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NEW Classic McCartney  

Paul McCartney has nothing left to prove.  His greatness was secured decades ago, but yet he still finds the drive to keep pumping out new material.  It is a testament to what a serious and vital artist he continues to be.  McCartney can still write catchy pop songs.  Are they as good as the legendary material of his “ever present past”, well . . . probably not, but he is certainly no slouch.  The same can be said about his new collection, NEW, which is his best and catchiest album of the new millennium.  Albums like 2002’s Driving Rain, 2005’s Chaos And Creation In The Backyard and 2007’s Memory Almost Full all had some excellent tracks, but with NEW, McCartney is more consistent from song to song.  NEW’s songwriting is classic McCartney.  However, much of the production and instrumentation is very modern sounding with flashes of vintage sprinkled throughout.  All in all, this dichotomy creates an interesting dynamic audio interplay between old and new.  McCartney chose to work in multiple recording studios with four different producers: Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin), Paul Epworth (Adele), Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon) and Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse).  Each producer brings different production elements to the tracks, but NEW sounds very cohesive as it is united by McCartney’s voice and songwriting.
The album tears to life with the energetic “Save Us” that comes off as Wings meets the Killers with Queenish harmonies.  The first single “New” has a “Penny Lane” bounce to it and is a joyful track.  “On My Way To Work” is Beatley as well, especially with the Indian-flavored breakdowns between verses.  The stripped-down and folky “Early Days” is a beautiful reflective song that talks about Paul’s early friendship with John Lennon.  You can hear the age in Paul’s falsetto, but it still gently delivers and adds a sense of genuine vulnerability to this heartfelt tune.  “Queenie Eye” is another highlight.  The backing vocal production is similar to the end of the Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus”.  In an interview, McCartney explains that the chorus of "Queenie Eye" comes from a playground game he used to play as a kid.  (It is worth noting that the lyric in chorus with the “O-U-T spells out” is also used in the somewhat obscure Beatles’ Christmas single “Christmas Time Is Here Again”.)  Tucked neared the end of the album is the fantastic “Looking At Her”.  The track is both Beatley and blatantly modern at the same time.  If there was one song that would have been cool to hear what the Beatles would have done with it, “Looking At Her” is it.  If you replaced the electronic musical elements in the chorus with a George Harrison sitar part, you would have something that could pass as a missing Sgt. Pepper or Revolver outtake. 
All in all, Paul McCartney’s NEW is pretty freakin’ great.  At seventy-one, he delivers yet another awe-inspiring work that is easily one of 2013’s best records. 
Essential tracks: “Looking At Her”, “On My Way To Work”, “New” & “Queenie Eye”.

Sheryl Crow’s Country Road 

The common thread with veteran/aging rock stars is that once the hits dry up, they have four choices if they want to stay in the game: make a Christmas album, make a standards album, make a country album, collaborate with an up-and-coming rapper or some variation of all four.  Sheryl Crow is a gifted songwriter and performer – no question.  There is a reason she has stuck around for so long.  Her first four albums were killer, especially her masterpiece Sheryl Crow.  However, her career has cooled a bit over the last ten years.  Her last two records were good in their own rights, but sounded as if she was having an identity crisis.  2008’s Detours was an attempt to recapture the magic of Crow’s first record and 2010’s 100 Miles From Memphis was an exploratory Stax-style soul album. 
Twenty years after her debut, Crow, now fifty-one, has just released Feels Like Home, her first country album.  For the most part, it works for her and might just be the boost her career needs.  While not eclipsing anything pre-C’mon C’mon, it is an enjoyable enough disc and sounds like Sheryl is halfway still in her pop-rock territory and halfway testing the country terrain.  Feels Like Home opens with the song “Shotgun”, one of those party-starting modern country road songs about driving her truck.  The single “Easy” does not sound overwhelmingly country and should not be too much of a culture shock to her listeners.  However, songs like “We Oughta Be Drinkin’” definitely feel like Crow has “dumbed things down” a bit in order to reach a wider audience, especially when you remember this is the woman who once wrote powerful socially conscious songs like “Love Is A Good Thing” which caused her record to be banned at Walmart.  You could have argued similarly with Bob Dylan when he made Nashville Skyline in 1969, but those were different times.  In her defense, she does briefly mention the United States’ trade deficit in “Best of Times”, but that’s about it.  “Homecoming Queen” and “Waterproof Mascara” are reminiscent of some of the sappy country ballads Elvis covered in the early seventies while he was sweating it out in front of housewives in Vegas.  Yet, Crow redeems herself on the ballad “Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely”.  It is a full-on slow country affair and she pulls it off.  “Crazy Ain’t Original” is another highlight, as is the bouncy half-country-half-Fleetwood-Mac “Nobody’s Business”.
The key to enjoying Feels Like Home is to not overthink it.  It is not Crow’s most profound work, but in terms of the pop-country genre, it’s pretty good.  After surviving over twenty years in the music business plus cancer and Lance Armstrong, Sheryl Crow has saved up enough integrity, earning her the right to explore new territory and hopefully “have some fun”:)
Essential tracks: “Nobody’s Business”, “Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely” and “Crazy Ain’t Original”. 

The Rides Roar To Life 

The intergenerational blues-rock amalgamation of guitar heroes Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Electric Flag keyboardist Barry Goldberg is an event worthy of our accolades. Their debut offering, Can’t Get Enough, is a delicious gritty and soulful guitarfest. The production and performances are top notch. Everything sounds crisp, but at the same time authentic. This is hands down Stephen Stills’ best work since CSN’s underappreciated 1994 release, After The Storm. He sounds inspired trading guitar licks and sharing vocal duties with the much younger, but highly skilled Shepherd. Even though age has worn down Stills’ voice, his vocals have the most character. The hoarseness adds veracity to music that Shepherd’s youthful voice lacks.

Can’t Get Enough is well paced, easily shifting from fiery rockers to slow-burning blues numbers. The set is made up of half covers and half strong originals such as, “Roadhouse”, “Only Teardrops Fall” and the title track. The solos on “Roadhouse” are an exciting way to open the album and set the mood. The Rides push themselves and boldly cover the Stooges’ “Search And Destroy” doing a Rolling Stonesish arrangement, and though not surpassing the original, that they pull off respectably. The band also explore Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World.” After several CSNY reunion tours, Stills’ must have been itching to sing lead on this one. The group also revisits an originally acoustic track off of Stephen Stills 2 with “Word Game”. This new version is full on electric and rocks. All in all, Can’t Get Enough is promising and enjoyable enough to hope that these guys keep playing together. Don’t overlook this album!

Essential tracks: “Roadhouse”, “Search and Destroy”, & “Word Game”

Bob Dylan's Self Portrait Period Revisited  

“What is this shit?” Greil Marcus famous wrote in the opening to his 1970 Rolling Stone review of Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait. In the decades since its release, Self Portrait continues to be one of Dylan’s most contentious albums. The primary reason being no one knows exactly what to make of it? After seven years of releasing ground breaking music through iconic albums like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde and John Wesley Harding, it looked like (and sounded like) Dylan farted out Self Portrait. It was a capricious collection of rather sloppy covers of current popular folk songs, traditional folk ballads, as well as 1950s rock and roll tunes overlaid with gaudy string arrangements and lastly, loose live recordings from his performance at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival (including a version of “Like A Rolling Stone” where Dylan stumbles over the lyrics). Dylan himself even acrimoniously said: “I just threw everything I could think of against the wall and whatever stuck, released it, and then went back and scooped up everything that didn’t stick and released that, too.” One could justify a feeling of stolidity when Columbia Records announced this summer that they would be releasing the two-disc Another Self Portrait as the tenth installment of Dylan’s Official Bootleg Series, covering his 1969-1970 Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning periods.

A few weeks ago, the world received this alternate version of Dylan’s musical history. In a way, the thirty-five-song collection exculpates Dylan from the fulminating reviews the original Self Portrait earned. The songs on this new collection are either alternate takes or variant mixes, a bulk of them coming from Self Portrait and New Morning. Many of the traditional folk songs that Dylan covered for Self Portrait are presented for the first time sans the overdubbed strings, thus allowing the austere beauty of Dylan’s interpretations of tunes like “Pretty Saro”, "Days of 49", “Alberta #3”, "Thirsty Boots" and “Spanish Is The Loving Tongue” to be fully appreciated. Dylan’s vocal on “Pretty Saro” is stunning; he has never sounded tenderer. Stripped down demos of originals like the acoustic “Went To See The Gypsy” and sparse piano version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” are refreshing in their stark presentation, as is the vulnerable piano and violin rendition of "If Not For You."  Forget Self Portrait’s enervating live version of “Like A Rolling Stone”. On Another Self Portrait, listeners get impassioned and rowdy renditions of “Highway 61 Revisited” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” from that same 1969 concert. Beatle fans experience the joy of hearing Dylan jam with George Harrison on an alternate take of “Time Passes Slowly” and the facetious “Working On A Guru”. Included also is an enjoyable second version of “Time Passes Slowly” without Harrison, where the instrumentation and dynamic changes sound like they were designed for a Joe Cocker record. Additionally, from the New Morning outtakes is an interesting version of “New Morning” with “Got To Get You Into My Life” style horns, as well as an alternate version of “Sign On The Window” where the orchestral overdubs work better to add emotion to the track than the overdubs on some of the original Self Portrait material.

Not everything on Another Self Portrait is a winner. There are skippable tracks like his cover of “Annie’s Going To Sing Her Song”, as well as the inert low-fi Basement Tape outtake of “Minstrel Boy”, the insipid electric piano version of “Went To See The Gypsy” and the prosaic “Wigwam”. However, those are moot points when looking at the depth of this thirty-five-song set. All in all, Another Self Portrait stands as further testament of Bob Dylan’s greatness and provides greater insight into his development as a songwriter and interpreter. Outside of the ten volumes and counting of his Official Bootleg Series, Dylan has released thirty-five studio albums. The fact that he and his label can still dig through his archives and present florid amounts worthwhile material is redoubtable proof that he will continue to stand as a titan of music revered by generations to come.

Essential tracks: "Pretty Saro", "Highway 61 Revisited" (Live at the Isle of Wight), "If Not For You", "Thirsty Boots", "Alberta #3", & "Spanish Is The Loving Tongue".

Eleanor Friedberger Hits New Heights on Personal Record 

Personal Record
is the fabulous new album from Eleanor Friedberger. With the help of collaborator Wesley Stace (A.K.A. John Wesley Harding), Friedberger has crafted a rich collection of great songs with great lyrics. Each song tells a story and contains a treasure-trove of sharp and beautiful imagery. It is sometimes difficult to find artists who have both strong pop sensibilities as well as rich lyrical content. Friedberger manages to capture both well. Prime examples are the punchy single, “Stare at the Sun” as well as, “She’s a Mirror” and “When I Knew”. If I were to sum up Personal Record’s sound, it would be: an indie-pop-rock version of 1970s Van Morrison and Dylan with flashes of Patti Smith and the Strokes. It’s a tall order, but Friedberger has definitely made one of the year’s best records.

Essential tracks: “When I Knew”, “Stare at the Sun” & “She’s a Mirror”.

Summer Sounds With New Music From Surfer Blood 

Surfer Blood play very poppy throwback rock and roll with lots of fuzz and distortion. With their latest record, Pythons, they delightfully sound like a dirtier version of early Rooney meets Weezer. The end result is a very enjoyable summer record that is even catchier than their last full-length album, Astro Coast. Surfer Blood provide a number of big surf-inflected choruses with tracks like: “Say Yes To Me”, “Blair Witch” and the single “Demon Dance”. Things get kind of boring on the slow reverbed-out “Slow Six” as well as “Needles And Pins”. Other than that, Pythons is pretty solid all around. The entire album can be streamed by clicking here.

Essential tracks: “Demon Dance”, “Squeezing Blood” & “Say Yes To Me”.

Black Sabbath Storm Back 

The reunion of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler is an occasion worthy of a celebration. It is a shame that business issues kept Bill Ward from participating, thus denying fans a reunion of the full original line up. However, Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk does an admirable job in impersonating the swing feel of Ward’s drumming.

Despite Ward’s absence, 13 sounds like Black Sabbath. Rick Rubin produces and guides the band well. There are some hints of modern production, but ultimately these songs could have come out in the 70s. 13 is dark, gloomy and heavy. It is the Ozzy-era band’s strongest work since Sabotage. Ozzy sounds best when he is with Sabbath and Sabbath is best with Ozzy (although Dio did an admirable job). On each track, Iommi still delivers in the riff department and his solos are definitely treats. Butler sounds solid too, adding his agile rumble to the tracks. Obvious highlights are “God Is Dead?” and “Loner”. In a way, they feel like updated cousins of “War Pigs” and “N.I.B.” respectably. “Age of Reason” has an excellent solo from Iommi and “Damaged Soul” has great breakdown with Ozzy blowing away on harmonica. In the end, if you can get over the exclusion of Bill Ward, then 13 becomes the Sabbath record for which you have been waiting.

Essential Tracks: “Loner”, “Damaged Soul” & “Age of Reason”.

Houndmouth's Shining Debut 

Houndmouth are a band from Indiana. Their music fuses the Americana pop sensibilities of the Lumineers with the grit and storytelling of the Band. Their debut album, From The Hills Below The City, was released in early June. Great tracks like “Ludlow”, “Penitentiary”, and “Casino (Bad Things)” tell tales of survival, hard times and addiction in a brutal world. These songs are delivered with engaging and cinematic lyrics, as well as sing-along Appalachian harmonies. The music goes down pretty easily on the first listen. Many of the songs are mid-tempo, but the drums hit hard and drive the music while the tasteful, but fiery electric guitar work adds its own drama and exciting crescendos to the music. The latter half of album loses a little steam in few places, but on the whole, it’s a damn good debut and worthy of your time.

Essential tracks: “Ludlow” “Penitentiary” & “Casino (Bad Things)”

Reissue: Deep Purple Live In Copenhagen 1972 

Over the next year, Deep Purple will dig into the vaults for their “The Official Deep Purple (Overseas) Live Series”. The collection is made up of ten concerts recorded outside of England between 1969-1976. In January, they unveiled concert number one, Paris 1975, which captures Ritchie Blackmore’s final performance with the band before the 1980s reunion. Deep Purple is on fire and the audio is top notch.

Earlier this month, the second installment, Copenhagen 1972 came out. It captures the Mark II Deep Purple at a time when their iconic album Machine Head was already recorded, but was not yet released. From that album, they preview “Highway Star”, “Lazy” and “Space Truckin’”. Interestingly, “Smoke On The Water” was not played at the Copenhagen concert, showing that the band did not realize what a huge hit it was soon going to be. To round out the two-disc collection, Deep Purple have include three bonus tracks (“Smoke On The Water” is one of them) from a 1973 live show in New York as well as a 1971 Australian radio interview.

As far as the performance, the band plays with a lot of energy and Ian Gillan really shows that he can squeal with best classic rock singers. The audio isn’t bad, but lacks the crispness of the Paris 1975 concert. It is a little muddier and sounds more like it was recorded for a radio broadcast or TV instead the quality of a traditional live album. The New York bonus tracks are of higher audio fidelity than the Copenhagen tracks. However, listening to this live recording, one thing is clear: Deep Purple is one hell of a live band and can deliver the goods. Fans of the band’s live work should check this out.

Essential tracks: “Black Night”, “Lucille” & “Strange Kind of Woman (Copenhagen version)”

Lou Doillon Debut Goes Places 

French model and actress, Lou Doillon’s debut record, Places, comes out this coming Tuesday. (Because the Rolling Clone Blogazine is so freakin’ cool, I was supplied with an advanced copy.) Places is a subdued record with some really great lyrics and songwriting. It is one of those albums that takes a second or third listen to get into, but on the whole is pretty darn good. Doillon’s voice is sweet and pleasing with an ever so slight bite to it. It goes well with the organic production: acoustic guitars, piano and understated horns. One can hear bits of Dido minus the electronics aspect as well as Adele, although Doillon’s voice is not as “big” as Adele’s.

The album opens with a song called “I.C.U.”, a cinematic love song describing how her mind plays tricks on her as she searches for her lost lover. She sees him everywhere, but he is not really there. It’s a good song and has Dylanesque aspects with its lyrical imagery. “Devil Or Angel” is another noteworthy song. The track is the first single and has definite adult contemporary radio potential. Most of Doillon’s songs are mid-tempo or slower ballads, so when she bumps the tempo up just a bit in “Questions And Answers” it is a nice change of pace. The song feels really good and is a definitely highlight. Other strong songs are the title track as well as “Make A Sound”. All in all, fans of chill singer-songwriters should definitely check out Lou Doillon’s debut. It’s quite good.

Essential tracks: “I.C.U.”, “Devil Or Angel” & “Questions And Answers”.

The Olms: Pete Yorn & J.D. King Go Back the 60s 

Since 2010, it seemed that Pete Yorn had been laying low. Little did anyone know that he had teamed up with J.D. King to form the Olms? Last week, they released their self-titled debut. The Olms is a beautiful album of 1960’s west coast-flavored pop and folk filled with layers of lush Byrds-style harmonies that enrich this extremely likeable collection of songs. The opening track “On The Line” gets the time machine rolling. The song is reminiscent of the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints”, especially with its vintage organ and the way the cowbell is used. The melancholy (but eventually happy) “Someone Else’s Girl” is the best song on the album with it’s catchy “while I wait” chorus and pretty harmonies. It is infectious and will get stuck in your head, but in a good way. The whole album is pretty strong, but other standouts are the Monkees-ish “Twice As Nice”, the country western “She Said No” and Yorn’s “Wanna Feel It”. Of all the songs on the album, “Wanna Feel It” sounds the most modern and is probably the most accessible to fans of Yorn’s solo work. His music has always had always shown a deep respect and knowledge of 60s and 70s rock music. However, by teaming up with King, the two have really embraced the music of the 60s and created something special.

Essential tracks: “Some Else’s Girl” “Twice As Nice” & “I Wanna Feel It

Holy Smoke On The Water! 

Many people may not know it, but Deep Purple still make records. Not only that, they still make good records. 2003’s Bananas and 2005’s Rapture of the Deep all contained a lot of strong material that keep with the spirit of their music from the early to mid-seventies. The years of chemistry between the classic Mark II-era Deep Purple members, Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums) is still undeniable. It’s been nearly twenty years since Ritchie Blackmore departed Deep Purple for the second time. Since then, Steve Morse has done an admirable job coming through in the guitar hero department. Don Airey who replaced the late Jon Lord when he retired in 2002 is the band’s most recent addition and he doesn’t disappoint either.

A few weeks ago, Deep Purple delivered again with the release of Now What?!, which was produced by the legendary Bob Ezra (Pink Floyd’s The Wall, KISS’s Destroyer, Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare etc.). With Ezra and the classic combination of distorted organ and guitar interplaying with Gillan’s vocals and the band’s tight rhythm section, Deep Purple have crafted one large delightful dose of classic rock nostalgia. Is Now What?! as good as works like Machine Head or In Rock? No, but there is still plenty to appreciate. For example, the opening track, “A Simple Song”, starts out quiet and unassuming before kicking to life in true Deep Purple fashion with a shift in dynamics and the organ ablazing. Other strong tracks that recapture their 1970s sound are “Out of Hand”, “Après Vous”, “Vincent Price” and “Body Line”. “All The Time In The World” is a good mid-tempo song, but feels more like Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac tune than Deep Purple. Of course, Now What?! is not without a few missteps. “Hell To Pay” with its cheesy gang vocal sounds a little too KISS. Ezra is most likely to be blamed for that. “Uncommon Man” could be a good song, but suffers from the unfortunate choice of using hokey synthesized horns – almost making the tune sound like something belonging as the background music to a retro medieval-themed video game.

However all in all, Now What?! proves that this truly under-appreciated band (at least in America) can still deliver. At this point in their career, Deep Purple know what kind of albums they want to make. They also know how to please their listeners and tastefully achieve that sound without it coming off as forced or recycled. Fans of classic hard rock should be sure to check out this album.

Essential tracks: “A Simple Song” “Out of Hand” & “All The Time In The World”.

Ready To Die Finds Iggy & The Stooges Quite Alive 

Forty years ago, Iggy & the Stooges released Raw Power, an adrenaline-filled classic that would lay down the groundwork for punk rock. Ready To Die marks the first time since then that the Raw Power-era Stooges have recorded together. In some respects, Ready To Die tries to be "Raw Power II" with incendiary guitar attacks on tracks like "Burn", "Job", "Dirty Deal" as well as the title track. However, the Stooges have allowed their musical pallet to expand a little with addition of raunchy-sounding horns ("Sex And Money" and "DD's") and by recording three slower reflective ballads. Unfortunately, the ballads are pretty skippable with the exception of "Beat That Guy", which still packs a punch despite its slower tempo. It is definitely one of the album's most compelling tracks.

As with most of Iggy & the Stooges' work, the music skates the line between the juvenile and the profound.  For example, the politically-tinged "Gun" (whose opening riff is very similar to "Raw Power") is a critique on many American's attitudes towards guns. Then, there are songs like "DD's" with lyrics that sound like they were written by a horny middle school boy. Much of Ready To Die oscillates between these two extremes. On the whole, this new album should bring a smile to fan's faces. It shows that Iggy and the boys still have some fight in them and that they should keep on kicking ass before another one of them dies.

Essential tracks: "Beat That Guy" "Job" & "Ready To Die".  The entire album can be streamed here

She & Him's Bland Volume III 

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward had something special when they put out She & Him Volume I. It was a nice chill sixties throwback record that combined Dusty Springfield-style vocals with Brian Wilson influenced harmony arrangements. She & Him also enabled Deschanel an opportunity to strut her musical talents outside of the occasional song in films like Yes Man and Elf.

Five years later and after a Volume II and a Christmas record, She & Him now have released Volume III. On Volume III, the recipe hasn't changed much. It is a pleasant enough record, but as with a number of franchises, by the time the third installment rolls around, some things have turned a little stale. Overall, the material isn't as compelling or as inspired as what was on Volumes I & II. There are strong moments with Deschanel originals like "I've Got Your Number, Son", "I Could've Been Your Girl" and "Snow Queen" as well as the duo's renditions of covers like "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" and "Sunday Girl". Then there the droughts of blandness: "London", "Baby" and "Together". In the end, Volume III is not a "bad record" more like a "meh record".  Volume III is better than nothing from this talented duo, however Ward and Deschanel can and have done better.

Essential tracks:

"I've Got Your Number, Son" "I Could've Been Your Girl" & "Sunday Girl"

The Glorious Return of Fall Out Boy 

A few minutes into Save Rock And Roll, the epiphany hits that the world is a better place with Fall Out Boy in it. After a three-and-a-half-year hiatus, they are back with a delightfully over-the-top record brimming with dance-infused rock and ginormous pop hooks.  Look out for cameos from all over the spectrum from Big Sean to Courtney Love and Elton John. Bonus! Save Rock And Roll is hardly a nostalgia record. The band picked up right where they left off and continued pushing forward. On Save Rock And Roll, they have learned some new tricks and some of the songs sound rather “clubby”, but essential elements like the soulful nature of Patrick Stump’s voice and delightful wit of Pete Wentz’s lyrical word play anchor the album as another FOB classic. Check it out. It should leave fans grinning ear to ear.

Essential tracks: “Alone Together” “Just One Yesterday” & “Young Volcanoes”

The Thermals Hold Their Ground 

On Desperate Ground, the Thermals do what they do best. They stay lean and mean, while churning out ten very to the point songs (the longest which clocks out at 3:13). Like the Ramones before them, on Desperate Ground, they don’t mess with the recipe. They deliver the goods with intense brevity. The whole album flows by beautifully in a whirlwind 26 minutes and 23 seconds. Each track is well-crafted, fast and driving punk rock, ringing with the self-righteousness and low-fi charm that defines the Thermals’ sound. Desperate Ground stands comfortably when compared with other Thermals’ masterpieces such as The Body, The Blood, The Machine and Now We Can See. There is not a dud song on this album. Two tunes that kick a little extra ass are “You Will Find Me” and “Faces Stay With Me”. Also, the closer, “Our Love Survives” stands out as well. In addition to be an excellent song, it’s message of love triumphing over evil and adversity might resonate strongly with those who suffered while witnessing the horror that occurred at the Boston Marathon. Even though the record came out the day after the attack and the song was clearly written before Monday’s tragedy, it coincidentally has some parallels (admittedly not a perfect match) to the eulogy given by President Obama at the victims’ funeral. All in all, the Thermals have made a consistently strong record that won’t disappoint their fans.

Essential tracks: “You Will Find Me”, “Faces Stay With Me” and “Our Love Survives”.

Strokes’ Hit Highs & Lows On Comedown Machine 

Don’t write the Strokes off. If they want to, they should continue to make albums or at least EPs. Sure they haven’t made an album as explosively awesome as their debut, Is This It?, since well . . . Is This It?, but each of their subsequent albums has contained at least some strong material. 2011’s Angles included “Under Cover Of Darkness” which will stand as one of the band’s all time best songs. Have humbled expectations and check out their latest, Comedown Machine, because it too has some worthy tunes even if there is some filler.

The modus operandi for Comedown Machine is moments of classic Strokes interspersed with some 1980s new wave-influenced music as well as a few other experiments. For songs that are more “old school” Strokes, check out “All The Time” and “50/50”. “80s Comedown Machine” is a cool mellow song that fits in the vein of some of the material the Strokes did on First Impressions Of Earth. The opener, “Tap Out” is pretty decent too and would have fit well on Angles. “Welcome To Japan” sounds like they are trying to be the Virgins, but it is still fun. The dancy “Happy Ending” is one of the album’s most compelling songs and definitely warrants a listen. The rest of the album is a jumbled and mixed bag. Comedown Machine does indeed get better with each listen, but as mentioned earlier; it combines quality Strokes material with . . . other stuff.

Essential tracks: “Happy Ending”, “Tap Out”, & “50/50”.  The album can be streamed here.

A New Day For David Bowie 

After heart problems caused him to cancel the rest of his 2004 tour, the world was left wondering where David Bowie had gone? Was he done making music? Had he had enough and just wanted to live quietly? Luckily, Bowie had a surprise for everyone. On his sixty-sixth birthday, he released a new single and announced that a new album was on its way. That record, The Next Day, arrived in stores last month. It is a vibrant record that testifies that Bowie still has plenty of fire in him. Sonically, the album connects with the music he made (Heathen and Reality) before he disappeared. Those threads are there, as well as a light sprinkling of moments that recall his sounds during the 1970s and 80s. Yet Bowie for the most part pushes things forward. The Next Day sounds modern, but in the way that Bowie does what he always does; evolve.

With The Next Day, Bowie doesn’t shortchange listeners, delivering fourteen strong new songs (seventeen if you get the deluxe version). Needless to say, there is a lot to appreciate, so I will hit the highlights. The opener and title track rocks. Lyrically, it talks about being near death, but the passion in Bowie’s singing proves that he’s not ready to call it a day. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is another solid tune that would have also fit well with the songs on Reality. “Valentines Day” is a treat, because there is a touch of Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie in it. It’s still feels modern, but also could be played on a set list next to something like “Starman”. Later on the record, he really rocks on “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” and there is a shredding guitar solo provided by Earl Slick. “I’d Rather Be High” and “Boss Of Me” are also quite strong. By the end of The Next Day, you have to admit that Bowie is still great. He’s still weird and he’s back and we should be thankful.

Essential tracks: “The Next Day”, “Valentines Day” and “(You Will) Set The World On Fire”.

New Hendrix Treasures 

The fact that the people controlling the Jimi Hendrix estate are still able to find quality unreleased Hendrix recordings is a testament to just how prolific the man was. He needlessly died too young, but still managed to bang out an impressive body of work. People, Hell and Angels is the latest installment in the series of “new” archival releases from Experience Hendrix LLC. It is worth a listen, especially if you are a diehard fan. Is it the greatest Hendrix album? Of course not and not every track is a killer, but there is still a good amount of tasty guitar playing to be appreciated.

A bulk of the material comes from experimental sessions and jams with different friends and musicians following the demise of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix was looking for his new sound and finding new bursts of inspiration. The opener, “Earth Blues”, is a more barebones version from the one that appears on First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Although, this newly released take definitely has its own distinctive charm, because of its rawness. Also of note is “Somewhere” which features Stephen Stills on bass. It has a sexy slow bluesy groove to it. “Let Me Move You” features saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood on lead vocals while Hendrix stabs away on guitar. The resulting recording is a blast, but sounds more like a Wilson Pickett tune instead of classic Hendrix. The version of “Izabella” included here has an impressive guitar solo, but the band sounds rather loose. “Easy Blues” is nothing to write home about either. Songs like “Crash Landing” and “Inside Out” would later develop into “Freedom” and “Ezy Ryder” respectively. However, the versions on People, Hell and Angels have a lot of fire and provide interesting insights into Hendrix’s songwriting development. All in all, People, Hell and Angels has some great moments which far outnumber the mediocre ones. It is a reminder of just how talented Hendrix was, even if he was just jamming with his friends.

Essential tracks: “Earth Blues”, “Somewhere” & “Crash Landing”

Young Bugg Gains Speed! 

Last week, Jake Bugg’s self-titled debut album was released in the United States. The nineteen-year-old has done well. A lazy comparison would be to say that he is trying to channel young Bob Dylan. There are some songs like “Lighting Bolt” and “Country Song” where Bugg’s voice has that Dylany nasality. However, content-wise none of these songs are really political or as whimsical as Dylan. A better comparison is to say that Bugg sounds more like Donovan meets an edgier Peter Noone of the Herman’s Hermits with a touch of Bright Eyes. At times, there’s even a touch of the Everly Brothers. All in all, this is a very pleasant record and marks a solid debut from an artist with a lot of potential. Jake Bugg has a great 1960s throwback sound, but at the same time is crisply modern in its production. In a way, its like what Mark Ronson did for Amy Winehouse’s retro soul Back To Black. With Jake Bugg, it is more like neo-British Invasion.

The opening track, “Lightening Bolt” is already gaining speed with its usage in a Gatorade commercial. However, there are a number of real gems such as the irreverent “Two Fingers”, the sincere “Simple As This” and the very cinematic “Seen It All”.

Essential tracks: “Two Fingers”, “Simple As This” & “Seen It All”

Tegan and Sara’s Full-On Pop Catharsis  

Tegan and Sara are back. It’s been a process, but they have successfully reinvented themselves once again. The two started out as an acoustic duo, but by the time they released 2009’s Sainthood, the sisters had successfully transformed into an indie rock outfit. With their brand new album, Heartthrob, Tegan and Sara have gone full-on pop. Don’t worry; it is glorious! The new album sits comfortably next to earlier masterpieces So Jealous and The Con. This is because with Heartthrob, the music still carries the emotional catharsis that makes Tegan and Sara songs Tegan and Sara songs. However, now you can dance to them!

Heartthrob is a consistently solid record and should be enjoyed in its entirety. The crown jewel is the opening track, “Closer”. It is very fun and dance floor friendly. Imagine the catchiness and shiny production of a Katy Perry tune mixed with lyrics of substance and top-notch songwriting. The duo has always known how to hit listeners in the gut. Throughout their career, break-up songs have always been Tegan and Sara’s bread and butter and there are a number of good ones on Heartthrob such as: “Shock To Your System”, “How Come You Don’t Want Me” and “I’m Not Your Hero”. With Heartthrob, the intensity is still present, but the poppy production enables everything comes through a little shinier and sweeter.

Essential tracks: “Closer”, “How Come You Don’t Want Me” and “I’m Not Your Hero”

Free Energy Bring It With New LP 

 “I feel so boss – yeah! Making out with your lip stick gloss . . .” Be glad the world didn’t end in 2012, because then you would be denied the joy of Free Energy’s new album Love Sign. The Philly-based band’s sophomore record is a guaranteed good time loaded with huge sing-a-long hooks and a healthy amount of cowbell. Within Love Sign, one can hear the influences of classic rock acts such as T. Rex, the Cars and Thin Lizzy in the DNA of the music, but at the same time, the production is very current and brings a freshness to the music. “Electric Fever”, “Girls Want Rock” and “Hangin” (which is quoted at the beginning of this piece) are all ass-kicking power pop jams. However, the real jewel is the summery ballad “True Love”. It’s an understated love song that builds over 80s-style synths and cool programmed beats. The closer, “Time Rolls On” is another treat. It’s a mid-tempo song that drives under, hypnotic drum work, crunchy guitar and horn accents. All in all, Free Energy has made one of those fun pop-rock records that tastefully bottles youthful romanticism without letting nostalgia get the best of it.  Love Sign is an intoxicating reminder of summer nights where each one held its own potential for an epic adventure. So with that frame of mind, hop in your car, put the record on and let the good times roll!

Essential Tracks: “Electric Fever”, “True Love”, “Girls Want Rock”

Dogs Eating Dogs: Blink-182 Bites Back! 

This year, Christmas came early to pop-punk fans! Last week, Blink-182 released their splendid new 5-song EP, Dogs Eating Dogs. Having recently left their label Interscope, Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker decided it was time to step out on their own. With Dogs Eating Dogs, they have definitely come out swinging. Unlike last year’s Neighborhoods, the band chose to actually all work together in the same studio instead of emailing tracks back and forth from different locations. Neighborhoods was by no means a bad record, but with this new EP there is definitely a feeling that the band has its mojo back. Dogs Eating Dogs is lean and mean and more cohesive than its predecessor. The boys didn’t mess around. In fact, Blink only started recording the EP on November 5, 2012 and BOOM! Here it is! Merry Christmas! On the whole, the most remarkable thing about this new collection is that Blink has magically found a way to create something that sounds very current without losing that crunchy pop spirit that made songs like “All The Small Things” and “Feeling This” great.

The opening track “When I Was Young” opens with slow distorted drum beats and an organ intro a la the All American Rejects “Swing Swing”, before switching into full-on Blink-mode with Barker’s rapid-fire gunshot drumming and DeLonge’s nasal vocal delivery and palm-muted guitar. The chorus opens up in classic Blink style with Hoppus providing his trademark call and response backing vocals and harmonies. Neither DeLonge or Hoppus has a traditionally great voice, but as singers both have a distinctiveness and attitude that is unique and immediately identifiable as Blink-182 when the two are put together. Next, the energy goes up a notch with the title track. The song really drives with Barker’s masterful snare work and Hoppus singing lead on the verses and pre-choruses before trading off the choruses with DeLonge. The next song, “Disaster”, could comfortably appear on one of DeLonge’s Angels and Airwaves’ albums. It is a little slower and the guitar has more of a U2 vibe. Lyrically, it is mildly cheesy for example: “What do you fear my love? Your soul it will float like a dove.” It is by no means a bad song, just not as strong as the other four. However, the next track, “Boxing Day” is one of those special Blink jems that goes in the file with tracks like “I Miss You”. It is an acoustic song that is both pretty and bittersweet, dealing with being dumped the day after Christmas. It is folky, poppy and catchy with DeLonge singing the verses and Hoppus singing the chorus hook of: “You left me on the day after Christmas.” The closer “Pretty Little Girl” is a really enjoyable track complete with electronic keyboard loops and a full on pop-punk chorus that is built to make you dance. There is even a guest appearance by rapper Yelawolf. This may cause some people to scratch their heads, but it works.

Check it out! Dogs Eating Dogs is a lot of fun. Longtime fans should be pleased. Blink-182 sounds truly renewed as if they are flexing their muscles to get ready to deliver something truly special.

Essential Tracks: “When I Was Young” and “Boxing Day”

KISS's Monster Rocks On! 

Okay, hear me out! Curiosity got the best of me and I decided to check out the new KISS record, Monster. I had low expectations and was expecting Cheesefest 2012 and, yes, there are plenty of cheesy moments, but Monster is pretty sweet. The opener “Hell Or Hallelujah” has a killer guitar riff (think Aerosmith meets Zeppelin). They keep up the momentum throughout the album with other fun rockers like: “Wall Of Sound” and “Back To The Stone Age.” KISS didn’t reinvent the wheel on this album. Instead, they just kind of rediscovered it by cutting out outside writers, orchestras, ballads and by recording on analog. It sounds great! The band really gets back to its roots. Monster is a fun rock record and is really catchy. Turn it on and I dare you not start head banging. I will even go as far as to say that this is the best KISS album since 1977’s Love Gun. It might be KISS’s best record since Destroyer. All in all, it a great time for those you who want to rock and roll all night and party every day.

Essential Tracks: “Hell Or Hallelujah” & “Wall Of Sound”

Dylan Still Finds His Words, (But Too Bad He Didn't Clear His Throat) 

Here’s the deal with this record. Tempest is a solid addition to the Dylan canon. It proves that the man can still write great songs with rich lyrics. As always, he is personal, yet completely mysterious. Also worth noting: there are numerous songs about murders. Tempest might possibly be Dylan’s bloodiest record. If you pay attention to many of the songs’ story lines, you will notice that body count quickly adds up.
The catch with Tempest is Dylan’s vocals. Yes, I know people have been harping about his singing since he was in his early twenties. I also recognize that a singer’s voice usually gets lower over time. Dylan’s once nasally voice is now a smoky growl. It’s been that way since he released 1997’s masterpiece, Time Out Of Mind. I don’t have a problem with this. I have a problem with the fact that he didn’t clear his throat before singing several of the tracks and you can hear the flem in his throat. That is gross. The opener “Dusquesne Whistle” has a lot of energy. It is a great track until you hear the flem gurgle in Dylan’s voice. Even Dylan’s touching tribute to John Lennon, “Roll On John”, is marred by flemmy singing. Too bad, no one in the studio had the nerve to say, “Hey Bob, this track sounds sweet. Why don’t you clear your throat and we’ll take it from the top?”

That being said, there is still plenty to appreciate in Tempest. “After Midnight” with its pretty melody waltzes along like a summer night. “Pay In Blood” rocks like Bob Dylan fronting the Bridges of Babylon-era Rolling Stones. “Early Roman Kings” and “Narrow Way” are two groovin’ blues rock tracks that sound like they could have been recorded at Chess Studios in the 1950s. “Scarlet Town” has some incredible lyrics, including the biting: “Set ‘em Joe, play “Walkin’ the Floor”. Play it for my flat-chested junkie whore.” It is very dark, but still poetic.

Tempest, has its flaws, but is anchored by many more moments of undeniable brilliance. So yeah, at the end of the day, Dylan’s still got it.

Essential tracks: “After Midnight”, “Narrow Way” and “Scarlet Town”