Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers • Mojo

Somewhere in the last coupla weeks I read part of someone's review of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Mojo, their first all-new album in eight years. It said something like, "I'm sure the record company heard this at first and thought, 'I don't hear a single,'" and I would have to agree. But that's not really the point with Petty these days, is it? Do you need to hear a radio-friendly, hook-happy toe-tapper from him anymore, or is a solid album of great music good enough?

Mojo falls somewhere in between those two scenarios. The first half of the album is pretty great, and sounds awesome thanks to Petty & Co.'s dedication to high fidelity, with some great tunes. I like the lead cut, "Jefferson Jericho Blues," and the following one, "First Flash of Freedom," and on side 2, "Candy" (not Iggy Pop's icky '90s hit). After that, across the four sides of vinyl that make this an album (or one CD if you'd rather save the money), the pickings feel kinda slim. Strangely, the last cut, "Good Enough," with its slight Screamin' Jay Hawkins tune/vibe, is the next greatest cut, with some wicked soloing from Mike Campbell and some of the Hawkins via John Fogerty voodoo guitar trickery.

But the point is, you probably don't buy a Petty release these days for the hit single. Do ya? You buy it because you can count on his commitment to making good music after all these years. Surely he's no longer part of the machine that produces smash hits to slobbering teens... now he's one of those guys who makes good, reliable rock 'n' roll for slobbering folks in their 30s and 40s. And since I'm in that bracket, I guess you could say that Mojo was made just for me. That being said, I'd give this record a...
3/5 (Reprise)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The La's • Callin' All [box set]

You can generally separate people into two classes: Those who love The La's, and those who've never heard 'em. Okay, that's not really true—but in a fair world it would be. For a band that only made one album, which they wrote off immediately upon release, they've enjoyed a hell of a ride as the poster boys for the age old tale of talented musicians who could't help from shooting themselves in their collective foot. So, twenty years after The La's came out, is it surprising to find a 4-CD box set that comprises all the other versions of songs from their sole album outing that were recorded way back then? It shouldn't be.

Callin' All is two discs of A-sides, B-sides, and outtakes, plus two discs of live recordings, including two complete concerts from 1989 and '91, and a detailed book about why Lee Mavers virtually ran his band into the ground trying to find the perfect takes or recordings of a dozen songs that define indie pop in its most pleasurable form. And that is, songs where great melodies are key, simple, thoughtful lyrics are the keyring, and chiming acoustic and electric guitars are the hasp. [Lord, that is the worst analogy I've ever typed!] Surely you've heard "There She Goes," the song on which what little popularity the band's enjoyed is hung. And chances are, if you're reading this review (and not sleeping at the laptop), you've heard the other great songs that make up their lone LP, produced primarily by Steve Lillywhite from what he thought were the best recordings and takes available. Well, long story short, Mavers was never happy with the album, continued recording the same songs (with big league producers like Bob Andrews, John Leckie, Mike Hedges, and more), and eventually drove his bandmates and fanmates nuts. The band splintered (trusty righthand man and bassist John Power went on to play in Cast), the fans moved on, and poor ol' Lee kept on at it.

This box set is for those of us who can't get enough of The La's and Mavers' raspy-but-right vocal delivery, even if it means shelling out 40 pounds for umpteen versions of "IOU," "I Can't Sleep," "Doledrum," "Looking Glass," and the other brilliant gems that make up the bulk of his songbook. There aren't a lot of major differences in the different takes, but they are a pleasurable lot (and they're different from the ones that make up disc 2 of the Deluxe Edition of The La's), and even if they're a bit much, there are two great concerts and two radio sessions that show what these guys were like in front of an audience. I count myself lucky that I got to see them in the summer of '91 when they played New York City during the CMJ music conference (quite possibly the best perk I got while working at AEI).

It's a real nice box, Callin' All, even if it does look a lot like those two box sets Billy Bragg put out a few years ago (they were initially on the same label), but it's worth the cost and the hunt. Yeah, it may have more versions of "Son of a Gun" than most mortals can stand, but personally I think it's fine if you're in the right line...
4/5 (Polydor UK)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Dream Syndicate • Medicine Show

Did Sandy Pearlman ruin rock 'n' roll? It depends... Is Give 'Em Enough Rope your favorite Clash album? Is Medicine Show your favorite Dream Syndicate record? If your answer to the last two questions is a resolute "No," then the answer to the first question is the sum of the answers to the last two: Yes, Sandy Pearlman ruined rock.

The good people at Water have reissued Steve Wynn's seminal rock band's second LP, and have done a fine job with it. Nice package, good mastering, and the This Is Not the New Dream Syndicate Album... Live! EP plus a bonus live song added on for good measure. Some of Wynn's best songs are here: "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" being one, "Still Holding On to You," and the title track. Trouble is, Sandy Pearlman made the freakin' snare drum so gated and loud, you'd think someone with a gatling gun stuck on extra-slow was firing away in the studio next door. Man, that snare is loud. Now, of course, the early '80s were like that... every album from that era has this, and they all suffer these two and a half decades later. So you gotta deal with it. (The four songs on the live EP from Show don't suffer the snare fatigue, though, so dig in!) Thing is, while Give 'Em Enough Rope was nowhere near as good as the albums that preceded and proceded it, Medicine Show is really good. Great songs (let's not forget "Merrittville") and great playing from Wynn & Co. (Karl Precoda, Dennis Duck, Dave Provost) make it worthwhile. It's not the indie sensation that their first LP was (The Days of Wine and Roses, originally released on Slash), because it's a lot bigger than that. And the '80s was all about big.
3/5 (Water)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

NEWS + The Beatles • Paperback Writer b/w Rain

NEWS: Due to family health issues, I haven't posted anything for a coupla weeks. That'll soon change...

Well, only two months after Record Store Day, the speed demons at Capitol/EMI have finally released the "special" "limited edition" 7" single of my favorite Beatles pairing, "Paperback Writer" b/w "Rain". Ummm, they knew RSD was coming up, I'm sure, and yet, they put this single out in a generic Parlophone 45 sleeve. It's nice, for what it is, but why couldn't they have put it in a picture sleeve? Over the years (and at the time of its inital 1966 release) it's appeared in various pic sleeves (like the ones I have here). Hell, they could have even duplicated the original American generic sleeve and used the '60s orange/yellow "swirl labels. How come no one ever confers with me before doing these things? What they DID do was use the stereo masters of the songs (the original was a mono issue in most territories), which sound very sweet through the stereo.

Here's a memo to the bigwigs at EMI: Next year's Record Store Day is on April 15, 2011 (so I'm told). Start preparing now.
4/5 (Parlophone/EMI)