This Week in Music, September 10, 2013: The country side of Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow: Feels Like Home

New release (Warner Music Nashville; tour dates)

It’s conceivable that Sheryl Crow was listening to the likes of Lady Antebellum, The Band Perry, and even The Superstar Swift until she said to herself, “I can do that.” Which is to say, “I can make sharp, catchy country music.”

She can indeed, judging from the evidence on Feels Like Home, her first album for Warner Bros. — make that Warner Music Nashville — after seven studio efforts for A&M. Her last one for that label, the soul-inspired 100 Miles from Memphis, wasn’t recorded in the titular town. But Crow did make her new album in Nashville, which is actually her current home. She enlisted Justin Niebank as co-producer and got help throughout from various co-writers, led by Brad Paisley collaborator Chris DuBois (with Paisley himself credited on one track).

In her press materials, Crow explains the benefit of both living and working in Nashville: Before she moved there, she hadn’t realized “what an amazing community it is. It’s the thing I’ve been missing my whole career — the feeling of being able to sit around with a guitar and have people know each other’s songs and know songs from people who’ve influenced all of us. When I moved here, pretty early on Vince Gill started calling me to do guitar pulls, and I thought, ‘Gosh, this is just like heaven on earth down here.’ ”

Often, the results are truly divine, as in the crisp electric-guitar riffs on “Shotgun” and the breezy chorus hook of “Easy” — not to mention “Best of Times,” which takes those guitars and that kind of chorus and puts them together in the same song. There’s also plenty of power in the ballad “Give It to Me.” Still, some of the finest moments here aren’t the biggest gestures but the ones that stay within themselves. They include “We Oughta Be Drinkin’,” sly instead of sloshed, and “Stay at Home Mother,” almost a prayer. It’s telling, too, that “Crazy Ain’t Original” dismisses our reality-TV culture not with an over-the-top rocker but with a cozy hand-clapper.

In other words, whereas Taylor-made music these days pushes the pop into the Red, Crow’s idea of Home — whether “Stay at Home Mother,” “Homecoming Queen,” or “Homesick” — still feels like country.

Monae Lady

Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady

New release (Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy/Atlantic; tour dates)
Photo by Marc Baptiste

Looking for a musical update of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis? Janelle Monáe has been describing the adventures of her alter ego, the android Cindi Mayweather, since her debut EP, Metropolis, Suite I: The Chase. That was released in 2007, the 80th anniversary of Lang’s epic, and it was followed in 2010 by The ArchAndroid, a full-length album that contained the next two parts of Monáe’s sci-fi saga. Now come Suites IV and V (forming a prequel to the first one) in The Electric Lady.

Given the subject matter, you may be afraid of getting subjected to a techno tizzy. Don’t worry: Monáe is a throwback to the glory days of R&B, and her expansive ease with that sound is obvious all over this album. You can hear it in the riff-driven pulse of “Givin Em What They Love,” the aromatic smoldering of “PrimeTime,” the naturally bopping bass of “We Were Rock n’ Roll,” the tropical torchiness of “Look Into My Eyes,” the billowy groove of “It’s Code,” the light-on-their-feet beats of “Dance Apocalyptic,” and much, much more.

As Monáe referenced Lang in Time magazine: “Looking at something from 1927 but set in the future really connected with me. I wanted to do the same through music.” If it’s sometimes difficult to get the concept from this album (and which concept album doesn’t have that problem?), never mind; focus on that music. I won’t even bother to name the guests here; focus on Monáe’s music. And from track to track, take delight in her sweet voice. Indubitably, she sings the lady electric.

Arctic AM final

Other new releases

Arctic Monkeys: AM (Domino; photo above by Zackery Michael)
The plodding, mechanically manipulated beat that opens the first track here, “Do I Wanna Know?,” may strike fans as miles removed from the supremely elastic hyperactivity of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” But the guitar hook that eventually takes hold is vintage Alex Turner. That track and others (“R U Mine?,” “Arabella”) will leave you understanding why Turner has described AM as blending, among other influences, Dr. Dre and Black Sabbath. Somehow, it works. So does “No. 1 Party Anthem,” which isn’t a raver but, rather, something that sounds like a glorious, after-hours, cry-in-your-beer ballad.

Keith Urban: Fuse (Capitol Nashville)
Steve Wariner: It Ain’t All Bad (SelecTone)

Earth, Wind & Fire: Now, Then & Forever (Legacy)
     — first new recording in 8 years
Gipsy Kings: Savor Flamenco (Knitting Factory)
     — first new recording in 7 years

Geri Allen: Grand River Crossings — Motown & Motor City Inspirations (Motéma)
Gloria Estefan: The Standards (Sony Masterworks)
New West Guitar Group: Big City (Summit)
     — trio does originals, covers (Tears for Fears, the Police, more)
Jimmy Webb: Still Within the Sound of My Voice (eOne)
     — his catalog, recorded in Nashville with guests including Keith Urban and Carly Simon
Various Artists: Boardwalk Empire, Vol. 2 (ABKCO)
     — the era’s standards, covered by everyone from Liza Minnelli to Elvis Costello

Babyshambles: Sequel to the Prequel (EMI U.K. import)
UB40: Getting Over the Storm (Universal U.K. import)

Patricia Vonne: Rattle My Cage (Bandolera)
Brian Wright: Rattle Their Chains (Sugar Hill)

2 Chainz: B.O.A.T.S. II — Me Time (Def Jam)
Body/Head: Coming Apart (Matador)
     — Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon with Bill Nace
Goldfrapp: Tales of Us (Mute)
Holy Ghost!: Dynamics (DFA)
Natalia Kills: Trouble (will.i.am/Cherrytree/Interscope)
London Grammar: If You Wait (Columbia)
Ministry: From Beer to Eternity (13th Planet)
Cyril Neville: Magic Honey (Ruf)
Newsboys: Restart (Sparrow)
Ben Rector: The Walking in Between (Aptly Named Records)
Rusty Belle: Common Courtesy (rustybelle.com)
Steep Canyon Rangers: Tell the Ones I Love (Rounder)
Emilíana Torrini: Tookah (Rough Trade)
The Weeknd: Kiss Land (XO/Republic)

The Prog Collective: Epilogue (Purple Pyramid/Cleopatra)
Led by Billy Sherwood, the collective now includes Roye Albrighton, Mel Collins, Jim Cuomo, Geoff Downes, Larry Fast, Gary Green, Steve Hillage, Tony Kaye, Sonja Kristina, Patrick Moraz, Steve Morse, Colin Moulding, Alan Parsons, Jordan Rudess, Derek Sherinian, Steve Stevens, Nik Turner, Rick Wakeman, Fee Waybill, John Wesley, John Wetton, and the late Peter Banks.

Various Artists: The Road to Jajouka — A Benefit Album (Howe)
Featuring the Master Musicians of Jajouka in new performances and remixes. With Ornette Coleman, Flea, Mickey Hart, Lee Ranaldo, Marc Ribot, John Zorn, Medeski Martin & Wood. Proceeds go to the Jajouka Foundation, a nonprofit organization established this year to “foster awareness and preservation of this ancient ceremonial music.”

Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band: My Cup of Tea (Sukey Jump)
     — alias “Susan Ross” from Seinfeld, now playing ukulele-based family music

Ralph Alessi: Baida (ECM)
Ahmad Jamal: Saturday Morning — La Buissonne Studio Sessions (Jazz Village)
Halie Loren: Simply Love (Justin Time)
Trombone Shorty: Say That to Say This (Verve Forecast)

Bizet: Symphony in C; Jeux d’Enfants; Variations chromatiques (Reference)
     — San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Martin West
Charles Denler: Portraits of Colorado (Fresh!/Reference)
     — An American Symphony No. 1; Six Variations for Violin and Piano
         Colorado Symphony and Chorus, conducted by Scott O’Neil

Clash System box

The Clash: Sound System

Archival release (Sony)

This Is Everything Clash, or pretty much everything: the five studio albums (The Clash, Give ’em Enough Rope, the two-CD London Calling, the three-CD Sandinista!, and Combat Rock) supplemented by three discs of bonuses, for a total of 11 CDs. Plus a DVD and a bunch of paraphernalia, including stickers, badges, dog tags, an exclusive poster, and original and new fanzines.

Sony has already gone through the vaults several times before, so there’s a relative scarcity of previously unreleased tracks here: 18. Among the most vital for collectors are more extracts from the Clash’s first recording session (“London’s Burning,” “1977”) and additional Polydor demos from the band’s second session (ditto both songs plus “White Riot”). The DVD — stuffed with live performances, promo videos, and interviews — debuts four numbers from Sussex University in 1977 (“I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.,” “Hate & War,” “Career Opportunities,” “Remote Control”). The remaining unissued tracks (all on CD) are Combat Rock rarities (including the unreleased songs “The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too” and “Idle in Kangaroo Court”) plus three live tracks from London in 1978.

One of the latter, “Jail Guitar Doors,” points up an attraction that shouldn’t be missed: Almost always, the Clash’s non-album B-sides were killer. In addition to “Doors” and “1977,” they include “City of the Dead,” “1-2 Crush on You,” and “Pressure Drop.” No throwaways there.

Clash System photo

(Photo © Adrian Boot)

On the occasion of this celebration, I would also advise purists/naysayers to reconsider Give ’em Enough Rope (sourced here from the original mix masters, never before used for CD). From time to time, there have been complaints that producer Sandy Pearlman both polished and amped-up the band’s sound to win over the American market. I’ve never had a problem with this, and neither should you. For one thing, the material is too solid for any producer to compromise. “Safe European Home,” “English Civil War,” “Tommy Gun,” and on and on — brilliant. For another thing, what’s wrong with richer, louder guitars and drums for early Clash? Nothin’.

Also available today: Hits Back, a new best-of (on two CDs or three LPs), and 5 Album Studio Set, which is just what it says (on eight CDs or eight LPs).

Knopfler Privateering

Other reissues and archival releases

Mark Knopfler: Privateering (Verve)
Originally released a full year ago in the U.K. and Canada, this double album never made it to the States, owing to a dispute between the guitarist and his previous label, Warner Bros. Finally, it appears here on Verve, in three configurations: two CDs, two LPs, or a three-CD Deluxe Edition that includes five live rehearsals: “Why Aye Man,” “Cleaning My Gun,” “Corned Beef City,” “Sailing to Philadelphia,” and “Hill Farmer’s Blues.”

Jo Jo Gunne: The Asylum Recordings, Vol. 1 (Wounded Bird)
     — Jo Jo Gunne + Bite Down Hard
Jo Jo Gunne: The Asylum Recordings, Vol. 2 (Wounded Bird)
     — Jumpin’ the Gunne + So . . . Where’s the Show?
Rank and File: The Slash Years (Wounded Bird)
     — Sundown + Long Gone Dead

Willy DeVille: Live in the Lowlands (Eagle Vision)
     — Blu-ray edition of Amsterdam show, 4 years before his 2009 death
UB40: Live at Montreux 2002 (Eagle Vision)
     — Blu-ray edition

Drive-By Truckers: Alabama Ass Whuppin’ (ATO)
     — reissue of first live album, from 2000
Rise Against: Long Forgotten Songs — B-Sides and Covers 2000–2013 (Interscope)
Various Artists: The Best of Hullabaloo (MPI)
     — four separate DVDs

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