Swingin’ into the Fourth of July weekend, we have a hurricane swirling off the Texas coast and a big black glob of goo lurking off Louisiana. Meanwhile, in my own backyard, I’m grillin’ weenies! What about you? Here are a handful of new releases that will help you rock the Fourth no matter where you are or how you celebrate.
It borders on the criminal that Alejandro Escovedo isn’t a big star outside of Texas. Here, he’s the hero of the Lone Star state – and his new Street Songs Of Love is a good example why. Al follows his masterpiece Real Animal (from 2008) with a relaxed set of rockin’ ruminations on love and life that may just be among the best things he’s ever done. The ringing anthem “Anchor” kicks off the proceedings, and the crunching guitars and big choruses that follow in song after song show that Escovedo isn’t afraid to stand toe to toe with the greatest classic rockers. In fact, he does just that – trading verses with Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter on the tender “Down In the Bowery” and rocking out with Bruce Springsteen on “Faith,” Alejandro Escovedo shows why he is the king of Austin. Street Songs Of Love is brilliantly produced by Tony Visconti, who worked with David Bowie and T. Rex back in the day. Escovedo and his great band (including stellar guitarist David Pulkingham) sharpened these songs during a residency at Austin’s Continental Club, so they probably sound even better live. Hands down, Street Songs Of Love is one of the best albums of the year.
Last week we talked about all the artists with the blues all of a sudden, and now Austin guitar slinger Jimmie Vaughan drops Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites, an album that sounds for all the world like a roadhouse Saturday night. Vaughan has stocked his album with 14 wild covers (and one original) that jump right out of the speakers: “The Pleasure’s All Mine,” shuffles into your consciousness with Vaughan’s rough singing and stinging guitar, then Lou Ann Barton lends harmony to Jimmy Reed’s “Come Love.” Barton duets again with Jimmie on the old Dale and Grace swamp rocker “I’m Leaving It Up To You,” then she takes a lead vocal on the LaVerne Baker chestnut “Wheel Of Fortune.” I don’t know how he does it, but Vaughan gives all of his albums this production that sounds like he’s playing right in your cramped living room – I love it. Man, this is another great barbecue party record and one that I know I’ll be playing long after the summer’s over.
Upon listening to The Gaslight Anthem‘s new American Slang, most people (especially music critic types) will evoke the influences of Springsteen and Van Morrison. They’re not incorrect in doing so, but Gaslight’s true heart beats to the rhythm and romance of old Sam Cooke and Drifters records, supercharged into brilliantly original rock by frontman and songwriter Brian Fallon. In fact, Fallon has a way with a story that recalls the Bard of the Boardwalk but his songs add a street-soul tough-tenderness that evokes the best of Tom Waits. It’s hard to single out one or two highlights on American Slang; it’s just a very consistent rock record that never fails to deliver.
Go out and pick up any one, two or three of these albums and celebrate the Fourth with a rock and roll blast. Who needs fireworks?