, and it's reassuring to know that he's still got some juice left. One quibble- nearly every song is too damn long by at least a minute and a half, and a couple just go on and on and on and wear out their welcome. I especially like the album's final title track, in which he shouts himself hoarse at the Bush administration. Get'im, Todd!

Longtime favorite album of mine, which features Carlos Santana's first forays into Miles and Coltrane territory. Of course, when I was 12 and first heard this, I knew nothing about Miles or Coltrane; I just loved the whole exotic feel of this album. Features "Song of the Wind", one of the best guitar jams he's ever recorded. Santana had two future founding members of Journey in his group at the time, believe it or not...!

The Mahavishnu Orchestra-Birds of Fire
Back in the 80's, I made a tentative stab at appreciating fusion jazz, and this was one of the first albums I bought, mostly because I liked the cover. I found it chaotic, tuneless and aimless, and soon gave up trying to get into it. I sold this album to a friend, and haven't had a copy of it since. However, I've recently begun to start listening to jazz again, and my enjoyment of some of Miles and Coltrane's more outre recordings has made me think I should try Mahavishnu again, hence my purchase of this on CD. I've also picked up a few more Mahavishnu CDs, liked them OK- my original estimation still holds, but I'm now hearing some things I like that I didn't hear before, so I suppose that's progress. On this particular CD, I love the title track- a surging, crashing, almost King Crimson-like instrumental- the most, and I'm kind of hot and cold on everything else. I haven't listened to this one as much as I have the others I've obtained recently, so the jury is still out.

There are more, but I've been plugging away at this for a couple of days now and I'm ready to publish what I have. I'll probably be adding to this later on, so this is part one...

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