Sunday, December 31, 2006

As promised the album reviews of 2006, in no particular order.


The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant, 2006). “Stuck Between Stations” has the look and feel of a hit single, and knowing Craig Finn, he could care less. Hits are not what he’s about. Unlike so many other auteurs, whom emote about topics they’ve never even observed, much less experienced, Finn invites us into a world he knows first hand: a world where broken bottles and broken dreams are one in the same. His heroes – the kids, always the kids – struggle, fall and pick themselves up. Like the girl in “You Can Make Him Like You” who dumps her boyfriend when she finally gets tired of his drug use. Strangely depressing and uplifting at the same time, but what else could you expect from someone who stole the title of his album from a Jack Kerouac line? A-

The Gothic Archies: The Tragic Treasury: Songs From a Series of Unfortunate Events (Nonesuch, 2006). From the sublime to the ridiculous, Stephin Merritt has finally found someone more morbid than he. And the results speak for themselves. Merritt’s monotonous baritone complements the creepy writing of Lemony Snicket, who also plays accordion, brilliantly. 11 year olds may not be hip to the dreariness that lies within these songs, but my guess is most everybody else of consenting age will. Just check out some of the titles: “Scream and Runaway,” “The World is a Very Scary Place,” “Smile! No One Cares How You Feel,” and my personal favorite “Walking My Gargoyle.” Clearly, these “children’s” songs are not for the faint of heart, nor for anyone else who takes Merritt’s deadpan voice too seriously. Sweet dreams! A-

Maria Muldaur: Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan (Telarc, 2006). He’s been covered by The Byrds and gulp Olivia Newton John – quite a dichotomy! So, what’s so different and special about this effort? Well for one thing Muldaur isn’t trying to reinvent the songs; like the good interpreter she is, she allows the songs to come to her. What she does add to them is a mix of soul and blues to the world folk that Dylan invented. And because Dylan wasn’t merely a folkie his material is wide open for just about anyone with the heart and ear to grab it. In deed his greatest accomplishment was his ability to transcend the popular music scene altogether, and in so doing redefine for a whole generation what being an artist was truly about. Muldaur clearly gets it, too. Her love for the songs is surpassed only by her brilliant delivery of them. And you can tell she also loves the artist, too, a critical element to the success of any interpreter. A

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