Music Review

ANNIVERSARIES: Motörhead Released Ace of Spades 35 Years Ago

[Lemmy passed away yesterday. RIP, you badass!] As we watch what may soon be the end of Motörhead, with a fine new album just out but iconic leader Lemmy's failing health forcing him from the stage on multiple nights, let's also look back at a milestone in the group's long career.

Bassist/singer Lemmy Kilmister started Motörhead in 1975 after getting kicked out of prog-rockers Hawkwind for being jailed on a drug charge in Canada during a tour. The band's early days were not marked by success. After being signed by United Artists, Motörhead's first shot at recording an album was rejected, and the label then blocked the group's attempted release of a single on Stiff. In '77 -- the lineup having completely turned over aside from its frontman -- they were ready to throw in the towel and even scheduled a farewell concert, but then Chiswick Records gave them money to record a single and by working quickly (and with a little more support from Chiswick) they turned that session into their debut album. After that things got better, but the band had yet to break through as of 1980.

Best New Rock/Pop/Electronic Albums/EPs of 2015

Another year, another move further away from caring about pop. Whether that's pop's fault or mine, I'm not sure. But there was still plenty of great new music released in 2015, and here, according to my idiosyncratic tastes, are the best albums, or at least my favorites.

1. Wire: Wire (Pink Flag)

This is said to be the first time that Bruce Gilbert's replacement, guitarist Matthew Simms, was heavily involved in the creation of a Wire album, and the result is...the closest Wire has ever come to sounding like a Colin Newman album. I exaggerate for effect, but only slightly: most everything thrums along smoothly and motorik-ly, he takes all the lead vocals (though Graham Lewis supposedly wrote many of the lyrics), and there are none of the post-punkier outbursts of the group's previous two reunion albums, though near the end of Wire, the one-two punch of "Split Your Ends" and "Octopus" come close. And I'm fine with that, because Newman's 1980s solo albums were brilliant (especially 1980's great A to Z) and Wire sounds like a continuation of them as much as of Wire's own work. That said, though, this is not a break from the Wire style, just another twist in the band's always unpredictable evolution.

The Twelve CDs of Christmas

AquitaniaThere are always plenty of Christmas-music roundups this time of year. This one's different. The others usually focus on the newest offerings. Nothing I've gotten this year has really struck a chord, but there is no shortage of favorites from years past that have proven their merits and held up over time. It is those in the classical realm, where trends matter least; and choral, because it's sacred choir music that's at the heart of the celebration of Christmas, that are listed below. 

Song of the Week: David Bowie - "Blackstar"

The Thin White Duke is more than just a middle-age rock 'n' roll icon intent on just cruising along, playing it safe, releasing rehashed variations on previous themes. He's one of a handful of artists who is still capable of creating genre-defining music. This title-track -- "Blackstar" -- from his 28th studio album builds off of the sonic vibe of Station to Station but adds jazz textures and extended motifs. And it seems like a logical extension offered on his previous "rock" album, The Next Day, and even more so from his 2014 single "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" Aided once again by longtime producer Tony Visconti, Bowie is in fine voice. Moreover, his young NY-based backing "jazz" band led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who appeared on said 2014 single -- have definitely provided a creative spark for the veteran rocker. Visconti's production provides just enough sonic texture to keep things percolating. Blackstar is set for release on January 8th, 2016.

Song of the Week: Miranda Lee Richards - "7th Ray"

Miranda Lee Richards, one of my favorite L.A.-based singer-songwriters, was in town a few weeks ago playing songs from the inspired Echoes of the Dreamtime, her third studio album and first release in more than six years. "7th Ray," the first track and single from said album, is an atmospheric, mid-tempo, psychedelic-folk-rock rumination on love and life. Wearing her love like heaven, layered electric and acoustic guitars weave in and out of the nuanced mix and then suddenly a Mellotron adds yet another delectable dollop of color to keep you hitting your repeat key. She's currently on a West Coast tour with the Dandy Warhols, making stops in L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. For fans of Laura Marling and Joni Mitchell alike. 

New Neil Young Archives Release Draws from Neglected Period

Neil Young and Bluenote Café: Bluenote Café (Reprise)

This is Performance Series 11 from the Neil Young Archives project, a two-CD set of live recordings from eleven 1987-88 shows with his Bluenotes band, which had to be renamed because of a lawsuit by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. (The new name better reflects Neil's original inspiration, a beloved Winnipeg bar called, yes, Blue Note Café, shown on the cover.) The first two tracks on Bluenote Café are from the year before This Note's for You was released, the rest (oddly, presented in chronological order of recording date, with just one exception) coming from the tour to promote its release.

There has never been a consensus about This Note's for You, which marked Young's return to Reprise Records after his contentious tenure at Geffen, when his stylistic shifts into genre tangents (rockabilly, electronica) led to Geffen actually suing Young.

Ron Sunshine: Bring It Home

Ron Sunshine: Bring It Home (Rondette)

Ron Sunshine's mix of jazz, soul, and blues is always a little different from album to album. This time out the vibe is classy late-'50s/early '60s R&B with a small horn section and lots of blues shuffles. The horns and the pianist will sometimes play jazz harmonies, but in general the feeling is more down-home than his more swing-oriented efforts were -- though we're talking fine distinctions here; he's not changing styles, just shifting leanings by degrees.

Song of the Week: Bob Dylan - "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (Alternate Take & Video)

I'm inspired. And you will be, too, after you watch this video. Not much more need be said about Sir Bob Dylan. Many consider these "electric" years to be the zenith of his songwriting prowess. You should know this "rap" song already, but you may not have heard or seen this alternate version taken from his latest must-have collection Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 (Columbia Records). Hey, spot the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg hanging out in the background!