Some people are more resilient than others. Rod Stewart, for example, has been through a variety of women ( wives and girlfriends ) , record labels ( Mercury, Warner Brothers ) and musical styles ( blues, rock, pop ) . On his most recent album, Human ( Atlantic ) , which finds him on a new record label, "Rod the mod," tries his hand at Latin-pop ( the title track, "Loveless" ) and "nu-soul" ( "Smitten," co-written by Macy Gray, "Soul On Soul," "Charlie Parker Loves Me" ) , and ends up sounding like "Rod the dud." A couple of songs, in which he shares the focus ( "Don't Come Around Here" with Helicopter Girl, "If I Had You" and Curtis Mayfield's "It Was Love That We Needed" with Sue-Anne Carwell, the "new radical" power pop of "I Can't Deny It" with Danielle Brisebois ) , were better than the others. Stewart might be better off calling it quits while he still has his humanity.
In the four years since the release of his acclaimed and Grammy-winning Time Out Of Mind album Bob Dylan won an Academy Award ( for the song "Things Have Changed," from the movie Wonder Boys ) , had a couple of albums remastered and reissued ( such as 1978's Street Legal and 1971's Greatest Hits Vol. II ) , had a two-disc vintage live disc ( Live 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert ) and had a double disc hits collection ( 2000's The Essential Bob Dylan ) released, in addition to playing a multitude of live shows. Love And Theft ( Columbia ) is his latest album, and it is a swinging and bluesy affair. In the first four songs ( "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum," "Mississippi," "Summer Days," and "Bye And Bye" ) alone, Dylan presents a variety of blues styles in his own inimitable way. "Lonesome Day Blues" is perhaps the most hardcore blues tune on the disc, while the zesty "Floater ( Too Much To Ask ) " feels like it floated in from another time altogether, thanks to Larry Campbell's violin playing. "Honest With Me" sounds like it could be Dylan's most commercial and accessible tune since, well, "Things Have Changed."
Chocolate Genius is the latest musical incarnation of Marc Anthony Thompson, a singer/songwriter who has been trying to make a name for himself in the industry for years, and just might succeed with Godmusic ( V2 ) . There are some significant moments on the album, including the simmering "For One More Look At You," the brief but memorable "My Endless Fall," the subtle gospel of "The Eyes Of The Lord," the vintage electronics of "Planet Rock," the gorgeous "Infidel Blues," and the acoustic "Pocket Mouse." If you can track it down, I also recommend that you take a listen to Thompson's 1989 album Watts & Paris.
Widescreen ( Fynsworth Alley ) by Rupert Holmes, originally released in 1974, falls somewhere between Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" period and Nick Lowe's British punk scene. Coincidentally, Holmes's biggest hit, 1979's "Escape ( The Pina Colada Song ) ," was all over the radio at the same time that songs by The Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie were also being played in regular rotation. Reissued and expanded in a "collector's edition," Widescreen features two songs that will be familiar to Barbra Streisand fans.
Both the title track and "Letters That Cross In The Mail" can be found on her 1975 Lazy Afternoon album. Like many pop albums of its time, by artists such as Bette Midler, The Pointer Sisters and The Manhattan Transfer, Widescreen has a nod to the swing era in the song "Second Saxophone." Holmes is also a Tony-award winner ( The Mystery Of Edwin Drood ) and Phantom Of The Opera was a good indication of what was to come from him. Among the bonus tracks you will find songs from "No Small Affair" ( from the Demi Moore/Jon Cryer movie of the same name ) , ... Edwin Drood, and a couple of TV theme songs. Widescreen succeeds in giving the listener the big picture in regards to under appreciated singer/songwriter Rupert Holmes.
Believe it or not, Silk Degrees, the breakthrough album that made Boz Scaggs a household word, was released 25 years ago. Songs such as "Lido Shuffle," "Lowdown," and "We're all Alone," all from that album have become standards identified with the year of the Bicentennial celebration. Sadly, none of Mr. Scaggs's follow-up albums ever recaptured that glory. Dig ( Virgin ) , his new album, could conceivably change all that. A chunk of funk and a splash of jazz are some of the ingredients that made me return to this album for repeated listens.
Unlike the Steely Dan and Paul Simon discs from last year, Dig sounds as if Boz Scaggs has been paying attention to what is happening in the music world. There is intelligent use of programming and samples on this disc, making it sound up to the minute. From the rhythmic snap of the opening track "Payday" to Roy Hargrove Jr.'s horns on the smooth jam of "Miss Riddle" to the emotional honesty of "I Just Go" to the Latin beat of "Call That Love" to the hip-hop beats on "Vanishing Point," this disc marks a return to form. If you overlook the Leonard Cohen-esque rap of "Get On The Natch," you should have no trouble digging this.
Singer/songwriter Joe Henry is both an exceptional artist and Madonna's brother-in-law. In fact, the song "Stop" on his latest album Scar ( Mammoth ) is another version of the song "Don't Tell Me," that he co-wrote with Madonna, and which was a hit single from her latest album. Henry's influence on his sister-in-law was one of the redeeming factors of her Music disc. The 10 tracks on Scar run the gamut from the Tom Waits-esque tunes such as the title track, "Lock And Key," and "Cold Enough To Cross" to the sublimely funky "Rough And Tumble" and "Nico Lost One Small Buddha," Joe Henry deserves to be recognized for plentiful musical gifts. With an exceptional line-up of guest musicians, including MeShell Ndegeocello, Brad Mehldau, and Mar Ribot, all it takes is one listen and you know that Scar will leave a mark.
Michael Shelley may be the least well-known male singer/songwriter in this column, but that doesn't make him any less talented. I Blame You ( Bar/None ) is technically his fourth disc and it overflows with catchy pop songs ( such as "Mix Tape," "Dear Mr. Webster," "Stoop Sale," "Rollo," and "Let's Fall In Hate," earn him a place in a review that includes Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Rupert Holmes.
Edwin McCain continues to carry ( and run with ) the Southern modern rock torch that Hootie & The Blowfish abandoned on his latest album, Far From Over ( Atlantic ) . "Hearts Fall" ( which features background vocals by Shawn Colvin! ) is the best song on the disc.
Like the previously mentioned Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop has been making music for many, many years. Beat Em Up ( Virgin ) ranks among the worst of his lengthy career. Pop is another one who might want to consider retirement while he still has a shred of humanity left.
Godfathers going strong
I'm not sure if it's a sign or that I should attribute any more importance to it than necessary, but in the last few months, new albums by men who were both influential to and present at the birth of modern rock ( punk, new wave, etc. ) , such as Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, have found their way to my desk and subsequently my CD player.
Twenty-five years after his debut, I think I still love Graham Parker best for his 1979 song "Mercury Poisoning," in which he made shit out of the Mercury Records label and the mistreatment he suffered at their indifferent hands. I also love him for "You Can't Be Too Strong" and "You Can't Take Love For Granted," among others. Part Elvis Costello, part Bob Dylan, part John Hiatt...Parker's new disc Deepcut To Nowhere ( Razor & Tie ) contains all of Parker's trademark elements. There's his growl, his sneer, his trademark sunglasses and a bunch of catchy, and deep cutting, tunes including "I'll Never Play Jacksonville Again," "High Horse," "Cheap Chipped Black Nails," "Tough On Clothes," "It Takes A Village Idiot," and "Syphilis & Religion." The lovely "Depend On Me" also deserves a mention as an example of Parker's sensitive side.
In the mid-1980s, shortly after The Clash split up for good, Mick Jones put together a band called Big Audio Dynamite that took the dance beats and grooves with which The Clash had begun to expand and ran with them. Although most of their seven albums were somewhat uneven, a couple of them ( This Is Big Audio Dynamite and Big Audio Dynamite II's The Globe ) were gems. Meanwhile, Joe Strummer made music and movies during the '80s and most of the '90s, and didn't make much of an impression. In 1999, he returned with both a new band ( The Mescaleros ) and a new album ( Rock Art And The X-Ray Style ) and I, for one, am glad he's back. It's hard not to hear The Clash in the songs on the new album Global A Go-Go ( Hellcat ) , after all, Strummer was the voice of The Clash. Furthermore, many of the songs ( including "Johnny Appleseed," "Cool'N'Out," the title track "Gamma Ray," "Mondo Bongo," "At The Border, Guy" ) have the political mindset of The Clash, and it's great to know that Strummer hasn't lost his revolutionary edge. It rocks, it raises your consciousness, and it rolls right over almost everything in its way.
Most people probably know Tim Finn's name from his work in the seminal Australian ( by way of New Zealand ) band Split Enz, and later as a member of Crowded House. Finn has also released some fine solo discs, and Feeding The Gods ( W.A.R./Sonny's Pop/Periscope ) is the latest. Hot on the heels of 2000's Say It Is So, Feeding The Gods rocks harder than his previous solo discs, but still maintains a powerful pop heart. Working once again with producer and guitarist Jay Joyce, Finn delivers another terrific batch of song, including "Songline," "Say It Is So," "Dead Man," "Waiting For Your Moment," and "Incognito In California."
There is no question that Nick Lowe has maintained both his humanity and his humility 25 years after the release of his first single on Stiff Records. The legendary producer ( Elvis Costello, John Hiatt ) and singer/songwriter's latest effort The Convincer ( Yep Roc ) is a smart and lowkey collection of retro blues-tinted country-colored tunes. "Lately I've Let Things Slide," "Bygones ( Won't Go ) ," and "Between Dark And Dawn" come across like timeless Nashville numbers. "She's Got Soul" and "Cupid Must Be Angry" are terrific examples of Lowe's skewed views on love, while the acoustic "Indian Queens" is the right song to lead into his right-on-the-money cover of "Poor Side Of Town." Many of the songs are bolstered by the stunning organ playing of Geraint Watkins.
Speaking of Elvis Costello...My Aim Is True, Spike, and All This Useless Beauty ( all on Rhino ) ...have been reissued in considerably expanded versions.
Each album is now a double-disc set, containing the original recording on the first discs and the second discs consist of demos, non-LP tracks, alternate versions and b-sides. My Aim Is True ( Costello's first album for Columbia ) and Spike ( Costello's first album for Warner Brothers ) have held up well over time ( Aim is almost 25 years old ) , which is no surprise. The underrated All This Useless Beauty, which constituted Costello and his band the Attractions reclaiming songs that he had written ( or co-written ) for other people, including "The Other End Of The Telescope" ( co-written with Aimee Mann ) and his collaborations with Paul McCartney ( "That Day Is Done" ) may finally get its due. Other Costello discs will be reissued during the coming months.