Breaking away somewhat from his rep as the latest “new Dylan” (a mantle he wears better than most), Sacramento, Calif., singer/songwriter Jackie Greene hands over the production reins for this — his major-label debut after a few indie discs — to Steve Berlin (see the April 2006 “Producer's Desk”) with stunning results. Stylistically, this album covers a lot of ground, from all-out rockers to hard, bluesy rambles to introspective acoustic guitar — based tunes. But there's overall intelligence and unity of purpose coursing through all these songs that make them feel like different snapshots of the same person — which they are, of course.
The main band — Val McCallum, Davey Faragher and Pete Thomas (ably assisted by the likes of Berlin and steel-guitar titan Greg Leisz) — sound like they've been playing with Greene forever, and Greene adds much to the brew with his sturdy fingerpicking and varied keyboard textures. Nearly all the songs deal with the beauty, misery, mystery and complications of the human heart — in “Love Song; 2 a.m.” he wonders about the allure of a female friend: “Maybe it's the perfume that I know she doesn't wear/Maybe it's the way she dances when she thinks there ain't nobody there.” Then on the very next song, he tells his girl, “Maybe it's just better that you never stay/I love you more while you're walking away.” Good stuff. And if “new Dylan” is what you're after, check out the epic “Supersede,” which sounds like it could've been lifted from Blonde on Blonde — and has that kind of power, too.
Producer: Berlin. Engineer: Mark Johnson. Mixers: Robert Caranza, Chris Shaw. Recording Studios: Sage & Sound, Sonora Recorders, Redstar (all in Hollywood). Mixing studio: Glenwood Place (Burbank, Calif.), Avatar (New York City). Mastering: Robert Hadley/The Mastering Lab (L.A.).
— Blair Jackson
EAGLES OF DEATH METAL
Death By Sexy
Take one part T. Rex, one part Death From Above 1979, add a sprinkling of AC/DC, and you have the Eagles of Death Metal. The sophomore release from this fast-livin,' hard-rockin' band — aptly titled Death By Sexy — is frenzied, sleazy rock at its finest. The album's scuzzy flavor seems to be the result of an unholy union between catchy '70s rock and a large helping of methamphetamines. From the devilish laugh that opens the album to the revival-style hand claps and “praise God!” lyrics that close it, Death By Sexy oozes with flirtatious fun, all while teasing your ears with come-hither cock rock. If this album doesn't make you dance and throw mad devil signs in the air, then you must be dead. Really. See a doctor.
Producer: Josh Homme. Engineer: Alain Johannes. Studios: Downtown Recordings (New York City), Rekords Rekords/Ipecac (Orinda, Calif.), Sound City Studios (Van Nuys, Calif.). Mastering: Johannes/11AD Studios (L.A.).
— Lori Kennedy
MATTHEW SWEET AND SUSANNA HOFFS
Under the Covers Vol. 1
Power popster Matthew Sweet and former Bangle Susannah Hoffs are obviously having a great ol' time on this intoxicating CD of well-known and relatively obscure cover songs from the '60s by the likes of Neil Young (“Cinnamon Girl”), The Beatles (“And Your Bird Can Sing”), Love (“Alone Again Or”), Bob Dylan (“It's All Over Now, Baby Blue”), the Beach Boys (“The Warmth of the Sun” — great choice!), the Velvet Underground (“Sunday Morning”) and several others. The harmonies shimmer and glow, the guitars ring and chime and crunch in all the right places, and though there is an overall faithfulness to many of the original arrangements, there are also a million little imaginative twists and touches. As usual, Sweet is not afraid to really ladle on the layers of aural bliss.
Producers: Sweet and Hoffs. Engineered and mixed by Sweet. Studio: Lolina Green (L.A.). Mastering: Bob Ludwig/Gateway Mastering (Portland, Maine).
— Blair Jackson
BUILT TO SPILL
You In Reverse
There is something interesting that always results when a band locks itself in a garage and just jams — some sort of altruistic meeting of the creative minds that inevitably produces a CD that oozes a “homegrown” feel. Despite a lack of polish, Built to Spill's (Doug Martsch, singer/songwriter, guitar; Brett Nelson, bass; Scott Plouf, drums; Jim Roth, guitar; and Brett Netson, guitarist) latest release, You In Reverse, is cleanly recorded, with straight-up guitar hooks, enchanting lyrics and no-frills drumming. It is this sort of simplicity that draws so many music aficionados to Built to Spill, those who are looking for a simpler time drawn by music that sounds like it was etched straight onto vinyl. Whether genre-hopping through new wave, reggae or straight ‘60s rock, You In Reverse keeps it simple, keeps it fun and always keeps it homemade.
Producers: Built to Spill, Steve Lobdell. Engineer: Jacob Hall. Studio: Lobdell's Audible Alchemy (Portland, Ore.).
— Sarah Benzuly
Love & Fear
After decades in the business and 19 albums, Tom Russell has taken his poignant folk songs to a new level. Into the mix of dust, tears, acoustic strumming and well-realized characters that typically populate his wonderful story-songs, Russell and co-producers Gurf Morlix and Mark Hallman have added a startling, dangerous quality. Vocals are deeper and more tense, drums are out front, and lyrics are darker. There's still plenty of evidence of Russell's talent as a balladeer, but with sinister poetry like “There's a Mexican dead on a power line/He's deader than yesterday's communion wine” (from the song “Stealing Electricity”), Russell seems (it's never too late) to have discovered his inner Nick Cave. It's out of the coffeehouse and into the bars for this eloquent singer/songwriter.
Producers: Tom Russell, Gurf Morlix, Mark Hallman. Engineers: Gurf Morlix and Mark Hallman. Studios: Rootball and The Congress House (both in Austin, Texas).
— Barbara Schultz