(As published in the Times of Acadiana unless otherwise noted...)
The Early November: The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path (Drive-Thru)—That one filler-free disc could’ve been assembled from the best of these three is beside the point, which is that these relative nobodies have produced a rock opera that equals or beats any nonsense by Pete Townshend or Ray Davies. The theme: How children are reared matters. Is it pretentious? Of course—and a lot more listenable than you’d think. Rating: 750 times a day out of 1000.
Tim Easton: Ammunition (New West)—There’s wit and poignancy aplenty in Tim Easton’s latest lyrics, but it’s the acoustic instrumentation’s quiet intensity, the melodies’ melancholy beauty, and the singing’s disarmingly relaxed quality that make paying attention to Easton’s words a pleasure. That there are sharp songs about romance, politics, and their points of intersection won’t surprise owners of Easton’s previous albums. What might is that for every sharp song there’s an even sharper one in the same general vein. The eloquent despair of “I Don’t Want to Come Home,” for instance, gains resonance from the eloquent hope of “Next To You.” Heightening the effect is the humor. If the dryly ironic “J.P.M.F.Y.F.” (for “Jesus, Protect Me from Your Followers”) ultimately makes a serious point (and makes it more effectively than Dylan’s thematically similar “With God on Our Side”), “Dear Old Song and Dance” (which cites the allure of whiskey, wine, uppers, downers, heroin, cocaine, morphine, ecstasy, hash, mushrooms, Adipex, and Valium, to name just a dozen abused substances) will have the opiate-addicted masses laughing till they cry. Rating: Four-and-a-half vice versas out of five.
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott: I Stand Alone (Anti-)—Because he has help from Lucinda Williams, Flea, David Hidalgo, Corin Tucker, and DJ Bonebrake, Elliott doesn’t exactly “stand alone” on this album, but seldom have cameos been less obtrusive. Only Ernest Tubb’s “Careless Darling” and Jerry Irby’s “Driving Nails in My Coffin” feature second vocals, and at no point do anyone’s musical contributions detract from Elliott’s voice or acoustic guitar. It’s just as well. At seventy-four, Elliott has become the best kind of folk singer (an old one), and his skeletal picking has never cried out for flesh. Speaking of picking, most of these songs are so obscure that only the most diehard Carter Family, Leadbelly, and Hoagy Carmichael fan will hear them as covers. In short, if I Stand Alone is less evocatively other worldly than Good As I Been to You and World Gone Wrong by Elliott’s bestl-known protégé, it ain’t no heavy-handed Springsteen Seeger Sessions either. If anything, it’s the opposite. Rating: Three-and-a-half Guthrie sessions out of five.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer: The Birth Of A Band: Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 (Eagle Vision)—Recorded in 1970 at Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Isle of Wight debut and originally issued in 1972, Pictures at an Exhibition is so raw that the late great noise-rock maven Lester Bangs raved about it in Rolling Stone upon its release. The audio side of this DualDisc contains Pictures in its entirety and restores two previously excised encores (“Take a Pebble” [lame] and “Rondo” [stark-ravingly mad]). The DVD side contains film of the entire performance and recent interviews with E, L, and P, in which they explain why they do and don’t deserve their reputation for pomposity and pretension. (Warning to the easily frightened: L has not aged well.) Of particular relevance is the teeny-weeny print on the back cover: “The disc may not play on some CD and/or DVD players.” Translation: about fifty percent of the world’s CD players don’t “read” the CD sides of these damned things. Rating: Three-and-a-half curses of Baba Yaga out of five.
Michael Franti and Spearhead: Yell Fire (Anti-/Epitaph)—Forget Neil Young and the Dixie Chicks: Franti is the real peacenik of the moment. Every song on this album criticizes the War on Terror and the mentality behind it either directly or indirectly (mostly the former), and if the lyrics will seem over-familiar to those already well-acquainted with left-wing blog postings, they take on fresh life (if not fresh depth) as sung-rapped by Franti and as reggae-fied by Spearhead. In other words, if Michael Moore doesn’t hire Franti to mastermind the soundtrack to his next pseudo-documentary, he’s even dumber than Joe Leiberman supporters suspect. Unfortunately for Franti, recent revelations that terrorists still intend to blow up passenger jets puts the lie to his utopian visions so thoroughly that only the most broad-mindedly generous listeners will be able to hear past them. Rating: Three heads in the desert sand out of five.
Nelly Furtado: Loose (Geffen)—She’s trying to be Shakira and failing just enough.