The Early Bird: New Big Releases Reviewed 9-8-17 – 9-14-17
So begins the Fall Season, with the apocalypse upon us and music music music, a lot of it pretty darn good. Start with singles, where Taylor Swift’s “…Ready For It” (Great: B+) is already forgotten with a measly maybe 30M streams. An unmitigated commercial disaster and fall from grace from the Teflon troublemaker.
The action is elsewhere today. Sam Smith’s first new song in two years “Too Good At Goodbyes,” is a low key ballad, co-produced by Stargate (they were behind Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” back in the day), and while the lyric is a touch prosaic, Sam’s falsetto still hits the sweet spot and the track has breathing room (Grade: B+). Speaking of falsettos that work, Zayn’s (with Sia harmonizing before taking a verse) “Dusk Till Dawn” is EDM ballad as usual, with two great voices to push it through (Grade: B). George Michael’s first posthumous release, with Niles Rodgers, “Fantasy” is a nice little disco banger (Grade: B). So now we know what they have in mind for Michael Jackson’s life after death, remixes. I thought there was a ton of unreleased material in the vaults…. where is it? “Blood on the Dance Floor X Dangerous (The White Panda Mash-Up)” is absolutely special and nothing special at the same time (Grade: B), it sounds great but then it always did. Finally, Blake Shelton’s “I’ll Name The Dog” is a smart if contrived old school country song proposal of marriage (Grade: B-).
So now to the albums. Hitchhiker is one of Neil Young’s greatest creations, recorded live in the studio in 1976 and a natural part of his 70s canon only now released, it is like a less personal Harvest, and eight of the ten songs were re-recorded and made their way onto other albums. But listening to it on one conceptually coherent album of folkie singer songwriter concerns simply makes you happy now, the sparse, rich material is overwhelming, and “Give Me Strength,” an unreleased song, is a heartbreaker torcher (Grade: A). Gregg Allman’s Southern Blood is the third absolute farewell, following David Bowie and Glen Campbell. As producer Don Was noted: “Gregg spent his final night listening to the latest mixes and closed his eyes knowing that his vision had been realized.” The singing is topnotch, “Going Going Gone” is as good as a Dylan cover gets, “Song For Adam” is a terrific rendition of the Browne did he jump or did he fall, and “My One True Friend,” by the man himself, points to the road that goes on forever till it stops. The deluxe version includes a couple of late live cuts (Grade: A).
The National’s Sleep Well Beast is a major bummer of an album but in a good way. The first three singles were good not great, the fourth “Day I Die” did the trick, and on the album it is followed by one of their great songs “Walk It Back”. “Nothing I think changes anything”. Absolutely (Grade: B+). I absolutely swore I’d never forgive Thomas Rhett for “Beer With Jesus” and I won’t forgive it either, instead I completely forgot he sang it. I quite liked his 2015 album, and while Rhett’s country pop Life Changes can not withstand a couple of listens before grating, till then it is pretty good (Grade: B-). The Dream Syndicate’s How Did I Find Myself Here? finds the great early 80s Paisley Underground band back with all their powers intact. I wish my friend Richard Fantina was around, he loved them and interviewed them with me in the 1980s. The title track, all eleven minutes of it, is one of the best singles of the year (Grade: A-). The Wisin and Yandel break up is one of those rarities where the two have not seen a serious slackening of their skills solo, Wisin makes an appearance on Yandel’s latest, #Update lives up to its name: it is state of the art Latin American pop, with Luis Fonsi on a top ballad and Bad Bunny tackling Latin Trap (Grade: B+). Finally, why is Tori Amos starting songs with long fade-ins, an enormously annoying affectation. That’s one complaint and even though the overlong Native Invader has lots of very sweet moments, it isn’t quite sparse enough(Grade: B-).
I’ll have a full overview of new releases in a couple of days.