Monday, January 30, 2006

The Best of 2002

The year after 9/11. Yes, the world went on after all!

1. The Mekons: OOOH!
2. DJ Shadow: The Private Press
3. Kimya Dawson: I'm Sorry That Sometimes I'm Mean
4. Northern State: Dying in Stereo
5. Cornershop: Handcream for a Generation
6. Sleater-Kinney: One Beat
7. Orchestra Baobab: Specialist in All Styles
8. Kasey Chambers: Barricades & Brickwalls
9. Spoon: Kill the Moonlight
10. Youssou N'Dour: Nothing's in Vain (Coono du reer)
11. Rhett Miller: The Instigator
12. Johnny Cash: American IV: The Man Comes Around
13. Steve Earle: Jerusalem
14. The Mountain Goats: Tallahassee
15. Tom Waits: Blood Money
16. Mr. Lif: I Phantom
17. Will Rigby: Paradoxaholic
18. Pretty Girls Make Graves: Good Health
19. Luna: Close Cover Before Striking
20. The Bottle Rockets: Songs of Sahm
21. Pretenders: Loose Screw
22. The Reputation: The Reputation
23. The Go-Betweens: Spring Hill Fair
24. Ryan Adams: Demolition
25. The Handsome Family: Live at Schuba's Tavern

Friday, January 27, 2006

An admirer - OK it's me - writes: "Your style is reminiscent of Robert Christgau of the Village Voice. You mentioned his influence early on in your blog. Were there any other critics who impacted your style? More to the point, why was it so necessary to "borrow" from them in the first place?"

Actually the first critic that I remember reading was Wayne Robbins in Newsday during the late '70s. For the first time I was introduced to music I had never heard before from artists such as Television, the Talking Heads, and Elvis Costello. I was fascinated that any one was actually writing about contemporary rock music in such an insightful way. I learned so much from reading these reviews that it made me hungry for more.

I stumbled on to Robert Christgau quite by accident. I picked up an issue of The Village Voice one day in February 1982, and read the annual "Pazz and Jop" critics poll. All of a sudden there were all these different types of music that I had never considered. I couldn't put it down; I easily devoured the whole issue. Later on that year I bought Christgau's book on '70s rock albums and the race was on. Between reading his reviews on '70s music and reading his monthly consumer guide, I dare say I ran through half my weekly paycheck just keeping up with buying records. I averaged about 90 plus LPs a year for the next 8 years.

Christgau was like no other critic in that he skirted the line between fan and objective observer better than any body out there. He was passionate about music but careful not to let it cloud his judgment, something that, sadly, most critics fail miserably at. In the 20 plus years that I have been reading him I have never found any one else who is as consistent, unbiased, and reliable as he is. If I approach 50% of what he has attained during the last 38 years, I will consider myself fortunate.

As for borrowing from him or others, I believe we all borrow from others to some extent. There has always been a love/hate relationship between Americans and critics. People love to read about their favorite movie or piece of music, until that is they find said movie or music has been panned. At that point they get all bent out of shape. But at heart we are all critics; each of us has an opinion and a mouth to share it. I think what pisses people off is that critics get paid to share their opinions and most of us don't.

Well, I thank me for sharing my question and sincerely hope that some one - any one - sends me another.

Until then, keep on listening!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Best of 2003.

Now that I'm on a roll here, why stop?

1. Liz Phair: Liz Phair (Capitol).
2. OutKast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below (Arista).
3. Buck 65: Talkin' Honky Blues (WEA).
4. Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve).
5. James Carter: Gardenias for Lady Day (Sony).
6. Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears (Lost Highway).
7. The Libertines: Up the Bracket (Rough Trade).
8. The Wrens: The Meadowlands (Absolutely Kosher).
9. Missy Elliott: This Is Not a Test (Elektra).
10. Amy Rigby: Til the Wheels Fall Off (Signature Sounds).
11. Amy Allison: No Frills Friend (Diesel Only).
12. Warren Zevon: The Wind (Artemis).
13. Pretty Girls Make Graves: The New Romance (Matador).
14. Yo La Tengo: Summer Sun (Matador).
15. The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop).
16. Belle & Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Sanctuary).
17. Drive-By Truckers: Decoration Day (New West).
18. James Blood Ulmer: No Escape From the Blues (Hyena).
19. Lifesavas: Spirit in Stone (Quannum Projects).
20. The Strokes: Room on Fire (RCA).
21. Kimya Dawson: My Cute Friend Sweet Princess (Important).
22. Rancid: Indestructible (Hellcat).
23. The Bottle Rockets: Blue Sky (Sanctuary).
24. The Go-Betweens: Bright Yellow, Bright Orange (Jetset).
25. Jon Langford and His Sadies: Mayors of the Moon (Bloodshot).
26. Al Green: I Can't Stop (Blue Note).
27. Todd Snider: Todd Snider Live: Near Truths and Hotel Rooms (Oh Boy).
28. The Rapture: Echoes (Strummer/Universal).
29. Super Mama Djombo: Super Mama Djombo (Cobiana).
30. The Klezmatics: Rise Up/Shteyt Oyf (Rounder).
The 1990s.

Lately I've been feeling like this is the most misunderstood decade in rock music. New wave, grunge, hip-hop, alternative, all these genres and more pervaded the decade. Unlike the '80s, it was not a very popular decade, and yet I found myself listening to more challenging and enriching music than at any time since I spun my first 45.

Here is a list of some of the best albums. Those that do not have reviews will receive them in due time.

1. David Murray: Shakill's Warrior (DIW/Columbia, 1991).
2. Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Mercury, 1998). See review, Sept. 2005.
3. Tricky: Maxinquaye (Island, 1995). See review, Sept. 2005.
4. Guitar Paradise of East Africa (Earthworks, 1991).
5. Iris DeMent: My Life (Warner Bros., 1994). See review, Sept. 2005.
6. DJ Shadow: Endtroducing . . . DJ Shadow (Mo Wax, 1996).
7. Freedy Johnston: Can You Fly (Bar/None, 1992). See review, Sept. 2005
8. Sonic Youth: A Thousand Leaves (Geffen, 1998).
9. Latin Playboys: Latin Playboys (Slash/Warner Bros., 1994).
10. Mzwakhe Mbuli: Resistance Is Defence (Earthworks, 1992).
11. Moby: Play (V2, 1999).
12. Arto Lindsay: Mundo Civilizado (Bar/None, 1997).
13. Fugees: The Score (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1996). See review, Nov.2005
14. Luna: Penthouse (Elektra, 1995).
15. Sleater-Kinney: Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars, 1997).
16. Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville (Matador, 1993).
17. The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs (Merge, 1999).
18. Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue (Elektra, 1998).
19. Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (Matador, 1997).
20. Amy Rigby: Diary of a Mod Housewife (Koch, 1996). See review, Oct. 2005
21. L.L. Cool J: Mama Said Knock You Out (Def Jam, 1990).
22. Nirvana: In Utero (DGC, 1993).
23. Beck: Mellow Gold (Bong Load/DGC, 1994).
24. Pixies: Bossanova (4AD/Elektra, 1990).
25. PJ Harvey: Rid of Me (Indigo, 1993).
26. James Carter: The Real Quietstorm (Atlantic, 1995).
27. John Prine: In Spite of Ourselves (Oh Boy, 1999).
28. P.M. Dawn: The Bliss Album . . . ? (Gee Street, 1993). See review, Nov. 2005
29. Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted (Matador, 1992).
30. Rosanne Cash: Interiors (Columbia, 1990). See review, Oct. 2005
31. Linton Kwesi Johnson: Tings and Times (Shanachie, 1991).
32. L7: Bricks are Heavy (Slash, 1992).
33. Archers of Loaf: Vee Vee (Alias, 1995).
34. Cornershop: When I Was Born for the Seventh Time (Luka Bop, 1997).
35. Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse, 1998).
36. Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet (Def Jam, 1990).
37. R.E.M.: Out of Time (Warner Bros., 1991).
38. Madonna: I'm Breathless (Sire/Warner Bros., 1990).
39. Old 97's: Fight Songs (Elektra, 1999).
40. Fluffy: Black Eye (Capitol, 1996).

Monday, January 23, 2006


Stevie Wonder: A Time To Love (Motown, 2005). By the time he was 27, yes 29 years ago, he had managed to grip the music industry by the short hairs. Few of his contemporaries could even dream of such accomplishments, yet alone live them out. Among the singer/ songwriter crowd only Dylan surpasses him. But as quickly as his star rose, his decline came just as quickly. 1979's Hotter Than July and 87's Characters were the highlights of a dwindling career that had even his most ardent of admirers wondering if the boy Wonder had packed it in. Like Springsteen before him, this album was his catharsis; a journey out of the past and into a relevant present. The melodies, always his strength, don't disappoint. And his politics, never fearful, are biting. On "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved" his words are a haunting warning: "You can't free the slaves to enslave them differently / You can't see the right only from your sight / You can't see the wrong and just go along." From lesser men the words would come off as disingenuous; with Stevie you "wonder" what took him so long. A-

Lizz Wright: Dreaming Wide Awake (Verve, 2005). At first this had the look and feel of a Cassandra Wilson album - all jazz and no soul. Then I played it again, and that was where I found the beauty of the record. Wright's voice, rough yet gentle, is the stuff singers sell their eye teeth for. Relieved from needing to sound cute, she emotes freely and sincerely. And she's also pretty damn good at covering / interpreting tunes, too. She even manages to do something with a Youngblood's song. This is what Norah Jones could be if she took the risk of not sounding "pretty." I never had the chance to hear Wright's debut, Salt, an oversight on my part that I hope to correct soon. For now buy this album. A-

Missy Elliott: The Cookbook (Atlantic/Goldmind, 2005). Like Liz Phair, Elliott not only doesn't know her "rightful" place in the scheme of things, but seems to relish the attention her defiance causes. This is one hip-hop diva who could out "fuck" any of her contemporaries and still crave more. And while she's busy satisfying her cravings she warns all the "Mr. Rights" that so long as they don't cheat or sleep around they can work that "magic stick" for her any time. This is one woman with a sweet tooth. Just don't ask her to go into the kitchen and cook for you; it might just be you in that pot. A-

Friday, January 20, 2006


Now that the site has been up and running for four months now, I thought I'd give those of you at home a chance to chime in with your questions about rock-n-roll, assuming, that is, that there's any body out there reading my stuff!

Just place your question in the comments section, or if you prefer you can email me at I'll do my best to answer every question that comes my way. And while I don't profess to be an expert on any particular genre, as you can plainly see, I am opinionated. My opinions come from listening to loads of music since my childhood.

Anxiously awaiting contact!

Monday, January 16, 2006


Nothing like burning the candle at both ends, I say.
While I'm not bailing on the completion of 2005's reviews, I thought I'd take a ride through the "Wayback Machine" and see what albums did it for me the year Bush did it to the country!

1. Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella).
2. The Roots of Rock 'n' Roll 1946 - 1954 (Hip-O).
3. Jon Langford: All the Fame of Lofty Deeds (Bloodshot).
4. Todd Snider: East Nashville Skyline (Oh Boy).
5. Madvillian Madvilliany (Stones Throw).
6. The Mountain Goats: We Shall All Be Healed (4AD).
7. Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company (Concord/Hear Music).
8. Nellie McKay: Get Away From Me (Columbia).
9. The Reputation: To Force a Fate (Lookout).
10. The Arcade Fire: Funeral (Merge).
11. Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute).
12. Thelonoius Monster: California Clam Chowder (Lakeshore).
13. Automato: Automato (Coup de Grace).
14. Northern State: All City (Columbia).
15. The Libertines: The Libertines (Rough Trade).
16. Arto Lindsay: Salt (Righteous Babe).
17. The Mekons: Punk Rock (Quarterstick).
18. Sonic Youth: Sonic Nurse (DGC).
19. Caetano Velosa: A Foreign Sound (Nonesuch).
20. Courtney Love: America's Sweetheart (Virgin).
21. The Beastie Boys: To the Five Boroughs (Capitol).
22. Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City).
23. Eddie Palmieri: Ritmo Caliente (Concord).
24. Hound Dog Taylor: Release the Hound (Alligator).
25. Freedy Johnston: The Way I Were (Bar/None).
26. Drive-By Truckers: The Dirty South (New West).
27. The Ponys: Laced With Romance (In the Red).
28. Kimya Dawson: Hidden Vagenda (K).
29. Jill Scott: Beautifully Human (Hidden Beach).
30. The Rough Guide to the Music of Kenya (World Music Network).

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Three indie albums by three independent bands; who did it all by their lonesome, without the help of big brother to guide them. Let the bloodletting begin.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
(Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, 2005). Now let me see if I get this straight. I clap my hands and say, what? Wise ass comments aside, to call this Brooklyn’s answer to the Feelies would be too simple, though the first 20 seconds of “Is This Love” is a dead ringer for the lead in on The Good Earth’s “The High Road.” Actually the number one indie-alternative, MP3 blogger’s choice for statement of the year actually owes its sound to any number of influences from early Talking Heads to Yo La Tengo to Television. In fact singer Alec Ounsworth could pass for Tom Verlaine in my book any day. On “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” the “trebly” guitar is pure Marquee Moon. But while I don’t want to rain on their parade of accolades, these guys have a way to go before they equal, if not surpass, any of the aforementioned bands. Still, this is an impressive debut, made all the more impressive by the fact that they did it all on their own without the help of a major distributor. Pitchfork reviewer Brian Howe, whose review helped jumpstart the album’s success, commented, “Damn, maybe this is how it’s supposed to work.” Memo to Brian, it hasn’t worked that way since Buddy Holly left west Texas. A-

Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better (Domino, 2005). “I’m evil and a heathen,” Alex Kapranos defiantly declares in track 5, and you can believe him. Like the Smiths before them, these guys don’t hide their contempt for the straight and narrow. Like Morrissey before him, Kapranos has the voice to articulate that disdain. Check out “This Boy” and compare it to “This Charming Man,” and decide for yourself. So what if it took them two tries to get it off their chest, not to mention right. They’re gay; deal with it. Now if only someone could come up with an explanation for why “Eleanor, Put Your Boots On,” is supposed to be a love song to Eleanor Freidberger of the Fiery Furnaces. Sure it is. A-

Bright Eyes: I’m Wide Awake (Saddle Creek, 2005). Even if you don’t buy into Conor Oberst as the second coming of Dylan, and I don’t, you have to admit he does more with his talent than most prodigies these days. Just ask Ryan Adams. And while he does tend to get a little too morbid for comfort, as “We Are Nowhere, and It’s Now” will attest, give him points for at least being concerned that he’s so morbid. After all, most 20 somethings haven’t lived long enough to get that depressed, not without becoming Jackson Browne, which he definitely isn’t. A-

Friday, January 13, 2006


Thelonious Monk Quartet: Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note, 2005). Discovered accidentally in an unmarked box by a Library of Congress engineer and beautifully restored, this 1957 performance of these two legends is what the term classic was intended for. Both men were at their peak that night and it is nothing short of astonishing to note that prior to this recording being unearthed, there were only THREE studio tracks of these two genius’s playing together. Though it’s primarily Monk’s album, Coltrane’s playing portends bigger things to come for him. Like his recordings with Miles Davis, most notably Kind of Blue, he was the perfect accompanist. This is music that demands and rewards repeated listening. A+

Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast (Nonesuch, 2005). Loath though I am to buy into the whole benefit album concept – the last such album of this kind to be worthy of merit was the Sun City tribute, Artists United Against Apartheid – these post Katrina songs converted me in a hurry. From Dr. John’s “World I Never Made” to Irma Thomas’ “Back Water Blues” to Randy Newman’s old classic “Louisiana 1927,” these songs take on new and, in the case of Newman, frighteningly prophetic meaning. Conspicuous by her absence, Lucinda Williams, who grew up in Lake Charles. Otherwise, this is one tribute I dare say all of us wish never had to be made. A


A play on words, perhaps, but 2005 was the finest year for world music in over a decade.

Enjoy. I know I did!

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara (World Music Network, 2005). Did you know that the Sahara by itself is bigger than all of Europe? Neither did I. Encompassing countries like Mauritania, Algeria, Libya and Mali, this compilation pays tribute to the diversity of the region's musical culture. Far from being the typical "sampler" so many lesser albums would've settled for, Andy Morgan insisted on getting it right. While I certainly can't claim any profound understanding of the area's musical heritage, there's no denying the brilliance of the music - a cross between blues and funk, the likes of which haven't hit these shores in quite some time. And then there are the haunting chants, mostly by women, which in this culture is still thought of as risqué. A wonderful album! A+

M.I.A.: Arular (Interscope, 2005). Maya Arul is not just any hip-hop diva. Combining elements of world music with R&B she comes off as sounding like Neneh Cherry gone Soweto, or was that Kingston? My favorite song is “Bucky Done Gun,” where she states her peace: “Can I get control / Do you like me vulnerable / I’m armed and I’m equal / More fun for the people.” Raw, violent, but, strangely, non-malevolent, Arul is acutely aware of her surrounds, but refuses to lower herself to its level. In so doing she overcomes the sadistic nature of the genre’s main appeal to most of its fans and becomes a siren, if you will, for a generation that’s about as disillusioned as any in history. This is about as anti-Kanye as you’ll likely to find. Here’s hoping she doesn’t turn bitter. A

Amadou & Mariam: Dimanche a Bamako (Nonesuch, 2005). Married for 30 years, these blind and remarkably talented artists have been the best-kept secret of West Africa. With a handful of Afro-rock albums, issued on small, independent labels to their credit, call this their coming out party. Their music is one part African, one part Latin, one part reggae, with a touch of American R&B and English blues-rock thrown in for good measure, the latter no doubt a by-product of listening to BBC broadcasts in their homeland. Strangely seductive, the texture of the rhythms pulls you in like few albums can. Produced by Manu Chao, himself a well-known member of the Parisian alternative music scene, this is about as global a record as you’ll likely find these days. A

Cheb I Sabbah: La Kahena (Six Degrees, 2005). Algerian by birth, and now San Francisco-based DJ, Sabbah and Bill Laswell, content here to merely play bass, undertake a project of love. In this post-9/11 world, albums that celebrate Islamic traditions are rare in deed. Even more rare, all the singers are female, including Michal Cohen, a Jewish singer of Yemenite descent, who’s song “Im Ninalou” is based on a poem by Shalom Shabazi, a 16th century Yemenite Jewish mystic. But the real triumph here lies in how Sabbah mixes Sufi, Jewish, Berber and Muslim values into one remarkable record that is as ancient as it is contemporary. A-

Daby Balde: Introducing Daby Balde (World Music Network, 2005). Hailing from Senegal, Balde has a long and celebrated history at home, and thanks to World Music Network will hopefully establish himself abroad. Classically trained and combining West African grooves with a European/Spannish pop flavor, his rich and beautiful melodies will seduce you like few singers can. A genuine find. A-

Thursday, January 05, 2006

2005 list Revised.

As stated previously, changes with any critic are inevitable. However, I believe this is finally it.
P.S.: the deletions of Danger Doom and Franz Ferdinand do not represent a change in status; both remain A- albums. It's just that I wanted to keep the number at a respectable 30 to make things simple.

1. Gogol Bordello: Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike (Side One Dummy).
2. The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara (World Music Network).
3. Thelonious Monk Quartet: Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note).
4. Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast (Nonesuch).
5. The Go-Betweens: Oceans Apart (Yep Roc).
6. M.I.A.: Arular (Interscope).
7. Kanye West: Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella).
8. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty).
9. The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema (Matador).
10. Ani DiFranco: Knuckle Down (Righteous Babe).
11. The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday (Frenchkiss)
12. The White Stripes: Get Behind Me, Satan (V2)
13. Amadou & Miriam: Dimanche a Bamako (Nonesuch).
14. Sleater-Kinney: The Woods (Sub Pop).
15. The Chemical Brothers: Push the Button (Astralwerks).
16. 50 Cent: The Massacre (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope).
17. Clem Snide: End of Love (Spin Art).
18. Lizz Wright: Dreaming Wide Awake (Verve).
19. Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake (Saddle Creek).
20. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah).
21. Spoon: Gimmie Fiction (Merge).
22. Amy Rigby: Little Fugitive (Signature Sounds).
23. Cheb I Sabbah: La Kahena (Six Degrees).
24. The Ponys: Celebration Castle (In the Red).
25. Missy Elliott: The Cookbook (Atlantic/Goldmind).
26. Stevie Wonder: A Time To Love (Motown).
27. Bruce Springsteen: Devils and Dust (Columbia).
28. Loudon Wainwright III: Here Come the Choppers (Sovereign Arts).
29. Daby Balde: Introducing Daby Balde (World Music Network).
30. Neil Young: Prairie Wind (Reprise).

Monday, January 02, 2006

I know what you're saying. Peter, how can you have a top albums list when you haven't reviewed all of them in print? Hold your horses. All good reviews come to those who wait. I promise all 30 will be out by EOM.

Kanye West: Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella, 2005). While no one reasonably expected a repeat of last year's brilliance, with even some predicting a sophomore jinx, there's no denying his greatness on effort two. Call this his Sticky Fingers to last year's Exile on Main Street. Where with the former one had to play through several times to immerse one's self in the underlying rage and his conceptualizing lyrics, here, simplicity rules the day. He's going straight for the hook and the mob. I particularly like the song where he pays tribute to his mom; nice to know he has some of his priorities straight. And then there's "Gold Digger," one of the top songs of the year. Unlike College Dropout, this is a record everyone will want to buy and play. It might even get airplay, too. After all, complexity may be good for the soul, but it don't pay the rent, or for the bitches out on the street. A

Sleater-Kinney: The Woods (Sub Pop, 2005). A Sleater-Kinney rock album? What is the world coming to? Actually, after a three-year absence they come up with an album so unexpectedly straight forward, Kurt Cobain would've been proud to rock with them. The credit goes to producer David Fridmann for convincing them to tinker with success. Tight, yet still retaining their signature raucousness, the results speak for themselves. Imagine what Zeppelin IV and Never Mind the Bollocks would sound like if they were to merge. Now just sit back and watch your ears bleed. A

Neil Young: Prairie Wind (Reprise, 2005). Coming on the heals of Greendale, just about anything would've sounded good. But give the man some credit. He not only manages to come up with his third incarnation of Harvest (Comes A Time and Harvest Moon make up the other two), he manages not to allow his politics - always left-leaning, but never more so than lately - to decimate the music; something that kept getting in his way on Greendale. While I prefer the beauty of Comes A Time, still among my favorites, there's no denying this is his best album in over a decade. In fact, not since '94s Sleeps With Angels has he recorded with such passion. Check out "When God Made Me," a blast at the religious right that's as good as it gets. Maybe Bush should look into possibly running for a third term? A-

Spoon: Gimmie Fiction (Merge, 2005). While I admit this is not the breakthrough masterpiece Kill the Moonlight was, it's hardly chopped liver, either. Truth is, it would've been a mistake for them to think they could've duplicated it. Here they trade the punk rock aesthetic for more conventional rock and roll grooves. They also do a pretty damn good job at borrowing (stealing?) from their contemporaries. From the opening track The Beast and Dragon, Adored, pure John Lennon from his Beatle days; to I Turn My Camera On, a Prince-like song if ever there was one; to Sister Jack, a flashback to the Who's Happy Jack, this is an album that's hard to resist. To those who might be disappointed it's not as pioneering as it's predecessor, get over yourselves. A-

Sufjan Stevens: Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty, 2005). Christians! All of a sudden the world is full of Christians. May be it's a sign of the times, or the inevitability of it all; after all T-Bone Burnette recorded his best music during the Reagan years! But before you paint Stevens as another profit bent on twisting your ear, know this: this is one believer who doesn't require his audience to follow him in order to consider himself successful. In deed, this album's inspiration lies in what it leaves out. It's inviting, never preachy. In "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.", Stevens' real talent - namely his empathy and compassion - emerges. Any one who can muster up sympathy for a serial killer and convince his listeners to join him, gets high marks from me. Then there's "Casimir Pulaski Day," a song about the death of his girlfriend from bone cancer that ends up becoming a test of his faith. Beautiful and poignant. And check out the title of track two: "The Black Hawk War, or, How To Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going To Have To Leave Now, or, I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue To Fight. . ." Any man this anal is a man after my own heart. A

Sunday, January 01, 2006


The following are some reviews I'd written and published on Amazon a while back.

Paul Simon: Graceland (Warner Bros., 1986). I've gone both ways with Simon. Too often his efforts are at best sophomoric (see Hearts and Bones) and unworthy of his talent. Then there are times when his reach equals his grasp - Paul Simon. This is hardly the world music album his fans think it is, but it does, nonetheless, appropriate superbly those things world music albums are supposed to have, namely a great R&B band. He is what he is, a profound pop artist, who knows a thing or two about making hits, as You Can Call Me Al, will surely attest. Not even Sun City scab Linda Ronstadt can dampen the moment. A

Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (Columbia, 1975). Springsteen is that rarest of characters. He's scared but hopeful, indignant but steadfast. How else to explain contradictions like "maybe we ain't that young anymore" with "we gotta get out while we're young" or "you ain't a beauty but hey you're alright." He can't reconcile these contradictions, but in the grand tradition of rock-n-roll that doesn't stop him from trying. And it is the trying that we see the angst of his soul. From the title track to Jungle Land the album reeks of a confused man in search of answers, who can't stand still long enough to find them. Like most rebels with a cause, his mission is righteous. Here's hoping when he solves the riddles he still has something significant to say. A

Aerosmith: Rocks (Columbia, 1976). In a genre that now boasts as its mainstays the likes of Boston, Styx, and Blue Oyster Cult, and with the Stones apparently taking some time off for bad behavior, this psuedo gem leaps off the page and begs attention. Where Toys in the Attic made use of the every predictable rock riff possible, this album is tighter, more sparse, more rock-n-roll. Listen to Back in the Saddle and compare it to, say Sweet Emotion and decide for yourself. While the fact that they are now the defacto premier American rock band of the '70s is more an indictment of the industry in general than a recommendation of talent, disqualifying them would be equally unjust. I say sit back and enjoy the show. A-

Elvis Costello: Blood and Chocolate (Columbia, 1986). Never one to shy away from his emotions - particularly those devoted to anger - Elvis the C. comes up with what is easily his most raucous and consistent effort since This Year's Model. His flirtation with ballads and blues on King of America - a poor man's Trust - notwithstanding, and with three failed attempts before that staring back at him from the abyss, he finally decides to do what all great artists do: he wings it. Credit Nick Lowe who channels Costello's rage into a controlled implosion. Tokyo Storm Warning and Uncomplicated are the best six-plus minute songs since Hey Jude hit the charts. And if I Hope You're Happy Now still reminds you of the sniveling runt he's always sounded like, then at least on I Want You, he finally gets up the nerve to give his girl a piece of his mind. Maybe he is Woody Allen after all. A