The Mix Staff Members Pick Their Current Favorites
Warren Zevon: The Wind (Artemis)
Even if this were not the “final” work by one of themost intriguing songwriters rock has produced, it would still beconsidered among Warren Zevon's very best work. As on most of hisalbums, the songs are relatively simple and direct, with minimalornamentation. An astonishing cast of famous friends stopped by to helpout and, alas, to say goodbye, and each adds an interesting stamp tothe affair, whether it's the raucous good-time energy of BruceSpringsteen, dueting on “Disorder in the House,” thealways-evocative guitars of David Lindley and Ry Cooder, or thedistinctive backup vocals of folks like Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris,Don Henley, Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Tom Petty and others.The powerhouse rhythm section of Jim Keltner and Jorge Calderon neverfalters, even when an obviously weakened Zevon does, on occasion. Ofcourse, it's impossible to separate this CD from its real-life subtext— that Zevon was dying of cancer sooner than later — andthat adds a heartbreaking poignancy and drama to the album's manyballads, as well as an urgency to the rockers. This is genuine tragedy:When he sings “Sometimes when you're doing simple things aroundthe house/Maybe you'll think of me and smile” in “Keep MeIn Your Heart,” it isn't the usual lament of a departing lover;it's look ahead to (and back from) the grave. And Dylan's“Knockin' on Heaven's Door” has never sounded morepowerful, as Zevon demands “Let me in! Let me in! Let mein!” over an elegiac chorus of friends. Still, there's plenty ofZevon's trademark humor, irony and self-deprecation to offset theenveloping darkness that's blowing through this album…like thewind. A classic album, and highly recommended!
Producers: Warren Zevon, Jorge Calderon, Noah Scott Snyder.Engineer: Noah Scott Snyder. Additional engineering: Jim Michell, GregHayes, Steve Churchyard, Joe West. Studios: Cherokee, Anatomy of aHeadache, Sunset Sound, The Cave, Groovemasters, Henson Studios,Fancyboy Studios, Masterlink. Mastering: Stephen Marcussen/MarcussenMastering.
— Blair Jackson
Elvis Costello: North (Deutsche Grammophon)
When Elvis Costello signed with PolyGram five years ago, it wasbecause he would be able to record in all of the different genres thathis eclectic muse dictated. Rock 'n' roll, jazz, pop, classical. He is,after all, a musician of many moods. Though it wasn't long beforePolyGram was sucked up by UMG that Costello's deal stuck. So, while hislast effort, When I Was Cruel, was a looped up rock 'n' rolltriumph, North is a string of moving ballads, as sensitive asthey are passionate. Musically, this album has jazz and pop/classicalleanings, with contributions from members of the avant-garde JazzPassengers and the Brodsky Quartet (with whom he made The JulietLetters), as well as longtime Attraction and collaborator,keyboardist Steve Nieve. And North is Costello's quietestcollection to date: a soft, elegant arrangement of strings, keys andhorns that evokes subtle jazz masters like Chet Baker and transportsyou like a moonlit night.
Producers: Elvis Costello and Kevin Killen. Recording engineers:Kevin Killen, Bill Moss, John Bailey. Additional engineering: PeteDoris, Pro Tools editing (one track): Andy Snitzer. Mixing engineer:Kevin Killen. Studios: Avatar and Nola (both in New York City), AirStudios (London). Mastering: Bob Ludwig/Gateway.
— Barbara Schultz
Robert Randolph & The Family Band: Unclassified (WarnerBros./Dare)
On the surface, it might seem strange that the “sacredsteel” movement of gospel groups featuring pedal-steel guitaristswould find such a receptive audience among the jam-band crowd. But whatthe heck: Jamming is jamming and when it's hot, it makes you move.Robert Randolph & The Family Band have actively courted thisaudience and done quite well on the basis of their incredible,sweat-inducing live performances; check out last year's Live AtWetlands CD if you want to hear some scorching steel work. At theirbest, the group is like a gospel version of the Allman Brothers, withRobert Randolph in the Duane Allman role. The new album emphasizesshorter songs, a wider variety of styles (many with secular themes) anda tighter interplay among the musicians — it's proof-positivethat there's more going on here than just jamming. That said, Imiss the abandon of the live performances: the feeling that solos arespinning out of control and may keep going until Randolph — or mybrain — might explode. But as an introduction to an interestingand different-sounding band, Unclassified is still a fine pieceof work.
Producers: Robert Randolph & The Family Band with Jim Scott.Engineer: Scott. Additional recording: Ryan Hewitt. Studio: Cello(L.A.). Mastering: Gene Grimaldi/Oasis Mastering (Studio City,CA)
— Blair Jackson
Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears (LostHighway)
It takes neither a country music devotee nor a skilled musician totruly appreciate Lucinda Williams and her songs. No, all you need is anhour or so without distraction, and World Without Tears, hernewest creation, will invariably burrow itself into the dampest,reddest earth of your body. The depth of World's subject matter— child abuse, suicide, lost love, depression, isolation —is evoked in part by her intelligent, poetic lyrics and a talented castof supporting musicians. But the true power in this album is that shelaid the tracks down live and left them that way. Raw and nuanced,Williams' voice antagonizes us — a reminder nagging our emotionalwounds. From opening track to last, she defines the depths of her love— shows us what we're capable of — while pulling the arrowsfrom her heart.
Producers: Lucinda Williams and Mark Howard. Mixed by Mark Howard.Studio: Real Music Studio. Mastering: Joe Gastwirt/Oceanview DigitalMastering.
— Breean Lingle