by Ray Troll
January 24, 2004
1. Steve Winwood / 'About Time'
Steve's back in exceptional form after a long hiatus. This ones' a stripped down affair with Steve on his classic Hammond organ, an outrageously hot guitarist named Jose Piresde Almeida Neto, and Walfredo Reyes Jr. on drums. It's a tight, very, very professional trio. Most of the songs feature only the three of them and I'm amazed that the cuts sound as full as they do. Winwood's as great as he ever was on vocals ( old timers will remember him from the 1960's Spencer Davis Group and the legendary supergroup Blind Faith ). With the exception of a strong cover version of 'Why Can't We Live Together', all the songs are originals penned by Winwood. They're written from the perspective of a confident guy in his mid-fifties dealing with all that life throws at ya'. My favorite cut is one that deals with fatherhood issues, "Take It to the Final Hour", a song I'm assuming, was inspired by the passing of Winwood's father. It's time, by the way, that we all forgive Steve for those Michelob commercials he did in the early nineties.
2. Rickie Lee Jones / 'The Evening of My Best Day'
I've always had a thing for Rickie's voice and her jazzy pop tunes, but she seemed to drift for a good stretch of the nineties searching for an innovative approach to her music and memorable tunes were few and far between. Somehow the muse got back in touch with her in a big way and she's produced one of the strongest CD's of her long career. She's never done a political record before, so these songs with their stinging indictments of George Bush and his administration are quite a surprise. "Ugly Man" is about President George and his father. "Lap Dog" takes Tony Blair to task. The best one of the political tunes, "Tell Somebody-Repeal the Patriot Act" is a rousing, danceable, hum-along song. The most profoundly paranoid one in the same vein is "Little Mysteries", where even the paper boy is up to something sinister. In that song she chillingly refers to Senator Paul Wellstone's untimely death in an air crash on the eve of an election, when she sings in a whispering voice, "this time they made sure the wife was on board". Yikes! Thankfully, it's not all political rants. "A Tree on Allenford" is a thoughtful song about life, death, and our link to eternity through love and remembrance. "Sailor Song" is simply a gorgeous song. "Countdown to Ecstasy" is a tribute to the groovy life in Los Angeles a lá Steely Dan. My favorite cut on the CD is "It Takes You There", a song about why one lives the artistic life. Oh yes.
3. Blur / 'Think Tank'
Damon Albarn, the creative mastermind driving the British pop group Blur, is a man who does not rest. In 2002 he put out an outstanding solo disc of music he produced in Mali with local musicians, along with several EPs from his official side project, the groove oriented Gorillaz as well as continuing to perform and write for Blur. Evidently that creative whirlwind must have taken a toll on Blur's lead guitar player, Graham Coxon, who split with the band sometime in 'O2. There was much speculation that the band would break up, but the remaining members have taken things in a new more Albarn-friendly direction. It's not as metallic sounding as older Blur records and definitely has a third world feel to it. The most appealing song for me is the hypnotically beautiful cut "Out of Time". Albarn's voice lilts smoothly across a shuffle beat with a Morrocan back up band, the "Marrakech Orchestra". The song was recorded outdoors in the North African desert at night and you can feel the vibe in the performance. "I Ain't God Nothing To be Scared Of" kicks the album off with a slow trance like pace that meanders here and there. "Sweet Song" is another lovely ditty. "Brothers and Sisters" has a great hook that sticks with you. The album breaks the pace here and there with several upbeat rockers and ends with an old fashioned Blur guitar blitz on "Battery in Your Leg" with Coxon in a swan song appearance.
4. Lucinda Williams / 'World Without Tears'
The critics seem to be stunned that Lucinda's put out yet another CD so soon ( she's not known for being prolific ). Her last one was 2001's 'Essence', which seemed a bit underdeveloped for Lucinda. It was tepidly relieved and didn't really produce any classic hits for her. 'World Without Tears' is a very raw album, with most of the songs being recorded in a few takes with little or no overdubbing. It's a different sound for her, and it works well. The passion's there, especially in song's like "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings", an ode to the ways of a hard-livin' musician on the road, a favorite topic for her. Preceding that rocker though is a beautiful downer of a song called "Ventura" exploring the debilitating ways of deep depression. You can ride along on the emotional roller coaster as the protagonist of the song struggles to break out of her funk simply by making something to eat while she dreams of getting swallowed up in an "ocean of love". Small town gossip's the topic for "People Talkin'", a fun hummable song. "World Without Tears" and "Those Three Days" are standouts too. A couple of the cuts seem oddly out of place or just don't cut the mustard for me, but overall it's a very strong CD. And hey, can you recall any other CD recently that mentions throwing up twice on one album?
5. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros / 'Streetcore'
Joe died of a heart attack at the age of 50 in 2002. He had been working on finishing up this CD at the time, so one is left wondering what he would have added to it. To my ears it sounds complete, if somewhat short (there are only 10 cuts). But what cuts they are. "Coma Girl" kicks it off with a rousing love song to an outlaw biker girl, followed quickly by the very funky, and topical "Get Down Moses". Song three is a tribute to the man in black, Johnny Cash. Strummer was hanging out with cash at Rick Rubin's house in Los Angeles in the spring of 2002. The eery truth of it is that Joe may as well have been singing about his own legacy ("you cast a long shadow on the ground" is the chorus). Fans of Joe's old band the Clash will not be disappointed with cuts like "Arms Aloft" and "Ramshackle Day Parade". Every cut's a gem, including the version of 'Redemption Song" that the master of the sparse sound Rick Rubin recorded.
A couple of other CD's I spent alot of time with in 2003 were:
6. Pepe Deluxe / 'Beatitude'
A very fun mix master kinda' group from Finland that do some astounding dub work in the studio. As the liner notes say, it's an "exquiste odyssey into the far sounds of tomorrow". They're all over the map, literally with funky soul songs and a fun Mexican dance rave called "Vamos Muchachos"- one of the extra cuts on a jammed pack CD.
7. Jaguares / 'El Primer Instinto'
In the 'maybe you had to be there department', while painting a mural in Santa Cruz this last year with my painter pals Memo Juaregui and Roberto Salas (AKA the Huachinango Brothers), we would play music on the boombox long into the night to keep us going. Memo kept throwing a group known as the Jaguares (the Jaguars) rrrronto the turntable, and he'd translate the incredibly inventive surreal lyrics for me as the songs played. This particular album is more of an acoustic sound for the group. The lead singer is idolized in Mexico and one can see why. His voice is astounding (even though he's apparently recovering from a bout of throat cancer). The instrumentation is dense and lush and even features a few appearances from David Hidalgo of Los Lobos fame.
The other music critic in our house is my son Patrick, age 13. Heres' his top 5 (and then some) for 2003:
1. Zwan - 'Mary Star of the
My Top 5 for 2002
1. Bruce Springsteen, "The
Top 5 2001
1. Ryan Adams, "Gold"
Top 5 2000
1."Stories From the City,
Stories From the Sea", P.J.. Harvey
1. Blur -13