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THIS WEEK

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Ken Richardson Posted: Aug 20, 2013 0 comments

John Mayer: Paradise Valley

New release (Columbia; tour dates)
Photo by Sam Jones

John Mayer takes another journey into the Americana he explored on last year’s Born and Raised. No wonder. Paradise Valley is named for an area not far from his home in Montana, a refuge that obviously gives him great peace, inspiring him to create music that’s closer to the land. And in further evidence that Mayer has turned a new leaf after the hiatus that was necessitated by his throat surgery and his sometimes out-of-control verbal and physical behavior, this new album is all about understatement.

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Ken Richardson Posted: Aug 27, 2013 0 comments

Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 —
Another Self Portrait (1969–1971)

Archival release (Columbia)
Photos by John Cohen

Music publicity is kinda like medical ethics, in these four words: “First, do no harm.” Which makes Columbia’s campaign for the latest Bob Dylan official-bootleg extravaganza all the more remarkable. Self Portrait, you see, was almost universally derided by critics when it appeared in 1970. You might think Columbia would want to avoid that negative history in the press release for The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 — Another Self Portrait (1969–1971). Instead, the headline brandishes these four words:

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Ken Richardson Posted: Aug 06, 2013 0 comments

The Civil Wars: The Civil Wars

New release (Sensibility/Columbia)
Photo by Allister Ann

From great suffering comes great art. So they say.

Need more proof? Just spin the self-titled set from the Civil Wars. It’s the follow-up to their acclaimed 2011 debut, Barton Hollow. There will be no follow-up to this album, however. As The New York Times has reported, Joy Williams and John Paul White aren’t talking to each other.

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Ken Richardson Posted: Jul 16, 2013 0 comments

Court Yard Hounds: Amelita

New release (Columbia; tour dates)
Photo by James Minchin

It’s instructive to remember that Emily Robison and Martie Maguire helped co-found the Dixie Chicks in 1989, a full 6 years before Natalie Maines was invited to join. Oh, and of course, Emily and Martie are sisters. Clearly, they have a bond that won’t break, and they use it to their musical advantage on Amelita, the engaging follow-up to their 2000 self-titled debut as Court Yard Hounds.

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Ken Richardson Posted: Jul 02, 2013 0 comments

In the days around the Fourth of July, the people who run record companies take a lot of time off. They assume you’re more interested in having picnics and watching fireworks than in buying music. Accordingly, this is a customarily light week on the album-release schedule.

Of course, you could always celebrate the holiday by cueing up some “American” albums that have already been released this year, such as Patty Griffin’s American Kid, the Putumayo label’s American Playground, and Willie Nile’s American Ride. Then there’s Wings over America. And don’t forget that bree is an All American Girl.

Yolanda Kondonassis is another American girl (born in Norman, Oklahoma), and if you’d like to hear some American music, you could (with a nod to Tom Petty) listen to her harp:

Filed under
Ken Richardson Posted: Jul 23, 2013 0 comments

Van Dyke Parks: Songs Cycled

New release (Bella Union)
Photo by Roman Cho

This is the first new album credited to Van Dyke Parks alone since 1989’s Tokyo Rose, but the dozen tracks are actually the A- and B-sides of six singles he released on his own label, Bananastan, in 2011 and ’12. Furthermore, whereas four of the A-sides are indeed new-since-1989 original songs (and another track is a co-write), five selections are arrangements of traditional, folk, or classical material, and the remaining two are re-recordings of earlier Parks compositions.

On paper, then, Songs Cycled is a hodgepodge. But when did we ever listen to Van Dyke Parks on paper? Fact is, the 12 numbers miraculously form a coherent whole — an album that, true to its creator’s longtime ambition, celebrates the glorious sound of music.

Filed under
Ken Richardson Posted: Jul 30, 2013 0 comments

Harry Nilsson: The RCA Albums Collection

Archival release (RCA/Legacy)

This week, it’s archival stuff first, folks, prompted by the appearance of this 17-CD set. It has always fascinated me, in a “Yesterday” vs. “Helter Skelter” kind of way, that Harry Nilsson was an artist who could create both the sweet 2-minute tune “Me and My Arrow” and the yowling 7-minute rocker “Jump into the Fire.” But that was indeed Harry, and the full range of his compositional (and interpretive) craft and art can be heard here.

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Ken Richardson Posted: Jul 09, 2013 0 comments

Robert Pollard: Honey Locust Honky Tonk

New release (GBV Inc.; tour dates for Guided by Voices)
Photo by Beowulf Sheehan

When you’re the prolific Robert Pollard and you tend to release dozens of songs each year on multiple albums, one thing is certain (despite what the ultra-faithful think): Not every song on every album is going to be a gem. This is particularly true when you’re being especially prolific — as in the past 18 months, when Pollard has released four albums and one EP with his reunited main band, Guided by Voices, and now three solo albums, for a total of 130 songs, 97 of which he wrote alone and another 13 of which he co-wrote.

That said, more things are certain: The gems are far more prevalent, and typically they’re truly sparkling.

Filed under
Ken Richardson Posted: Jun 11, 2013 0 comments

Black Sabbath: 13

New release (Vertigo/Republic; tour dates)

“What is this that stands before me — again?”

That’s the unavoidable question you’ll ask yourself when you hear “End of the Beginning,” the first track on 13. After all, this song isn’t just Black Sabbath; it’s “Black Sabbath,” the first track on Black Sabbath. That opening to the band’s 1970 debut had quiet, three-plucked-note verses alternating with massive, three-power-chord choruses, all taken at a slow pace until a choppy riff sped us away. “End of the Beginning,” from the original band’s first album together in 35 years, has quiet, four-plucked-note verses alternating with massive, four-power-chord choruses, all taken at a slow pace until a choppy riff speeds us away.

Filed under
Ken Richardson Posted: Jun 18, 2013 0 comments

What you are looking at above is the “cover art” for Kanye West’s new album, Yeezus (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam). In fact, there’s no cover or CD booklet at all, just a sticker on the back of the package with the track listing. This dovetails nicely with Kanye’s mysterious anti-campaign for the album’s release today. He did perform “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” on Saturday Night Live in May, and if those hard-hitting, industrial-sounding tracks are any indication, then Yeezus could be a wowzer.

Still, I can’t stop thinking about that “cover art” and, paradoxically, how much it reminds me of this:

Filed under
Ken Richardson Posted: Jun 25, 2013 0 comments

Willie Nile: American Ride

New release (River House/Loud & Proud/RED; tour dates)
Photo by Cristina Arrigoni

Willie Nile’s latest album may be called American Ride, but he’s been taking us on that journey for more than 30 years now. And although his recording career has had its fits and starts, he’s been on a consistent roll since releasing Streets of New York in 2006. Much of his recent work, starting with the Streets predecessor Beautiful Wreck of the World in 1999, has been earnest and, at times, intense. Now comes Ride, and it’s almost as if Nile is thinking, after all of that admirably hard work, it’s high time to relax, roll down the window, and shoot the breeze behind the wheel.

That said, Nile is an artist who can make shooting the breeze sound like risking it all.

Filed under
Ken Richardson Posted: Jun 04, 2013 0 comments

Various Artists: Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

New release (Hear Music/Concord; tour dates)
Photo of Burnett, Mellencamp, and King by Kevin Mazur

Filed under
Ken Richardson Posted: Jun 04, 2013 0 comments

Various Artists: Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

New release (Hear Music/Concord; tour dates)
Photo of Burnett, Mellencamp, and King by Kevin Mazur

Indiana cabin, mid-1900s: Two brothers argue over a girl. One brother accidentally kills the other, and then the fleeing brother and the girl accidentally drive into a lake and drown.

True story. John Mellencamp learned it after buying the cabin in the early 1990s.

Soon after, Mellencamp got the idea for a musical based on that story. By 2000, he had begun work on the score (both music and lyrics), and he asked Stephen King to write the book.

Filed under
Ken Richardson Posted: Mar 12, 2013 0 comments

David Bowie: The Next Day

New release (ISO/Columbia)
Photo by Jimmy King

This is the best David Bowie album since . . . I'm not gonna go there. Mostly because everyone seems to disagree on just which old album should be put there. But make no mistake: The Next DayBowie's first release in 10 years, is an excellent comeback.

Filed under
Ken Richardson Posted: Mar 19, 2013 0 comments

Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience

New release (RCA; tour dates)
Photo by Frank Micelotta/Picture Group

"If Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin can do 10-minute songs, and Queen can do 10-minute songs, then why can't we?"

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