I published twenty-nine reviews in the Illinois Entertainer in 2009. Below are five of the brief ones.
ROSANNE CASH: The List (Manhattan)--Listeners have long wondered why some all-covers albums by performers better known for their own material actually turn out well, especially since most such albums don’t. Well, with The List Rosanne Cash has solved the mystery. First, have an iconic roots musician for a father. Second, get that father to give you a list of one hundred essential songs from a particular genre (country in this case) when you’re eighteen and listen to them a lot for the next thirty-five years. Third, choose a dozen of the songs. Fourth, marry a top-flight producer for whom arranging such material represents a lifelong dream. Fifth, possess a voice so gorgeous that the cameo harmonizers (Springsteen, Costello, Tweedy, Rufus Wainwright) just get in the way. It’s really quite simple when you think about it.
CRAIG CHAQUICO: Follow the Sun (Shanachie)--No one who has bought a new Santana album in the last two decades has any business looking down his nose at this nimble take on Latinized jazz-rock--even if Chaquico was a member of Starship and therefore partially responsible for “We Built This City.” That city, incidentally, was San Francisco, so this album’s sole vocal track, “Lights Out San Francisco,” might’ve been a belated make-up call, except it’s stupid too: “So tired of living like a rolling stone,” sings guest vocalist Rolf Hartley (I dunno, Keith Richards seems to have a lot of fun), and “When I’m all alone, holding my own” (no comment). So stick to the others: breezy, Laserium-lite soundscapes fully deserving of titles like “Solar Wind,” “Island Breeze,” “Fantasy in Paradise,” and “The Coast of Orion.”
MARIANNE FAITHFULL: Easy Come Easy Go (Decca)--The subtitle, “12 Songs for Music Lovers,” is pretty funny. Finally, a CD for people who actually love music! It’s also inaccurate, as one of the songs--the experimental version of the Miracles’ “Ooo Baby Baby” that takes up eight of this album’s fifty-six minutes--is unlikely to be loved by anyone. The rest, however, is one impressive example after another of Faithfull’s unique ability to transform any room in which her music is played into a post-punk Moulin Rouge. No one else finds songs, whether old (Dolly Parton, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Randy Newman) or not so old (Neko Case, the Decembrists) better suited to her voice, and no one else has a voice like Faithfull’s. It’s enough to give cigarettes, if not necessarily heroin, a good name.
WOODY GUTHRIE: My Dusty Road (Rounder)--As recounted at length in the accompanying booklet, the story behind the 2003 discovery and subsequent refurbishing of the metal masters that function as this four-disc set’s Rosetta Stone is almost as interesting as the songs themselves. Serendipitously well-preserved, the masters turned out to contain Guthrie’s 1944 recordings for the Stinson company, much of which had been released over the years but in annoyingly lo-fi versions. Of the fifty-four tracks thematically organized herein (“Woody’s ‘Greatest’ Hits,” “Woody’s Roots,” “Woody the Agitator,” “Woody, Cisco and Sonny”), six have never been previously released, and one, “Bad Repetation” (sic), wasn’t even known to have existed. Would the left-wing individualism they enshrine matter much if it hadn’t inspired Bob Dylan and he, in turn, countless others? Maybe not. But it did, so it does.
BRUCE HORNSBY & THE NOISEMAKERS: Levitate (Verve Forecast)--With its frequently snappy tempos, relatively modest song lengths, and gregariously catchy hooks, Levitate evokes the top-forty-friendly Bruce Hornsby of old just enough to make the lyrics easy to ignore at first. When the melodies of “Paperboy” and “Invisible” could teach Paul McCartney a thing or two, who cares that the former has a verse about cannibalism or that the latter’s narrator hates his own skin? Eventually, though, the wacky triptych of “Space Is the Place,” “Michael Raphael,” and “Simple Prayer” will force even the most insouciant listener to play armchair metaphysician. And the characterization of nineteenth-century American pioneers as Nazis (“The Black Rats of London”) and red-state residents as rednecks (“In The Low County”) will have reasonable folks wondering how nuts Hornsby would’ve gone if McCain and Palin had won.