Review: New Stuff … Just In Time for Holiday Shopping!
Guess this is the sort of stuff you will find under the tree this Christmas – if you have been bad. I’d rather have a gift card, you know? Anyway – here are some new efforts from Big Superstars who are still trying to get your hard-earned money this holiday season, although you need it way more than they do.
Norah Jones has sold a zillion albums but she has really put out only four, and The Fall is certainly her liveliest album to date. She’s kinda wanting to put that “chick with the smoky voice sitting at the piano plunking out ballads” thing behind her but on The Fall she only halfway manages that. This stuff doesn’t rock, not by a long shot, but “Stuck” starts out with a guitar plucked from Neil Young (or John Lennon) and finds Norah kinda cranky about breaking up with her boyfriend (she really did, with songwriting collaborator and bass player Lee Alexander – make that former collaborator and bass player). “You Ruined Me” has a nice little country skip, and “Man Of The Hour” closes everything out with Norah’s best vocal yet. Nice, especially if you’re a fan, but nothing really revolutionary.
When I saw the cover of John Mayer‘s Battle Studies I thought for moment he was a young Morrissey. And that’s who he kinda sounds like here: the fadeup into the first song “Heartbreak Warfare” lets you know you’re in for tough sledding through 11 slabs of Mayer-iffic mood mud. It’s all pretty much like the John Mayer boilerplate stuff we’ve heard before, with maybe a few more Dave Matthews rips tossed in. Mayer even tries a cover of “Crossroads” (using the Cream model) but that’s pretty namby-pamby too – if this guy would just cut loose on guitar he might be pretty great. The obligatory big single, “Half Of My Heart,” a duet with flavor-of-the-month Taylor Swift, is OK but instantly forgettable and “War Of My Life” sounds like it was recorded right after John listened to a U2 album.
Nothing like a big, loud album for Christmas and it looks like Paul McCartney may take the prize this year. His two-disc Good Evening New York City might seem like yet another live set from a guy who’s put out too many already – but surprise! It really rocks. In places. There’s a truly fierce “Day Tripper” that rips off even faster than the original, while “Paperback Writer” and “Lady Madonna” sound pretty good too. Paul pays tribute to his fallen Beatle bandmates with George Harrison’s “Something” and John Lennon on “Day In The Life/Give Peace A Chance.” Those songs, and the finale “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/The End” generate some genuine excitement but – and there’s always a “but” with McCartney – warhorses like “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be” and “Yesterday” are beginning to sound a little shopworn. And Jesus, for “I Saw Her Standing There” he lets Billy Fucking Joel on stage! Cut out the crap like that and this would’a been a decent one-disc cash-in. But you gotta love a rock star who wears suspenders on stage.
Ray Davies takes a much quieter approach to his catalog with The Kinks Choral Collection, revising a handful of Kinks classics with a 65-voice choir providing background vocals. Believe it or not, this album rocks harder than anything else here. I might as well just say it – Ray Davies is a better songwriter than Paul McCartney, although his bank account may not show it. But this stuff is awesome: “Waterloo Sunset” is perfect with the choir, “Celluloid Heroes” is even more tragic and the six-song skip through Kinks klassic Village Green Preservation Society is, uh, classic. And yes, “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night” do indeed rock, as does “Victoria.” This is great. Thanks, Ray.
And we’ve waited long enough to review Christmas In The Heart by Bob Dylan. Yes, it sounds like the Mitch Miller Orchestra and the Ray Conniff Singers backing up a singing frog. And yes, you probably need a few eggnogs to get maximum enjoyment out of this album. But if you listen closely, you hear something really rare from Bob Dylan – a sense of humor. And Bob has agreed to donate every single penny he makes off this album to feeding hungry people, some of them hopefully in this country. The more I listen to this album (sober) the more I like it. So lighten up, have a few eggnogs and let Bob and me be the first to wish you a Merry Christmas.