Jim Cuddy: Skyscraper Soul [Warner]
This is the third solo album from Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. I have somewhat enjoyed his previous albums but I must admit I found them just a tad too predictable and samey-sounding with their folk country leanings that were too even tempered.
They are both now in my sister’s CD collection.
So nothing prepared me for this superb new outing where Cuddy equals any and all of his finest albums with Blue Rodeo and I would have to say that Skyscraper Soul is one of the best albums I have heard this year. I am willing to bet it shows up on many critic’s “Best” albums lists at year end.
The song craft is amazingly high over the entire 14 tracks and Cuddy sports a superb band that includes only one Blue Rodeo member in Basil Donovan who plays bass as usual.
This disc is produced by Colin Cripps along with Cuddy and it is a match made in heaven with many surprising sounds.
There are too many highlights but I particularly loved the Hugh Masakela horn meets The Mersey beat Zombies B3 and keyboards of Watch Yourself Go Down.
Meanwhile, Cuddy experiments with some bluesy funk and jazz on the magnificent Water’s Running High while he offers up plenty of rootsy No Depression alt-country as we have come to expect.
But the quality of the songs is uniformly excellent with the pop groove of Regular Days and the U2/Wilco/REM flavours of the winning lead off title track.
Cuddy has been getting lots of airplay on country radio for his enthralling narrative Everyone Watched The Wedding while Cuddy proves to be a hopeless romantic on solid songs such as the Bob Dylan-styled With You and the string-accented What Is Wrong that brought old Brinsley Schwarz pub rock music to mind.
Again, Skyscraper Soul is easily one of the best albums of this year and I wonder if I can scoop my sister’s two previous solo releases because they probably need a whole re-evaluation.
Note that Cuddy and crew are playing here, at the Kelowna Community Theatre, on Jan. 10.
Evanescence have released only their fourth album in nine years but moreover, this self-titled disc is only Amy Lee and the band’s second studio album in five years. To say the anticipation was pent up would be an understatement but Evanescence have fallen to the same prey as recent albums by Tony Bennett, Fiest, Lady GaGa and Blink 182 in that they can’t push Adele out of the top spot—now at 34 weeks and running.
Anyway, I don’t expect this new eponymous CD from Evanescence to stick in the top 10 for very long. Although they have been missed, the music on this new album is too broad a pig wallow in far too familiar styled goth-rock songs.
Just about every tune starts with an ethereal, otherworldly drone before the quasi-metal buzzed guitars kick in and Amy Lee always takes a folky break midway in almost every tune—think Sandy Denny from Led Zep VI.
The word pain is in nearly every song where the possibility of ever finding true love is nil in the goth realm even if Lee’s mascara never runs because of her crocodile tears.
The overly compressed sound makes most of these songs too loud at any volume while there is a lack of variety in these crawling, plodding tunes.
But after 11 laborious tracks of pure emotional misery, guess what happens on the final tune. Yes, Lee finds love with an acoustic ballad making you wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place.
Trust me, here today and gone tomorrow.
THE B-52s: Live In
Athens Georgia [Eagle]
The B52’s, the little college band out of Athens Georgia went from frat parties to one of the biggest party concert acts of the last generation with indelible hits like Love Shack, Roam, Rock Lobster and Planet Claire.
But I was surprised to discover that this new disc, subtitled Party With The Wild Crowd!, is their first concert recording given that they are such a great live band.
There are 18 classics on this solid gig set that features the superb bass groove of newcomer Tracy Wormworth (evidently, her real name). But the real kick here for this campy kitsch band is the sheer energy they put into the performances recorded in front of a hometown crowd who were really caught up in the moment.
Hank Crawford: Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing [Sony]
CTI Records is celebrating 40 years in the business with some ultra cool re-releases such as this absolute gem from jazz sax man Hank Crawford.
This is the first time that Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing has been released on CD and it is a delight from beginning to end even if the label might have dug up some unreleased material to go along with this original five-song album.
Crawford is as much an old school R&B, soul man as he is a jazz master and his ample skills are wholly evident on this fine re-issue, as is the importance of the influence of Stevie Wonder on music of the ’70s as can be heard on the two covers with the title track and All In Love Is Fair.
A delightful little bonbon that features greats such as Bob James, Ron Carter, Hugh McCracken, Randy Brecker, etc.