Groban Up, In Public!

By |

One of the marvels of today’s interconnected age may be the fact that writers who once wrote articles and often waited as much as three months to get feedback about them now merely have to consult Twitter to see where they stand!

Thus, less than 24 hours after writing last week’s much-admired post about the latest works by rockers Hatebreed and Justin Bieber, I was greeted by tweets such as:

*"@DaveDiMartino what the hell does this have to do with the album? Sad. Just sad.”

*“It’s funny how @DaveDiMartino...can judge @hatebreed and when he does, he uses dogs to judge their coolness.”

*“@DaveDiMartino Re: your assertion Justin Bieber is this century’s Jimi Hendrix! Pls kill yourself. thank you.”

All well thought-out criticisms, I must say in retrospect, and I’ll give them all ample thought! Still, the dogs-as-coolness-gauge has always worked for me, and there’s no chance whatsoever I’ll give it up!

Josh Groban: All That Echoes (Reprise) The likelihood that one of today’s biggest stars—a young man with a massive, classically-inspired vocal range and a following to match—would devote his new album to Nickelodeon’s classic 1994-2005 comedy show as well as Pink Floyd’s 1971 Meddle classic “Echoes” is admittedly slim, but I think his version of “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” here tells the tale! Groban’s vocal dexterity and soulful strength is as always remarkable, and the inescapable fact that he truly seems a Man Out Of Time marks all he does as either divinely inspired or, heck, a good idea at the time, so why not? Between you and me, the number of young people with the nickname “Josh” is getting bothersome—I don’t like it, and I think he may be feeling that way too—so why not stretch out and sing about the stuff that really matters? A masterpiece? Could be!

Chris Stamey: Lovesick Blues (Yep Roc) I would be lying if I did not say that the very first pair of albums by Chris Stamey’s former group the dB’s rank among my favorite recordings of the ‘80s--and the adventurousness of his solo material that would follow was, in its way, quite bold for a Southern dude with a good ear for melody. This new set, bolstered by colorful arrangements featuring strings and horns, is fine, adult-oriented stuff that shows him to be a thoughtful, romantic artist all these years later and is very much worth repeated playings. That said, opening track “Skin” features a bell-tone that freakishly matches the sound a 2004 Cadillac Deville makes when either a door is ajar or its “service stability system” signal is flashing—so, if you’re me, it makes playing it in your car a jarring experience! I think we can all relate to that!

Wayne Shorter Quartet: Without A Net (Blue Note) An astoundingly audacious set by saxophonist Shorter, whose work with Miles Davis and Weather Report has already set many milestones, this latest album—which marks his return to Blue Note after 43 years—is jaw-dropping, especially since the man himself is now 79 years old. With a group also featuring pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, Shorter is heard here in various live settings circa 2011, and the overall effect—especially during the fascinating, 23-minute “Pegasus”—sounds at once utterly contemporary and strangely evocative of those pre-Weather Report years when, between his Odyssey Of Iska, Joe Zawinul’s Zawinul, and Miroslav Vitous’ Infinite Search, that trio set the stage for that post-In A Silent Way pre-funky Weather Report period that, however brief, was awe-inspiring and near unrepeatable. Highly recommended.

Townes Van Zandt: Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions & Demos 1971-1972 (Omnivore) Though he’s been given appropriate lip service for all these years, Texan songwriter Townes Van Zandt really deserves a thorough re-hearing by those who recognize his name but perhaps haven’t heard all he’s done in the sequence in which he did it. A deep, marvelously evocative songwriter whose best songs are now uniformly recognized as true classics, Van Zandt had a checkered career, one often beset by personal problems, but consistent enough to bring him conspicuous praise by Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, and the many other well-known artists who enthusiastically covered his work. This new collection features 28 tracks heretofore unissued, all drawn from his fertile 1971-72 period, and is perhaps the perfect opportunity for newcomers to give a listen to one of America’s finest talents in his prime, sounding and singing like very few other American artists.

Eels: Wonderful, Glorious (Vagrant) Living in L.A. as I do, I must confess there are certain artists who have historically been highly praised that—if I can be frank—I don’t especially get. Among them are Aimee Mann, who seems nice enough, and “E,” the dude from the Eels I first discovered while diligently doing a Google search for all the letters of the alphabet! This is his band, and it’s been his band for years, and I know his life story purely because I’ve been living out here since the ‘80s and have read his life story repeatedly in the L.A. Times, among other places. He writes about stuff I think I’d probably like, he seems to have had a rough, emotion-packed life, and I’d like to think that he’s the sort of guy whose music I’d play late at night, have a few drinks, and very seriously emotionally relate to. Unfortunately, when I play his albums, they go in one ear and out the other--and the only impression this one makes is that it reminds me of the time my Mom took me to see Oliver! And if that was idea, the dude is a frickin’ genius!

Taj Mahal: The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Columbia/Legacy) Yet another benefit of being at the tail-end of the CD era: Here Columbia Legacy presents every single one of the groundbreaking albums blues/roots dude Taj Mahal recorded for the label, going back to his earliest mid-‘60s days in the Rising Sons with Ry Cooder (which finally was issued years after the fact) and his superb string of albums starting with 1968’s Taj Mahal and extending through 1976’s Satisfied ‘N Tickled Too. The music is well-played and revolutionary for its time, evoking blues, folk and what would become known as “roots” music all at once, filled with good humor, sophistication, and an inarguable style and adventurousness than now seems extraordinary in retrospect. That the entire box set—15 discs in all—costs less than the price of two tickets to a Bon Jovi concert is basically all anyone needs to know. Grab this while you can.

Qluster: Lauschen (Bureau B) The fourth collaboration between legendary German musician Hans-Joachim Roedelius—who made his mark in the late ‘60s via the pioneering Kluster, and continued with Cluster, Harmonia and much more—and Onnen Bock, a talented pipsqueak born in 1974, the duo, now making records as Qluster, continue in the tradition Roedelius established early on: thoughtful, meditative, deliberately minimalist music oozing with subtlety and quiet grandeur. Superb stuff, almost timeless by definition, with the same mark of intelligence and uniqueness that has been a hallmark of Roedelius’ work for more than 40 years.

Ron Sexsmith: Forever Endeavour (Cooking Vinyl) A critical favorite, and in this instance rightly so, Canadian singer/songwriter Sexsmith continues to produce top-notch, intelligent songs with a uniquely sophisticated, emotional resonance. This latest collection, recorded in L.A. with a highly skilled array of session musicians, likely won’t sell like gangbusters—that doesn’t seem to be his problem—but doesn’t indicate the slightest drop-off in terms of his raw songwriting talent, which is sort of not the way these things are supposed to go. The right song in the right movie might feasibly re-kickstart his career, but even without: He’s doing just fine.

Keith Tippett Group: You Are Here I Am There and Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening (both Esoteric UK imports) Newly reissued versions of two classic, collectible British jazz albums, these two discs offer up trailblazing work by a then young, highly adventurous combo who grew up in the jazz tradition and then provided a very distinct oomph that—who knows?—maybe growing up in England could only provide. At the time pianist Tippett and several of the musicians here would pop up on sophisticated rock albums like King Crimson’s Lizard, but in this context and via such groups as Soft Machine (saxophonist Elton Dean is prominent here, and drummer Robert Wyatt can be heard on the Dedicated set, which itself draws its name from a Hugh Hopper song) and the whole Mike Westbrook/Mike Gibbs/Neil Ardley Brit big band scene, they made a mark that really has yet to be duplicated. 1971’s Dedicated To You is the real knockout punch, and you need to hear it.

Dog Bite: Velvet Changes (Carpark) As noted above, using dogs to judge any artist’s coolness always reaps big benefits! Sounding like a combination of Love and the Velvet Underground—well, in a manner of speaking—and at this very minute being offered for sale on Amazon along with other “dog bite” products including fine books Smooch Your Pooch, Preparing Yourself For Dog Encounters, and Off-Leash Dog Play Pocket Guide, this album may give pause to haters the world over! At least phonetically!

Follow me on Twitter.