Wacked-out rockers (real and fictionalized), vital soul and jazz interpreters, and good-natured singer-songwriters have our ear with new releases this week.
THE BLOKE'S A JOKE: There is nothing socially redeeming in the debut album by Infant Sorrow, "Get Him to the Greek" (Universal, B), but there's a lot that's funny, in a grossly over-the-top way.
Infant Sorrow is not a real artist or group, but the soundtrack to a motion picture of the same name, opening Friday. It's got British shock comedian Russell Brand blowing up his messy rock-star character Aldous Snow (from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall") and basically having a royal larf at the expense of the contemporary music industry.
Back surgery or not, there's need to be laughing at (and not with) Bono just a little when you hear Brand's variation on the self-sanctifing theme "I Am Jesus." It's one of several juicy gems created for the set and film by bad boys of music parody Dan Bern and Mike Viola. Contempo pop's equally sanctimonious exploitation of Third World accents is brilliantly, um, exploited in Viola's "African Child (Trapped In Me)".
Warning: There are more positive references to extreme drug use on this soundtrack than you can shake a hypodermic at - from "Just Say Yes," written by Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp fame) and Jason Buckle, to "F.O.H.," which suggests sex goes better with the hard stuff. Jeez, have these people no moral compass? They have one, but it's pointing straight down!
Then there's the Paul McCartney-like seduction of "Little Bird," in which Brand (a surprisingly good and versatile singer) coos, "Hope your daddy doesn't mind, hope your mummy don't mind, hope your vampire doesn't mind."
By the end, the hedonistic character played by Brand finds his crude and rude match in Rose Bryne, playing a Madonna/Aguilera/Lady Goo Goo pop tart who leaves nothing to the imagination in "Supertight" and "Ring Round."
Yeah, you can't beat a happy ending.
STP CLEANS UP NICE: The very name (and shorthanded initials for) Stone Temple Pilots oozes druggy indulgence. And front man Scott Weiland has done his share of craziness and repentant rehab. But now all are clean and sober, it's claimed, and back on the road with a surprisingly variegated, tuneful and sometimes even beatific new, eponymous album (Atlantic, B+).
The twangy rock (verging on Tom Petty-ish) opener fondly recalls when love was still good "Between the Lines" that the dudes were snorting. And at the album's end, "Maver," Weiland ponders, "How many nights can you make without it?" One at a time, fella.
In between, they forget about troubles on the boogie rockin' "Huckleberry Crumble," do up a snide, Bob Dylan/Lou Reed-like finger pointing impression on "Hickory Dichotomy," serve the sweet and sticky "Cinnamon" and even take a John Lennon-like stand on "Dare If You Dare."
COVER ME: Classic soul-ballad stylist Bettye LaVette commented recently that there was no reason for her to serve up an album of covers if she couldn't bring something new to the table. And wow, does she ever with "Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook" (Anti, A).
While often smoothing out some of the hills and valleys of a melody or altering the tempo, she invariably opens up and clarifies the lyric. So even if you've heard "Wish You Were Here," "Nights In White Satin" or "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" a thousand times, LaVette makes it new, revealing intentions you never heard or felt before.
New Jersey-born, cool-school jazz-pop singer Stacey Kent has found much bigger success in Britain and France. Now, "Raconte-moi . . ." (Blue Note, B+) shows her total facility and comfort level as an expat, with an all-French-language set done up with a hip little combo for your easy-listening pleasure.
Ironically, the only tunes I recognized were her French samba translations of a Brazilian hit known in English as "Waters of March" and the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "It Might as Well be Spring," here renamed "C'est Le Printemps." C'est la vie!
Calm, cool, collected. That's the sound of pianist Keith Jarrett and double-bassist Charlie Haden, collaborating on "Jasmine" (ECM, B+) on mellow classics like "For All We Know" and "Body and Soul." It's Jarrett's first studio album in a dozen years, and his first pairing with Haden in 34, yet they're clearly in their comfort zone.
Also mighty pretty and almost as intimate is trumpeter Arturo Sandoval's "A Time for Love" (Concord, B), stirring cocktails like "Smile" and "All the Way."
SINGER/SONGWRITER SETS: Just in time for Summer, Jack Johnson leads a pleasant trip "To the Sea" (Brushfire/Universal, B+). The soft-stroked musical romances beckon you out into the water with easy rockin' and light reggae rhythms, then pull you under with the subtle undertow of lyrics like "No Good With Faces" and "Turn Your Love." Jack's best in a while.
While lumped with lots of other Americana singer/songwriters, Tift Merritt jumps out of the pack on "See You On the Moon" (Concord, B) with more pop-ish vocals, punchy production and her curious way of making mundane topics metaphoric. Take "Mixtape," wherein she's talking about working and reworking a tape to make it perfect. Really, she's talking about reshaping her own nature to make a guy happy.
Rootsy rock and country legend Bill Kirchen and a big bunch of notable friends are up to all kinds of tasty goodness on "Word to the Wise" (Proper, A-). We're talking Everlys-styled harmonies by Paul Carrack and Nick Lowe on "Shelly's Winter Love," dark and growlin' rock with Elvis Costello on "Man Is the Bottom of the Well," Chris O'Connell crooning "Husbands and Wives," whimsical jazzbo Dan Hicks' "Word to the Wise" and belting mama Maria Muldaur declaring "Ain't Got Time for the Blues." Not here, at least.