RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS
After last year's detour into Rock N Roll territory, ambitious chameleon Ryan Adams revisits alt-country terrain; this time via his first “full band” collaboration since the Whiskeytown days. Though not one of these 18 tracks match Stranger's Almanac's brilliance, there are some fine moments: the rich harmonies and easy melodies of “Sweet Illusions,” the layered vocals on “Meadowlake Street” that recall Heartbreaker's “Winding Wheel,” the weepy “Now That You're Gone,” and the abundantly hooky “Let It Ride” (featuring pianist/vocalist Rachael Yamagata) and “If I Am a Stranger.” Bypass others derivative of Neil Young, Roy Orbison or The Dead and you end up with about one CD's worth of quality work.
Producers: Tom Schick, Ryan Adams. Engineers: Tom Schick, Tom Gloady. Studios: Loho Studios, New York City. Mastering: Fred Kevorkian.
— Heather Johnson
Mention Weezer to my 11-year-old daughter and she'll launch into a perky version of their latest hit, “Beverly Hills,” with added commentary about the cool video for the song. Hard to believe the lovable, nerdy losers of Weezer have been churning out this kind of hard-edged rock fluff for 10 years, but Rivers Cuomo and Co. have latched onto something appealing with their hook-heavy anthems and self-deprecating love songs. Producer Rick Rubin gives the music a little more punch and sheen than usual, and besides the aforementioned tune, there are several catchy numbers that show both the group's angsty, sensitive side and a sardonic cynicism. There's nothing terribly original about any of it, but at least it feels real, and it does rawk.
Producer: Rick Rubin. Engineers: Chad Bamford, Jim Scott, Ryan Williams (Pro Tools). Mixing: Josh Abraham, Neal Avron, Rich Costey, Alan Moulder. Studios: Cello, Grandmaster, Henson. Mastering: Vlado Meller/Sony NY.
— Blair Jackson
Tsar's TVT Records debut, Band-Girls-Money, is a study in ADD: The majority of the songs are less than three minutes long, and are infused with power-punk time signatures compliments of drummer Chuck Byler and bassist Derrick Forget, driving guitar riffs (thanks to Daniel Kern's deft playing) and Jeff Whalen's Ramones-like vocals. Although the beginning of each song bursts through your speakers as quickly as the last song ended, the album maintains a cohesive wholeness, with each member providing just enough oomph to not overpower his bandmates. If you like the pop leanings of Cheap Trick and the glam stylings of T-Rex and The Dolls, you're sure to enjoy bowing to Tsar — don't forget to go to www.tsar.net to download the first single for free.
Producer: David Katznelson. Recording by Mathias Schneeberger. Studios: Soundcastle Studio, Donner & Blitzen Studios. Mixing: Tony Hoffer at Sunset Sound. Mastering: Brian “Big Bass” Gardner at Bernie Grundman Mastering (Hollywood).
— Sarah Benzuly
Hearing Is Believing: The Jack Nitzsche Story (1962-1979)
One of the more colorful and eccentric characters the music biz has produced, Jack Nitzsche (1937-2000) was an extraordinary producer, arranger, composer and musician; both brilliant and impossible to pigeon-hole. This retrospective doesn't tell the whole story but hits numerous highlights — from his instrumental classic “The Lonely Surfer” through tunes he cut with various pop icons such as Frankie Lane, Bobby Darin, the Righteous Brothers and Jackie DeShannon (his own “Needles and Pins”), and, even better, rock artists such as Marianne Faithfull, the James Gang, Mink DeVille and Graham Parker. Conspicuously missing, however, is Buffalo Springfield's “Expecting to Fly” or anything from Neil Young's eponymous debut album. However, closing with Nitzsche's haunting theme from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” was a very cool touch.
Recorded at a whole mess of different studios by different people.
— Blair Jackson
(Citizen Records/Play It Again Sam)
Driving under the influence of Vitalic's first full-length album, OK Cowboy, is probably not a good idea, but it feels so good to do it. Pascal Arbez-Nicolas, aka Vitalic, has packed his debut album with 13 tracks of gas-pedal-punching beats. Vitalic gets back to the roots of techno. He clearly understands the direction of artists such as Ellen Allien and Chicks on Speed. But they take you on a trip down techno memory lane, while Vitalic takes you for a ride in his macho muscle car straight down the freeway, breaking speed limits and grinding gears along the way. Vitalic's musical muscle is in his synths — synths with raw power. The album also changes lanes occasionally with mellow, trippy, cruising tracks.
Producer: Vitalic. Recorded near Dijon, France. Reworked at ICP in Brussels, Belgium, with Shelle. Mastering: Nilesh.
— Lori Kennedy
Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs
(Righteous Babe Records)
Maybe the third time really is the charm. After the two attempts to track his fifth album didn't produce the right sound, Andrew Bird — a Chicago-based vocalist and multi-instrumentalist — took to his barn in Illinois for another try. And he came out with a work of art that stands with the best albums of the year. On each of the songs, Bird's powerful imagination is balanced by his calm voice, and punctuated by his ethereal whistle and well-constructed layers of instrumentation. Subtle and unique, his songs bring to mind such disparate artists as Wilco, Ani Difranco, Rufus Wainwright and the late Jeff Buckley. Favorite songs include the catchy, dark “Measuring Cups,” the off-kilter waltz “Banking on a Myth” and the image-rich “Skin Is, My.”
Producer: Andrew Bird, David Boucher. Recorded by David Boucher, Dan Dietrich, Mark Greenberg, Mike Napolitano and Mark Nevers in various studios. Mastering: Jim DeMain at Yes Master.
— Breean Lingle