Wilco, Wainwright, Buble and Wilson. Sounds like the name of a law firm. Actually, it's four of the big acts celebrating new CD releases today.
Roger, Wilco: As a promotional tool to get folks excited about the album, Wilco has been streaming their new album "Sky Blue Sky," (Nonesuch, A-) on line for free the past few days. Yet they've suffered some negative feedback for their largess. Some fans of their recent,quirky studio albums ("Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," "A Ghost Is Born") have bemoaned the much more traditional, pensive craftmanship of this new set. But I'm fine with it, especially in the context of the confessional, been to hell and back messages that front guy Jeff Tweedy needs to lay out in sobered up songs like the title track, "Please Be Patient with Me" and "Hate It Here." Often, he's evoking the fine whine of John Lennon in the latter's psychologically unburdening solo years. Other times, especially when Wilco's super guitarist Nels Cline gets to noodle on, the group suggests The Band with the twangy soloing of Robbie Robertson. Stay sober Wilco. You're worthy that way, too.
Stewing In Her Juices: She's still a "Redneck Woman" (as her first hit declared) and proud of it. Now country singer/composer Gretchen Wilson renews her vows on "One of the Boys" (Columbia, B+), an entertaining celebration of staying up late ("You Don't Have To Go Home"), being her rowdy tomboy self (the title track) and finding truth in the bottom of a glass ("There's a Place in the Whiskey," "Pain Killer.") Even with her success, Wilson's keeping it real and low-rent, she vows in "There Goes The Neighborhood." And she remains a super realist when it comes to matters of the heart, making peace in "Come To Bed" while refusing to baby her man in "If You Want a Mother."
New stylist Michael Buble calls his latest set "Call Me Irresponsible," (Reprise, B+) after the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen song. But there's nothing thoughtless or randomly thrown into this punchy mix. Along with swinging classics like "The Best Is Yet To Come" and "That's Life," Buble bobs and weaves through works as diverse as Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" and fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man", all of which Buble makes his own. My most favorite piece is the Bob Dorough bopster "Comin' Home Baby," which Buble does up in breezy fashion with another Philly connection, Boyz II Men.
Flamboyant singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright could make a reading from the phone book sound big, important. But he's really going for baroque (and broke) on the strings-drenched, lushly melodic "Release The Stars" (Geffen, A), at once his biggest and most accessible album. Now that he's "tired of writing elegies to boredom," ironic contrast has become his strong suit, in yin-yang mysteries like "Do I Disappoint You" and "Slideshow." Both feature rich, Phil Spector-ish arrangements played against admissions of human fraility. Also de-lish are the sexually playful, pop rocking "Between My Legs" (stealing goofy sonic licks from "Phantom of the Opera") and his grieving for America "Going To A Town," boasting a tune that would do Paul McCartney proud.
More to Score: Written largely while he was incarcerated, then recorded close to his death in 2004, "Deeper Still" (Stone City, B) captures a Rick James different than you might know. Not just the wired-up, super freak, but more often a sensitive, and vocally refined dude, sharing truths about his past ("Taste"), celebrating strong women ("Sapphire"), even doing nicely with a folk-filigreed David Crosby tune, "Guinevere."
You can take the woman out of the Cranberries, yet you can't squeeze the juice out of Dolores O'Riordan, answering her own musical question "Are You Listening" (Sanctuary, B-). You should be if you liked her then. Otherwise, not.
While a fast flop on Broadway, the original cast album of "High Fidelity" (Ghostlight, B) boasts two showstoppers so terrific I wish I was back doing late-night radio, just so I could play them for y'all. "The Last Real Record Store On Earth" is a scene setting show-opener so perfect, so funny and so true to the music business today that it was impossible for the show composers to top. Until the imaginary presence of Bruce Springsteen pops up late in the second act to push the nerdy record store owner to seize the moment with "Good-bye and Good Luck."
Timed to the 40th anniversary of the Summer of 'Love, Legacy is pulling out collections to long lost '60s rockers like Moby Grape and The Remains, and a previously unreleased Fillmore East concert recording by the Jefferson Airplane "Sweeping Up the Spotlight" (B) that finds them in mediocre voice though rocking psyche-tacularly whenever Jorma and Jack jam out.
German jazz trumpeter Till Bronner revels in a lovely, muted lyrical tone on "Oceana"( Emarcy, A), produced by Larry Klein for maximum atmospheric and crossover appeal with guest appearances by Madeleine Peyroux, Brazilian singer Lulciana Souza and French songstress Carla Bruni. This is sonic bliss.
DVDlights: One of the true innovators of folk/jazz crossover music, Tim Buckley, is honored with the long overdue video "My Fleeting House" (MVD Visual, A-). It's a treasure trove of live performances blended with insights by the lyricist and guitarist who worked closely with him.
"Merle Haggard" (MVD Visual, B) also celebrates a long gone original, in a poorly lit but decent sounding Florida concert performance from 1983 doing up many of the outlaw country man's hits.
Two very amusing movie comedies, just out on DVD, celebrate pop music's glorious goofiness. And miracle of miracles, both homages boast original tune contributions by Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne fame). The '80s era of big hair bands like Duran Duran and Wham! plus the cheeziest teen pop of today are wonderfully spoofed in "Music and Lyrics" (Warner Bros. B+). Hugh Grant is the music has-been trying to write and place a tune (with help from Drew Barrymore) for recording by a singer who's kind of a mix of Britney, Shakira and Madonna. And a stitch.
Also just out, in a new "director's cut" special edition is "That Thing You Do!" (20th Century Fox, A-) a charming ode to a one-hit wonders of the 1960s trying to ape the British Invasion sound.
Tom Hanks is their manager. *