Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reunited and it Feels ... ehhh, Not Bad

Queen + Paul Rodgers: The Cosmos Rocks (Hollywood): Queen minus Freddie Mercury, John Deacon and pomposity. Paul Rodgers minus the the mathematical power chord precision of Mick Ralphs. The result gives generic a bad name.

Drumbo: City of Refuge (Proper): Magic Band members minus Captain Beefheart, but with Drumbo/John French doing his Beefheartian best on vocals. But they're not Beefheart's, nor are the compositions as rhythmically mad as his. As much as writing on Trout Mask Replica and that era attributes the sound and musical ideas to the band, this says the central musical idea was his and his alone.

Mark Olson and Gary Louris: Ready for the Flood (New West): The two songwriters and vocalists for Americana heroes the Jayhawks during their Hollywood Town Hall heyday reunite, and they're good for each other. The songs they perform together seem far more effortless than those they have made independent of each other, and the low-fuss production makes the album sound like two old friends playing songs together - sometimes with a band that's picking the song up on the fly.

Labelle: Back to Now (Verve Forecast): The reunited Labelle manage the delicate feat of sounding contemporary without giving up what they were or capitulating to the sound du jour (with the exception of the Wyclef-produced "Rollout") which is also the album's weakest track. Sympathetic producers Lenny Kravitz and soul geniuses Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff focus the tracks on their voices, but not at the expense of the songs, which are never mere launching pads for vocal histrionics. In fact, Patti LaBelle's restrained (by her standards) and conscious of both her partners - Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx - and of the songs themselves, almost all of which Hendryx had a hand in writing. A sharper lyrical edge would help the songs, but Back to Now is a reminder that old school soul based on songs can sound modern and be immensely satisfying.

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