Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – This Is 40 (Capitol) Music has always been crucial to filmmaker Judd Apatow’s craft whether it was his gently poking fun of Asia in 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin or spoofing Johnny Cash in 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. So it goes with his latest This Is 40, which is set for DVD release after being in the theaters barely two months ago. This quasi sequel to 2007’s Knocked Up finds Paul Rudd’s Paul as the owner of a struggling record label that’s home to a number of alt-rock artists including Graham Parker, who plays himself.
As such, the soundtrack’s line-up fits the theme. Ryan Adams sounds like Jackson Browne on a live reworked version of his “Lucky Now” and new track “Shining Through the Dark” while a rejuvenated Lindsey Buckingham weighs in with a trio of Jon Brion-produced gems (including the stellar Norah Jones collaboration “Brother & Sister.) Parker also shows up with a twangy Punch Brothers collaboration “What Do You Like?” and his own “Watch the Moon Come Down” while Boomers get to sup on Paul McCartney revisiting Venus and Mars for the instrumental outtake “Lunch Box/Odd Sox.” And while Buckingham’s “Sick of You” carries a patina of cynicism, Wilco enlists Jones and the Punch Brothers for their old-timey “I Got You (End of the Century)” while the Avett Brothers perfectly sum it all up with the winsome and endearing “Live and Die.”
Taj Mahal – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Columbia/Legacy) Far more than a mere bluesman, Taj Mahal is a musicologist whose gritty vocals and multi-dimensional grasp of genres has found him collaborating with a who’s who of talent including Ali Farka Toure, Bonnie Raittand Captain Beefheart. This versatility is clear throughout the 13 albums that make up this hefty box set.
Starting with the Rising Sons, the obscure mid-’60s supergroup he co-helmed with fellow musical square peg Ry Cooder that only released one official single, Mahal was never content to stay within the narrow confines of one genre. Even though his self-titled 1968 debut found him funneling covers of Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Boy Williamson and Elmore James through a Cream-like sieve with help from Cooder and longtime sideman Jesse Ed Davis, Mahal’s creative wanderlust only expanded going forward.
Various Artists – Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 (Rhino) A musical Rosetta Stone for latter-day punk and garage rock scenes, Nuggets was originally compiled by a pre-Patti Smith Group Lenny Kaye. Pitched to then-Elektra Records president Jac Holzman, Kaye’s project eventually became a double-album with singles culled from across the rock and roll spectrum. Most of these groups qualify as one-hit wonders and a number of their hits will be recognizable to oldies fans—The Standells’ Boston sports franchise anthem “Dirty Water,” the Knickerbockers’ Fab Four ripoff “Lies” and the Castaways’ Farfisa-soaked gem “Liar, Liar.” To Kaye’s credit, he didn’t always go for a group’s biggest hit—The Amboy Dukes are represented by their reading of the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go” versus “Journey to the Center of the Mind.” Likewise the Strangeloves bypassed the better-known “I Want Candy” for the raucous stomper “Night Time.” Then there are artists whose earliest forays into recording music are represented. Garage rock legend Roky Erickson’s Thirteenth Floor Elevators are here with the jittery “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and Todd Rundgren’s Nazz flat-out steals the opening riff from The Who’s “Can’t Explain” for the irresistible earworm “Open My Eyes.” Best of all is a pre-Mountain Leslie West fronting The Vagrants, who had the misfortune of cutting a paint-peeling cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” that was released a month before Aretha Franklin’s defining version.
ZZ Top – La Futura (American) If ZZ Top spent the ensuing years since its ’80s heyday lost in a creative desert, it would be production svengali Rick Rubin that was the guide that led the power trio to a musical oasis. Not unlike how he coaxed elder statesmen Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash to reach inward for a more organic and honest sound, Rubin similarly rode herd on the lil’ ol’ band from Texas. The result is the threesome’s solidest recording in decades. It manages to fuse the forward thinking synthesizer nuances of Eliminator with the gritty riffing and dirty blues many fans came to first associate with them via 1973’s classic Tres Hombres. While it would be easy to get scared off when you learn opening cut “I Gotsa Get Paid” is actually a reworking of “25 Lighters,” a hip-hop song by fellow Houstonians DJ DMD with Lil’ Keke and Fat Pat. Billy Gibbons and his compadres turn it on its head, for something that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Black Keys set. Listeners staying on are rewarded with the “Tush”-like shuffle “Chartreuse,” the bluesy “It’s Too Easy Manana” and “Flyin’ High,” the closest ZZ Top gets to a bona fide radio hit. In all, this is the most vibrant and rejuvenated this trio has sounded in ages.
Dr. John – Locked Down (Nonesuch) Is not quite the condition you’ll need to be on when you listen to this collaboration between Mac Rebennack and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who produces and serves as the bandleader for this project. Fully immersed in his Dr. John, the Night Tripper alter-ego, Rebennack dials up the psychedelic funk to epic levels, employing sultry call-and-response female vocalists to compliment the clattering clavinet pacing strutting “Kingdom of Izzness” and riding a baritone-saxophone-fueled groove on the hypnotic “You Lie” before totally floating off into the ether via the soul-jazz workout “Eleggua” complete with bouncy flute runs and a heavy cadence. And when he’s not tweaking your social consciousness with lines about war’s humanity and asking if the rebellious revolution is the final solution on the percolating title track, the N’awlins native stops long enough to conjure up the spirit of the late Screaming Jay Hawkins on “Big Shot,” a loping slice of second-line voodoo trimmed by eerie keyboard fills, other-worldly harmonies and a honking sax. Auerbach proves to be the perfect collaborative partner, helping his musical mentor cap of these 10 songs with “God’s Sure Good,” an uplifting testimony of salvation punctuated by Auerbach’s Steve Cropper-flavored riffing.
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