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Unorthodox Jukebox by Bruno Mars
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All Things Considered: Bruno Mars Goes Anyplace And Everyplace On ‘Jukebox’
Weekend Edition: Bruno Mars: Singing His Own Songs, At Long Last
NPR’s The Record: Bruno Mars Is More Than Your Average Pop Star
In October 2012, Mars premiered the first single, “Locked Out of Heaven,” from his highly-anticipated sophomore album Unorthodox Jukebox. On October 20th, Mars made his comeback to national television when he joined the elite club of hosts and performers for Saturday Night Live alongside the likes of Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake and Elton John. Mars not only showcased his comedic talent to the millions watching, but also debuted the first live performance of “Locked Out of Heaven” and premiered a brand new song, “Young Girls,” from the historic stage in New York City.
For Unorthodox Jukebox, Mars and his songwriting/production team The Smeezingtons (Mars, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine) partnered with heavyweight producers including Jeff Bhasker, Mark Ronson and Diplo to create the 10-track album.

Unorthodox Jukebox by Bruno Mars

Buy  Buy CD | MP3 | Vinyl | iTunes

All Things Considered: Bruno Mars Goes Anyplace And Everyplace On ‘Jukebox’

Weekend Edition: Bruno Mars: Singing His Own Songs, At Long Last

NPR’s The Record: Bruno Mars Is More Than Your Average Pop Star

In October 2012, Mars premiered the first single, “Locked Out of Heaven,” from his highly-anticipated sophomore album Unorthodox Jukebox. On October 20th, Mars made his comeback to national television when he joined the elite club of hosts and performers for Saturday Night Live alongside the likes of Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake and Elton John. Mars not only showcased his comedic talent to the millions watching, but also debuted the first live performance of “Locked Out of Heaven” and premiered a brand new song, “Young Girls,” from the historic stage in New York City.

For Unorthodox Jukebox, Mars and his songwriting/production team The Smeezingtons (Mars, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine) partnered with heavyweight producers including Jeff Bhasker, Mark Ronson and Diplo to create the 10-track album.

Simple Dreams by Linda Ronstadt
  Buy Book | Kindle 
Fresh Air: In Memoir, Linda Ronstadt Describes her Simple Dream
Piano Jazz: Linda Ronstadt
KSAN: In Session with Linda Ronstadt
The popular singer traces the story of her life and career from her Arizona upbringing in a musical family and her rise to stardom in Southern California to her role in shaping 1970s sounds and her collaborations with fellow artists.
Notable Music by Linda Ronstadt:
Trio II:  One of my absolute favorite albums!  If you want to listen to some stellar acoustic & vocal performances, this is the album.  Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris combine for their second album alternating lead vocal duties and harmony.  They are backed by a crack band which provided the music for O Brother Where Art Thou.  The album won a Grammy Award for their cover of Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush.”
 Canciones De Mi Padre - Linda pays homage to her roots in this ranchera album.  Linda is backed by Mariachi Vargas on this wonderful cd.  The album demonstrates that she is one of few artists who cannot be categorized and that she has a unique ability record in multiple genres.
Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind - Contemporary Pop album featuring the mega commercial hit duet “Don’t Know Much” with Aaron Neville.  This album begins with strong songwriting aided by lush orchestration and that voice.  Among my favorites is “Adios” which was produced by Brian Wilson.
For Sentimental Reasons - No Linda Ronstadt list would be complete without including at least one of the collaborations with Nelson Riddle.  Linda defied record labels, agents and critics to record “standards” during a time in which that was something pop/rock singers just didn’t do.  For Sentimental Reasons proves that the third time was the charm as it is their best collaboration and includes “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “‘Round Midnight.”

Simple Dreams by Linda Ronstadt

Buy  Buy Book | Kindle 

Fresh Air: In Memoir, Linda Ronstadt Describes her Simple Dream

Piano Jazz: Linda Ronstadt

KSAN: In Session with Linda Ronstadt

The popular singer traces the story of her life and career from her Arizona upbringing in a musical family and her rise to stardom in Southern California to her role in shaping 1970s sounds and her collaborations with fellow artists.

Notable Music by Linda Ronstadt:

Trio II:  One of my absolute favorite albums!  If you want to listen to some stellar acoustic & vocal performances, this is the album.  Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris combine for their second album alternating lead vocal duties and harmony.  They are backed by a crack band which provided the music for O Brother Where Art Thou.  The album won a Grammy Award for their cover of Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush.”

 Canciones De Mi Padre - Linda pays homage to her roots in this ranchera album.  Linda is backed by Mariachi Vargas on this wonderful cd.  The album demonstrates that she is one of few artists who cannot be categorized and that she has a unique ability record in multiple genres.

Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind - Contemporary Pop album featuring the mega commercial hit duet “Don’t Know Much” with Aaron Neville.  This album begins with strong songwriting aided by lush orchestration and that voice.  Among my favorites is “Adios” which was produced by Brian Wilson.

For Sentimental Reasons - No Linda Ronstadt list would be complete without including at least one of the collaborations with Nelson Riddle.  Linda defied record labels, agents and critics to record “standards” during a time in which that was something pop/rock singers just didn’t do.  For Sentimental Reasons proves that the third time was the charm as it is their best collaboration and includes “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “‘Round Midnight.”

Paradise Valley by John Mayer
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World Cafe: John Mayer On World Cafe
Weekend Edition: John Mayer on Getting his Voice Back
All Things Considered: John Mayer: Restoring An Image, And An Instrument
Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and musician John Mayer returns with his new album Paradise Valley, which he produced with longtime collaborator Don Was. The first single is the track Paper Doll. This album coincides with John’s first US tour in three years, which will hit 40 cities from July 6th through early October.

Paradise Valley by John Mayer

Buy  Buy CD | MP3 iTunes

World Cafe: John Mayer On World Cafe

Weekend Edition: John Mayer on Getting his Voice Back

All Things Considered: John Mayer: Restoring An Image, And An Instrument

Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and musician John Mayer returns with his new album Paradise Valley, which he produced with longtime collaborator Don Was. The first single is the track Paper Doll. This album coincides with John’s first US tour in three years, which will hit 40 cities from July 6th through early October.

Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs by Elvis Costello and The Roots
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The Current: CD of the Week - Wise Up Ghost
World Cafe: Elvis Costello
First Listen: Wise Up Ghost by Elvis Costello & The Roots
Soundcheck: Unexpected Collaborators: Elvis Costello & The Roots
Review by David Safar, host of The Current
The most dynamic musical collaboration of the year comes from one of the UK’s greatest rock icons and America’s most recognized live hip hop act. Elvis Costello and The Roots make an unusual pairing both in theory and practice. Costello’s voice being synonymous with Britain’s new wave and The Roots neo-soul backdrop create 12 songs steeped in the musical tradition of jazz, funk and soul. Appropriately released on Blue Note Records,Wise Up Ghost feels like a live album recorded in moments of improvisations between ?uestlove, Costello and producer Steven Mandel (longtime collaborating producer for The Roots).
Like any great jazz recording, the best parts of the music are found in between the notes and the juxtaposition of musical styles throughout the album. Wise Up Ghost is best consumed as a full body of work rather than single songs. It’s disorienting in a music world focused on singles and playlists. The empty spaces keep the album swinging through the awkward pairing of Costello’s faux rap riffs and The Roots’ funk orchestrations. Uncomfortable lyrical moments on songs like “Stick Out Your Tongue” and “Sugar Won’t Work” stand out if you skip the hard grooves of “Walk Us Uptown” (the “single”) and “Refused to Be Saved.”
On first listen, you won’t notice the wonderful rawness in the performances and production. The more you listen to the seemingly cluttered production on “Come The Meantimes,” you appreciate the character of each instrument and Costello’s vocal takes. The subtle moments on songs like “Tripwire” and “If I Could Believe” bleed through the speakers, creating a sensation that The Roots might be playing in your living room, and Elvis Costello is delivering lines directly from the his brain to the microphone.
If you don’t find yourself appreciating the songs on Wise Up Ghost, the collaboration itself is worth exploring. It’s unlike any other album that will be released this year. The pairing of one of rock’s best songwriters and lyricists with hip hop’s best live band is worth a spot in your album collection.

Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs by Elvis Costello and The Roots

Buy  Buy CD | Vinyl | iTunes

The Current: CD of the Week - Wise Up Ghost

World Cafe: Elvis Costello

First Listen: Wise Up Ghost by Elvis Costello & The Roots

Soundcheck: Unexpected Collaborators: Elvis Costello & The Roots

Review by David Safar, host of The Current

The most dynamic musical collaboration of the year comes from one of the UK’s greatest rock icons and America’s most recognized live hip hop act. Elvis Costello and The Roots make an unusual pairing both in theory and practice. Costello’s voice being synonymous with Britain’s new wave and The Roots neo-soul backdrop create 12 songs steeped in the musical tradition of jazz, funk and soul. Appropriately released on Blue Note Records,Wise Up Ghost feels like a live album recorded in moments of improvisations between ?uestlove, Costello and producer Steven Mandel (longtime collaborating producer for The Roots).

Like any great jazz recording, the best parts of the music are found in between the notes and the juxtaposition of musical styles throughout the album. Wise Up Ghost is best consumed as a full body of work rather than single songs. It’s disorienting in a music world focused on singles and playlists. The empty spaces keep the album swinging through the awkward pairing of Costello’s faux rap riffs and The Roots’ funk orchestrations. Uncomfortable lyrical moments on songs like “Stick Out Your Tongue” and “Sugar Won’t Work” stand out if you skip the hard grooves of “Walk Us Uptown” (the “single”) and “Refused to Be Saved.”

On first listen, you won’t notice the wonderful rawness in the performances and production. The more you listen to the seemingly cluttered production on “Come The Meantimes,” you appreciate the character of each instrument and Costello’s vocal takes. The subtle moments on songs like “Tripwire” and “If I Could Believe” bleed through the speakers, creating a sensation that The Roots might be playing in your living room, and Elvis Costello is delivering lines directly from the his brain to the microphone.

If you don’t find yourself appreciating the songs on Wise Up Ghost, the collaboration itself is worth exploring. It’s unlike any other album that will be released this year. The pairing of one of rock’s best songwriters and lyricists with hip hop’s best live band is worth a spot in your album collection.

Bitter Rivals by Sleigh Bells
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Weekend Edition: Sleigh Bells: Something To Shout About
2013 release, the third album from the Alt-Rock/Noise Pop duo Sleigh Bells featuring Alexis Krauss (vocals) and Derek Miller (guitar). Miller was a guitarist in the Hardcore band Poison the Well. Alexis Krauss performed in the teen pop group RubyBlue. With backgrounds that seemed like polar opposites, Sleigh Bells have managed to find the middle ground and serve up a sound that is both sweet and sour.

Bitter Rivals by Sleigh Bells

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Weekend Edition: Sleigh Bells: Something To Shout About

2013 release, the third album from the Alt-Rock/Noise Pop duo Sleigh Bells featuring Alexis Krauss (vocals) and Derek Miller (guitar). Miller was a guitarist in the Hardcore band Poison the Well. Alexis Krauss performed in the teen pop group RubyBlue. With backgrounds that seemed like polar opposites, Sleigh Bells have managed to find the middle ground and serve up a sound that is both sweet and sour.

Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm
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All Things Considered: Levon Helm, Drummer And Singer In The Band, Dies
Fresh Air: Levon Helm: The 2007 Fresh Air Interview
World Cafe: World Cafe Remembers Levon Helm
Mountain Stage: The Band On Mountain Stage
Director Jacob Hatley’s intimate documentary finds rock and roll legend Levon Helm (The Band) at home in Woodstock, NY, in the midst of creating his first studio album in 25 years. Shot during the course of two-plus years, this highly anticipated film focuses in on the four-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member after his 2007 comeback album, Dirt Farmer, brought him back to the spotlight.

Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm

Buy  Buy DVD | Blu-ray

All Things Considered: Levon Helm, Drummer And Singer In The Band, Dies

Fresh Air: Levon Helm: The 2007 Fresh Air Interview

World Cafe: World Cafe Remembers Levon Helm

Mountain Stage: The Band On Mountain Stage

Director Jacob Hatley’s intimate documentary finds rock and roll legend Levon Helm (The Band) at home in Woodstock, NY, in the midst of creating his first studio album in 25 years. Shot during the course of two-plus years, this highly anticipated film focuses in on the four-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member after his 2007 comeback album, Dirt Farmer, brought him back to the spotlight.

In Utero 20th Anniversary Edition by Nirvana
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All Things Considered: Dave Grohl And Krist Novoselic Share Memories, Unreleased Tracks From ‘In Utero’
Here & Now: Remembering Nirvana’s Final Album
To say that Nirvana’s third and ultimately final studio album In Utero was 1993’s most polarizing record would be the understatement of a decade. The unadorned sonic rawness of Steve Albini’s recording laid bare every primal nuance of the most confrontational yet vulnerable material Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl would ever record. And with its 1991 predecessor Nevermind having sold some 30 million copies, singlehandedly returning honest rock ‘n’ roll to the top of the pop charts, In Utero was essentially the first record Nirvana would make with any expectations from the public. So from the opening quasi-shamble melodics of ‘Serve The Servants’ through the bittersweet closing strains of ‘All Apologies,’ In Utero was the sound of the most incredible yet conflicted rock ‘n’ roll band of the era at the peak of its powers coming to terms with a generational spokes-band mantle they’d never seen coming-and ultimately surmounting these struggles to make the record they needed to make. As Rolling Stone’s David Fricke said in his review at the time, ‘In Utero is a lot of things-brilliant, corrosive, enraged and thoughtful, most of them all at once. But more than anything, it’s a triumph of the will.’
This 20th Anniversary 2CD Deluxe Edition of the unwitting swansong of the single most influential band of the 1990s features the original album remastered at Abbey Road Studios plus a veritable treasure trove of never-before-heard demos, mixes, B-sides and bonus tracks from the original album release.

In Utero 20th Anniversary Edition by Nirvana

Buy  Buy CD

All Things Considered: Dave Grohl And Krist Novoselic Share Memories, Unreleased Tracks From ‘In Utero’

Here & Now: Remembering Nirvana’s Final Album

To say that Nirvana’s third and ultimately final studio album In Utero was 1993’s most polarizing record would be the understatement of a decade. The unadorned sonic rawness of Steve Albini’s recording laid bare every primal nuance of the most confrontational yet vulnerable material Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl would ever record. And with its 1991 predecessor Nevermind having sold some 30 million copies, singlehandedly returning honest rock ‘n’ roll to the top of the pop charts, In Utero was essentially the first record Nirvana would make with any expectations from the public. So from the opening quasi-shamble melodics of ‘Serve The Servants’ through the bittersweet closing strains of ‘All Apologies,’ In Utero was the sound of the most incredible yet conflicted rock ‘n’ roll band of the era at the peak of its powers coming to terms with a generational spokes-band mantle they’d never seen coming-and ultimately surmounting these struggles to make the record they needed to make. As Rolling Stone’s David Fricke said in his review at the time, ‘In Utero is a lot of things-brilliant, corrosive, enraged and thoughtful, most of them all at once. But more than anything, it’s a triumph of the will.’

This 20th Anniversary 2CD Deluxe Edition of the unwitting swansong of the single most influential band of the 1990s features the original album remastered at Abbey Road Studios plus a veritable treasure trove of never-before-heard demos, mixes, B-sides and bonus tracks from the original album release.

Mechanical Bull by Kings of Leon
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NPR’s The Record: Will You Still Expect Kings Of Leon To Play ‘Sex On Fire’ When They Are 50?
Morning Edition: Kings Of Leon: Back With The ‘Comeback Story Of A Lifetime’
Kings of Leon are fresh off three acclaimed headlining performances at American festivals, Bottle Rock in Napa, CA, Hangout in Gulf Shores, AL, and, most recently, this past weekend’s Governor’s Ball in New York City, during which the festival cancelled the band’s Friday night performance due to Tropical Storm Andrea. The band, upset over the cancellation, worked through the night with festival organizers and management to figure out a way to come back on Saturday. The festival found a place for them on the main stage right before the Saturday headliner, during which the fans were treated to the live premiere of Mechanical Bull’s first single, “Supersoaker.”

Mechanical Bull by Kings of Leon

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NPR’s The Record: Will You Still Expect Kings Of Leon To Play ‘Sex On Fire’ When They Are 50?

Morning Edition: Kings Of Leon: Back With The ‘Comeback Story Of A Lifetime’

Kings of Leon are fresh off three acclaimed headlining performances at American festivals, Bottle Rock in Napa, CA, Hangout in Gulf Shores, AL, and, most recently, this past weekend’s Governor’s Ball in New York City, during which the festival cancelled the band’s Friday night performance due to Tropical Storm Andrea. The band, upset over the cancellation, worked through the night with festival organizers and management to figure out a way to come back on Saturday. The festival found a place for them on the main stage right before the Saturday headliner, during which the fans were treated to the live premiere of Mechanical Bull’s first single, “Supersoaker.”

Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 by Bob Dylan
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NPR: First Listen: Bob Dylan, Highlights From ‘Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)’
Fresh Air: Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait Now in Vivid Color
If Bob Dylan’s long career as a genius of the American spirit has taught us anything, it’s that one fan’s trash is another one’s treasure. “I never looked at songs as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ only different kinds of good ones,” he once said. Dylan’s music, from the magpie folk of his early years to the historically conscious balladry of his current albums, has always reminded us that our legacy includes not just ennobling beauty, but also minstrelsy, dirty blues, sentimental sappiness and rama-lama-ding-dong.
Nowhere is Dylan’s ability to see the whole patchwork tapestry of our musical culture more evident than in the music he made in the very early 1970s, when he was running from his own burdensome greatness and jumping into the great scrap heap of American musical tradition.
During this period, Dylan produced one album, Self Portrait, that landed like a wet blanket and another, New Morning, that only partially redeemed the reputation he’d seemed so eager to escape. Yet Dylan’s efforts from these years — highlighted on the latest in his ongoing Bootleg Series, titled Another Self Portrait (1969-1971), out August 27 — now seem prescient. This music is perfect for a 21st century in which taste hierarchies are fast dissolving and everybody realizes that there never was a pure “folk” or “country” or “blues” or anything, only massive borrowing and boundary-crossing and fruitful playing around.

Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 by Bob Dylan

Buy  Buy CD | Vinyl

NPR: First Listen: Bob Dylan, Highlights From ‘Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)’

Fresh Air: Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait Now in Vivid Color

If Bob Dylan’s long career as a genius of the American spirit has taught us anything, it’s that one fan’s trash is another one’s treasure. “I never looked at songs as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ only different kinds of good ones,” he once said. Dylan’s music, from the magpie folk of his early years to the historically conscious balladry of his current albums, has always reminded us that our legacy includes not just ennobling beauty, but also minstrelsy, dirty blues, sentimental sappiness and rama-lama-ding-dong.

Nowhere is Dylan’s ability to see the whole patchwork tapestry of our musical culture more evident than in the music he made in the very early 1970s, when he was running from his own burdensome greatness and jumping into the great scrap heap of American musical tradition.

During this period, Dylan produced one album, Self Portrait, that landed like a wet blanket and another, New Morning, that only partially redeemed the reputation he’d seemed so eager to escape. Yet Dylan’s efforts from these years — highlighted on the latest in his ongoing Bootleg Series, titled Another Self Portrait (1969-1971), out August 27 — now seem prescient. This music is perfect for a 21st century in which taste hierarchies are fast dissolving and everybody realizes that there never was a pure “folk” or “country” or “blues” or anything, only massive borrowing and boundary-crossing and fruitful playing around.

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case
  Buy CD | MP3 | iTunes
Morning Edition: Neko Case Gets her Fire Back
Morning Edition: I Couldn’t Even Listen to Music
The Dinner Party Download: Neko Case Fights Harder
The Current: Album Review by Steve Seel, host at The Current
NPR First Listen: Neko Case, ‘The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight…’
All Songs Considered: 'The Worse Things Get': Life Lessons From Neko Case
Neko Case has taken the voice of everything from animals to tornadoes in her songs. On her new album, the ambitiously titled The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, you get the sense that, for a change, she just might be singing in the voice of Neko Case.
In the course of a five-year span, Case lost her grandmother and both of her parents. She describes the period (beginning just before she released her previous album, 2009’sMiddle Cyclone) as being fraught with depression brought on by a profound sense of grief — grief that, at first, she tried to muscle through like the rugged frontierswoman she typically is, but ultimately, she wasn’t able to outrun. “If I had it my way, I would not have written about it at all,” she says, describing the personal struggle that found its way into the lyrics of the new album. “I don’t like to write about myself, but it’s really all I could do at the time.”
The result is an album that potentially packs a greater punch than a lot of the music Case has produced to this point. While she’s always been an extremely sophisticated lyricist, composer and arranger, her reluctance to put herself in her songs — as opposed to “characters” — for me has always maintained a thin layer of distance to her music which is now largely removed. Again, a thin layer — when Case sung in the voice of a tornado as metaphor for a spurned lover in “This Tornado Loves You” from Middle Cyclone and declared, “What will make you believe me?”, I nearly buckled at the knees every time from the poetry of the image. Now, however, the immediacy of the lyrics are even more piercing — and in a song like “Where Did I Leave That Fire” (a depiction of the crippling nature of depression), the fact that the “I” is clearly Case herself makes for just about as direct and powerful a picture of grief that you’re likely to hear.
I suppose a disclaimer is in order before I proceed any further: This is hardly a depressing album. I’m not sure Neko Case would be able to produce one, in fact; even when she was telling the otherwise miserable tale of a caged tiger in her 2004 song “The Tigers Have Spoken,” her melody and vocals soared, the arrangement glided along. Case’s pop bona-fides are well established, having spent a significant slice of her career performing and writing as part of Carl Newman’s Canadian power-pop juggernaut The New Pornographers. Like with all of her music, The Worse Things Get is simply too interesting, and Case’s voice too beautiful, to get bogged down in sonic sludge. Songs like “Night Still Comes” is leaden with dark sentiment (possibly directed at the parents Case says she had a terrible relationship with), and yet the chorus of “you never held me at the right angle” levitates right off the muddy ground, unspooling with background vocals and modulating chords that will send sugary shivers down your spine. The single “Man” is somehow simultaneously defiant, bitter, and hilarious, not to mention a rollickingly rip-roaring tune. After the winsome country-tinged “I’m From Nowhere,” we get a song cut straight from the New Pornographers’ playbook in “Bracing For Sunday,” with its shuffling snare and boppy saxophone bursts. “City Swan” is similarly breezy. Were we supposed to be depressed? Oh, I forgot.
Yes, the journeys into darkness on The Worse Things Get are plenty heavy when you listen closely — “Afraid” and the opener “Wild Creatures” depict a woman cut off from connection, doing her best to go it alone — but the overall and lingering effect of the album is one of catharsis, not desperation. The aforementioned “Where Did I Leave That Fire” hints at a turning point, perhaps a return from the brink (placed, interestingly, almost at the very end of the record), and even punctuated with a bit of mordant humor, as Case sings of discovering that she will be afforded the chance to reclaim her lost spark simply by producing “proper ID.”

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case

Buy  Buy CD | MP3 | iTunes

Morning Edition: Neko Case Gets her Fire Back

Morning Edition: I Couldn’t Even Listen to Music

The Dinner Party Download: Neko Case Fights Harder

The Current: Album Review by Steve Seel, host at The Current

NPR First Listen: Neko Case, ‘The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight…’

All Songs Considered: 'The Worse Things Get': Life Lessons From Neko Case

Neko Case has taken the voice of everything from animals to tornadoes in her songs. On her new album, the ambitiously titled The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, you get the sense that, for a change, she just might be singing in the voice of Neko Case.

In the course of a five-year span, Case lost her grandmother and both of her parents. She describes the period (beginning just before she released her previous album, 2009’sMiddle Cyclone) as being fraught with depression brought on by a profound sense of grief — grief that, at first, she tried to muscle through like the rugged frontierswoman she typically is, but ultimately, she wasn’t able to outrun. “If I had it my way, I would not have written about it at all,” she says, describing the personal struggle that found its way into the lyrics of the new album. “I don’t like to write about myself, but it’s really all I could do at the time.”

The result is an album that potentially packs a greater punch than a lot of the music Case has produced to this point. While she’s always been an extremely sophisticated lyricist, composer and arranger, her reluctance to put herself in her songs — as opposed to “characters” — for me has always maintained a thin layer of distance to her music which is now largely removed. Again, a thin layer — when Case sung in the voice of a tornado as metaphor for a spurned lover in “This Tornado Loves You” from Middle Cyclone and declared, “What will make you believe me?”, I nearly buckled at the knees every time from the poetry of the image. Now, however, the immediacy of the lyrics are even more piercing — and in a song like “Where Did I Leave That Fire” (a depiction of the crippling nature of depression), the fact that the “I” is clearly Case herself makes for just about as direct and powerful a picture of grief that you’re likely to hear.

I suppose a disclaimer is in order before I proceed any further: This is hardly a depressing album. I’m not sure Neko Case would be able to produce one, in fact; even when she was telling the otherwise miserable tale of a caged tiger in her 2004 song “The Tigers Have Spoken,” her melody and vocals soared, the arrangement glided along. Case’s pop bona-fides are well established, having spent a significant slice of her career performing and writing as part of Carl Newman’s Canadian power-pop juggernaut The New Pornographers. Like with all of her music, The Worse Things Get is simply too interesting, and Case’s voice too beautiful, to get bogged down in sonic sludge. Songs like “Night Still Comes” is leaden with dark sentiment (possibly directed at the parents Case says she had a terrible relationship with), and yet the chorus of “you never held me at the right angle” levitates right off the muddy ground, unspooling with background vocals and modulating chords that will send sugary shivers down your spine. The single “Man” is somehow simultaneously defiant, bitter, and hilarious, not to mention a rollickingly rip-roaring tune. After the winsome country-tinged “I’m From Nowhere,” we get a song cut straight from the New Pornographers’ playbook in “Bracing For Sunday,” with its shuffling snare and boppy saxophone bursts. “City Swan” is similarly breezy. Were we supposed to be depressed? Oh, I forgot.

Yes, the journeys into darkness on The Worse Things Get are plenty heavy when you listen closely — “Afraid” and the opener “Wild Creatures” depict a woman cut off from connection, doing her best to go it alone — but the overall and lingering effect of the album is one of catharsis, not desperation. The aforementioned “Where Did I Leave That Fire” hints at a turning point, perhaps a return from the brink (placed, interestingly, almost at the very end of the record), and even punctuated with a bit of mordant humor, as Case sings of discovering that she will be afforded the chance to reclaim her lost spark simply by producing “proper ID.”

Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails
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All Songs Considered: Watch The David Lynch-Directed Nine Inch Nails Video
The Current: Hesitation Marks Review by Barb Abney
All Things Considered: Trent Reznor - “I’m Not The Same Person I was 20 Years Ago
Review by Barb Abney, host of The Current
Just a couple of years ago, Trent Reznor put Nine Inch Nails on indefinite hiatus in order to work on other projects, including How to Destroy Angels — his band that features his wife (former West Indian Girl vocalist) Mariquen Maandig — and musical composition work for video games and movie soundtracks. At the time of the announcement, I know I threw myself a giant goth-flavored pity-party! Sure, I enjoyed the other projects as much as I could, but something just wasn’t the same.
On Feb. 25, there was much rejoicing when Trent announced an upcoming NIN tour. I couldn’t contain my excitement!
The new NIN album, Hesitation Marks, feels like a familiar friend. I swear there are synthetic sounds that ONLY Trent Reznor or Atticus Ross know how to make — you hear these sounds exclusively on NIN records! And this one is chock-full of those moments, as well as the sounds that give Hesitation Marks a career retrospective vibe.
You’ll hear some of the industrial-edged angst of earlier works like Pretty Hate Machine orThe Downward Spiral on “Find My Way” and “In Two”; some of the dancier material that harkens back to the With Teeth remixes on “Copy Of A” and “Disappointed; and the artsy indulgence of The Fragile can be heard on “While I’m Still Here” and its follow-up, “Black Noise.”
I’m so thrilled to be listening to new Nine Inch Nails that it’s virtually impossible to be critical of it, though I found myself scratching my head on the album’s first and last tracks. The first, “The Eater Of Dreams,” is less than a minute of building fuzz that starts off sounding like the beeps on a heart monitor but which quickly just builds into fuzz. The last track, “Black Noise,” seems like it was accidentally cut from the tune before it, “While I’m Still Here.”
This CD features the most King Crimson-like sounding guitar work on a NIN record; it’s on the tune “All Time Low” thanks to Adrian Belew himself, who helped out on the recording of Hesitation Marks but will not be joining the band on the road, sadly.
I keep listening hoping to pick out the voice of Lindsay Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac fame) in the background, but he seems to be buried pretty deeply in the layers. I’ll keep trying.
"All Time Low" feels like my favorite song on the CD thus far, but "Copy Of A" is a close second and reminds me a lot of the repetitive phrases in "All The Love In The World" fromWith Teeth. The beat of “Everything” is so upbeat that once the truly heavy parts of the song kick in, they feel like sunshine and rainbows. And if you need a shot of moodiness, you’ll get that in “Find My Way.”
Trent Reznor may not have changed the face of music on this CD. But he reminds us of just how many times he HAS done so.

Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails

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All Songs Considered: Watch The David Lynch-Directed Nine Inch Nails Video

The Current: Hesitation Marks Review by Barb Abney

All Things Considered: Trent Reznor - “I’m Not The Same Person I was 20 Years Ago

Review by Barb Abney, host of The Current

Just a couple of years ago, Trent Reznor put Nine Inch Nails on indefinite hiatus in order to work on other projects, including How to Destroy Angels — his band that features his wife (former West Indian Girl vocalist) Mariquen Maandig — and musical composition work for video games and movie soundtracks. At the time of the announcement, I know I threw myself a giant goth-flavored pity-party! Sure, I enjoyed the other projects as much as I could, but something just wasn’t the same.

On Feb. 25, there was much rejoicing when Trent announced an upcoming NIN tour. I couldn’t contain my excitement!

The new NIN album, Hesitation Marks, feels like a familiar friend. I swear there are synthetic sounds that ONLY Trent Reznor or Atticus Ross know how to make — you hear these sounds exclusively on NIN records! And this one is chock-full of those moments, as well as the sounds that give Hesitation Marks a career retrospective vibe.

You’ll hear some of the industrial-edged angst of earlier works like Pretty Hate Machine orThe Downward Spiral on “Find My Way” and “In Two”; some of the dancier material that harkens back to the With Teeth remixes on “Copy Of A” and “Disappointed; and the artsy indulgence of The Fragile can be heard on “While I’m Still Here” and its follow-up, “Black Noise.”

I’m so thrilled to be listening to new Nine Inch Nails that it’s virtually impossible to be critical of it, though I found myself scratching my head on the album’s first and last tracks. The first, “The Eater Of Dreams,” is less than a minute of building fuzz that starts off sounding like the beeps on a heart monitor but which quickly just builds into fuzz. The last track, “Black Noise,” seems like it was accidentally cut from the tune before it, “While I’m Still Here.”

This CD features the most King Crimson-like sounding guitar work on a NIN record; it’s on the tune “All Time Low” thanks to Adrian Belew himself, who helped out on the recording of Hesitation Marks but will not be joining the band on the road, sadly.

I keep listening hoping to pick out the voice of Lindsay Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac fame) in the background, but he seems to be buried pretty deeply in the layers. I’ll keep trying.

"All Time Low" feels like my favorite song on the CD thus far, but "Copy Of A" is a close second and reminds me a lot of the repetitive phrases in "All The Love In The World" fromWith Teeth. The beat of “Everything” is so upbeat that once the truly heavy parts of the song kick in, they feel like sunshine and rainbows. And if you need a shot of moodiness, you’ll get that in “Find My Way.”

Trent Reznor may not have changed the face of music on this CD. But he reminds us of just how many times he HAS done so.

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action by Franz Ferdinand
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The Current: Franz Ferdinand Album Review
All Things Considered: Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos On The Importance Of Structure
NPR: First Listen: Franz Ferdinand, ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’
NPR Music: KCRW Presents: Franz Ferdinand
All Songs Considered: Watch The Music Video For Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Right Action’
The multi-Grammy winning, million selling four-piece Franz Ferdinand release their fourth studio album titled Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. This exuberant, unencumbered record is the first from the band in four years. In their time away, they’ve rediscovered the imagination, vitality and fun found on their classic, era-encapsulating debut album Franz Ferdinand. The ten songs that make up the album contain all the hallmarks of Franz Ferdinand’s sound- heavyweight hooks, painterly lyrical detail and precise aesthetic vision all packed into pop punch.

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action by Franz Ferdinand

Buy  Buy CD | MP3 | Vinyl

The Current: Franz Ferdinand Album Review

All Things Considered: Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos On The Importance Of Structure

NPR: First Listen: Franz Ferdinand, ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’

NPR Music: KCRW Presents: Franz Ferdinand

All Songs Considered: Watch The Music Video For Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Right Action’

The multi-Grammy winning, million selling four-piece Franz Ferdinand release their fourth studio album titled Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. This exuberant, unencumbered record is the first from the band in four years. In their time away, they’ve rediscovered the imagination, vitality and fun found on their classic, era-encapsulating debut album Franz Ferdinand. The ten songs that make up the album contain all the hallmarks of Franz Ferdinand’s sound- heavyweight hooks, painterly lyrical detail and precise aesthetic vision all packed into pop punch.

Cold Fact by Rodriguez
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The Current: The Rodriguez interview
The Current: Searching for Sugarman the radio documentary
Talk of the Nation: How A Detroit Flop Became South Africa’s Superstar
MPR News: 'Searching for Sugar Man' tells story of Rodriguez, the unaware rock star
Weekend Edition: Rodriguez: Forgotten In America, Exalted In Africa
World Cafe: Rodriguez on World Cafe
World Cafe: Rodriguez’s ‘Cold Fact’ Returns
NPR Review: An Unwitting Folk Hero Finds A Spotlight At Last
Folksinger “Sixto” Diaz Rodriguez became a spectacular success across the Atlantic after releasing Cold Fact in 1970. The record was hailed as a psychedelic folk masterpiece, filled with colorful depictions of the Detroit inner city.
Also Available:
Searching for Sugar Man - Rodriguez, a singer from 1960s and ’70s Detroit, Rodriguez who had some of the lyric quality of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, but a voice like James Taylor. “Cold Fact,” the first album from Rodriguez, layered his aching voice over Motown horns and strings.  But even after a major buildup, “Cold Fact” never became a hit in the United States. Bootlegged copies made the album, and the singer, a legend in a South Africa which was then in ferment over apartheid. Then his fans heard that the short, sensational career of Rodriguez had ended spectacularly.  What really happened is the subject of a new documentary, “Searching for Sugar Man.” 

Cold Fact by Rodriguez

Buy  Buy CD | MP3 | Vinyl

The Current: The Rodriguez interview

The Current: Searching for Sugarman the radio documentary

Talk of the Nation: How A Detroit Flop Became South Africa’s Superstar

MPR News: 'Searching for Sugar Man' tells story of Rodriguez, the unaware rock star

Weekend Edition: Rodriguez: Forgotten In America, Exalted In Africa

World Cafe: Rodriguez on World Cafe

World Cafe: Rodriguez’s ‘Cold Fact’ Returns

NPR Review: An Unwitting Folk Hero Finds A Spotlight At Last

Folksinger “Sixto” Diaz Rodriguez became a spectacular success across the Atlantic after releasing Cold Fact in 1970. The record was hailed as a psychedelic folk masterpiece, filled with colorful depictions of the Detroit inner city.

Also Available:

Searching for Sugar Man - Rodriguez, a singer from 1960s and ’70s Detroit, Rodriguez who had some of the lyric quality of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, but a voice like James Taylor. “Cold Fact,” the first album from Rodriguez, layered his aching voice over Motown horns and strings.  But even after a major buildup, “Cold Fact” never became a hit in the United States. Bootlegged copies made the album, and the singer, a legend in a South Africa which was then in ferment over apartheid. Then his fans heard that the short, sensational career of Rodriguez had ended spectacularly.  What really happened is the subject of a new documentary, “Searching for Sugar Man.” 

Kveikur by Sigur Rós
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NPR: Sigur Rós In Concert
Kveikur is the band’s first release on XL Recordings worldwide. The record, which was self-produced by the three members of Sigur Rós: Jón Þór Birgisson, Georg Holm and Orri Páll Dýrason, sees the band shifting towards a more direct, aggressive sound.

Kveikur by Sigur Rós

Buy  Buy CD | MP3 | Vinyl

NPR: Sigur Rós In Concert

Kveikur is the band’s first release on XL Recordings worldwide. The record, which was self-produced by the three members of Sigur Rós: Jón Þór Birgisson, Georg Holm and Orri Páll Dýrason, sees the band shifting towards a more direct, aggressive sound.

AM by Arctic Monkeys
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NPR: Review - Arctic Monkeys Endur American Love Affair
The Current: Arctic Monkeys in-Studio
SoundCheck: Multi-Layered Pop Nostalgia
The Current: Album Review: AM by Arctic Monkeys
Album Review by Mark Wheat, host of The Current
After getting buzzed about on the Internet — still a relatively new phenomenon back in 2005 — Arctic Monkeys’ debut release in ‘06 went straight to #1 in the U.K. Their latest album, AM, is the fifth-straight release that has been to the top across the pond; no mean feat in this age of disposable, Internet-driven music careers. In the last 10 years, few British rock bands, however hooj over there, have managed to translate their success into American sales. But this week, AM sits at the top in the Alternative Billboard charts and at #28 in the Top 200.
The Arctic Monkeys have redesigned themselves especially for the U.S. market in a way that no recent U.K. bands have even attempted. The Clash were a perfect example of how to grow beyond your roots; even though one of their first hits was “I’m So Bored with the USA,” the Clash toured here more than any other punk band and soaked up a wide swath of the musical influences by taking old blues musicians on tour with them and by marinating their style in the hip-hop notions emanating from NYC during the ’80s.
The same is true of Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys. His colloquial lyric style and cheeky persona were immediately labeled as being quintessentially British, and perhaps non-transferable over here; now, he’s lived in NYC and L.A., sports an Elvis quiff hairstyle, and loves rap artists and R&B producers. The band have also been mentored over the past few years by Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age, and this album was recorded in L.A. and in Joshua Tree, Calif. Alex says that the biggest influence Josh has had is teaching him the drama of a pause, but I would suggest that he’s been able to encourage the young band NOT to take themselves too seriously. Throughout this record, they try on several different styles of rock, some of which only work if you approach them with an ironic tongue in cheek, as Josh does.
For example, I take myself way too seriously, so track 4,”Arabella” sounds too much like an outtake from Black Sabbath’s first album. Track 5, “I Want It All,” is the weakest lyrically, from a man whose song craft I hugely admire, and the backing vocals make it sound like a Mud hit from the ’70s. (And if you don’t know Mud, you must see this video.)
Indeed, critiquing those two tracks in the heart of the album points to a soft belly, which could have been solved by cutting perhaps two tracks. This would have made a brilliant 10-song album, and it’s obvious that they attempted to make it flow as an old-style album would — even suggesting with the artwork that the record has two sides. Tracks 6 and 7 don’t improve my mood much, either, as they share a kind of self-referential nod to music appreciation; “No.1 Party Anthem” recalls the slowed euphoria of Pulp, and both detract from the main spirit of the rest of the songs that are all about girls, or perhaps even ONE girl, to the point that it could be considered a concept album. Alex has always been brilliant in creating characters in song, and this single focus for inspiration confines the canvas he has to work within. Especially when we know that he’s had a high-profile romance with TV host and model Alexa Chung, which apparently ended shortly before this album was written.
Tracks 8 through 11 salvage the work, though; track 9, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High,” covers the same idea as “Do I Wanna Know” which has a line: “Ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few / ‘Cause I always do,” but the melody and slightly rushed chorus line borrows deep. And track 10, “Snap Out Of It,” is as good as the first two singles that have already been Current Chart hits and which interestingly are tracks 1 and 2.
I’d love to be able to say that AM ends on a high note, because the last song’s lyrics are by one of my heroes, punk poet John Cooper Clark. He was an early inspiration to Alex and even gave him the nod on using the band name, which no one else liked! But JCC’s strength is dense imagery and long tales of gloriously scuzzy characters. The song here “I Wanna Be Yours” is a short, sweet little ditty with one clever idea. Perhaps that again stresses the album’s theme? Alex wants that one girl to be his, enough said. How many songs in the history of music have had that theme?!
When you make at least three-and-a-half awesome singles from that idea on your fifth album, you have definitely earned your place in the rock ‘n’ roll canon — on BOTH sides of the pond!

AM by Arctic Monkeys

Buy  Buy CD | MP3 | Vinyl | iTunes

NPR: Review - Arctic Monkeys Endur American Love Affair

The Current: Arctic Monkeys in-Studio

SoundCheck: Multi-Layered Pop Nostalgia

The Current: Album Review: AM by Arctic Monkeys

Album Review by Mark Wheat, host of The Current

After getting buzzed about on the Internet — still a relatively new phenomenon back in 2005 — Arctic Monkeys’ debut release in ‘06 went straight to #1 in the U.K. Their latest album, AM, is the fifth-straight release that has been to the top across the pond; no mean feat in this age of disposable, Internet-driven music careers. In the last 10 years, few British rock bands, however hooj over there, have managed to translate their success into American sales. But this week, AM sits at the top in the Alternative Billboard charts and at #28 in the Top 200.

The Arctic Monkeys have redesigned themselves especially for the U.S. market in a way that no recent U.K. bands have even attempted. The Clash were a perfect example of how to grow beyond your roots; even though one of their first hits was “I’m So Bored with the USA,” the Clash toured here more than any other punk band and soaked up a wide swath of the musical influences by taking old blues musicians on tour with them and by marinating their style in the hip-hop notions emanating from NYC during the ’80s.

The same is true of Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys. His colloquial lyric style and cheeky persona were immediately labeled as being quintessentially British, and perhaps non-transferable over here; now, he’s lived in NYC and L.A., sports an Elvis quiff hairstyle, and loves rap artists and R&B producers. The band have also been mentored over the past few years by Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age, and this album was recorded in L.A. and in Joshua Tree, Calif. Alex says that the biggest influence Josh has had is teaching him the drama of a pause, but I would suggest that he’s been able to encourage the young band NOT to take themselves too seriously. Throughout this record, they try on several different styles of rock, some of which only work if you approach them with an ironic tongue in cheek, as Josh does.

For example, I take myself way too seriously, so track 4,”Arabella” sounds too much like an outtake from Black Sabbath’s first album. Track 5, “I Want It All,” is the weakest lyrically, from a man whose song craft I hugely admire, and the backing vocals make it sound like a Mud hit from the ’70s. (And if you don’t know Mud, you must see this video.)

Indeed, critiquing those two tracks in the heart of the album points to a soft belly, which could have been solved by cutting perhaps two tracks. This would have made a brilliant 10-song album, and it’s obvious that they attempted to make it flow as an old-style album would — even suggesting with the artwork that the record has two sides. Tracks 6 and 7 don’t improve my mood much, either, as they share a kind of self-referential nod to music appreciation; “No.1 Party Anthem” recalls the slowed euphoria of Pulp, and both detract from the main spirit of the rest of the songs that are all about girls, or perhaps even ONE girl, to the point that it could be considered a concept album. Alex has always been brilliant in creating characters in song, and this single focus for inspiration confines the canvas he has to work within. Especially when we know that he’s had a high-profile romance with TV host and model Alexa Chung, which apparently ended shortly before this album was written.

Tracks 8 through 11 salvage the work, though; track 9, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High,” covers the same idea as “Do I Wanna Know” which has a line: “Ever thought of calling when you’ve had a few / ‘Cause I always do,” but the melody and slightly rushed chorus line borrows deep. And track 10, “Snap Out Of It,” is as good as the first two singles that have already been Current Chart hits and which interestingly are tracks 1 and 2.

I’d love to be able to say that AM ends on a high note, because the last song’s lyrics are by one of my heroes, punk poet John Cooper Clark. He was an early inspiration to Alex and even gave him the nod on using the band name, which no one else liked! But JCC’s strength is dense imagery and long tales of gloriously scuzzy characters. The song here “I Wanna Be Yours” is a short, sweet little ditty with one clever idea. Perhaps that again stresses the album’s theme? Alex wants that one girl to be his, enough said. How many songs in the history of music have had that theme?!

When you make at least three-and-a-half awesome singles from that idea on your fifth album, you have definitely earned your place in the rock ‘n’ roll canon — on BOTH sides of the pond!

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