A week of soul CDs, and more from the past
Soul sensations loom specially large in this week's new release pile. STILL CRAZY: The offbeat combination of vintage soul vocals and percolating hip-hop production that made Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" the 2006 super crossover hit has been a tough act for the musical world to follow.
Soul sensations loom specially large in this week's new release pile.
STILL CRAZY: The offbeat combination of vintage soul vocals and percolating hip-hop production that made Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" the 2006 super crossover hit has been a tough act for the musical world to follow.
Amy Winehouse almost equaled the genre-gapping deed last year with her Stax-Volt homage "Rehab."
This week, the Gnarly duo of singer Cee-Lo Green and his mix-master partner, Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), hope to be struck by lightning again with the stylistical extensions of "The Odd Couple" (Atlantic, B+).
Already, the album has drummed up lots of interest via Internet leaks and premature (maybe) sales on iTunes, forcing Atlantic to put the set out today, two weeks ahead of schedule (and forcing reviewers to scramble to hear it online).
Like its predecessor, "St. Elsewhere," whence came that super hit, "The Odd Couple" juxtaposes soaring melodies and perversely dark, monster-movie-of-the-mind lyrical sentiments.
"Got some bad news this morning/which in turn made my day," Green shares in the moody confessional "Who's Gonna Save My Soul." "It's probably plain to see, I've got a lot of pain in me," he doubles up in "A Little Better."
There are lot of stylistic nods to swinging-'60s and '70-style British "Northern Soul" music. Dig "Surprise," with its tremelo-drenched guitar, or "Run," with its beatnik bongo drums and horror-movie lyrical motif: "Run away children, I've got a beast at bay."
But don't worry, not all is doom, gloom and retro.
"Whatever" turns today's catch-all dismissal to amusing end, as its loner subject puts down his mom and declares, "It could be cool, it could be better, I don't care, whatever."
It's, like, the one I'd want to hear on the radio, but, uh, whatever.
MORE BLASTS FROM THE PAST: One of the biggest of '60s British Invasion belters was Shirley Bassey, best known here for her commanding performance of the movie theme "Goldfinger."
What a surprise and delight to find she's still vocally kicking butt four decades later, though now as the royally endowed Dame Shirley Bassey, don'tcha know, on "Get the Party Started" (Decca, B).
Yeah, she's rocking out on our girl Pink's hit, as well as on vintage show-stoppers like the Broadway razzler-dazzler "Big Spender," Gloria Gaynor's disco-era "I Will Survive," Lionel Richie's "Hello" and the eternal chest-beater, "What Now My Love."
THE SAGE OF SOLOMON: It's taken a BBC film crew to do justice to one of Philadelphia's most important soul and gospel exports, Solomon Burke, on the amazing new DVD, "Everybody Needs Somebody" (Claptrap/Snapper, A).
The English crew came to our town with Burke in 2005 to revisit the stomping grounds of his youth (he was born in the 3900 block of Mount Vernon Street), record his interview with old friend Louise Williams at WDAS and capture him in performance at the Kimmel Center.
The BBC also amassed an amazing trail of photos and concert posters, interviews with family, friends, music critics and admiring musicians like Tom Jones and the Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman to paint a portrait of Burke as one of the most spiritual, industrious, prolific and empowered of Golden Age soul singers.
Why didn't the man become as well-known as peers like Ray Charles (who took a cue from Burke's earlier fusion of soul and country) or Otis Redding? One conclusion is that Burke hurt his career by challenging the system, including exploitative DJs and record labels.
But in so doing, he made it easier for later artists to get their share - and what a comeback Burke's enjoyed in recent years!
S&G REVISITED: Paul Simon is still showing vestiges of his extended London stay and adopted British accent in spoken introductions on "Simon & Garfunkel - Live 1969" (Columbia, B+).
Taken from a bunch of different shows (though you wouldn't know it, thanks to good editing), the concert disc captures the duo at an exciting time, introducing material from their soon-to-be-released (and biggest-selling) "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album. Unlike previous tours, studio sidekicks were in tow. These shows also marked the beginning of the end, the last time the two would tour together for 13 years.
AN OPEN BOOK: The most effective singer/songwriters are those who match their vocal tonality to lyrics that express a similar emotional note. So it is for Adam Duritz, the eternally aching, dramatically crushed front guy of Counting Crows.
He's still and forever singing for all the lonely, hung-up people in the world on "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings" (Geffen, B). Yeah, sometimes he's up, but mostly he's down. When you catch him in the company of some Hollywood hottie ("Los Angeles"), he's "just trying to make sense" of the city. And even with a seemingly anthemic, singalong chorus, there's no way around the anti-heroism of "You Can't Count on Me."
After a lengthy journey into bluegrass territory, Dolly Parton has returned to mainstream pop-country land with some derned good, self-penned material and brassy singing on "Backwoods Barbie" (Dolly Records, A-). The title tune plays drolly with her image - of course she ain't as dumb as she looks.
The twangy gospel celebration "Jesus and Gravity" clues us to how she stays grounded. And she paints vital pictures of romantic missteps on "Cologne" and "I Will Forever Hate Roses." Why even her covers - "Drives Me Crazy" and "The Tracks of My Tears" - are properly Dollywoodized. Welcome home, hon.
SHORT SHOTS: Mike Oldfield, granddaddy of cozmic, new age/global music consciousness (remember "Tubular Bells"?) is back in the grooves with the grand orchestral themes of "Music of the Spheres" (Decca, B+). Pianist Lang Lang and vocalist Hayley Westenra guest-appear.
Jazz singer Karrin Allyson does exceedingly well by bossa nova on "Imagina - Songs of Brasil" (Concord, A-). I appreciate both her ease with the Portuguese-language originals and the comfortable fit of English lyrics she's brought in (or commissioned).
If Melissa Ethridge rings your bell, check out kindred spirit Sarah Bettens, a vital, rainbow-flag-waving singer/songwriter letting her spirit "Shine" (Cocoon, B).
The funk flies as the horn-blowing dudes of Lettuce "Rage! (Velour, B-), paying tribute to the likes of James Brown, Herbie Hancock, Earth, Wind & Fire and Parliament/Funkadelic. Derivative, but fun.
Banjo-aholics can learn from the master as Tony Trischka covers lots of "Territory" (Smithsonian Folkways, B) with pickers such as Pete Seeger and Bill Keith helping out.
Elf Power conjures up atmospheric rock with trippy, psychedelic underpinnings on "In a Cave" (Ryko, B). *