Music publicists are always emailing/calling me to ask about the various CDs they've sent, so I decided to assuage them, get my mojo workin', and set aside serious listening time this past holiday weekend to catch up on the growing mountain of CDs sittin' on my desk. Here are a few new releases I've actually found quite worthy. Whether you agree with me or not isn't the point, 'cuz I'm either going to add them to my ridiculously large archive of music or load them to my iPod and give them away to deserving family and friends, or perhaps even a few lucky readers. Beg me for them, I dare you. (Okay, first reader to email me wins the advance of the new Judith Owen CD.)
Soul Coughing Ruby Vroom (Slash/Warner) - The last thing I need are more CDs, but I couldn't resist the lure of this 1994 release sitting in the $3 rack at AIDS charity shop down the street from my apartment. We're talking a collision of sounds -- hip hop, alt-rock, grunge, jazz, slippery funk -- all held together by the free-form stream-of-consciousness flowing vocalist/guitarist Mike Doughty and the way-unconventional samples from synthesizer/sampler Sebastian Steinberg. The band called their sound "deep slacker jazz." It was like the morphing of the Beastie Boys, Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, and Remain in Light Talking Heads into a P-Funkalicious stew. For my money, these lads laid the foundation and raised an unreachable bar for nu metal acts Limp Bizkit or Korn, yet I can't think of one new act as clever and fresh as this disc. In any event, what you get from this lost classic is pure legs akimbo dance time imagination. Throw it on at your next party and see how many folks ask you about it. I'm betting quite a few. And the prescient 9/11 lyrics of the opening track, "Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago," are downright creepy and worth downloading right now.
The Lilys Everything Wrong is Imaginary (Manifesto) - A Philly native and lone Lilys constant, singer/songwriter Kurt Heasley releases his eighth effort. Here he explores the sonic terrain nestled between My Bloody Valentine and Syd Barrett lands; off-kilter melodies percolate to the surface and then disappear into swirling guitars and embellishments. The title track is a bubbly little instrumental number anchored by a Hook-y New Order riff. EWII is not as tuneful as my favorite CD by the Lilys, The 3 Way (Sire), but a compelling and interesting listen, nonetheless.
Shawn Camp Fireball (Skeeterbit) - As you may or may not know, I've been a gigging/recording roots-rocker for about 10 years or so, so I don't cotton to weak-ass country or half-baked heartache story songs. Mr. Camp is a dude I'd share the stage with any day of the week: former backing musician (fiddle, guitar, mandolin) with Trisha Yearwood, Alan Jackson, and Shelby Lynne and then a session ace for Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, and John Prine after getting dumped by Reprise in the mid '90s, he's also written songs for Kenny Chesney, Tracy Byrd, and Randy Travis. Fireball isn't a masterpiece -- I'll reserve that for the masters (Waylon, Willie, Johnny, even Dwight) -- but this is one of the best releases I've heard out of Nashville in quite some time. The guitars snarl and twang, the backbeat drops like it's hot, and his vocals sit out front and clearly defined. "Fireball" starts things off just right, scootin' across the dance floor. "Hotwired," "Would You Go with Me," and "Drank" are three more outstanding retro-forward tracks from a disc that boasts not a clunker in the lot.
Judith Owen Lost and Found (Century of Progress) - Who knew Derek Smalls' (Harry Shearer) wife had such chops? Five CDs into her career and I didn't even know she was a musician, though it's not fair to lump her in with the "whatever-happened-to" Spinal Tap. The Welsh-born lass is a gifted vocalist/pianist/songwriter with clever arranger's skills. She retreads two '70s FM radio rock tunes and drives them with her own pop jazzbo torch-vocal style. (Somewhere between Joni Mitchell's compelling folk-jazz and the clever wordplay cabaret camp of Nellie McKay.) She re-imagines Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" and The Police's "Walking on the Moon" as vocal/piano snail-paced ballads. Ms. Owen even recruits Richard Thompson's guitar skills for a sultry take on Cole Porter's "Night and Day" and jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson on "Enough." Moreover, her equally strong compositions never suffer in fighting for room with these well-worn classics.
And speaking of classics, the Talking Heads (Sire/Warner/Rhino) catalog just got released as DualDiscs with meticulous remastering in 5.1 surround sound plus bonus tracks and videos. To this day, Talking Heads: 77 still resonates as my favorite. Released in 1977, their deubt was a twitching, nervous sounding rock record not remotely punk -- the first new wave record -- and yet it still invokes that same quirky energy today. "Psycho Killer" still astonishes me every time I play it. It is a perfectly realized song in structure, execution, and sound; an evergreen classic. This record, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light remain essential releases in their impressive and genre-defining canon.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!