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album reviews

Various Artists

Working Man's Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard Broken Bow
5

Merle Haggard is still country music's standard-bearer of blue-collar authenticity, and this collection – part tribute, part label showcase – features hard-partying Nashville heartthrobs like Jake Owen and Dustin Lynch pledging allegiance and hoping to gain some credibility. Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley do a melodramatic arena-rock version of "Pancho and Lefty," and Garth Brooks ("Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down") and Randy Houser ("Ramblin' Fever") fare better play... | More »

April 1, 2014

Leon Russell

Life Journey UMe
7

After 50 years as a session player, producer, songwriter, label owner, rock star and – on 2010's The Union – as Elton John's duet partner, Leon Russell could tell tales strong enough to curdle milk. Instead, the 72-year-old pianist crafts a less slanderous but equally colorful musical autobiography on Life Journey, a wry collection of blues, jazz and pop oldies fleshed out by two Russell compositions, the ribald rocker "Big Lips" and the big-band finale, "Down in Di... | More »

Mac DeMarco

Salad Days Captured Tracks
7

"Macky's been a bad, bad boy," Mac DeMarco declares on his second album. Glance around the Internet, and you can see why: The 23-year-old Montreal indie rocker loves to get naked, smoke and crossdress. It'd be easy to write him off as another product of Generation Selfie. But Salad Days is packed with wry, knowing lyrics and washed-out vocals, like a meeting of Stephen Malkmus and Marc Bolan. On "Let My Baby Stay," he ruminates on relationship paranoia, and "Brother" philosophically... | More »

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 »

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Song Stories

“Stillness Is the Move”

Dirty Projectors | 2009

A Wim Wenders film and a rapper inspired the Dirty Projectors duo David Longstreth and Amber Coffmanto write "sort of a love song." "We rented the movie Wings of Desire from Dave's brother's recommendation, and he had me go through it and just write down some things that I found interesting, and they made it into the song," Coffman said. As for the hip-hop connection, Longstreth explained, "The beat is based on T-Pain. We commissioned a radio mix of the song by the guy who mixes all of Timbaland's records, but the mix we made sounded way better, so we didn't use it."

More Song Stories entries »
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