Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: CSNY 1974 (Rhino) While fewer records than ever need to be sold in 2014 to be included in Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, one of next week’s expected hottest records will be this 4-disc set recorded in 1974 by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It is indeed a fascinating world. That said, this is actually a pretty hip set: The 3 CDs capture the iconic & hirsute dudes at their mid-‘70s commercial peak, which oddly has so far gone strangely under-represented in their released catalog. And that’s a good thing. Rather than depend on the chestnuts that populated their first two albums, the guys instead offer up a surprising number of tracks from their own solo albums—Neil Young’s On The Beach stuff is the big win, but Stills, Nash & Crosby also benefit by this 2014 re-hearing of their non-hits. Actually, put in that context, it’s worth mentioning that some of the songs that helped define the baby-boomer generation sound distinctly odd all these years later: Think of a stalker singing David Crosby’s “Guinnevere”–drawing pentagrams on the wall “late at night when she thought that no one was watching at all”? Excuse me? Must Judy Blue Eyes be told “you make it hard” three times in succession? And what exactly was that David Crosby thing about getting his hair cut? But throughout all the earnestness, the music is well played, and the picture on the album cover—a bunch of long-haired fellows, minus the accompanying massive TV screens, entertaining a stadium-full of humans–tells a story of an era that won’t be returning anytime soon. A very solid, welcome package.
Sia: 1000 Forms Of Fear (Monkey Puzzle) Wow. A fascinating, very strong pop album by a dynamic, powerful singer-songwriter who—with a tremendous track record behind her—is oddly opting for the opposite of celebrity, choosing instead to let her music speak for her and avoiding the depravities of Music Biz 2014: no touring, no press. As it happens, it couldn’t be a better strategy. There are songs galore here, penned by the Australian-born singer and an array of co-writers, most notably producer Greg Kurstin—the former member of Geggy Tah who appears to have had his hand in every major pop album of the last decade or so. Good for both of them! There are at least five songs here that could easily be hits blaring on radios worldwide in the next six months—the album is easily that substantial, certainly as worthy as the latest from P!nk or Katy Perry—and there’s hopefully much more to come.
Ted Nugent: Shutup & Jam (Frontiers) Having enjoyed Ted Nugent in his early Amboy Dukes ‘60s incarnation, and losing interest when he gave up pseudo-psychedelia for hard rock and eventually dumbed-down metal, I am perpetually reminded of the headline someone slapped on a piece I wrote about him in a college paper: “Duke’s Quips Better Than His Music.” That was in the early ‘70s, well before “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang”–and his quips, like his music, have gotten aggressively dumber with time. But that’s OK! Taken as pure, loud, dopey hard rock, there are good things to be said about this new album, and you can’t fault the candor of the title track’s opening lyric: “You say you heard it all before/ I believe we’ve had enough/ Everybody’s looking for a free for all/ Enough of that political stuff/ Right, left, good, bad/ It all gets boring and old/ The only hope for America/ Is that good old rock ‘n’ roll /So shut up and jam/ You know who I am/You know where I stand/ So shut up and jam.” That said, precisely because I do know who he is, and what he’s said about people I admire, and have seen the very wide smile on his face when he proudly holds up dead animals he has killed, it is a struggle to take his music seriously and consider this album’s release as anything other than a political event. And since I am first and foremost a music fan, that sucks.
John Mellencamp: Performs Trouble No More Live At Town Hall (Mercury) A live performance captured in 2003 at New York’s Town Hall and miraculously issued all these years later—right after the Fourth of July!—this set captures the grizzled singer performing his final Columbia album before a small crowd, throwing in a version of his own “Pink Houses” among the glorious cover versions within. It’s good stuff for Mellencamp, who has always tended to excel the further he strays from attempting pure pop or traditional rock, and he sounds like he means it throughout most of this. Most significantly for Mellencamp fans: This album launches what will be a planned series of new re-releases of the singers music for Universal–and how deep that series will extend will be instructive regarding record label business models to come. Things will only get weirder.
Leela James: Fall For You (J&T/BMG) Speaking of falling: It’s difficult not to go completely nuts over singer Leela James, whose fourth album carries on in that same inspired R&B tradition that made her 2005 debut A Change Is Gonna Come so memorable. With the conspicuous appearance by Anthony Hamilton on last year’s single “Say That” included here–and a non-stop sequence of sympathetically produced, gimmick-free R&B, Fall For You is a captivating, modern listen that evokes the classic female R&B vocalists without overt imitation. Not a small thing. Dependable, consistent, and deep—James has yet to disappoint, and she’s come back stronger than ever. Recommended.
Brenda Lee: The Complete US & UK Singles As & Bs 1956-62 (Acrobat) It is a murky topic to write about, but due to differences in copyright laws, what constitutes material that is in the public domain, etc., a really vast amount of classic material is methodically being released overseas at the moment–most recorded prior to and extending through 1962, but that date will keep shifting forward, so just wait. We’ve already seen unexpected “legitimate” releases by Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Brian Wilson being issued as a result—and that’s just the beginning. So what does this mean to today’s consumer? It means that great albums like this are being manufactured, which—on purely musical terms—represent astounding value for the money. (In fact, I would recommend this album as the better deal) It also means the marketplace is getting jammed with top-quality product–and given the choice of buying a brand new Everly Brothers tribute record by the guy from Green Day or 5 Classic Albums by the Brothers themselves—both sets for the same price—well, which would you choose?
Honeyblood: Honeyblood (FatCat) A very fresh sounding pop record by a Scottish duo who have all the necessary ingredients—catchy melodies and harmonies, reverbed guitars, humor, unexpected musical reference points—Honeyblood is a sharp, intelligent debut. Several strong songs stand out—“Super Rat,” “Killer Bangs,” “Bud”—but, most notably, so does the duo’s overall sense of voice and personality. Oddly evoking (in almost sideways fashion) their country mates Strawberry Switchblade from the ‘80s, Honeyblood have a compelling energy that instantly stands out. Good, fun stuff.
Judas Priest: Redeemer Of Souls (Epic) Who can resist the allure of Judas Priest after all these years? Their 17th album? Together for 40 years? A familiar logo? Leather? Rob Halford? An album cover that, if you close your eyes halfway and have a couple of drinks looks exactly like this one by the Graeme Edge Band? It is all here, it is all good, it is Judas Priest, completely in their tradition, playing hard rock in 2014 as if it were the blues in the 1920s—classic, timeless stuff—and clearly appealing to longtime fans like Amazon customer The Tucson Manimal, who notes on this album’s Amazon page: “I am a fat and ugly 43 year-old guy who has been listening to Judas Priest since 1984 when I was a skinny pale virgin prowling the mall trying to pick-up skinny rocker chicks who looked sleazy. Not much has changed over the past 30 years; only now, I am fat, balding and wear glasses.” Like Judas Priest themselves, this album is an act of love. Follow me on Twitter.