When Blake Shelton made his controversial comments earlier this year basically saying traditional country music was for old farts, it’s clear that Miranda Lambert’s main squeeze won’t be inviting Dale Watson to his next cookout.
Not unlike peers Dwight Yoakam and Rosie Flores, Watson is a devotee of Bakersfield-inspired honky-tonk firmly imprinted by elder statesmen Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. And unlike the clean (read bland) pop-flavored fare currently falling off the Music Row assembly-line that’s passing for country music nowadays, these 14 songs about boozing and loving ring with considerably more authenticity.
When Dave Grohl shot the documentary Sound City, about the legendary and recently-shuttered recording studio in Van Nuys, CA, this ad hoc group came together and put out an album. Given Grohl’s broad musical appetite, it’s not surprising that this mix of odd creative bedfellows includes Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor, Rick Springfield, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, Stevie Nicks, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, Fear frontman Lee Ving and former Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic.
Having purchased the studio’s original Neve mixing board, the Foo Fighters mastermind invited all these artists into his home to record. Rather than cut a bunch of covers, Grohl and company instead went with all originals. The results are surprisingly good given the freewheeling nature of this project. Standouts include a surprisingly spry-sounding Springfield tearing into the aggressively Foo-like “The Man That Never Was,” Nicks’ Mac-kissed “You Can’t Fix This” and Ving’s punk-blues rant “”Your Wife is Calling.” Then there’s of course “Cut Me Some Slack,” essentially Nirvana fronted by Macca. Originally debuted at last year’s MSG Sandy benefit and subsequently played on Saturday Night Live, it’s a slice of raw yowling that finds the septuagenarian easily keeping up with his considerably younger bandmates. Thanks to the loose vibe on Real to Reel, this mash note to Sound City works on a few different levels.
The third album released by former guitar-playing savant Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information was originally released in 1974. Even though Otis was only 21 when this outing hit the racks, he “retired” after his befuddled label couldn’t quite figure out what to do with this project that emerged after the prodigy spent three years in the studio playing every instrument. A gorgeously atmospheric collection of R&B songs, allegedly Sly Stone’s jaw dropped when he heard the results. With better marketing, it wouldn’t be hard to have seen it being mentioned in the same breath as what Stone, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were doing at the time. As such, the Brothers Johnson had a 1977 Top 5 hit with Otis’s “Strawberry Letter 23” (recorded for his 1971 sophomore outing Freedom Flight). Moreover, the son of trailblazing R&B bandleader Johnny Otis blazed the trail for Prince and later on, the neo-soul movement of the mid to late ’90s.
Forever entwined with ex-Uncle Tupelo bandmate Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar of Son Volt somehow still manages to be overshadowed by Tweedy’s critically-acclaimed Wilco, even having the misfortune of having both groups’ albums generally come out in a fairly similar narrow time-frame. Having reformed Son Volt back in 2005 after a brief hiatus, Farrar returned to moving towards making country music that Blake Shelton might look at as being for old farts. And while that terminology might have gotten Ray Price up in arms, stylistically it’s what distinguishes Honky Tonk, Son Volt’s seventh studio album. On it, Tweedy’s ex-bandmate and his crew are paying homage to Bakersfield masters like Merle Haggard via 11 Farrar-penned songs. The Son Volt founder’s world-weary voice is the perfect conduit for these tales that balance feelings of hope and goodness with those of heartbreak and woe. A trilling mandolin gooses along lines like “There’s a world of wisdom/Inside a fiddle tune/Throw this love down the highway/See where it takes you” in “Down the Highway” while the combination of pedal steel and fiddle makes “Brick Walls” the equivalent of a Buck Owens outtake. And while Farrar never seems to get out of an idling gear, be it on the lilting two-step tempo of “Tears of Change” or the leaden twang and pealing pedal steel of “Bakersfield,” Honky Tonk has a measured earnestness that would be sure to put a smile on Price’s face.
For Portugal.The Man’s second major label album, the Portland outfit linked up with Black Keys/Beck producer Dangermouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton) to help with the heavy lifting in the recording studio. Given the band’s psychedelic pop leanings and the latter’s ability to coax eccentric yet accessible sonic nuances out of any project he works on, the match is not only solid on paper but in practice as well.
Dangermouse’s penchant for spacey pop works particularly well with John Gourley’s slight obsession tweaking modern religion whenever he gets a chance.
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