Saturday, April 25, 2009

2006 Album Reviews: O-R

(As published in the Times of Acadiana unless otherwise noted...)

Our New Orleans 2005 (Nonesuch)—“Net proceeds will be donated to Habitat for Humanity to aid those affected by Hurricane Katrina,” says the blurb, but obviously philanthropists could simply send a check. What justifies this album is what justifies any album: its music. More than most multi-performer albums, this one grooves, funks, and flows with a unity and purpose that one needn’t know or care about Katrina to enjoy. One reason is that all sixteen of these songs were recorded especially for this project, thus eliminating such multi-performer-album glitches as aural inconsistency and the need to skip over-anthologized cuts that one already owns. Another reason is that the performances sound as good as they do fresh, each one setting up the one that follows so that what might sound merely ordinary in another context (Dr. Michael White’s “Canal Street Blues,” for instance) sounds like a link in a very special chain here (following Buckwheat Zydeco’s plaintive “Cryin’ in the Streets” and anticipating the Wild Magnolias’ celebratory Mardi Gras medley). Moreover, as most of these acts are unlikely ever to record an album’s worth of compelling material again (exceptions: BeauSoleil, Randy Newman, maybe Dr. John), the one-song-per-performer format (Allen Toussaint gets two) brings out the best in everyone. Rating: Four-and-a-half French Quarters out of five.

Jim Peterik: Above the Storm (Frontiers)--Jim Peterik is so unpretentious and manifestly well intentioned that it seems cruel to point out that his new album, much like the songs he wrote or co-wrote in Survivor, are nothing but a reshuffling of verbal and musical clichés. “Life is what happens when you look the other way” (“Live Life”), “Ride every highway, sail every ocean, / don’t be afraid to show your emotion” (the title track), “Time to stop the hate, appreciate / each other for who we are” (“In the Days We Have”)—and there are plenty more bumper stickers waiting to happen where those came from. That such lyrics are pounded home with equally shopworn hooks and chord progressions and sung with an over-earnestness better suited to public-service announcements and beer commercials only aggravates the problem. Not that matters couldn’t be worse: if Peterik weren’t so unpretentiousness and manifestly well intentioned, he’d be obnoxious too.*

Tom Petty: Highway Companion (American)—Speaking as a Petty fan, I mean no animus when I say that, short of Greatest Hits and Full Moon Fever, he’s never made a great album. Pretty good is as great as he usually gets. He’s pretty good at being pretty good though, and this album proves he’s still an ace junk man, recycling Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” as “Saving Grace,” Sheryl Crow’s “A Change Would Do You Good” as “Jack,” and his own thirty-year history of Byrds-Dylan rock and roll as everything else. And just when you think consistency is his only virtue, he comes up with “Damaged by Love,” about virtue itself, and “Flirting with Time,” as hooky a pop song as he’s ever recorded. Rating: Three-and-a-half skid marks out of five.

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium (Warner Bros.)—These fellows broke out as a white-funk joke band, eventually maturing into slacker-rock credibility. The resulting decade-or-so’s worth of not-bad to pretty-good albums earned them career collateral in the form of a sizable critical-commercial fan base, and on this two-CD, twenty-eight-track album, they cash in. About half white funk and half slacker rock, no cut stinks and no cut has “hit” written all over it. Good bits abound, but usually not in the same song. In other words, Tedium Arcadium is more like it, with the tedium exacerbated by monochromatic vocals and guitar sounds. The equivalent of three vinyl LPs, the Peppers would’ve never gotten away with something this self-indulgent in the old days. Heck, in the old days only progressive rockers in concert and the Clash in the studio even tried it. And if it’s heartening that these guys don’t come on “progressive,” it’s disheartening that, unlike the Clash, they don’t stir much, if anything, up. Rating: Two-and-a-half jalapeno niños out of five.

The Rewinds: The Rewinds (Livewire)—At fourteen tracks, this album goes on too long by at least a third to sustain its momentum, but in small doses its hooks could make you believe (again) that power pop with garage roots is the naked truth. Is it retro? Sure. Is it as good as what it’ll make you remember (Big Star, R.E.M.)? Often enough—for now. Rating: Three-and-a-half head demagnetizers out of five.

Linda Ronstadt / Ann Savoy: Adieu False Heart (Vanguard)—What a user-friendly album! Fans of Ann Savoy can burn the seven on which she sings lead as a Magnolia Sisters EP, fans of Linda Ronstadt can burn the five on which she sings lead as a Stone Poneys EP, and fans of Andrea Zonn (resophonic viola), David Schnaufer (dulcimer), and Dirk Powell (fretless banjo) can burn then loop all 2:40 of “Opening,” “Closing,” and the two “Interludes” as mood music. Better yet, Savoy fans will love the Ronstadt performances, Ronstadt fans will love or at least have their ears opened by the Savoy performances, and Zonn-Schnaufer-Powell fans will love the whole thing, as one or more of the three play on every song. And, for lagniappe, fans of Richard Thompson and “Walk Away Renee” get covers worth their time and attention. Rating: Four-and-a-half twin daughters of different fathers out of five.
*As published in the Illinois Entertainer

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