June 19, 2007

CD Reviews (6-20-07)

Memory Almost FullPaul McCartney(STARBUCKS/HEAR MUSIC)Forty years ago this year, Paul McCartney asked us the musical question, Will you still need me when I’m 64? Judging by his latest CD, the answer is … not really.    As the title indicates, the album finds Paul McCartney in a reflective mood. Unfortunately, this is Paul McCartney doing the reflecting, so instead of insights into the joy and pain of his life, we get silly love songs that are only ankle deep. Consider the lyrics of “You Tell Me,” a ballad sang in a painful falsetto that asks: When was that summer of a dozen words?/The butterflies and the hummingbirds flew free/Let’s see/You tell me.    There are a few signs that McCartney still has some gifts for pop. “Only Mama Knows” is a rocker that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Wings album, and the five-song suite that closes the record has a few sparks of inspiration. But overall, Memory Almost Full feels like so many of the albums released in the past decade by his ’60s contemporaries: a tossed-off placeholder before the next tour. —Rob MattheuDjin DjinAngelique Kidjo(RAZOR & TIE)It’s nearly impossible to find fault with Angelique Kidjo’s latest release. The album, an explosion of world music, R&B and soul, pairs Kidjo’s phenomenal talents with guests including Alicia Keys, Branford Marsalis, Joss Stone, Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana and Josh Groban.    A return to her Beninese roots, the title Djin Djin refers to the sound of the bell that greets the beginning of daybreak in Africa. And what a new day it is. Kidjo’s creative and inspirational arrangements provide a fresh and unique perspective, as the record runs the gamut from fusing traditional world music sounds with Rolling Stones rock on an electrifying cover of “Gimme Shelter,” to a fantastical take on Ravel’s “Bolero” on “Lon Lon.”    Together with the gift of her music and her gift of giving back, Kidjo, a four-time Grammy nominee and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, makes Djin Djin another fine chapter in a long and varied career. —L. ParkThe Kid from Gillette, WyomingThe Campbells(AMERICAN CHEESE/WALL OF SPIKES)I’ve always been in love with the idea of family bands, so the fact that they are a family band is probably why I’m slightly charmed by The Campbells’ debut record. The Kid from Gillette, Wyoming isn’t particularly great — it sounds like the music on “LIVE MUSIC & $7 PITCHER NITE” at any bar in the Midwest. It isn’t particularly imaginative, either. The titles are things like “Remember When,” the cover art is a simple photograph of a blue sky, the instrumentation is your standard guitar/bass/drum. The compelling thing about them, though, is that they are a family, and their affection for each other shines through in their songs. Although I can’t really see it having a place in anyone’s record collection, The Campbells would make great background music for the slideshow your aunt made for your family reunion. Earnest, unpretentious and innocuous, I have no harsh words for the Brothers Campbell, but if I never heard from The Kid From Gillette, Wyoming again, I wouldn’t be upset. —Kirsten SchofieldSixGretchen Witt(SELF-RELEASED)From the first words uttered on Gretchen Witt’s EP, Six, the listener is immediately brought back to that folksy heyday of the early 1990s with songstresses like Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky and Victoria Williams. Dar Williams’ earthy voice quickly registers, but what puts Witt alongside those accomplished songwriters is her ability to spin a phrase with such humor and honesty that you can’t help being brought into her world. Songs with unending earnestness, like “Soft Spot,” seem to fall short in comparison with the brilliant wordsmithing you hear in “Sunday Night.”    It’s in this, her revisionist “Cinderella-as-Everyman” story, that you begin with the Bridget Jones-esque protagonist telling herself that it is Sunday night, and she’s missed it all. But through her brilliant monologue, this protagonist comes to embrace a reality in which nothing is predetermined. —Patrick MulloyThe Essential John DenverJohn Denver(RCA/LEGACY)There’s absolutely no good reason for this collection to be released now. No, and especially not as a two-CD set. There’s nothing “freak” in his “folk” — for Devendra Banhart or Joanna Newsom to cover one of his songs wouldn’t be fun or kitschy, and besides, it just won’t happen.    I’m sure of only a few things in life — like, Barack Obama will not be elected president in ’08, but my love of fish tacos will continue to increase — and none of today’s fashionable musicians will pay any sort of tribute to John Denver anytime soon.    In fact, they already did seven years ago, when a tribute album was released featuring Louisville’s own Bonnie “Prince” Billy, among other independent spirits. Hey, I like John Denver pretty good (and this isn’t the first time I’ve been paid to mention that in print in the 21st century), but just like his fellow sweater-wearers Jimmy Carter and Mr. Rogers, you already have your opinion. —Peter Berkowitz