After a post-holiday breather, it's back to business for musical artists and labels, with a new horde of album releases landing in our mailbox. Here's what's floated to the top of the pile.
RINGO THEM BELLS: Yeah, he's continued to crank out live albums and DVDs, redoing hits with his assorted "All Starr" bands. But the last time Ringo Starr put out an album of original material (1974's "Goodnight Vienna"), the CD hadn't even been invented! Amazing.
Diehard fans of the distinctive drummer/singer and his old band (remember the Beatles?) will thus be in ecstasy to hear the absolutely fresh yet nostalgic pickings on "Liverpool 8," (Capitol, A-), a well-produced pulse-taking project.
And newbies can get with the music via digital download or the latest in packaged media, the USB wristband. (It's a wearable! And a computer plug-in! ) With ace Beatles acolytes Mark Hudson (ex-Hudson Brothers) and David A. Stewart (of Eurythmics fame) collaborating on material and production, you'll surely get the old Fab Four feeling with tunes like "Now That She's Gone Away" (think "She's Leaving Home" meets "Hey Bo Diddley"), the soft-shoe-shuffle "Harry's Song," (love the whistler), Ringo's "It Don't Come Easy"-quoting "Gone Are the Days" and the mambo beat (think "Mr. Moonlight") of "Give It a Try" and "Pasodobles."
And like his soul brother Paul McCartney, Ringo bookends the set with songs in the key of mortality - the Liverpool-era evoking title track, then the show-capping, "life's bigger plan"-themed "Love Is" and backporch gospel "R U Ready."
SONIC EXPERIMENT: You might want to put on a sweater before checking out the Magnetic Fields' new release, "Distortion" (Nonesuch, B+). This art-rock outing is a study in foggy, chilly sonic atmospherics with dark, subversive imagery to match.
Ever-experimental front man Stephen Merritt set out to evoke the spirit of Jesus and Mary Chain at their "Psychocandy" best. He especially hits the mark when harmonizing with Shirley Simms on laments like "Please Stop Dancing."
He also evokes (in a decidedly negative way) the Beach Boys oeuvre in "(I Hate) California Girls" and the wobbly-kneed "Too Drunk to Dream." And for sure perversion, nothing tops the cheery "The Nun's Litany," in which Shirley's woman of the cloth dreams aloud of other career courses she could have taken - Playboy bunny, topless waitress, dominatrix . . . Oh, the possibilities are endless!
OLD VOICES, NEW IDENTITIES: Also feeling the chill is Jon Foreman, best known as frontman for the popular band Switchfoot and now showing his solo side with the hard-copy release of "Fall/Winter" (Credential, B). The strings-endowed folk pop on these twin EPs (six songs each) revel in that brooding, sensitive-new-age-guy music we've grown to love from the likes of Damien Rice and David Grey.
You might know her as the voice of the ethereal Zero 7. On her own release, "Some People Have Real Problems," (Monkey Puzzle/Hear Music B+), Sia also reveals a gutsier, bluesy vocal temperament and a quirky songwriting style that holds appeal to fans of Amy Winehouse, Chrissie Hynde, Norah Jones and Kate Bush. Try the Southern-soul-flavored "Day Too Soon," the "Rehab" reversals of "The Girl You Lost to Cocaine" and the gorgeous waltz, "I Go to Sleep."
FAMILY FUN: Children's music is one of the few growth categories in the recording industry. And if the gods are just, seasoned singer/songwriter Ellis Paul will hit a home run with his first album for young 'uns, "The Dragonfly" (Black Wolf, A).
Evocative of Pete Seeger's classic children's discs, this folksy, all-original set is not just super-catchy but also full of positive notions, from the spirit-of-exploration-celebrating "Because It's There" to a Bush-wacking parable of a feared (but proven harmless) creature, "Abiola," to the singer's dream of righting all the wrongs before his newborn arrives, "9 Months to Fix the World."
Catch Paul and these tunes live at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the "Peanut Butter and Jams" series at World Cafe Live.
Contemporary funk-jazz jammers Medeski, Martin & Wood allow they put their small-fry-focused "Let's Go Everywhere" (Little Monster, B-) together in just four days.
I wouldn't be so quick to brag. Yes, it sounds funky and improvisational (good things) but also shallow and uninspired in the lyrics department (uh, not so good). And the gruff vocal contributions by Tim Ingram and Lounge Lizards' leader John Lurie just don't seem kid-friendly.
SHOW STOPPERS: The quest to soar and explore also takes musical wing in "Take Flight" (PS Classics, B+) an invigorating new musical about the early age of aviation from composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr., now out in its British original cast recording.
Dramatic license trumps historical accuracy in John Weidman's book as the lives of the Wright Brothers, Amelia Erhart and Charles Lindberg intertwine in ways that didn't really happen but do underscore the competitive spirit the aviators must have been feeling.
Sorry, gang. The new Mel Brooks musical, "Young Frankenstein" (Decca, B-), is just not up to the brilliance of his previous film-to-stage translation, "The Producers." Still there are some giggles to be had in "The Happiest Town in Town" and "Join the Family Business."
While I haven't yet seen the film, I'm definitely feeling the appeal of "Juno" (Rhino, B) from the charming, intimate singer/songwriter tunes on the soundtrack album. Kimya Dawson contributes four whispy originals. Also working in a gentle groove are songs from Buddy Holly, Belle & Sebastian and Cat Power, and Sonic Youth's genteel remake of "Superstar."
FYI: Catch Dawson live Saturday night at the First Unitarian Church on Chestnut Street.
Drama-drenched tunes by Michael Franti and Spearhead, Tom Waits, the Nighthawks and Solomon Burke have helped produce the gritty, gripping mood of "The Wire" on HBO and in the soundtrack collection " . . . and all the pieces matter": Five Years of Music from 'The Wire' " (Nonesuch, A-).
JAZZ NOTES: Come on down for a soul-jazz picnic as the likes of Tom Scott, Terence Blanchard, George Duke, Marcus Miller and Nancy Wilson convene for "Cannon Re-Loaded: An All-Star Celebration of Cannonball Adderley" (Concord Jazz, B+).
Jim Heath, better known as the howling rockabilly preacher man Reverend Horton Heat, shows his love and knowledge of vintage jazz-pop crossovers and movie/TV themes on the mostly instrumental "Revorgandrum" (Yep Rock, B). Heath works over biggies like "Night Train," "I Got a Woman" and "Theme to Route 66" with organist Tim Alexander and drummer Todd Soesbe.