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New Music, posted August 15, 2007 at 12:32 AM

I've got a ton of new music. Well, some of it's actually new, while some of it is only new to me.

I'm obsessed with a song on the new Okkervil River album, The Stage Names. The song is called "John Allyn Smith Sails" and it's a first-person narrative about the suicide of American poet John Berryman. It would be a good song on its own, but at the end it morphs into a cover of the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B." It's creepy weird. And brilliant. The song (indeed the whole album) is streaming on the band's website. The sound of the rest of the album is fairly good, in an indie-rock-from-central-casting way. Lyrically the album is a breakout, with bizarrely creative twists of language. In "Plus Ones" clever wit is used to one-up some famous song-related numbers, like 100 luftballoons, 51 ways to leave your lover, TVC-16, etc. And then simple numbers give in to more complex "plus ones" such as addressing What's Up, Pussycat to a lioness, etc... Pretty good stuff.

I bought the new Nick Lowe album "At My Age." I never bought anything else of his in his 30-year career, but I sampled some tracks and liked the country sound of some of them, so I bought it. The opening track, with its slow ramble, its distant piano, its maudlin lyric, and its slide guitar and horn section and brushed drums is a bit of good old Nashville from this Walton-on-Thames-born Englishman. Very cool. Other tracks on the album are 60s soulswing, 50s rockabilly, and even a bit of 80s pop (that's not a huge surprise from the man who gave us "Cruel To Be Kind"). Mom, you and Dad will love this one--buy it with confidence.

But enough about fake country. I got two very real, very wonderful bluegrass albums lately. Josh Williams's "Lonesome Highway" from 2004, and "John Deere Tractor" by Larry Sparks, from 1980. Josh Williams--born in 1980--got started as a bit of a child prodigy. And "Lonesome Highway" is amazingly mature music-making for a 24-year-old. "Sweet Forgiveness" is about the loveliest new recording of traditional bluegrass I've heard in a long time. You can download it (and three other songs) for free from his website. Larry Sparks, on the other hand, is no young upstart--he's been the real deal for a long time. This album is so catchy you hear it once and sing along for the rest of your life. The song John Deere Tractor is a sad lament on the sorry state of city livin'. And boy does this guy put this song over! If I didn't love New York so much this album would make want to buy a little place up in the mountains somewhere. He's got a long, long discography, and I look forward to expanding my collection to include more of it.

And now a pairing of something altogether different--the best two salsa albums I bought in the last two weeks. Yes, the Marc Anthony / J-Lo movie El Cantante got panned, but holy shit the soundtrack is BLAZIN'! Most of the movie reviews I read said skip the movie, get the music. Indeed, I bought the CD on the day it came out. Marc Anthony is an amazingly soulful singer--there's a reason he's the biggest selling salsa singer in the world. I've seen him live a couple of times and the man ain't no studio production. He can really sing, like nobody's business. And "El Cantante" is his best since 1997's "Contra la Corriente". One reason for this is because the music serves a period-piece movie--so the songs are old Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon songs, arranged cleanly, sans synths. Wow. (But do yourself a favor--rip the CD to your computer, then delete the last song from your life forever. It's J-Lo whimpering her way through a slow, feathery ballad. It's really bad). Two weeks before "El Cantante" came out, since I was eagerly awaiting it, I went back in time and bought its inspiration: the real Hector Lavoe. I got his 1976 solo album "De Ti Depende." Oh man, it's so good--just the perfect thing for a steamy summer in Nueva York. The album closer "Mentira" will make you grind your hips real slowly while a scornful scowl inches across your face. This is music you feel, music you listen to with your whole body, not just your ears. My colleagues think I've gone crazy because I've been listening to both of these albums so much this summer that when they play I can sing along even though I don't understand a word of the Spanish lyrics.

Well, back in the world of Americana, I very much like the new Ryan Adams album "Easy Tiger." Or maybe I love it. I think it's a B+, so I guess it's just like. And I kind of like the new Josh Rouse album "Country Mouse, City House." It doesn't have the hooks I know he's capable of, so I give it a C+. It's okay, but if you don't know him and want to hear something great, listen to "Nashville" or "1972"--they're much better than this new one.

Mark Fox made me listen to The National's new one, "Boxer." It's good, but I cannot understand the RAVE reviews it's getting everywhere. They all say how "subtle" it is and how it requires multiple listenings for it to hook its claws into you. Well, I don't find it so subtle--I think it's just pretty boring. It's moody and sad sounding, which I like, and the dude has a cool deep voice, which I like, and hey, they gave up Cincinnati for New York, which I deeply respect and relate to. But... I've listened to it many times now, trying to give it a chance, but it's claws just ain't clawin' me and I'm giving up on it. I'll let you know if it won't let me go.

I'm the only one who still LOVES Courtney Love. I am eagerly awaiting her next album. Two songs, in raw unproduced form have appeared on her websites (official and myspace) and I'm happily gobbling them up while I wait for her to get her crazy ass in gear and release the damn album. Hurry up, Honey, I'm not gonna make it to the 22nd century.

The new Rilo Kiley comes out in a couple weeks. The first single, The Moneymaker, is a bit disappointing. It sounds good, especially if you turn the volume way up, but it sounds incomplete (perhaps because the lyrics to the chorus are just "Ow ow ow, oh yeah, you gimme ow, ow, ow, yeah"). It's got a great bridge--but I'm afraid it's a bridge to nowhere. But I have a feeling Jenny won't let me down--I'm counting on the album to be a rockin' killer. There's a (very) long-form video for the song--some strange documentaryesque film about porn actors (not safe for work)--here.

The new Annie Lennox comes out in October. She's such a genius that she's calling it Songs of Mass Destruction. Holy shit. The first single comes out in September. It debuted this week on BBC Radio. It's called Dark Road and here it is:

Her voice is in top form, and the melody is a long and winding road that spans her entire range. Terrific. This is a pretty low-quality webstream. I'm counting on the production sounding nice and warm, not like this tinny radiosqueal. (Don't worry, Patsy, I'm sending you a CD of this!).

And finally, a list of some other songs I'm currently obsessed with, for whatever the reason:
--Who Put the Bomp? by Barry Mann
--Torn by Natalie Imbruglia (I know! Sorry.)
--Iko Iko by the Dixie Cups
--Come in From The Rain by Captain & Tennille
--Candy by Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson
--Sons of the Silent Age by David Bowie
--and last but not least, Good Life by Inner City:


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