July 10, 2007

CD Reviews

Time On EarthCrowded House(ATO)It seems like forever since Crowded House fell off the map. It was 1994, precisely, though they regrouped for a 1996 farewell in Sydney (recently out on CD and DVD). Much has changed since, but nothing more profound than the loss of drummer Paul Hester, who committed suicide in 2005. As the band was nominally a trio, it may seem odd to reconvene, but this effort proves otherwise. Leader Neil Finn has been productive as a solo act and more recently in tandem with brother Tim, but working with CH bassist Nick Seymour pushes him uniquely.    First cut “Nobody Wants To” deals directly with Hester’s death, and the whole record has an “it didn’t have to happen” feel. But there is no tawdry sentimentality; Neil Finn cannot write crappy songs.    He does weave melody and dissonance like no one else, and he still drops in those beautifully unexpected bridges. He still favors segues into guitar-driven freak-outs, still paints those George Martinesque soundscapes.    This effort won’t get the attention it deserves, but in my book, the return of Crowded House is pure ecstasy. —Cary StemleIt Won’t Be Soon Before LongMaroon 5(A&M/OCTONE)    Maroon 5’s sophomore effort is more like Maroon 2½. Lacking the originality and R&B-twinged jams that made Songs About Jane a top seller, It Won’t Be Soon …  sounds more like something “American Idol” runner-up Blake Lewis would crank out to keep his name on your tongues.    The only gems in the 12-song pool of pity, passion and pathetic pop hooks are the few ballads that let Adam Levine’s voice truly shine. He sings a lot here about losing love, almost like he’s telling story of a doomed relationship from start to finish to the occasional post-breakup hook-up. (Dating all those Hollywood starlets must be quite depressing.) In “Won’t Go Home Without You,” he proclaims It’s not over tonight, desperately pleading for another chance with his lady love. While in “Better That We Break,” he sweetly admits he’s not fine and it’s not OK … and that Maybe we’re better off this way. But in “Back At Your Door,” he gets a case of the lonelies on a Friday night and winds up, to the beat of a ’50s-style doo-wop song, back at your door.     Ding-dong. Are you going to answer? —Sara HavensThe Brag & CussRocky Votolato(BARSUK)The Brag & Cuss makes me want to buy a Chopper and head south, but not the way Judas Priest inspires biker-dom. Rocky Votolato’s record is an accompaniment to a motorized escape from grief, rather than a suggestion of what happens when you mix men, motor oil and leather chaps. Some of the songs sound pretty close to the Nashville formula, including the universal poetic device of booze, but Rocky sells it the way Nashville can’t anymore. There are clear influences in his music: Don McLean, Johnny Cash and, strangely enough, some Meat Puppets in the vocal deliveries, especially the harmonies. You can hear some indication of genuine lyrical and storytelling talent in “The Old Holland,” and we can assume that with more booze and pulmonary weathering, we can expect more good things from Rocky Votolato. —Danny SlatonIcky Thump The White Stripes (V2) What’s interesting about the latest from Jack ’n’ Meg is how songs with minor ambitions are the major successes. Meantime, there’s little lasting impact to be heard from the apparent singles or the novelty duels between Jack White’s guitar and trumpet or bagpipe. I dare you to come up with a better 11 minutes of hard-hitting music than this triptych exploring identity: existential road song “Little Cream Soda” followed by “Rag and Bone” (a sly skit/anthem about garbage-picking) and twisty “I’m Slowly Turning into You.” But it’s buried in the middle of the program. The disc has great hunks of post-Zeppelin attitude like “You Don’t Know About Love (You Just Do What You're Told)” and the acoustic closer “Effect and Cause.” Other tracks, however, border on annoyance when their importance is announced by drums and guitar mixed up to 11, but the songwriting fizzles out. If you’re performing something self-centered, you’d better be able to convey its focus. The Stripes once again show their inconsistency, but, as always, their best moments gloriously surprise and engage. —T.E. LyonsEasy TigerRyan Adams(LOST HIGHWAY)Not counting his collaboration with Willie Nelson last year, this is Adams’ first release since 2005. But clearly the man has not missed a beat.     Easy Tiger is a solid album throughout and is actually one of Adams’ more cohesive efforts. It feels like a soulful sort of patchwork production that is evocative, at times, of Crazy Horse, the Grateful Dead and Gram Parsons’ later solo work.    Though the Cardinals, Adams’ latest musical collective, are not credited on the jacket, they are, in fact, all over this record. And that is all to the good. Together with Adams (and guests like Sheryl Crow and Catherine Popper) they make for an understated yet ass-kicking unit.     Pick this one up on your way to the show. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals appear tonight at the W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway. For ticket info, call 562-0100. —Kevin M. Wilson