Lots of new records out now … and so little time to listen. Even less time to review, so here are some capsule critiques of albums by a few of our favorite savvy veterans.
Merle Haggard has been making music for more than 50 years and the simple declarative title of I Am What I Am means that listeners will get what Merle does best. And that’s deliver a bunch of hand-crafted tunes that reflect on a long life, lost love, a lost life, or long love. In fine voice at age 73, Haggard doesn’t need the gimmick of big-name guest stars (his only duet is on “Live and Love Always,” with his wife Theresa) or cover versions.
MP3: “Live And Love Always” by Merle Haggard
One of the oldest singers goin’ today is also one of the busiest – Willie Nelson has Country Music, which should be the first of three or four albums he releases this year, if the past few years are any indication. Willie enlists Oscar-winning musician T-Bone Burnett as a producer and T-Bone’s house musicians surround Nelson’s idiosyncratic vocals with a swirl of music that’s mysterious when it needs to be, and playful when it wants to be. It may seem like a no-brainer to turn Willie loose on a handful of country standards, and even if this album seems a little flimsy it’s also a fine experience.
MP3: “Gotta Walk Alone” by Willie Nelson
Over the years Jimmy Buffett has built a fiercely loyal fan base who keep coming back even when he makes abysmal records. Hot on the heels of his not-bad Buffet Hotel from last year, he now unleashes the double-CD Encores on Parrothead Nation. Apparently at the end of every concert Buffett performs a final encore song that could be a cover version, or some obscurity from his catalog. So guess what – you now have 22 of these collected on Encores. I would rather not have to hear Buffett doing Bob Dylan’s “Blowing In The Wind” again, but the versions of his own “A Pirate Looks At Forty,” “Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season” and “Come Monday” are OK. Note: Encores is a Wal-Mart exclusive, but you can also get it off Jimmy’s Margaritaville website.
Asia is made up of more wily veterans – singer/bassist John Wetton (King Crimson), guitarist Steve Howe (Yes), keyboardist/singer Geoff Downes (The Buggles) and drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake and Palmer). The original foursome reunited a few years ago and now they’ve gone and released Omega, with all-new material. These guys rock as hard as they can on “Finger On The Trigger” then turn in a piano spiced pop rocker like “Emily.” Who needs a Hot Tub Time Machine? One listen to Omega takes you right back to 1982. Whether that’s good or bad, depends on you.
MP3: “Finger On The Trigger” by Asia