Kid Rock: First Kiss (Top Dog) It’s difficult to consider Kid Rock more a musician than he is an actual character: He’s vocal about his political beliefs and his audience—fans of the military, of WWE, of NASCAR,and of those who lean rightward—he’s had run-ins with the law, and he was oncemarried to Pamela Anderson. He seems a well-meaning cartoon. A dabbler. Musically? He’s been all over the place, merging rock, rap, country music and southern-fried boogie from one album to the next. He’s not extraordinarily bad—no, some of the tracks on his records are quite good—but if the notion of there being no “there” there ever applied to an artist, it has applied to Kid Rock. Here, on his umpteenth album since God knows when, he’s settled on an agreeable path that not only suits him well, but is the course he’ll likely take from now on: Well-meaning heartland rocker, singing about drinking beer on the back porch with his dad, about people “talking about taking my guns away,” and seeming the perfect mathematical average of an overly earnest John Cougar Mellencamp and a dopier-than-usual Ted Nugent. Rocky in that appealing .38 Special-ish way, Kid Rock has created a persona that is seeming more and more real with every album. And this one’s pretty good. Which may actually be scarier than the persona itself.
Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (Deluxe Edition) (Swan Song) Those watching the skillfully orchestrated reissue campaign of the Led Zeppelin catalog were likely waiting for the arrival of this revamped classic to draw their closing conclusions. Has it all been a massive yankfest? Is this simply another catalog re-milking? Or, in the Super Deluxe Edition Box configuration—3 CDs, 3 LPs, hardback book and HD download card—is it a super deluxe re-milking? The answer, on the basis of what’s here, is in fact no: Familiar Zep classics like “Kashmir,” “Trampled Under Foot” and “in My Time Of Dying” have never sounded more spacious, vibrant or dynamic than they do here. And this 1975 set catches Led Zeppelin at their artistic peak. There are deliberately different sounds, moods, and feels on this album—a variety never displayed on any other Zep album—that were extremely adventurous then, and sound even more adventurous now. Overseeing the reissues, guitarist/producerJimmy Page has seen fit to alter not a whit, but to make everything that much more distinct and powerful. For “Kashmir” alone this album is essential; its additional availability as one of the seven new “companion” audio tracks seals the deal. It’s all never sounded better, really.
Iron & Wine: Archive Series Volume No. 1 (Black Cricket) A welcome, official release by Sam Beam of some of his better unreleased home recordings, made in the early 2000’s as he was preparing for Iron & Wine’s 2002 debut set The Creek Drank The Cradle. It’s good, intimate, personal stuff that’s not too dissimilar from Beam’s more widely circulated material—but its comparative rarity, and the knowledge that at the time it was made Beam had no idea people would be listening all these years later, makes it all pretty special. Further upping the ante is the short film Iron & Wine: Dreamers And Makers Are My Favorite People, which is good stuff, adroitly shot, and a welcome reminder of Beam’s understated but still quietly remarkable talent.
J. Geils Band: House Party: Live In Germany (CD/DVD) (Eagle Rock) Thanks to Germany’s Rockpalast TV series—which began in 1974 and still continues to crank ‘em out—we’re regularly being blessed with new, vintage video performances which have rarely been seen on these shores. Here’s the latest, and it’s fascinating: Boston’s J. Geils Band, caught in 1979, shortly before “Centerfold” would bring them to the Top 40 but well after “Looking For A Love” and “First I Look At The Purse” made the rounds in the early ‘70s. Watching it now is instructive, delightful, and sometimes laughable—it is difficult to find singer Peter Wolf’s onstage persona as anything other than aggressively and deliberately jive, which is theoretically its “charm,” but, er, it’s 2015 now, and, to be polite, it hasn’t aged well. Aside from the patter, the band itself rocks hard, less Paul Butterfield bluesy and more straight-out R&B-ish, and in this format—whether audio or video—it’s a priceless look backwards, well-produced stuff, and a glimpse of an era you’ll likely enjoying revisiting or witnessing for the very first time. Let’s be glad it’s available.
Gang Of Four: What Happens Next (Metropolis) I am predisposed to liking the Gang Of Four very much, from the Brit band’s earliest singles in the late ‘70s, through the critical peak of their debut album Entertainment! right through their oddly maligned but magnificently understated Hard. That 1983 album featured just two of the band’s core members—guitarist Andy Gill and singer Jon King—but still managed to pair vicious, rhythmic beats with dark lyrics and themes that still linger. And it also sounds great today. It would be nice if the same could be same of What Happens Next, but this new album comes and goes, as while remaining member Gill still provides his guitarisms, now-absent vocalist King is especially missed—as, of course, is the long-gone rhythm section of bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham. Instead, there is a rotating cast of guests like the Kills’ Alison Mosshart, the Big Pink’s Robbie Furze, Gail Ann Dorsey and Herbert Grönemeyer–all who, however reputable, are essentially cast here in Alan Parsons-like functionality, which as the joke would naturally have it, makes this album the work of a Gang Of One. Not bad, just…not.
Black Ryder: The Door Behind The Door (Anti-Machine Machine) This album has been repeatedly getting late-night, on the road repeat play since I first heard it—because, as these things go, they get it completely right. Aimee Nash & Scott Von Ryper, an Australian duo based in Los Angeles, have put together a drone-filled, melodic mix of soothing, slightly troubled tunes that roll right out of your speakers—especially if you’re driving—and linger. There are more than a few combos structured like this—guy/girl, droning guitar, ethereal vocals, moody wistfulness, etc.—but when the combo is actually good, and makes you feel something, that makes them unique. You will like this if you hear it, and you should hear it.
Uriah Heep: Live At Koko (Frontiers) If you have been wondering what Uriah Heep sounds like these days—and frankly, who hasn’t?—this album will most definitely answer the question. And you know what? They sound like they sounded way back in the ‘early ‘70s, when they were on their way to selling over 40 million albums to a worldwide audience and impressing a previously untapped marketplace with their adept mixture of metal, art-rock and the memorably screechworthy vocals of David Byron. He died in 1985, at the age of 38, but his influence lingers. Still in the Heep is original guitarist Mick Box—truly the finest name in rock—and, with lead singer Bernie Shaw, who joined back in ’86, the band can whip out classics like “Look At Yourself” and “Easy Livin’” and sound entirely reputable, entirely like Uriah Heep should sound. And if that’s good enough for 58 countries—which it appears to be—it should be good enough for us.