Much like the Close But No Cigar list contains my quick takes on albums that didn’t make it to my “best of” list this year (that will probably slot somewhere south of #40 on the list when all is said and done), the Bridesmaids didn’t make it either. But they were a lot closer, and most probably were on the Top 25 in pencil at one point. Music is subjective, and my lists morph over time as some albums grow and some fade, so this is really a snapshot.
But enough with the caveats – these are worthy records, and the names may put a knowing smile on your face or send you Googling for sound clips. I’m hoping that you find an artist or three that knocks your socks off and/or rediscover something that you passed on earlier.
Here are five for today, in no particular order. More will be posted in the near future…
Frank Bango: The Sweet Songs Of Decay
Bango’s fourth album is just what I hoped for and expected; a wonderfully vibrant platter of thought provoking pop songs sung with earnest conviction. His voice is eerily similar to Elvis Costello on the upbeat/up-tempo songs (“International Sign For Sorry” could fool a Costello fan), but when singing more somber, pensive material (“Don’t Be A Shy Nurse”) it’s almost a calming stage whisper. It works both ways; the buoyant “Napoleon Again” and “Summerdress” will hook you immediately, where a piano ballad like “When A Plane Goes Down” will cause you to stop what you are doing and pay attention.
Credit must also go to the wonderful lyrics of Richy Vesecky. As appealing and exuberant as “Summerdress” is, it’s only heightened by turns of phrase like “and then came the winter coats / like a symphony of sour notes” (followed, of course, by strings playing out of tune!) And with Ed Stasium helping with the mix, the clarity and breadth of the instrumentation surrounds you like a warm blanket. After twelve songs that find hope in loneliness, love within loss, life in death and child-like innocence in our adult trappings, the album ends with three minutes of chirping birds, as if to cleanse your mental palette before returning you to your life, already in progress…
The Reducers: Guitars, Bass and Drums
No one will ever accuse The Reducers of staying up all night writing the lyrics of “Yeah Yeah”, but in less than two minutes it will tell you everything you need to know about why they’re a timeless rock’n’roll band. And if that simple call to arms doesn’t do it, track two asks you flat out, “don’t you want to rock”? And if that doesn’t do it for you…well, don’t even waste your time with the nine other tunes on this terrific album. Take it out of the player, give it to someone who has a pulse, and go lie down and die. Stop sucking our oxygen. You don’t deserve to make it all the way to “My Problem”, among the best songs they’ve ever recorded – and that is a huge compliment.
Yeah, they’re slipping a little Who into “Meltdown”, and yeah, you’ll conjure up the grittier pub bands like Dr. Feelgood on “Stop It Baby”, but that’s only natural osmosis after rocking bars for thirty years. Still together, still touring, still kicking ass, and thankfully still making albums so people like me can rock vicariously through them.
Jordan Zevon: Insides Out
Thirty seconds into the kickoff track “The Joke’s On Me”, I had an immediate flashback to the last time I was surprised by the son of a famous rocker. Much like I had expected Tal Bachman to follow in Randy’s conventional rock footprints, I figured having Warren Zevon’s DNA coursing through him would almost force son Jordan to issue a dark, sardonic album. Wrong then, wrong now.
Like Bachman, Zevon has a knack for a well-structured pop song, an engaging voice and the ability to drive a stake through a busy arrangement to get the melody nailed to your brain. He’s also assembled a crack band to back him, including frequent co-writer Jordan Summers of All Day Sucker (whose “Camila Rhodes” is covered here, sans acid trip verse). The engineering, arrangements and production are all first-rate; the album leaps from the speakers. You’d think a cover of Dad’s “Studebaker” would be a rough fit until you hear “American Standard”, a song Warren would have been proud to have penned.
The Solution: Will Not Be Televised
Scott Morgan might be doing his best Van Morrison pose for the cover, but the type of soul music this album expresses is more Motown than Celtic. This is the second great album by Morgan’s side project with the Hellacopter’s Nicke Andersson, and while it might not be as wall-to-wall stunning as its predecessor Communicate, few albums are. This is still a dynamic effort, ass-shaking rockers complete with horn section, stinging guitar and smoking backup singers.
Morgan and Andersson both supplied a couple of tracks and sprinkled among great covers you will be hard pressed to tell them apart. Criminally unknown, so toss this baby on at a party you will become a local legend. Great year overall for Morgan, with releases out or upcoming from Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, The Rationals and Powertrane. He’s one of the true great rock and soul singers, and it’s exciting to see him revving it up at a time when most people have long shut it down.
John Hiatt: Same Old Man
John Hiatt has two audiences. One discovered him with Bring The Family, his landmark breakthrough album, hung around for a couple of latter day radio singles like “Drive South” and “Slow Turning” an slowly faded away. This album is not for them. The other group of fans latched on anywhere from Overcoats to Crossing Muddy Waters, realized they panned gold, and saddled up for the ride, wherever it leads. Because after thirty-five years, John Hiatt doesn’t make music for the radio; he doesn’t even make it for you or me, he makes it for himself. In the case of Same Old Man, he also made it for his wife. This is a love letter, pure and simple. Aside from the humorous looking-backwards tale “Old Days”, he lays his cards on the table through the songs…as an imperfect but good man, an appreciative husband and father and a man comfortable in his own skin, voice and heart. Hiatt’s always been an older soul, now he’s just caught up with the image.
This is about as back-porch an album as Hiatt has ever made, and his collaboration with Luther Dickinson is as symbiotic as the ones he’s forged with Ry Cooder and Sonny Landreth. His production is simple and straightforward, and the sound of the album is organic and warm. You’re not going to dance to it, but make time to sit and savor it.
(More almost-made-it albums coming this week – stop back daily!)