Saturday, February 9, 2008

2 New Albums

Okay kids, now, I know you're busy "buying" up the latest single in MP3 (or even AAC!) formats, getting your music 3 minutes and 44 seconds at a time, and that's not always a bad thing. But anthropologists in the greater Los Angeles, California area have recently discovered that popular music once came recorded into packages that contained upwards of 10 to 12 songs at a time!

These "Long Play Albums" once came in the form of physical discs, be they vinyl "records" (or what the youth of that time called an "LP" or "Album") or later in the 20th Century, smaller plastic discs which held the information digitally, much as a predecessor to today's modern hard disk drives. These were called Compact Discs, or "C.D."s.

You can still purchase these resolute albums in a few major shopping outlets, such as Target, Wal-Mart or Best Buy. (NOTE: These are actual geographical locations which reside outside of your home or workplace and purchasing said discs requires traveling there by use of motor vehicle or other mode of transportation.)

Anyhoo... a couple new albums came out this month by a couple of artists I happen to like, so I thought I'd give a short review.

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First, Sheryl Crow's new album - Detours - is her first album since 2005's disastrous Wildflower (although I liked the singles, "I Know Why" and "Good is Good") and is being critically acclaimed as her best album to date or at least since her debut, Tuesday Night Music Club. Perhaps the latter comparison can be attributed to the fact that Detours and the 1993 debut (15 years ago!) share a common producer - Bill Bottrell - a fact that cannot be said about any of her albums between then and now.

But more impressive, and what makes this album shine with personality, is what Ms. Crow has been through in those 3 short years: a very public break-up with fiancee/cycling champion Lance Armstrong (about which she sings in the musical equivalent to a bawl session, "Diamond Ring"), a victorious battle with breast cancer ("Make It All Go Away (Radiation Song)"), and becoming a mother to her adopted son, Wyatt ("Lullaby for Wyatt" - I'm assuming, here). But this album is also very politically charged, an aspect highlighted by her recent run-in with Karl Rove, when she impressed upon the then-White House advisor about her concerns about the Bush administration's response to the threat of global warming. In classic Satanic-style, Rove is reported to have breathed fire to Crow: "I don't work for you," He shot at her. "I work for the American people!" (What? Is Crow Canadian or something?) Apparently, this was enough to motivate the Hybrid-car-commercial-song-to-be, "Gasoline" - a futuristic fairy tale ("Way back in the year of 2017...") of how America and the U.K. gained their independence from oil through riots, protests and irony ("When the Government turned its back on the farmer-man, what I hear/is that they dragged the pumps out of the ground with a big, vintage John Deere"). But it's the groovy, classic R&B-style "Now That You're Gone" that comes as a surprise to hear as the track that the woman herself dedicates to Mr. Rove. ("Now that you're gone, I can breathe.")

There are, however, a few tracks I could skip over - "Drunk With the Thought Of You" and "Out Of Our Heads" come to mind. But there are also a few pop-rocky tracks that scream 'Classic Crow' - "Rise Up" and "Motivation".

And the first four tracks alone make this album worth it's production value - "God Bless This Mess" is a vintage, Arlo Guthrie/Bob Dylan-style folk song for today's issues and acts like a Shakespearian chorus setting the political tone of the rest of the album. As for the first couple singles: "Shine Over Babylon" is a bluesy, moody meditation on the State of the Union, and the happy-go-lucky attitude (toward the rebuilding of New Orleans?) in "Love Is Free" is annoyingly catchy. And perhaps my favorite track, "Peace Be Upon Us" is a poppy prayer cum proclamation with an awesome East Indian influence and a great sing-along chorus.

It may take a few spins to really get properly introduced to this album, but it does seem to come alive with the reckless abandon that all great rock albums have. "I didn't feel that fear I've always felt," Crow says in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. "That fear of, 'What if I can't write another song? What if the songs I write are crap?' None of that." As is true with any art form, once Crow was able to get out of her own way, shut off her critical-thinking left-brain and just create, the result was something of which she could certainly be proud.

Not a masterpiece, but I liked it. I give this album 3.5 stars (out of 5).
(STAR STAR STAR ST...)

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And now, let's hear from Mr. Lenny Kravitz.

It Is Time For A Love Revolution - or so Lenny proclaims on the title track, "Love Revolution" from his eighth album of new material in 16 years.

Freshly returned from his several-month-long vacation in the jungles of Brazil, Lenny is back with a great new album. It's hard to review this collection piece-by-piece, as it does play much better as a whole. The singles won't be flying off of this album, (of course, that didn't stop "I'll be Waiting" and "Bring It On" from being released before the album itself hit store shelves,) but even if the sounds here are a bit bit derivative of his usual style, that's not a bad thing.

Love Revolution features a few tracks that are blatantly influenced by the great rock of years-gone-by. The single "Bring It On" has a heavy Led Zeppelin feel and Lenny does his best Jimmy Page impression here - not too shabby! "Love Love Love" often sounds like something you'd hear on an early Red Hot Chili Peppers album, "Will You Marry Me" borrows - nay, steals - heavily from the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, and "Dancin' Till Dawn" sounds like a late 70s-era Rolling Stones "Miss You"-style groove.

But Lenny still finds time to appreciate his own classic sound, as in the case of the aforementioned single, "I'll Be Waiting." Not unlike 1993's "Believe", Lenny demonstrates here that the Rock Ballad still has it's place in modern music. He's not above bringing you wayyy down with the teary ode to a missing father, "A Long Sad Goodbye", and he'll also get political on yo ass with the sarcastically up-beat "Back In Vietnam."

Unfortunately but per usual for Lenny, there are some filler tracks, like "If You Want It", "I Love The Rain" and "This Moment Is All There Is". Not terrible, just lacking any real personality.

But Lenny has done worse - and like Crow'sDetours, Kravitz's It Is Time For A Love Revolution feels fresh and free of over-production. Big on art, small on fluff.

Lenny get's 3 stars for this one.

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