Happy Thanksgiving. It's been a terrific month for mining new music. I caught an advance screening of Led Zeppelin's new concert movie at MoMA (and their press conference), discovered what may be my favorite album of the year, and found inspiring young musicians sharing their chops and muses with the world. With the holidays around the corner, here are some early suggestions for music very much worth sharing with friends, lovers, bosses, and family.
"You're So Great / It's All Right, Ma" Wendy James You're So Great E.P. (Cobraside)
If Brit-born/NYC-based Ms. James's claim-to-fame-band Transvision Vamp was a tad too sugar-pop coated for your New Yawk punk rawk palette, not to worry. Thanks to guitarist James Williamson (Iggy Pop Stooge) and drummer James Sclavunos (Nick Cave alumnus), she's found some downtown 'tude. The A-side is a fun retro Ramones-style punk ditty, but it's the flip-side Grinderman-grind Dylan cover where it all comes together. For Zimmerman purists, this is sacred ground, but they pull it off. Love to hear a LP of covers with this trio's mojo on overdrive.
"Tell Me (What's On Your Mind)" Allah-Las Allah-Las (Innovative Leisure)
Produced and released by Nick Waterhouse, whose R&B-fueled debut Time's All Gone is one of my favorite albums of year. He has dipped this L.A.-based band into a giant vat of Nuggets-era garage psychedelia, and that's a good thing. Pedrum Siadatian's ringing mid-'60s Murph Squire 12-string guitar is soaked in enough Fender reverb to melt your face. And singer Miles Michaud's snarl sounds like early Jagger, especially on this single. As easy to swallow as your favorite tab of acid.
"When My Train Pulls In" Gary Clark, Jr. Blak & Blu (Warner)
A super fine axe-slinger who has plenty of R&B swag in his tunes and much-deserved Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaughn comparisons. While I don't love the production sheen on this new CD, it's live where he really swings. (I caught him at the Central Park Summerstage in August.) Gary, dude, lose some of that modern radio-friendly compression veneer ("The Life") and hire Nick Waterhouse to produce your next album. Or, dare I say, the L.A.-based Eddie Kramer! This track rises above some of the aforementioned slickness and hits you in the gut; his intro git-lick like an inverted "Oh Well" (Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac) and two meaty solos that will leave you salivating for more.
First Aid Kit The Lion's Roar (Wichita Recordings)
Admittedly, I'm late to this extraordinary effort, as it was released last January, but no worries as it was re-released with a fetching new folk-rock/Americana single "Wolf." Clear and strong vocals from Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg and their father Benkt on bass. Undeniable magic throughout -- lyrically and melodically. You'll love their homage to Gram Parsons and his first lady of country rock on the gorgeous "Emmylou." For fans of Fleet Foxes, Civil War, et al. Another potential contender for my top ten year's end list.
Led Zeppelin Celebration Day (Atlantic CD/DVD)
This concert was recorded during Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun's tribute on December 10, 2007 at London’s O2 Arena with a reunited Led Zeppelin with John Bonham's son Jason behind the kit. (20 million fans applied for an 18,000 seat lottery!) As the show unfolds vocalist Jimmy Page, guitarist Robert Plant, and bassist John Paul Jones expand and connect with their audience like a superb vintage wine opening up, albeit 27 years after their last performance. Plant no longer can hit those high notes of his youth, but his vocal delivery is superb, And Page? His playing is a master class of classic rock riff dexterity, legendary riffs that he created. And Mr. Jones and Bonham keep it anchored in one giant heavy pocket. Moreover, they explore the bluesy side of their heavy metal thunder and in doing so connect with their rich catalog in very intoxicating fashion. Now our children can bear witness to LZ's enduring legacy. (I was lucky enough to ingest their majesty in '74 in Cleveland.) To be released on vinyl in December, too.
"San Francisco" The Mowgli's Love's Not Dead E.P. (Island)
Damn fine sing-along about the City in the Bay. Retro without sounding forced, exuberant and exhilarating. Like Arcade Fire on a SoCal Laurel Canyon folk-rock trip out. Single of the month, people! Check out 'em out live:
"Doom and Gloom" The Rolling Stones GRRR! (UME)
Hard to believe that the "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band" is celebrating its Golden Jubilee (50 years). Recorded for a new three-CD career retrospective, this post-apocalypse rocker is clearly the boys' best single since...well, the '70s. No needless modern production filler, just taut and sinewy Ronnie and Keef guitars, bass, walloping Watts drums, and snarling Mick Jagger vocals.
Papa Grows Funk Needle in the Groove (Funky Krewe Records)
Witnessed this funky gumbo NOLA outfit blow up the stage and audience as an opener for Little Feat in the late Summer in NYC. So very hard to pick just one track cuz top to bottom it's the perfect Saturday night par-tay record, a tasty, easily digested mash-up of the Meters meets Funkadelic. No lie.
Soundgarden King Animal (Universal Republic)
And while we're reminiscing... Soundgarden remains my favorite American grunge rock band. (Sorry Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Queens of the Stone Age fans.) Yes, Chris Cornell has soldiered on as a solo artist and drummer Matt Cameron has been moonlighting with Pearl Jam, but they both wisely reunited with guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Ben Shepherd after an 18-year layoff. Older, wiser, but still with plenty to offer -- killer guitar riffs and many heavy, memorable tunes. Contender for my favorite hard rock album of the year.
Hot Rats Frank Zappa (Zappa Records)
When Mr. Zappa roamed the Earth, rock music was king. Hopefully with his entire catalog getting sonic overhauls, a new generation will come to appreciate his compositional genius. (It was no accident that Zubin Mehta, conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, invited him to compose a new work that he debuted at UCLA in 1970!) While he used humor -- sometimes a tad too frat boy -- in his clever album, song titles, and lyrical word play to convey his messages, it's his music that stands the test of time. Hot Rats remains one of the most beloved releases in his discography. A heady, primarily instrumental, hybrid of jazz and rock (remember jazz-rock?), and a Captain Beefheart collaboration entitled "Willie The Pimp" to give it a little extra zing.
Mr. Wright is a content creator and culture curator. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post, 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 four solo CDs, and is a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.