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Standing At The Crossroads!

November 19, 2013 1:35 PM ET
Standing At The Crossroads!
Courtesy of Rhino

It’s an admittedly odd time in pop music history when today’s most celebrated pop thrush, Miley Cyrus, has just turned 21, when former pop icons Nirvana recorded their historic Unplugged In New York set an unbelievable 20 years ago, and when two of this week’s biggest albums are by Frank Sinatra & Herb Alpert!

Luckily the skillful and well-measured new releases by the even more iconic Webbie and Yo Gotti have arrived to put all that trendy crud in perspective!

I think it’s precisely that balance between the old and new that will keep me on the edge of my seat for this Sunday’s upcoming American Music Awards ceremony!

Certainly my favorite awards show--and, as recently announced, now slated to be hosted by the legendary Pitbull--I’m sure the AMAs will not only put today’s wacky pop music scene in perspective, but give most of us, perhaps bummed out by this whole Health Care thing, yet another reason to live life to the fullest!

And while I’m not usually one to rave about inanimate objects, I don’t know—doesn’t the AMA trophy itself look kind of hot? Just a thought!

Various Artists: Crossroads: Eric Clapton Guitar Festival Blu-Ray, DVD & CD (all Rhino) It my just be my imagination, but it seems that Eric Clapton, who appeared to have reached his commercial zenith back in the ‘60s when he was referred to as “God,” is now more popular than ever! Just one of at least three new collections bearing his name this year, this one—available in three different commercial formats—draws its content from this April’s celebrated two-day concert event in Madison Square Garden and features just about every hot guitarist you might imagine—Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Steve Cropper, Earl Klugh, the commercially popular John Mayer and…heck, just about everybody! It all sounds good, it all sounds event-worthy—and indeed, royalties from all of this will benefit the Crossroads Centre in Antigua—and most impressively, it all seems deliberately music-focused, rather than pop-star laden, which is a refreshing change of pace in late 2013. With a line-up way too talent-heavy to list everyone, a huge array of great tuneage—I suggest you go the Blu-Ray or DVD route to hear everything—and its underlying assumption that those interested in this might have an attention span exceeding 30 seconds, this is good stuff indeed, and worthy of your time.

Daughtry: Baptized (19 Recordings) It’s hard to get too excited or cynical about today’s pop stars who got their commercial start on such shows such as American Idol—largely because their bios, or at least the ones I read, do their best to never mention that fact! Dude, I know you were on that show! Anyway, as far as that entire clownish heritage is concerned, I’m inclined to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, mostly because he seems to be evoking that whole sub-metal hard-rock vocal genre pioneered back in the day by Paul Rodgers of Free/Bad Company, and in world where, say, Foreigner’s Lou Gramm can now be appreciated for vocal subtleties that perhaps escaped some of us way back in the ‘70s, Daughtry sounds much more credible than some of his detractors let on. In the same manner that, say, to unsophisticated ears, the biggest blues stars of the ‘50s and ‘60s might sound “all the same,” I’m now aspiring to put together a grab-bag of vocalists like Daughtry, Rodgers, Frankie Miller and Gramm, listen to them all intently until I can recognize their smallest vocal quirks instinctively, spend a lot of time on the bar scene impressing girls with that knowledge—heck, who wouldn’t?—and then, in a show of Daughtry-esque solidarity, shave my head, deny my past, and hire a batch of musicians to play in a band bearing my last name! I’m into big-time career moves!

Rush: Clockwork Angels Tour (Blu-Ray) (Roadrunner) It may just be the height of cynicism, but I’ve now thrown up my hands and am completely into all that Canadian rockers Rush represent: Significant musical skills, art-rock pretentions, lyrics that come from some socio-political area that doesn’t especially move me, and a voice that I once found freakishly abrasive I now find smoothly reassuring and comforting! Incidentally, as I type this, I have an infection in my left ring finger! Anyway, now that the Rush crew have that whole Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame thing behind them—and again I must commend guitarist Alex Lifeson for giving the best acceptance speech for that dopey place I have yet to hear—this DVD set offers them at their best, captured this year and last, playing many of their better-known tracks, appearing with an eight-piece string section, and generally doing the sort of thing it is comforting to know Rush do! Word is they have “more consecutive gold and platinum awards than any other rock band following the Beatles and the Rolling Stones,” but the last band I saw following the Rolling Stones got picked up by the Anaheim police for driving a van with an expired license plate!

Frank Sinatra: Duets: Twentieth Anniversary – Deluxe Edition (Capitol) Who on earth would argue with the statement that Frank Sinatra is one of the most popular vocalists of all time? And who would similarly argue with the statement that since the digital revolution has now allowed nearly everything that fine gentleman has recorded to be available commercially that these discs—commercially popular at the time of their release but then and now scoffed at by so-called “purists”—should not also be available? And so it is: Two discs filled to the brim with Sinatra classics, all of them aided by guest appearances by an array of vocalists including Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, Steve Wonder, Anita Baker, Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, the charismatic Bono, Barbra Streisand, and everyone else you ever imagined! I think it’s time we put pretentions aside and be realistic: It’s 2013! If you have a bunch of people at your house and you want to play Frank Sinatra records, you’ll either play about a half-dozen of the Capitol ones w/Nelson Riddle & pals or, if enough drinks are on hand, you’ll pull out these babies and wait for that Bono duet! It will be worth it! I mean, all that other stuff is great, but come on!

Nickelback: The Best Of Nickelback Volume 1 (Roadrunner) It strikes me that it is too easy to make fun of Nickelback, to poke fun at their commercial success—they have, after all, sold over 50 million albums worldwide—and to use them as simply the butt of the same sort of jokes that have been making the rounds since those days it was suggested that many Polish last names ended in “ski” because “they can’t spell tobaggan.” First of all, that’s silly! Second of all, Nickelback are Canadian! Third of all, there are 19 tracks on this thing, and I’m absolutely certain many of them are big hits! Fourth of all, one of these dudes is married to Avril Lavigne! Frankly, sounds to me like they’re all living the good life while you’re coyly sitting at home, making fun of them on Facebook and wondering if anyone else is still up! Ever heard “There Stands The Glass”? You will! Anyway, I bet this record isn’t bad at all!

Herb Alpert: Steppin’ Out (Shout! Factory) While the famous Tijuana Brassman has been on the receiving end of kudos since those days he established A&M Records so very long ago—and deservedly so—the trumpeter/businessman/artist clearly deserves 21st Century recognition for staying so doggedly contemporary. This latest set, also featuring his wife Lani Hall, is surprisingly sharp, encompassing both the contemporary and—with its 50th anniversary take on Alpert’s original “The Lonely Bull”—the respectable pop-jazz tradition he established way back in the ‘60s. It’s a fine showing, offering up nods to standards, tracks by Art Pepper and Astor Piazolla, and his early work, and evidence that despite all that’s happened since those days, Alpert the artist has never left us.

Yo Gotti: I Am (Epic) With its 13 tracks all listed as being “Explicit,” Memphis-based rapper Yo Gotti’s latest set isn’t exactly easy listening: Between the likes of “King Sh*t,” “F-U” and “Die a Real Ni**a,” one might be inclined to assume it’s a testosterone-fuelled gangsta affair aiming straight for the jugular! Imagine my surprise, then, upon learning that the entire disc is based upon René Descartes famous statement “Cogito ergo sum”—or, as some might say, “I think, therefore I am”! Word is that early album cover art—featuring additional placards reading “I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar),” “I Am A Rock,” “I Am The Walrus,” and “I Am A Lonesome Hobo”—was rejected for fear it might confuse the rapper’s natural audience base! At least that’s what some guy said on Twitter!

Jake Bugg: Shangri La (Island) Back for his second album, more fully-formed and with a more band-ish sound accompanying him, young Brit singer/songwriter Jake Bugg clearly still has the goods and is likely to impress a few more people Stateside this time out. While the inevitable comparisons to early Dylan aren’t likely to vanish anytime soon, the melodic breadth of the material, helped by the inventive musical arrangements, make Shangri La an easy album to listen to repeatedly—and appreciate the depth and growing maturity Bugg continues to display. Very good stuff.

Webbie: Savage Life 4 (RBC) One of my favorite rappers ever—if I can be really honest, I’m really into names, and Webbie is about as cool as it gets, especially if you’re into comics!—returns here with a dynamite set of 17 tracks including such fearsome material as “F***ked Her,” “Big,” “Fine A**” and the startlingly pensive “Shake What Ya Mamma Give Ya.” With guest appearances by Gyro Gearloose, Scrooge McDuck and the much-loved Pluto, Savage Life 4 takes the lessons of 1984’s film classic Savage Streets, replaces Linda Blair with Daisy Duck, and the feathers be a-flyin’! Top notch!

Boards Of Canada: Twoism (Warp) Only an idiot would imply this vinyl pressing of a 1995 EP reminded them of Daft Punk because of the cover art!

 

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