CD reviews: Nellie McKay, Bob Dylan and more
November 11, 2010
produced by Robin Pappas and McKay (Verve)Just how many people are stuffed into the body of Nellie McKay? Just 28, she can claim roots in both England, where she was born, and America, where she was raised. She is a member of PETA (her song “Columbia Is Bleeding” addresses animal cruelty at Columbia University) and a feminist, but also has a sense of humor (a former stand-up comedian, she titled her first album “Get Away from Me,” a response to Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me”). She has starred on Broadway, and has a small side career in films. Her instruments include piano, xylophone and cello, in addition to her main axe, the ukulele. She’s cute.No surprise, then, that her fifth album, “Home Sweet Mobile Home,” covers a lot of ground: moody rock on “Bruise” and retro-swing on “Dispossessed”; dub beats on “Unknown Reggae” and ’50s balladry on “Coosada.” She handles it all capably, but it leaves you wondering: Who was that masked woman?
(Columbia/Legacy)The treasure I really want to see in the ongoing unearthing of Bob Dylan’s past is the long-promised second volume of “Chronicles,” the memoir series that kicked off in fascinating, unexpectedly revealing fashion back in 2004. A swirl of rumors regarding volume two, including an actual release date for April of 2008, hasn’t led to anything yet.Instead we have to content ourselves with volume nine of the Bootleg Series, and this cushions the blow quite well. “The Witmark Demos,” recorded for the M. Witmark & Sons publishing company, confirm that the young Dylan arrived in New York prepared to change the world of folk music (that is, before he decided a few years later to change the course of rock ‘n’ roll as well). The 47 tracks – almost all of them previously unreleased, though most of the songs are familiar from different versions – on two CDs are bare bones, intended to showcase the songs. Dylan, after all, was at the time known best as the writer of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” a hit for Peter, Paul & Mary. Still they show a writer – and singer – with a different language, a different voice, a different imagination and different emotions than those otherwise evident in folk music.The booklet alone, generous with photos of Dylan – thoughtful, playful, effeminate, smirking, hip, elusive – is practically essential for Dylanologists.Now I want to read Dylan’s thoughts on what was going on back in the early ’60s.
produced by T Bone Burnett (Lost Highway)Earlier this year, Ryan Bingham earned an Oscar for best original song for “The Weary Kind,” which he contributed to the film, “Crazy Heart.” It’s easy to see the makers of the film asking Bingham to custom-write a song that fits with the story of a down-and-out country singer. But with “Junky Star,” the 29-year-old’s third album, he shows that the weary sound comes naturally. On songs like “All Choked Up Again,” “Depression” and “Yesterday’s Blues,” Bingham – working with T Bone Burnett, the music producer on “Crazy Heart” – sounds like the inspiration for “Bad” Blake, Jeff Bridge’s character from the film. His voice sounds like it’s scraping bare earth, and the acoustic guitar and harmonica create a dry, dusty foundation. It effectively creates a mood.
(Royal Potato)The New York instrumental trio Soulive takes one element of ’60s music – the Beatles catalogue – and fuses it with another – old-school organ combo, la Booker T. & the MGs. One problem is that Booker T. got there first; Booker T. & the MGs’ 1970 album “McLeomore Avenue,” recorded at the urging of John Lennon, covered the Beatles, organ-trio-style. Another is that Soulive doesn’t seem to have brought their A-game creativity to “Rubber Soulive.” What we get are run-throughs that often don’t take the material (mid- to late-era Beatles) very far from where they already were, give or take an impressive guitar line from Eric Krasno. More like a high level, all-Beatles jam session than a rethinking of the firstname.lastname@example.org