October 16, 2005

Fall Music Review : 2005


Alicia Keys
Alicia keys Unplugged
Out October 11th

"I wanted to be able to bring it back to the essence of me as a performer: intimate and personal," says Keys of her Unplugged disc, recorded live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on July 14th. In addition to pared-down versions of songs from her two previous albums ("A Woman's Worth," "Fallin' "), Keys duetted with Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine on a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses"; teamed with Common, Mos Def and Damian Marley for a fusion of Keys' "Love It or Leave It Alone" and Marley's "Welcome to Jam Rock"; and debuted two new songs: "Unbreakable," which is already in heavy rotation on MTV, and "Stolen Moments," co-written by Al Green.

Ashlee Simpson
I Am Me
Out October 18th

Simpson re-teams with hot producer John Shanks for a disc of chart-killing teen pop that takes its cues from grown-up rockers. The first single, "Boyfriend," is as close to Franz Ferdinand as a pop tart may dare go, with a jittery dance-rock guitar hook. The piano ballad "Beautifully Broken" chronicles the aftermath of her SNL lip-sync fiasco in a way that almost elicits sympathy -- and it doesn't hurt that the intro sounds exactly like Oasis' "Wonderwall."

Depeche Mode
Playing the Angel
Out October 18th

"It's rockier than our traditional stuff," says Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan about his band's eleventh studio album, on which Blur producer Ben Hillier added heavier guitar and drums to the band's analog-synth-driven sound. Recorded after Gahan got sober following decades of struggling with addiction, the album provides clear evidence that the goth godfathers are still as into pain and suffering as ever. Says Gahan, "That's kind of our MO."

Rod Stewart
Thanks for the memory . . . The Great American Songbook: Volume IV
Out October 18th

For the fourth volume of his Great American Songbook series, Stewart tackles fourteen more classics, including "Long Ago and Far Away," and "Makin' Whoopee," on which he duets with Elton John. "I bring a new emotion and a voice that people haven't heard singing these kinds of songs," says Stewart. Though Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" doesn't fit into Stewart's loose rule of including only songs cut "between the two Great Wars," he wanted to give props to the man who inspired his career. Says Stewart, "No Sam, no Rod."


Burt Bacharach
At this Time
Out November 1st

In an awesomely weird pairing, seventy-seven-year-old swinger Bacharach recruited Dr. Dre to provide Snoop-worthy bass-and-drum loops for three songs on his new disc. Bacharach says he is "not necessarily" a big fan of rap. "I'm a big fan of Dre's. The guy gets the most unbelievable sounds." Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright also make appearances on the album, which pairs Bacharach's lush orchestral arrangements with angry lyrics about the Bush administration. "I spent all this time writing love songs," he says. "I never rocked the boat. If I lose some fans, that's OK."

Trey Anastasio
Out November 1st

For his first collection of songs since Phish broke up last year, Anastasio left the comfort of his converted-barn studio in Vermont to work with Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam producer Brendan O'Brien in Atlanta. "A lot of it was based on Brendan teaching me how to make a record," says Anastasio. "We had two days with me, Brendan and [Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp drummer] Kenny Aronoff playing like a power trio. Brendan's a motherfucker on the bass." The resulting disc is surprisingly noodle-free, with twelve uptempo rockers that are more Beatles than Zappa.

All That I Am
Out November 1st

"The only thing I won't do is something that is fake, superficial and shallow," says Carlos Santana, who jams with musicians from Sean Paul to Kirk Hammett on his latest guest-laden album. Steven Tyler sings the power ballad "Just Feel Better"; American Idol rocker Bo Bice belts the "Smooth"-style "Brown Skin Girl"; and Mary J. Blige duets with Big Boi on the R&B tune "My Man." "I don't listen to the radio," says Santana, crediting executive producer Clive Davis with picking many of the guests. More familiar faces were his tourmates Los Lonely Boys, who contributed the slinky "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love," and Michelle Branch, whose acoustic pop tune "I'm Feeling You" is her second Santana collaboration, following 2002's "The Game of Love." But Santana is determined to keep broadening his group's sound. "A lot of musicians say, 'I don't do windows,' " Santana says. "But to me, life is a big window. So if I don't want to do windows, I shouldn't be on this planet."

Neil Diamond
12 Songs
Out November 8th

Though Diamond is better known now for wearing sequined jumpsuits and making middle-aged women weak in the knees, in the 1960s he was a cool young New York singer-songwriter. On the new disc, Rick Rubin -- who produced Johnny Cash's American Recordings series -- recaptures the spirit of awesome early recordings including "Cherry, Cherry" and "Kentucky Woman." "Rick really pressured me to get back to those times," says Diamond. "Those records were very minimalist -- get a small rhythm group, add some hand claps, mix it up and send it out."

50 Cent
Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture "Get Rich or Die Tryin' "
Out November 8th

"Every song has something that ties it to the actual film," says 50 Cent of the tracks he wrote to accompany his 8 Mile-style new movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. The first single, "Hustler's Ambition," defines 50's alter ego, Marcus, a poor kid from the Bronx (not 50's Queens) who goes from slinging drugs to spitting rhymes. The second, "Window Shopping," backs a scene where Marcus longs for expensive sneakers. The album, with production from Dr. Dre and Hi-Tek, also includes a likely third single, "We Don't Need No Help," with Young Buck. Says 50, "It's a new version of N.W.A's 'Fuck Tha Police' with a Southern twist."

Big and Rich
Comin' To Your City
Out November 15th

On Comin' to Your City, Nashville duo Big and Rich beef up the genre-crossing, party-starting stomp of their multiplatinum 2004 debut, Horse of a Different Color. Recorded with the duo's five-piece touring band, City drops elegantly harmonized ballads ("Never Mind Me"), jokey honky-tonk ("20 Margaritas") and disco-flavored rapping ("Caught Up in the Moment") amid barnburners such as "Soul Shaker" and the AC/DC-gone-South title track.

In My Mind
Out November 15th

Perhaps only Pharrell Williams -- half of the most sought-after production team in pop music, the Neptunes -- could get Gwen Stefani to guest on a song where her entire contribution is five spoken words repeated ad nauseam: "You got it like that." Stefani answers Williams' titular question on "Can I Have It Like That," the first single from Williams' solo debut -- which also features guest spots from Jay-Z and Slim Thug. The disc is divided into two halves: seven tracks of club-banging hip-hop, seven of smooth R&B grooves. "You have the personality with your girl, and you have your macho mannerisms," Williams says. "You got all these characteristics that make up your personality. This is an album I've been working on all my life."

Bruce Springsteen
Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition
Out November 15th

A newly remastered version of Springsteen's 1975 masterpiece is just the beginning of this unique CD-plus-two-DVDs reissue package. One DVD showcases long-buried footage of a full E Street Band concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon from 1975, including performances of "Backstreets," "Lost in the Flood" and "Kitty's Back." The other contains Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run, a ninety-minute documentary that includes new interviews with Springsteen and the E Streeters (including former drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter and pre-Roy Bittan pianist David Sancious).

Confessions on a Dancefloor
Out November 15th

After 2003's underwhelming disc of electronic folk, American Life, the Material Girl returns to the dance floor with Confessions. The disco-friendly vibe is announced by the first single, "Hung Up," which samples the opening keyboards from Abba's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" Madonna recruited Stuart Price -- a London DJ and the keyboardist on her Re-Invention tour -- to produce the disc, but don't think she didn't express herself during the recording process. "People always think that it's just some guy behind her coming up with all the ideas," says Price. "She's very underrated as a producer."

Fort Minor
The Rising Tied
Out November 22nd

Linkin Park rapper Mike Shinoda gets in touch with his hip-hop roots on his Fort Minor side project -- which gets a boost from heavy-spitters Common, Black Thought of the Roots and Jay-Z. "I thoroughly enjoy what I do in Linkin Park," says Shinoda. "But the first Fort Minor songs were recorded because I got frustrated that I hadn't made a pure hip-hop song in a while." Shinoda plays nearly every instrument on The Rising Tied, which also features new faces such as Styles of Beyond and Linkin Park's nineteen-year-old protege, Holly Brook. Says Shinoda, "I've got some up-and-comers on there who are very hungry."

Jamie Foxx
Out November 22nd

Foxx is cashing in on the musical cred he earned through his remarkable Ray performance with his new album, Unpredictable. "We wanted to stay young and up," Foxx says, citing the feel of his first hit single, "Extravaganza," a collaboration with Kanye West that's currently burning up urban radio. "But the meat of the album is more musical, more piano -- back to how I really get down." Many of Foxx's seductive new tunes, including "Can I Take You Home," "DJ Play a Love Song" and "V.I.P.," find middle ground between his gospel and soul roots and the laid-back beats and raps provided by guests Busta Rhymes, Pharrell Williams, Ludacris, and Twista. Foxx and his friends recorded the bulk of Unpredictable on the set of the actor's next film, Miami Vice. "Timbaland allowed me to use his bus -- it has a studio in it," he says. "So I'd come right off the set, get on the bus and keep cutting and grinding."

System of a Down
Out November 22nd

"I can't say I sat down and tried to make a dark record," says System of a Down guitarist and songwriter Daron Malakian. "I guess you could say it's a reflection of the times." System recorded Hypnotize at the same time as May's Mezmerize and, like its predecessor, it's full of apocalyptic anti-war lyrics paired with guided-missile guitar riffs and exotic melodies. And in the spirit of Mezmerize's "B.Y.O.B.," the band's catchiest song ever, there are some surprisingly pop-friendly moments, including the heart-baring ballad "Lonely Day." "I used to be more focused on 'Let's get it heavy,' " says Malakian. "Now I'm more focused on 'Let's get some emotion out." Malakian adds that Hypnotize isn't just a sequel to Mezmerize. "We don't look at them as two records, we look at them as one record," he says. "It feels like people haven't heard the whole album yet."

The Darkness
One Way Ticket to Hell . . . and Back
Out November 29th

It wasn't enough to sound like Queen -- for their second album, the Darkness teamed with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker and even recorded some of the disc at Rockfield Studios in Wales, where Freddie Mercury and Co. cut "Bohemian Rhapsody." The ten tracks continue in the anthemic head-banging vein of the fabulously trashy Permission to Land, recalling the Eighties hair-metal excesses of Def Leppard and Whitesnake. The album's first single, "One Way Ticket," features a pan-flute intro immediately followed by the distinct sound of someone cutting up and snorting a line of cocaine. "It's a song of redemption, really," says singer Justin Hawkins, who spent part of last year in rehab. "It talks about drugs, the inevitable downward slide into hell, and how it's never too late to turn back."

Oral fixation, Vol. 2
Out November 29th

After scoring a Top Ten hit earlier this year with the Spanish-language album Fijacion Oral, Vol. 1, Shakira is back with an English sequel. "The Spanish album is strictly romantic," she says. "But the English album embraces more social-oriented topics." Featuring a guest performance by Carlos Santana on "Illegal," the disc, like its predecessor, was executive-produced by Rick Rubin. As for putting out so much material in one year, the Colombian singer says, "I just kept writing, and one day I found myself with sixty songs. It was a good problem to have, but it was still a problem."

Notorious B.I.G.
Out November 29th

Biggie's posthumous output has been limited compared with the steady stream of releases from fellow slain rapper Tupac Shakur -- which makes this duets album a potentially notable event. The first single, "Hold Ya Head," teams Biggie with another late legend, Bob Marley, and other songs will have him trading verses with various yet-to-be-announced artists. A companion DVD will include live footage and other bonuses.


Out December 6th

"It's like an OutKast record on film," says Big Boi of the soundtrack to the rap duo's new musical film, tentatively titled Idlewild. Set in the Depression-era South, the movie, which will be released in theaters on January 6th, follows the story of a struggling musician (played by Andre 3000) and a lovable Lothario (Big Boi). "Since it's in the Thirties, we didn't want to use too many synthesizers and keys," says Big, who adds that the duo mined its vault of unreleased and unfinished tracks for the album. The first single, "Idlewild Blues," is a jazzy romp loaded with drum stomps, muffled trumpets and piano; Dre gives his best Cab Calloway impersonation, and Big flips his hallmark spitfire rhymes. "It's a juke-joint jam," says Big. "I don't know if you can categorize it as a rap song."


October 09, 2005

New Buzz # Plans : Death Cab For Cutie

For your consideration: a wildly successful indie rock band with a legion of followers on an equally successful, highly credible independent label makes the jump to major-label powerhouse Atlantic, leading to much chagrin and speculation among its fans as they awaited with bated breath for what would happen to the group. The result was For Your Own Special Sweetheart, inarguably the most polished and fully realized album of Dischord alumnus Jawbox's career.Fast forward ten years and you find Barsuk's Death Cab for Cutie in the same position, making the same move. A new label, a larger crowd and a side project of Ben Gibbard (Postal Service) that very well overshadowed the success of his main project.

In comparison to the dry, raw production of Transatlanticism, Plans is warm and polished, the kind of album expected from a band obsessed with the sound of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Chris Walla does an amazing job bringing the group's sound in a different direction than before without compromising too many of the things that made the group sound great to begin with.

Thematically, Plans is the Death Cab for Cutie suitable for graduate students, world-weary and wiser from their experiences, realizing they can no longer be love-starved 20-somethings without a clue yet hopelessly cursed to face the same issues. And there's merit to be had in acknowledging that maturity,Gibbard's wispy, poetic lyrics still remain an artery from which the rest of the band beats and are some of his finest ever but this time around the band aligns itself more with a series of emotional murmurs rather than a heart attack. The album winds its way from one ballad to the next, with brief stopovers at moderately up-tempo numbers to help break things up a bit. And it's this sense of resignation that either makes or breaks the album, depending on which Death Cab for Cutie is your favorite: the melancholic, hopeless romantic or the one who wears its heart on its sleeve with unbridled energy and passion.

Plans is both a destination and a transitional journey for the group, one that sees the fulfillment of years of toiling away to develop their ideas and sound. But it's with the completion of those ideas that band is faced with a new set of crossroads and challenges to tread upon: to stay the course and suffer stagnation or try something bold and daringly new with their future. Which road they'll take will make all the difference.

Biography# Death Cab For Cutie

Bellingham, WA, indie pop quartet Death Cab for Cutie began in 1997 as the solo project of singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard, who previously recorded under the name All-Time Quarterback. The underground success of the cassette You Can Play These Songs' Chords inspired Gibbard to recruit a full-time band including guitarist/organist Christopher Walla (who recorded the early DCFC sessions as well), bassist Nick Harmer, and drummer Nathan Good, and in the summer of 1998, Death Cab for Cutie issued their debut LP, Something About Airplanes, to much acclaim from indie circles.

Just prior to completion of the 2000 follow-up We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, Good left the group and was replaced by drummer Michael Schorr. In fall 2000, the band released the Forbidden Love EP. A solid selection of new cuts were found on The Photo Album the next year. In 2003, Eureka Farm's Jason McGerr joined the group and the band's stunning fourth album Transatlanticism appeared in October.

While touring in support of that album in spring 2004, Death Cab For Cutie recorded seven brand new tracks. The John Byrd E.P., which was named for the band's touring sound engineer John Byrd, was issued on Barsuk in March 2005. After a lengthy courtship with Barsuk, the group inked a deal with Atlantic and released their label debut, Plans, in August of 2005. It sold nearly 90,000 copies during its first week of release, entering the US album chart at number four.

Biography # Dave Mattews Band

The South African vocalist/guitarist Dave Matthews formed the Dave Matthews Band in Virginia in the early '90s. Featuring Matthews, Stefan Lessard, Leroi Moore, Boyd Tinsley, and Carter Beauford, the group's music presents a more pop-oriented version of the Grateful Dead crossed with the worldbeat explorations of Paul Simon and Sting. In addition to amassing a sizable following, their self-released album, Remember Two Things, sold well for an independent release; soon, they were attracting the attention of majors.

The band built up a strong word-of-mouth following in the early '90s by touring the country constantly, concentrating on college campuses. Signing with RCA, the Dave Matthews Band released their major-label debut, Under the Table & Dreaming, in the fall of 1994. By spring of 1995, the record had launched the hit single "What Would You Say" and sold over a million copies.A year-and-a-half after the release of Under the Table & Dreaming, the record had sold over four million copies in the U.S. alone. In April of 1996, the Dave Matthews Band released Crash, which entered the charts at number two and quickly went platinum. Throughout 1996, the group toured behind Crash, sending it to double-platinum status. Also in 1996, Matthews launched an attack on bootleggers in conjunction with the Federal Government, targeting stores that were selling semi-legal discs of live performances.

The efforts of Matthews, his band, and his management resulted in an unprecedented crackdown on bootleggers in early 1997 -- with nearly all of the major foreign bootlegging companies placed under arrest by the United States -- thereby putting a moratorium on the entire underground industry.

To further combat the bootleggers, Dave Matthews released an official, double-disc live album, Live at Red Rocks 8-15-95, in the fall of 1997. It was an unexpected success, debuting at number three on the charts and selling a million copies within the first five months of its release.

The live record paved the way for the April 1998 release of Before These Crowded Streets, the group's most ambitious album to date. Another live effort, Listener Supported, followed a year later. Summer tours also packed the late '90s, with sold-out shows across the U.S. The new millennium, however, saw the band back in the studio with Glen Ballard to record their fourth studio album. Everyday was issued in February 2001. The following summer, the band issued Busted Stuff. Debut single "Where Are You Going" was also featured on the soundtrack to the Adam Sandler flick Mr. Deeds. Their latest album is called Stand up and in between Dave himself released a superb solo effort called Some Devil.

October 01, 2005

New Buzz # Back To Bedlam : James Blunt

Soulful British crooner James Blunt's wistful debut infuses the listener -- in order -- with rainy-day hope, the wistful comfort of unattainable love, and finally, world-weary resignation. While his parched and effeminate falsetto recalls Gasoline Alley-era Rod Stewart with a healthy dose of Antony and the Johnsons, it's the late Elliott Smith who casts the largest shadow on Back to Bedlam.

Predictable but effective four-chord guitar motifs are the chosen vehicle for the ex-Royal Armed Forces soldier, and when they connect ("Wiseman," "Goodbye My Lover," "You Are Beautiful"), it's like a "Dear John" letter from a lover who you know will remain a close but ultimately guarded friend. Opening track "High" sets a determined midtempo pace that rarely wanes -- it's like an acoustic version of "Drive" by the Cars with a Coldplay chorus.

It's a pace that would sink some records, but Bedlam's perfectly rendered, under 40-minute run time ensures that the listener doesn't suffer from a melancholy overdose. Blunt recounts his harrowing experiences as part of the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo on the closer, "No Bravery," and it's a shock to hear all of the romantic lyricism that informed Bedlam up to this point reduced to "Old men kneel and accept their fate/Wives and daughters cut and raped/A generation drenched in hate," but it's damn effective -- as is the majority of this fine debut.

Track picks

1. Goodbye My Lover
2. High
3. You're Beautiful

James Blunt Bio

Growing up in England, James Blunt had a "traditional" childhood, which essentially means he was shipped off to boarding school at age seven. He excelled in science and math at school, so it wasn't a surprise that his father pushed him along the path of a military career. But school wasn't all bad: Blunt learned how to play the piano there and even tried his hand at school plays. It would be too cliche to say that Blunt's love for music help him fight off the career designs of his over-enthusiastic father. In fact, that would be both cliche and a lie. Blunt did join the military, and in 1999 he served as a peacekeeper in Kosovo. Armed with a gun and his guitar, James did his best to keep an even keel in a place that just experienced one of the bloodiest civil wars on record. Writing was an escape for the singer-songwriter; a way to process the horrors of what he was witnessing, as songs like "No Bravery" attest. When his military time was up, Blunt focused on making music his career, got a band together and recorded some demos. Within months he landed both a publishing deal and a manager. After his performance at 2003's SXSW, Blunt met producer Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera, etc.) who offered the singer a deal on her very own label, Custard Records. James Blunt's debut, Back to Bedlam was released in the U.K. in January 2005 and in United States later that year, in July

Review Courtesy AMG