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album reviews

Various Artists

Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne Music Road
6

Jackson Browne's first three LPs alone, which source half this illuminating double-CD covers set, are singer-songwriter urtexts. Don Henley offers a no-frills take on "These Days," Lucinda Williams does a raggedly existential "The Pretender" and Bruce Springsteen turns in a handsome three-tequilas-in "Linda Paloma" with Patti Scialfa. Not every performance is memorable, and the absence of younger fans is a missed opportunity – where's Conor Oberst? But the way t... | More »

The Brothers and Sisters

Dylan's Gospel Light in the Attic
7

The Brothers and Sisters weren't a band per se, but a one-off project helmed by producer and music-biz legend Lou Adler. The dubious idea: Gather L.A.'s finest background singers into a makeshift Baptist-style gospel-soul choir to cover classic Dylan songs. The result: a largely ignored but delicious 1969 LP, now reissued. Two of the most dazzling moments come from 20 Feet From Stardom star (and "Gimme Shelter" vocalist) Merry Clayton, who fires up "The Mighty Quinn" and "The Times ... | More »

White Hinterland

Baby Dead Oceans
7

Massachuset ts native Casey Dienel's first two albums as White Hinterland swerved from cabaret-style ballads to R&B-flavored electro and back again. Her latest follows a similar pattern, but Dienel's considerable vocal skills hold it all together: She's got a Mary Poppins-size bag of tricks, singing in operatic quivers, howling yelps, haunting harmonic layers and even full-on vocal fry without showing any seams. Through slow piano numbers ("David") and bluesy, experime... | More »

Mobb Deep

The Infamous Mobb Depp Infamous
6

With zero Top 40 singles over their 22-year career, Queensbridge menace masters Mobb Deep have never been properly rewarded for their massive impact on the darker strains of New York rap. The duo's mean, scrappy eighth album is the first to truly embrace their underdog status, wrapping itself in the low-fi, Walkman-ready vibe that has dominated the best of founding members Prodigy's and Havoc's solo work on indie labels. There are no radio singles, no "Executive Producer: ... | More »

March 25, 2014

Various Artists

Bob Dylan in the 80's: Volume One ATO
7

In hindsight, Bob Dylan's recordings in the 1980s deserve their bad rep less for the songs – which can be tremendously potent – than for the bland production and often half-baked performances. This revisionist tribute drives that notion home. Two standouts come from 1983's Infidels: Built to Spill turn the smooth reggae rock of "Jokerman" into a prickly, guitar-centric anthem of flailing faith, and Craig Finn makes the cosmic barroom come-on of "Sweetheart Like You"... | More »

The Hold Steady

Teeth Dreams Washington Square
7

On the Hold Steady's sixth album, frontman Craig Finn is still finding new ways to chronicle the underside of dead-end partying (see the grueling opener, "I Hope the Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You"). The Brooklyn crew's punked-up bar-band rock is more streamlined now. But the addition of a second guitarist makes for a big sound that gives Finn more room for detail and nuance. "Almost Everything" offers this classic image: "The kid that went down isn't dead/He just can... | More »

Sleeper Agent

About Last Night RCA/Mom+Pop
7

"I wanna shake some action," these Kentucky alt-rockers holler on their second proper record. The line quotes Sixties garage hippies the Flamin' Groovies, but the track bumps like dance pop, and 21-year-old singer Alex Kandel has some Nashville and a touch of Memphis in her voice. Sleeper Agent make it feel natural with hormone-popping exuberance ("Take It Off"), sharp songcraft and digital-era polish. They can sound like suburban kids banging away in the rec room – even when they&... | More »

Kid Cudi

Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon Wicked Awesome/Republic
6

"It should be in the Bible/Middle finger up to the people who don't like you," Kid Cudi declares on his first release since splitting from Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music. He's a cult hero comfortable enough in his weirdness to keep fans cheering and foes guessing: While inconsistent spacedusted instrumentals coat the first half of this self-produced LP, the back half brings high points from the silky Raphael Saadiq guest spot "Balmain Jeans" to the brooding, acoustic "Trouble... | More »

Karmin

Pulses Epic
3

How did we, as a society, allow this to happen? The post-Glee Broadway-ization of contemporary pop has culminated in this chart-topping duo, whose goofy shtick is to decontextualize sounds from other genres until they're utterly meaningless. On Karmin's debut full-length, singer Amy Heidemann approximates Flo Rida-style pop, appropriates familiar flows from Nicki Minaj and milks two-decade-old hip-hop clichés about getting twisted on Belvedere. Worst of all is "Gasoline," whe... | More »

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

More Song Stories entries »
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