Thursday, December 23, 2004

Time now for part two of the "Music I've Picked Up Lately" post. And it goes like this:
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Neil Young- Greatest Hits
Young's been threatening to issue a big multi-disc retrospective for years now, especially since the last twenty-six years have rendered his Decade somewhat obsolete- but this usual-suspects sampler sure isn't it. With only two songs from post-1978 included, and no liner notes bearing track information, and bearing only Young's desultory disclaimer "Greatest hits inclusion based on original record sales, airplay, and known download history." giving us any rationale whatsoever for the track listing, this is, to say the least, a far from complete compendium of his lengthy, innovative, resonant, and often willfully frustrating career. Even the "greatest hits" tag is a misnomer, since Young has troubled the top 20 only once in his career, and the top 40 only one or two times more...but geez Louise: it's got "Down by The River", "Ohio", "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", "Old Man", "Cowgirl in the Sand", and that's just a few of the excellent and well-known-to-all-classic-rock-radio-devotees tracks, so this is also far from a ripoff. On the negative side, there's nothing from superior 70's albums like On The Beach, Tonight's The Night, Time Fades Away, Zuma, or Hawks & Doves or any of his squirrely 80's Geffen output- hardly surprising, since none of these albums were anything resembling "hits" even though many of them were among the best albums of all time. Of course, nitpicking artist compilations is one of the easiest endeavors known to man, so if you're completely unfamiliar with Young's work, and you are looking for a place to start, this is as good a place as any. There's a neato bonus DVD which has pictures, videos for the charming "Harvest Moon" and the goofy "Rockin' in the Free World", and the clever conceit of being able to listen to each album track as you watch the visual of a vinyl record, complete with the appropriate label, spinning on a turntable- a visceral thrill known to a select, ever shrinking few in these benighted times.

Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon-Various Artists
Well, you had to know this was coming sooner or later, and for what it is it isn't terrible. No big surprises among those paying tribute, unless you consider Adam Sandler mugging his way through "Werewolves of London" (and sounding a lot like WZ in the process) surprising. Zevon had a ornery streak in his lyrics, but this collection kinda skims over that side of his stuff to focus on Zevon the wounded love man, so we get covers of the likes of "Searching For A Heart", "Keep Me in Your Heart", and "Reconsider Me", and that's not really fair. Still, Steve Earle does a great version of "Reconsider", Jill Sobule sounds winsome as always on a fine, poppy "Don't Let Us Get Sick", Pete Yorn (a singer I've never really paid much attention to, although I think I'd like his stuff if I made the effort) rescues "Splendid Isolation" from what I consider to be his worst album, Transverse City, giving it a fine run-through, Billy Bob Thornton doesn't suck, the Pixies shine, and wonder of wonders, we get a David Lindley/El Rayo-X comeback of sorts on a fine Mutineer track, "Monkey Wash Donkey Rinse". Disappointments include a typically croaky and underrecorded Bob Dylan cover of the title track from Mutineer, one of my favorite WZ albums, and a routine run-through of "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" by Jackson Browne (Zevon bud but I've never been a fan) and Bonnie Raitt, or at least the credits say she's on it 'cause I can barely hear her. Overall, a fine, if mostly bland tribute- myself, I think that Zevon deserved something with a bit more roughage.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album
In which Ian Anderson and Co. re-record a handful of older Tull Christmas-related songs, rearrange a few seasonal standards, and generally deliver a solid holiday-themed collection of songs, despite too-slick production. Features a clever instrumental version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", and some typically whimsical liner notes by Anderson, who's always been a little too smart for the room and was never afraid to remind you. Don't really know what else to say about it; it won't exactly take you back to the Benefit days, but it's better than the last few studio releases I've heard.

Elliot Smith-From A Basement On A Hill
I only own one Smith CD, XO, and I kinda liked it- it was a low-key, unassuming collection of pop-folk songs which often sported a decent melody or two- listenable but forgettable. My son liked him better than I did, so he went out and picked this up a while back and I gave it a few spins. And y'know what? This is a low-key, unassuming collection of pop-folk songs with a bit more electric guitar this time. I didn't hate it, but I am completely unencumbered by any compulsion to buy it for myself.

Ray Charles-Genius Loves Company
The last thing Charles was working on before he passed, and as celebrity duet albums go it's not too bad. The instrumentation (with one particularly noticeable exception) is kept pretty basic- piano, bass, guitar, some horns and a smattering of strings. Charles is not always in good voice, but holds his own nicely with the likes of Norah Jones (pretty good), Elton John, who never met a duet album he didn't want to be on but unfortunately they chose his weepy "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word"; James Taylor, on his own composition "Sweet Potato Pie", relaxed and smooth; Bonnie Raitt, who really should have done a whole album with Ray; and Van Morrison, upon whom Charles was a huge influence, on Morrison's "Crazy Love". Not the most inspired choice for a song, but they do it nicely. Really, the only clunker is a overblown version of "It Was a Very Good Year" with Willie Nelson, in which they struggle to be heard among the excessive orchestral arrangement. Again, not a CD I would buy with my own money, but I'm happy to have it just the same...and your mileage may vary.

Various Artists- Power of Soul: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix
Lotsa artists, including Prince, Santana, Eric Clapton, Bootsy Collins and Sting, covering Hendrix songs to varying degrees of effectiveness. Lenny Kravitz, who's made a career of imitating Jimi, contributes a version of "(Have You Ever Been to) Electric Ladyland" that sounds surprisingly like Al Green. Prince typically re-casts the blues "Red House" as "Purple House", and Santana uses former Living Colour singer Corey Glover as his vocalist. Sting should have just had them stick his cover of "Little Wing", from ...Nothing Like The Sun on this instead of his boring take on "The Wind Cries Mary". There are some interesting performances by others including John Lee Hooker and a live take on "Little Wing" by the late Stevie Ray Vaughn. Another album I don't think I'll listen to very often, but I'm content to have it in the stack if the mood strikes me.

Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra-Friends 3
Since Squeeze faded into the margins, Holland has kinda become like Britain's version of David Letterman and Paul Shaeffer rolled into one, and he's released three albums of songs performed by a multitude of artists on his Later... show. This, the latest one, has a lot of interesting folks on it that you don't always see on projects like this, such as Eliza Carthy, Nick Cave, Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan. And then there's the ubituquous Eric Clapton, Ringo, Michael McDonald, and Steve Earle, who seems to be working on his own Elton John-like guest vocalist career. All the songs kinda have a samey sound, kinda like performers do when they appear with Shaeffer's group on Letterman, and not surprisingly the blues artists like Buddy Guy and Terri Walker sound most comfortable. And when all is said and done, Holland is as good on the keys as he ever was. Another mixed bag, worth a listen or two.

And that's it! With that prior post, a list of music I've received and purchased lately. Hopefully I'll be getting some more interesting stuff for Christmas, and I'll try to write about it before the Fourth of July.

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