Some of the latest crop of albums I've had the pleasure of playing.
Gogol Bordello: Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strikes (Side One Dummy, 2005). Eugene Hutz is a punk in the mold of Bob Mould. Unlike Mould, though, Hutz at least has a sense of humor. Backed by Yuri Lemeshev on accordian and Sergey Ryabtzev on violin, these former Eastern European refugees (Hutz is actually a DJ at a Bulgarian bar in New York) have been the best thing to hit my CD player in months. This wild and eclectic mix is one part gypsy dance music and one part punk - hence the title! But while its style may owe itself to those categories, such as they are, there's so much more to these guys. Ultimately they defy categorization. If you've never heard anything like them before, it's because you haven't. Sort of a Lawrence Welk meets Sid Vicious variety show. Now categorize that! A+
The Go-Betweens: Oceans Apart (Yep Roc, 2005). Calling Robert Forster and Grant McLennan mature singer-songwriters is redundant. They've been maturing for over twenty years. Let's just call this they're most complete and assured album ever. The tandem has grown so much since Tallulah and 16 Lovers Lane it's almost unfair to call them the same band. Every song here has its own unique story to tell. And the songs grow on you with each listen. "To know yourself is to be yourself / keeps you walking through these tears," is about as "mature" a lyric as you'll likely find. Charming, yet elusive, they're just troubadours on the road to musical nirvana. What else can they do but follow they're calling? A
John Prine: Fair and Square (Oh Boy, 2005). Some Humans Ain't Human isn't just about the President (yes, John, we know he's an idiot!), it's about a lot of people out there just like you and me. But while many of these songs endear themselves to your heart, including My Darlin' Hometown, and She Is My Everything, the latter proof that there are still guys out there that can write good love songs, the simple fact is he's done better than this. Where is the Lake Marie or Sam Stone? Truth is, a lot of this material seems borrowed from past efforts, which doesn't make this album bad, just not as rewarding as it could've been. B+
Bruce Springsteen: Devils and Dust (Columbia, 2005). If ever there was a case of a major artist in need of a major breakthrough it was our underclass hero. The guy you always rooted for and wondered what happened to finally releases an album worthy of his rep. Not since Tunnel of Love has he enjoyed such heights. Where The Rising saw him mired in his subject, here the songs come to him and the result is a man who's finally comfortable is his own skin again. He's got something to say and a voice to say it. A-
Amy Rigby: Little Fugitive (Signature Sounds, 2005). Nine years, a failed marriage and a new husband haven't dampened her spirits one bit. In fact, she's just as cynical as ever, even when there's nothing to be cynical about - The Trouble With Jeanie. She's still that mod housewife, desperately trying to hold onto a youth that long ago would've alluded lesser and, yes, younger women. Like Rasputin might as well be her theme song. Just when you think she's done, she gets back up off the mat. She's not so much worried about looking old as acting old. Here's hoping she never grows up. A-