All year I’ve been trying to provide an interesting cross-section of music and perhaps raise awareness about some bands that are starting to break but haven’t quite gone top 10 yet. I hope I’ve raised a few eyebrows in my choices of what to review and maybe changed a few minds.
So here we go, the last album reviews of the year and it’s back to the broadest grouping possible again. These are some of the best albums to come out recently in Alt-Country/Folk, Pop-Rock, Rap and Jazz. Maybe you’ll finally find something that you’ll like. It only took a year’s worth of trying.
“Rainy Day Music”
The Jayhawks have recently been creating a lot of buzz among fans of Ryan Adams, Wilco, Tom Petty and the like with their latest album, “Rainy Day Music.” Combining folk-country guitar and an almost Motown sense of melody, The Jayhawks have crafted an album full of sweet, down home music.
The music seems timeless in a way, because it would fit comfortably in your collection squeezed somewhere between Hank Williams, The Byrds, Uncle Tupelo and The Temptations. Along the lines of a more mellow Wallflowers, The Jayhawks aren’t soft but they’re somewhat of a throwback to the folk-rock revolution that kicked off the 60s. Rainy Day Music is good music for just that, or a drive through the country, the beginning of a road trip or just hanging around on a summer day.
Stand-out tracks: “All the Right Reasons,” “Save It for a Rainy Day,” “One Man’s Problem,” “Angelyne” and “Will I See You In Heaven.”
The boys of Linkin Park are back with their special scratch-backed rap rock. With the epic choruses in place along side the heavy guitars, Linkin Park continues their massive success with the release of Meteora which promises much more of the same that the public has seen from them in the past. This is music to stomp and scream to. The band seemed to focus more on their beats on this album than in the past, perhaps influenced by work with the X-ecutioners and by the success of their Reanimation album. Their focus on beats did not take away from their hard rock sound, however, which is still probably one of the best sounds out there right now.
Pushing things toward the electronic when the instincts of most rockers is to pull back right now, Linkin Park stand on their own musically right now at the cutting edge of rock. This album continues to push things forward and will only gain greater success for an already overwhelmingly popular band.
Stand-out tracks: “Don’t Stay,” “Somewhere I Belong,” “Lying from You,” “Faint” and “From the Inside.”
Mixing psychedelia with rap somehow always produces some great music, just look at Outkast and Cee-Lo to name a few. Now double that up with strong influences of African rhythms and a sense of intelligence and pride, found in The Roots and A Tribe Called Quest and maybe you’ll come somewhere close to Common. There’s nothing better than soul with a conscious. Common’s originality and inventiveness come like a breath of fresh air in the face of formula hit makers like P. Diddy and Nelly. Common also takes the level of production to a higher level with some interesting and complex sample choices and great beat effects that will keep you moving and thinking. Common talks about issues of everyday life and street wisdom, rather than 50 Cent’s gangsta style. Like Gang Starr and Brand Nubian, Common is tough while keeping his integrity. Common is anything but common in today’s rap arena.
Stand-out tracks: “Soul Power,” “The Hustle,” “Come Close,” “I Am Music” and “Heaven Somewhere.”
The Bad Plus
“These are the Vistas”
This three-piece combo marks an interesting evolution in jazz. Stretching the limits of what a piano, bass and drum can do, The Bad Plus explore the creative bounds of their own originality and push the limits of pop revision by covering “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Flim” and “Heart of Glass.” The band’s deconstruction and reconstruction of these hits makes for more than just novelty listening. They actually take these modern-day standards and make them their own. Hearing Nirvana’s biggest hit redone seems almost blasphemous at first, but it seems to right to wrong.
The band might has well have been describing themselves when they described their song “Boo-Wah” as “hectic, humorous, heroic, harrowing.” The Bad Plus take risks that many artists would never dare take and they reap the benefits of the chances they’ve taken. Their reward comes in the form of a great jazz album.
Stand-out tracks: “Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass,” “Smells like Teen Spirit,” “Guilty,” “Boo-Wah” and “Heart of Glass.”