The Pixies: “Indie Cindy”
What a difference a Deal makes. You read right I said Deal, as in Kim Deal, the missing piece in The Pixies new CD. The band’s founding bass player and vocalist departed from the fold long before the band recorded this, their first disc of new music in over a decade, but to longtime, diehard fans of the Boston band her absence is noticeable; leaving a hole where her voice should be. That isn’t to say that this disc isn’t good. It’s better than good, a powerful blast of sonic joy, highlighted by stand out track “Green and Blues” featuring a riff reminiscent of those found in “Debaser and “Gigantic.”
Lone Justice: “This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983”
God bless Omnivore Records. Rather than simply release rehashed “Best Of” compilations, the little-label-that-can digs deeper, unearthing rare treasures like this brilliant new CD from 1980s alt country rockers Lone Justice. Culled from an original 2 track source, “The Vaught Tapes” features 12 raw tracks (9 of which have never ever been heard before) of raw inspiration meeting pure talent head on. Highlights include the young band’s take on June Carter and Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” and an early version of “Soap & Salvation.”
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo aka The Both: “The Both”
It’s Aimee Mann and Ted Leo: she of Til’ Tuesday and academy award nominations, he of The Pharmacists. Both are skilled at crafting wry and witty pop tunes, but co-writing as a cohesive unit is not as simple as each bringing two sets of solo artists songs to the party. That said, The Both is an amazing debut full of heartbreak and hope, springing from the best of Aimee and Ted’s talents. Forgetting for a moment the long musical pasts of these two artists, The Both would be my pick for Best New Artist of 2014.
Sade: “The Essential Sade”
This may be filed under T.M.I. but back in the day the music of Sade was a go to for when thing were getting “Romantic.” The pairing of her smooth as silk voice washing over the sultry world beat light jazz grooves was the perfect soundtrack for setting the mood. And some decades later it still is. The excellent 2 CD compilation is the best career spanning look back at the music of Sade with some cool remixes (one by The Neptunes featuring Jay-Z.) It’s the must have soundtrack to getting it on! Or, just snuggling on the couch.
The ultimate prog rock supergroup comprised of King Crimson’s John Wetton, keyboard godhead Geoff Downes, Emerson Lake & Palmer drummer Carl Palmer and Yes guitar wizard Steve Howe, Yes’ debut CD ruled the early 1980s by delivering rock solid hits like “Heat Of The Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell.” In the decades that followed that breakthrough disc the band fell apart and came together in various forms and formations, but this release is the first time in over a decade the original foursome are not all in attendance. Steve Howe has left Asia (again) to rejoin Yes (again), and the result leaves a void in the band’s bombastic arena sound. New (young) guitarist Sam Coulson, is a solid player, and does his best to fill in for Howe, but he’s no Howe. Despite this flaw, the new CD has some solid moments, including the epic “Valkyrie” and the beautiful “The Closer I Get,” both of which showcase Downes masterful keyboard playing and Wetton’s powerful baritone. Carl Palmer’s drumming? Always awe inspiring.
Imagine a world without Lemmy, the mole covered frontman for English metal stalwarts Motorhead. I would rather not. But recent health issues have had fans and writers speculating on a future minus the mighty metal monsters. Recorded while Lemmy fought health issues, “Aftershock” is the band’s 21st studio CD and may be their last. But if Lemmy is a dying man there is no trace of it here. Kilminster’s war torn vocals, that sound like he’s been gargling broken glass and battery acid, sound stronger than ever and stand out anthems “Death Machine” and “Crying Shame” are solid, ear pummeling tunes as good as their touchstone songs “Ace Of Spades” or “Stay Clean.” Long live Lemmy!
Circa Zero: “Circus Hero”
Anyone who has ever referred to the band The Police as “Sting & The Police” is no friend of mine (even if you dance). That label undermines the genius of Stewart Copeland and the greatest guitarist of all– Andy Summers! Circa Zero is Andy Summer’s new group where the amazing axe man teams up with singer songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist and producer Rob Giles (The Rescues) for a brilliant blast of modern rock. The lead track “Levitation” is not just a song, it’s an epic soaring celebration of sound.
Earth, Wind & Fire: “The Essential Earth Wind & Fire: New Edition”
When it comes to R&B greatness it is impossible to top the mighty Earth, Wind & Fire. Led by Maurice White and Philip Bailey and the ever stylish Verndine White (third greatest bass player ever) EWF have been bringing the funk for five decades. This double disc revisits the best of the band’s thirty-five tracks of pure funk, ranging from their earliest recordings to stellar hits of the seventies and eighties, to recent songs from their latest CD.
Matt Sorum’s Fierce Joy: “Stratosphere”
You think you know Matt Sorum, the beast behind the drums for both Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver? “Stratosphere” is a metal/hard rock free affair, but instead of the one man sonic boom treading familiar ground on this, his first solo effort, he stretches out his seemingly endless talent into the direction of singer/songwriter. Yeah, he can sing too! The CD has a bit of 1970s classic rock feel a la The Eagles. Who knew a metal drummer could such a deep storyteller? I did.
Cyndi Lauper: “She’s So Unusual: A 30th Anniversary Celebration”
It is inconceivable (said like Wallace Shawn) that Cyndi Lauper’s breakthrough debut album is now 3 decades old. To mark the 30th of “She’s So Unusual,” Legacy releases a remastered 2 CD set that features hits “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” and “She Bop” alongside never before heard demos, re-mixes and live tracks. This release reminds us how Lauper’s perfect mix of weirdness and beauty has stood the test of time.
The Black Keys: “Turn Blue”
The new CD from The Black Keys had me worried on first listen. The initial three songs are groovy, slow bass trippy tunes worthy of the CD’s psychedelic art. But where is the crash and bash we’ve come to expect from this two man wrecking crew? Where is the fury? Thankfully that kicks in on track 4, “Fever”, which is also the album’s first single. It continues on cuts “Bullet In the Brain” and closing track “Gotta Get Away.” The rest of the “Turn Blue” release in soft and sweet full of dare we say it, the most mature songs ever written by Dan and Patrick.
Camper Van Beethoven: “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart” & “Key Lime Pie”
Long before he started Cracker and got “Low”, David Lowery was part of the ultimate college rock band: Camper Van Beethoven. Their two best CDs have just be reissued with a slew of bonus tracks -19 between the two of them – and hearing these documents of well-crafted American-tinged college rock will make you happy. Their cover of “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” will having you singing out loud. What other song with a fiddle in it can do that? Best of all, both albums are also available as ALBUMS. Yup, remastered vinyls (sans bonus tracks)
Saxon: “St. George’s Day– Live In Manchester”
Saxon is British Heavy Metal, like the above mentioned Motorhead, the long-standing group’s releases are packed with pounding drums, thumping bass, raging guitars and epic anthems sung in a growl. The latest Saxon 2 CD set is a furiously good live album that captures the fury and the glory of Saxon’s aural assault. Truth is, I would recommend this set if it only had one song on it, their thunderous take on Christopher Cross’s “Ride like the Wind” which is effortlessly transformed from 70’s AM radio cheese into a pump your fist call to arms. Combine that with live takes on their best known anthems “Denim & Leather” and “Stand Up And Fight” and you need to have this CD to bang your head. Just bang it gently. You are now old and have neck issues.
Roddy Frame: “Seven Dials”
Master songwriter and Aztec Camera front man Roddy Frame returns with his third solo CD of pop perfection. It’s a welcome return for a unique and important voice. The songs “Forty Days of Rain” and “Rear View Mirror” are as personal as one can get without sounding narcissistic. And the epic “Postcard” is “a tip of the hat to Frame’s former band’s breakthrough hit “Oblivious” complete with a sing along chorus and frantic acoustic guitar solo. Frame has a way with telling tales packed with raw emotion that are sure to stir your soul.
Billy Joel: “The Bridge To Russia: A Matter Of Trust Tour”
Billy Joel recently stated on the Howard Stern show that he is not a big fan of the epic Russian shows captured on “The Bridge To Russia: A Matter Of Trust Tour” because of sound issues, and the fact that they cost him a million of his own money out of pocket. But until he decides to make another pop record, this is the closest thing were going get to new Billy Joel material. And the truth is, it’s a damn good one! Not just as a historic document, but as a solid showcase for the Piano Man in his prime, breaking down cultural barriers. Expanded beyond its initial release “The Bridge To Russia” is a 2 CD set (also available with 2 DVDs) that features no less than 15 unreleased tracks. A treasure trove of when you thought Billy Joel was cool. Just a side note -he still is.