Beck To Basics!

Beck, 'Morning Phase'
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Beck: Morning Phase (Capitol) It struck me as I was listening to this new Beck album for maybe the third time that 1) It is very good and 2) Lots of people I know are bigger fans of him than I am. “Oh, isn’t this record great?” asked one co-worker, “it’s like his best since Sea Change.” Someone else came by twiceand caught me listening to it two days in a row. “This is like my favorite album of the year,” said she. “It reminds me of Sea Change.” Frankly, if you asked me what Sea Change’s cover looked like, I couldn’t begin to tell you—it come out 12 years ago, and how it snuck in through the back door to become everyone’s secret favorite Beck album is beyond me. All I know is Morning Phase is smooth as you like, hook-filled and harmony-crammed, positioned to be his “California album,” as if all the other ones weren’t, and about as listenable and original sounding as influence-sponge Beck has ever been. I suspect I would be slightly more enthused if this were to be the result of a protracted and profound artistic evolution instead of what will likely be yet another quirky product by the dude who releases “albums” that consist solely of sheet music or album jackets you can design at your leisure upon purchasing. But even if it’s just a pit stop in his career as a determined non-careerist, it’s better than just about anything else this week.

St. Vincent: St. Vincent (Loma Vista) Fascinating buzz on this, the latest set from Annie Clark and one that should catapult her from fairly well known to well known in a heartbeat! With a significant batch of sophisticated songs, appealingly arranged in a manner that some have rightly proclaimed mid-period Talking Heads-ish, the album is precisely the sort of creative and juicy affair you’d expect from someone who has collaborated with David Byrne, the Polyphonic Spree, Sufjan Stevens and—wow, I forgot about this—Tuck & Patti. A very strong but surprisingly accessible set, the album should be Clark’s commercial breakthrough, sell oodles, and begin the long but inevitable dialog in which all her future recording projects will be deemed “not as good” as this one, etc. It’s a predictable but fun process, so get behind it!

Dierks Bentley: Riser (Capitol Nashville) I think must of us probably know by now that Dierks Bentley is one of country music’s hottest stars: Grammy nominations up the kazoo, millions of records sold, honors galore, etc. And sure, his new record is great! But let’s get real: What the heck kind of name is “Dierks”? According to a secret, authoritative Internet Information Source, it’s either 1) A city in Arkansas, 2) A lake near that same city, 3) An American musician, 4) Part of the name of an album released in 2003, or 5) The last name of a famous German record producer named Dieter! The answer? Hey, what kind of a name is “Dieter”?

Schoolboy Q: Oxymoron (Interscope) Born Quincy Matthew Hanley, a musical associate of Kendrick Lamar, the kind of guy who starts out releasing mixtapes, puts out indie albums, and eventually winds up on Interscope—you know the type!—Schoolboy Q has had an interesting life, and this new release reflects all that and more! From its fascinating album cover—the deluxe edition, pictured here, covers up more of his face than the regular edition!—to its cast of guest stars including Raekwon, Tyler, The Creator and Kurupt, and, finally, compelling closing track “F*ck LA,” it’s a thought-provoking, energetic affair certain to excite nearly everyone…except, of course, our oxen brothers, who’ll typically feel slighted by the album title. Dopes!

Nenah Cherry: Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound) A long in coming new solo release from a true multi-kulti performer with an impressive pedigree, Blank Project is a textured, appealing return for Neneh Cherry—who whether alone or in the context of other groups has never been less than exciting. Her career trajectory has taken her from the comparative fringes with hip Brit bands like Rip Rig + Panic and Float Up CP, to the mainstream via her 1989 hit album Raw Like Sushi and its worldwide hit “Buffalo Stance,” and while there is no similar hit to be had here—whether by design or record company economics—there’s a maturity in evidence that leaps right out upon first listen. Personal, meaningful and fascinating stuff here.

Morrissey: Your Arsenal: Deluxe Edition (Parlophone) Presented here is what many consider to be the finest solo album by former Smiths vocalist Morrissey: 1992’s Your Arsenal--which boasts two of his most memorably titled songs (“We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” and “You’re The One For Me, Fatty”) and eight other really good ones. Packaged with a DVD featuring a 1991 performance by the man in California, the release is a particularly strong one, and—coming on the heels of his much-discussed autobiography—especially timely. With a coming tour featuring Tom Jones in LA and Cliff Richard in New York—what a choice!—the man simply can’t be stopped!

Johnny Winter: True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story (Legacy) You’d have to be of a certain age to recall the late-‘60s gee-whizzness of adolescents arguing about the era’s "hottest" guitarist. The typical names would of course be Hendrix, then Clapton/Beck/Page, and then later Alvin Lee and maybe Leslie West—but for many, the out-of-this-world guitar ‘n’ vocal howling by blues guitarist Johnny Winter represented a peak all its own. Much of what brought the guitarist that attention is featured here on this four-disc set, and the timespan represented—from the '60s onward, and Winter, who's still recording, just turned 70—makes this a surprisingly varied, non-repetitive career sampler. While he never released the truly staggering album that some of his contemporaries did—his 1969 Columbia debut comes closest—he has never been less than an extraordinary player. Strong, well-curated, and highly recommended.

Mike Westbrook: Glad Day Live (Westbrook Records) Though under-celebrated Stateside, the work of U.K. jazz composer and arranger Mike Westbrook has been rich and exciting for several decades now. This latest set, which snuck out here earlier this month, features a live performance of Westbrook and his crew with a choral ensemble and is especially enthralling. Shot in 2008 and focusing on the poetry of William Blake—an artist Westbrook has been composing music around since the early ‘70s—the album is available as a download or in dual CD/DVD format and is an ambitious, joyous and very classy set. Grab it while you can; this music stays in print briefly and then, methodically, evaporates.

The Peter Ulrich Collaboration: The Painted Caravan (AIS Records) An unexpectedly rich and song-filled showcase here from Peter Ulrich--whom you’d be excused for not knowing was the drummer of cult Aussie/UK band Dead Can Dance, since said group was not renowned for putting their picture on their album covers. There are a lot of players here, most relatively unsung, but as the “collaboration” of the band name implies, the sonics here are focused, decidedly non-Dead Can Dancelike, and more impressive than you might expect.

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