Close But No Cigaris my quick takes on albums that didn’t make it to my “best of” list this year but are still worth checking out. Some have a great song or two, many are consistently good but not great. Not quite “bridesmaids”, the “cigars” will slot somewhere south of #40 on the list when all is said and done. But that’s just one man’s ears talking. I’m hoping that you find an artist or three that knocks your socks off and/or rediscover something that you passed on earlier.
Part One featured ten albums. Here are ten more, in no particular order…
Randy Newman: Harps and Angels
Oddly, a combination of his early songwriting chops and vocal phrasing and his latter day (read: Disney) arrangements and orchestration. Meaning something for everyone; the approachability of the latter day material with more serious subject matter and wit for the long time fans. On the surface, almost the antithesis of Born Again, but all he’s really done is replace sarcasm with direct hits – Reaganomics still suck. Includes the brilliant “A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country”, a bookend to the early classic “Political Science” (which still resonates 37 years later). Stay away from the Mouse, Randy – we need more albums like this one.
Paul Westerberg: 49 Minutes Of Your Life
See what happens when you offer a new record as a download with no marketing, even a free download? Suffice it to say that by leveraging the release as one long track, Westerberg forces you to think album in a digital single age (oh the irony) and delivers a basement classic that will please both Mats and solo PW fans. It’s messy, it’s semi-derivative in spots, there are snippets of classic tunes and some random meanderings as if you’re along for the ride when his thoughts get clouded. Just like a Replacements concert, only less beer and fistfights.
The Rhinos: In Rhi-Fi
Sweden is a remarkable place. If you think it’s only about watches and beautiful blonde women, you’re missing out on some tremendous music. The Diamond Dogs are The Faces reincarnated, The Refreshments carry the torch for Rockpile, and The Rhinos must have grown up on a diet of The Byrds, The Zombies, The Hollies and countless other classic harmony bands. Songwriting is not in that league, but check out “I’d Rather be Sad” and tell me the Beach Boys could do that better.
Brickhouse: Walk Of Shame
Sweden rocks yet again. This actually came out in 2006 in limited form but was available last year in wider release. Let’s just say it took ten seconds of the title track to absolutely floor me. Magnus Andersson’s voice and guitar simply bleed mid-period Stones, and if “Walk Of Shame” isn’t “Jiving Sister Fanny” reincarnate, I’ll buy you the next two rounds. With a rocking band reminiscent of The Faces (if sober and more blues-oriented) I am stunned that this album is not more widely known. Time trip to 70’s rock, yes, but with a fresh perspective.
Cut Copy: In Ghost Colors
New Order gravedigging at its finest, with a layer of Boomtown Rats for texture. Total time-trip back to the Europop 80s; dance floor, 4/4 pulse beats, sweeping synth soundscapes and your best Depeche Mode aura to boot. I much prefer the Smiths-like pop of “So Haunted” and “Unforgettable Season” over the electronica of “Voice In Quartz”, but that’s because I’m a melody guy, not a dancer. The closest I get is “Nobody Lost, Nobody Found”, which is Avalon-era Roxy Music. As the band name implies, not the most original take on music, but if you forgive the Kaiser Chiefs for digging up the past, you’ll have to give this Melbourne band their due as well.
Stone Coyotes: VIII
Barbara Keith, husband Doug and step-son John prove the adage that “the family that plays together stays together”. As the album title indicates, this is their eighthalbum, and it ranks among their best and most consistent. Keith, who reappeared on the music scene ten years ago after a quarter-century hiatus, is a great storyteller, good guitarist and emotive vocalist (think Grace Slick with a smaller range and less histrionics). It’s great barroom rock, direct and organic, as are all of their albums. But see them live, which is transcendent.
Todd Rundgren: Arena
To celebrate his 60th birthday (!), Todd returns to rawwwwk and roll us by playing, writing, singing and producing everything just like the old days. After the mess that was The New Cars (I still prefer Autopia or Nazzcar!) it is refreshing to hear the man reinvent himself as a one man Utopia, even though astute ears will hear as much Z Z Top, Derringer, AC/DC, Queen and several other FM classic rock staples. While it’s an amazing accomplishment to assemble a recording like this using a computer program, it’s also Arena’s limitation…you never really get the power intended for these songs, a theory justified by anyone fortunate enough to see him rip these to shreds on last year’s live tour. But Todd is playing guitar again, and that’s a good thing.
Scott Kempner: Saving Grace
Scott, a/k/a “Top Ten”, is best known as being the heart and soul of two revered bands, The Del Lords and The Dictators. But as he proved years ago with Tenement Angels, he also has his finger on the pulse of timeless urban angst, the kind that bleeds through West Side Story and artists like Lou Reed and Dion (who was astute enough to realize this himself and collaborate with Scott). Saving Grace is blues, rock, alt-country, soul, and most importantly heart. I don’t know if we have a single definition of “American Music”, but if pressed to identify it this wouldn’t be a bad example to start with.
The Muggs: On With The Show
Like on their first record, also criminally under-appreciated, the Muggs flat out rock as if they’re trying to raise Cream and Led Zeppelin from the dead. There are a lot of bands starting to break through in the same territory (Wolfmother, for one) but these guys take a backseat to no one. Danny Methric (also in The Paybacks) is a passable singer, but he’s a brilliant guitarist, and he smokes that thing over a rock-solid bottom of drummer Matt Rost and Tony DeNardo on bass. (DeNardo, who had to learn keyboard bass after a stroke left him paralyzed on one side, is an amazing comeback story). A fitting testament to a band who put friendship and loyalty first and let the chips fall where they may…success is now that much sweeter.
The Zutons: You Can Do Anything
The Zutons always seem to have a knockout single or two that are so much better than the rest of the album that I’m torn on how to recommend them. Not that there’s anything wrong with the bouncy “You Could Make The Walls Cry” or the sweetness of “Don’t Get Caught”, the album is chock full of listenable songs. But “What’s Your Problem” is flat out killer, all stomp and pomp, horn section and anthemic chorus. And imagine The Sweet nabbing David Lindley to play some slide guitar on a bubblegum song – that’s “Always Right Behind You” in a nutshell. Neither is typical of the band’s overall sound, which is boisterous and theatrical, yet somehow introspective (perhaps best exemplified by the schizophrenic “Give Me A Reason”). You’ll probably like the album, I guarantee you you’ll love those two singles.
(More almost-made-it albums coming this week – stop back daily!)