Like most of us, after watching the recent American Music Awards, I’m convinced that pop music has now reached its all-time zenith!
And while I’m certain Miley Cyrus’s cat and Lady Gaga’s horse will rank up there with Blonde On Blonde and Sgt. Pepper’s in terms of pop culture references in years to come---though in the long run they’ll have a way to go to beat No Doubt and Sublime!—it doesn’t mean even more great stuff won’t be coming before year’s end!
And sure enough, with names like Barbra Streisand, One Direction and charismatic rockers Deicide in the mix, who can deny 2013 may be music’s best year ever?
One Direction: Midnight Memories (Syco/Columbia) Though I am not the world’s biggest fan of One Direction, nor the sort of writer willing to give a semi-serious thumbs up to the typical ‘N Sync/Backstreet Boys boy band of the moment, I must admit that—perhaps accidentally, or perhaps due to the fact that all music is getting dopier by the moment—this latest set by One Direction is as plausible a pop/rock album as nearly everything you’d ever want to hear! Today I overheard people sitting near me mention names like Rick Springfield, the Police and Def Leppard while they were playing this album, comparisons you don’t usually hear in BoyBandLand, and at least one tune—“Diana”—struck me as an incredibly tasty rip-off of a song that, well, frankly, I can’t remember at the moment! But no sweat! More than anything else I wish great success to One Direction, because—let’s face it!—they have a really crappy logo and maybe a few bucks will spruce things up, and even more importantly, skilled investigative journalists have discovered that the band’s actual one direction is “shake, open and pour,” which is kind of a commercial bummer! I understand they’re cute, though!
Billie Joe + Norah: Foreverly (Reprise) In the scheme of things, it would be safe for me to say that I rank the Everly Brothers as profound rock ‘n’ roll innovators, Norah Jones as an enormously talented, versatile musician with a skill set and actual ability rivaled by few of her contemporaries, and Billie Joe Armstrong as an undoubtedly well-meaning third-tier rocker who struck commercial pay dirt with Green Day, writes songs that sound oddly familiar—as if we’ve heard them before—and now has the means to do whatever the heck he so desires! It’s great! And if that means he and Norah Jones get to run into a studio and record a tribute to the Everly Brothers’ classic 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, God bless them both! This is a fab, informal album, both performers rise to the occasion, and in the scheme of albums and artists worth paying tribute to, the Everly Brothers and Songs is really high up there! All of today’s best artists should pay tribute to albums made more than 50 years ago! It’s hip and new!
Barbra Streisand: Back To Brooklyn (Columbia) While admittedly I haven’t spent much time sitting back on the couch and listening to the Barbra Streisand catalog—on weekends, I’m a survivalist, and I shoot and eat every single squirrel I kill!—it doesn’t mean I can’t chill out and enjoy a great song now and then, especially when it’s sung by one of the musical legends of our time! This latest set features Brooklyn-born Streisand returning home, alongside trumpeter Chris Botti, Il Volo, and actual son Jason Gould, singing many of her best-known songs and, as the sleeve notes point out, proving “you can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl!” That said, I must confess to being mildly put off by the album cover sticker boasting “ 9 SONGS THAT BARBRA HAS NOT PERFORMED IN CONCERT BEFORE,” especially because a good friend of mine had told me they included “Born On The Bayou,” “That Second Side Of Abbey Road,” “Get On The Good Foot,” “John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith,” “99 Problems,” and a Trout Mask Replica tribute--but he lied! I guess the business sucks for everyone!
Pitbull: Global Warming: Meltdown (Deluxe Edition) (RCA) I have to admit I was late to the party when it comes to Pitbull: I found myself wondering exactly what the guy did. A singer? A rapper? A DJ? A guy who looked directly at the camera with a twinkle in his eye when incredibly gorgeous women pawed at him in the video “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)”? Yes! It was the latter thing! That was what was so cool! Could I, like, be him for a few minutes? It’s a question more than a few of us are asking! As the cover of this new album—a deluxe repackaging of his 2012 album—proves, Pitbull, or “Pit,” as his good friends call him, has now grown so large in terms of musical influence, world importance, and actual physical mass, he’s essentially half Earth's size! Cool! With new tracks featuring similarly giant talents such as Ke$ha, Kelly Rowland and Mayer Hawthorne—not to mention the legendary Inna, of Iron Butterfly fame!—Pitbull’s latest set is simply the best album ever! Anyway, I’m thinking of getting a law degree now that this music thing’s all done!
Florida Georgia Line: Here's To The Good Times? This Is How We Roll (CD/DVD) (Big Machine) Certainly one of the biggest and perhaps most unexpected success in the country music genre this year has been that of Florida Georgia Line—that abstract latitudinal concept that, frankly, hardly seemed human, let alone capable of going into a recording studio and making a hit record or two! Plus, that whole panhandle thing gets tricky over by Alabama! Still, as represented by humans Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, Florida Georgia Line are hitmakers of the highest order, and as this repackaging proves, we should pay them the highest respect! In this new configuration, as its title indicates, the guys provide an eye-opening look at exactly how they roll—and let me tell you, it’s a doozy! They grab the dice, stick caviar up their noses, fixate on saliva and, frankly, offer more information than we need to know! That’s why I like them! And I understand spin-off band Florida Nevada Line will be considerably more abstract!
Big Star: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (Magnolia Pictures DVD) Right around now might be the time when people of a certain age who’d always heard that Big Star were this great unheralded band, and maybe caught up with them via a scattered reissue or two--or who maybe oddly think a big batch of people bought their records, but not enough people—can get a dose of reality. This welcome, thorough, and commendably objective documentary tells the Big Star tale, from start to finish—fabulous Memphis band, completely out of time, ignored at the time but now treated as godhead, etc.—and is filled with just enough music and forward momentum to encourage long-time fans that they weren’t wrong in liking the band so much. Put together with love, and telling a tale that very much deserves the telling, Nothing Can Hurt Me is a dandy addendum to that whole rock’s rich tapestry thing writers used to rave about 30 years ago. Highly recommended.
Keith Jarrett: No End (ECM) Those familiar with pianist Keith Jarrett will either recollect him as the impressive young upstart who starred in Charles Lloyd’s quartet in the ‘60s, and who spent brief time with Miles Davis soon after, or as the guy who moved over to the distinguished ECM jazz label in the early ‘70s—where he’s been making records of all sorts for the past 40 years. Jazz improv? Yep. Classical music? Yep. Near-telepathic quartet & trios? Yep. And now this: A quite good, completely uncharacteristic double set, recorded in his home studio in 1986 and featuring the humming tunesmith on electric guitar, bass, drums and percussion. Surprisingly good, surprisingly tuneful, surprisingly hum-less, and surprisingly exactly the sort of record that, say, had it been issued by Sub Pop in 1991 under the pseudonym Dog Feet, and perhaps produced by Steve Fisk, would have received pages of raves in paper-dependent publications of the time. Between you and me? A lot more fun than hearing him do The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1! Roll another number, piano man!
Danielle Bradbery: Danielle Bradbery (Big Machine) Though I am at times cynical about the product of reality TV shows that focus on music, I’m probably most forgiving about those leaning toward the country genre—maybe because in this day and age, establishing a career via a TV appearance seems just as valid (and more likely) than an “admirable” decade slogging around in bars, drinking hard, and trying to establish a career in genre that is methodically skewing younger every minute. Ms. Bradbery is know for her appearances on The Voice and working with her esteemed coach Blake Shelton—who I have to say is the only reality TV coach I have ever sincerely warmed up to—and on this first album succeeds commendably, singing a collection of polished, well-crafted tunes and oozing sincerity rather than that creepy hyper-emotionalism that makes reality TV so unremittingly dreadful. Bonus: She looks like a real human!
The Animals: The Mickie Most Years And More (Real Gone Music) Not to get all anal-retentive record-collectorish, but: This is exactly what a much-needed reissue should be. If you were an American and grew up in the ‘60s, while you may have loved the Beatles’ CD reissues, it wasn’t until The Capitol Albums Vol. 1 came out in 2004 that you got a chance to relive the music you grew up with in the same sequence you’d heard so long ago. And so it is here, with the much-loved Animals, contemporaries of the Beatles and a group whose discography has remained an international mish-mash of compilations, singles, and song sequences that have always seemed jarring to U.S. fans. It’s all rectified here with the official release of The Animals, The Animals On Tour, Animal Tracks and Animalization—mono-ed up as appropriate, featuring the inevitable bonus tracks and a t-shirt, but long in coming as far as Stateside Animals fans are concerned. Great, great stuff.
Deicide: In The Minds Of Evil (Century Media) If you’re like me, after a hard day at the office, you like to come home and chill out to the mellow sounds of Deicide! An upbeat follow-up to 2011’s To Hell With God, this new set features the Tampa-based band stretching out with a few memorable riffs on “Trample The Cross” and “End The Wrath Of God” and telling it like it is and how with “Beyond Salvation”! Fans of ‘60s popster Bobby Vinton as well as ‘80s one-hit wonder Bertie “Key Largo” Higgins should find much to enjoy here!