The Civil Wars; (Columbia)
This is the follow up studio album to The Civil Wars’ debut Barton Hollow of a couple of years ago that surprised everyone by its unexpected success. Barton Hollow sold in the top 10 Billboard charts and earned a Grammy Award while it also went on to become a No. 1 digital seller.
The Civil Wars is the duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White who up until then were two spectacularly unsuccessful American musicians who met by chance at a songwriters workshop and decided to throw their lot together. Their brand of alt-country, acoustic folk and tight harmonies was not expected to become the big award-winning seller it became.
But the duo embarked on an extended tour that led to a lot of personal problems between the two relatively new performers. As a result Williams and White grew to seriously dislike each other and after the release of this album this week they have subsequently cancelled all future tour dates.
It is a very odd story but one that isn’t all that uncommon when you think about the turmoil that often occurs on the road with ‘artistic’ differences.
Furthermore, this eponymous second album is nowhere near as good as Barton Hollow and I don’t expect it to sell nearly as well as its predecessor.
The duo kept the same producer in Charlie Peacock and he adds a lot of new ‘ambient treatments’ to many songs which don’t add much to these tunes that sound less interesting with less immediate impact.
The sonic FXs sometime drown out the trad fiddles, dulcimer, pedal steel and mandolins.
The Civil Wars often use traditional Appalachian folk structures on their original songs and even apply that to the two slightly more interesting covers of The Smashing Pumpkin’s Disarm and Clarence Carter’s Tell Mama. Sometimes these songs come off as a tad too delicate and precious unlike the massive volcanic ash plume that graces this CD cover that also represents the falling apart of The Civil Wars with internal strife.
Elvis Presley; Elvis At Stax (RCA)
In the early to mid-’70s, Elvis recorded three albums worth of material in his home town of Memphis at the legendary Stax Studios that spawned the likes of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Al Green, Booker T. & The MGs, James Brown, Ike & Tina, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers and hundreds more.
They had a superb house band with great horns and superb backing singers, but more importantly, Stax pioneered the Southern Soul sounds of so many of the aforementioned and created Memphis soul via Stax’s unusual ambiance (the studio was an old theater with a sloping floor).
Anyway, many of those Elvis Stax recordings were released as fill-in songs for other albums such as Raised On Rock, Good Times and Promised Land (the latter hit No. 1 on the country charts) which included pre-released singles, home recordings and other non-Stax studio offerings.
This newly released Elvis At Stax tries to repair all that mismanaged vintage material on this new three-CD set of strictly Stax material and the big bonus for Elvis fans are the many takes that sound superb and are for the most part every bit as good as the original single and album releases—a testament to the marvelous Stax session players.
Elvis enjoyed a few hits in his early 1970s fallow years with a revved up and articulate take of Chuck Berry’s Promised Land, a heartfelt cover of Tony Joe White’s (of Polk Salad Annie fame) I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby, while you gotta love Elvis’ chutzpah on If You Talk In Your Sleep “don’t mention my name.”
Also comes as a single CD set but hard core fans will want the full package.
Wallpaper.; Ricky Reed Is Real (Epic)
A week or so ago One Direction released their new video on the Internet to the cover tune Best Song Ever that earned almost 11 million views in 24 hours, setting a new record.
That song was a minor hit last year for Wallpaper. (they add the ‘ ’ to distinguish themselves from another band simply named Wallpaper) but Wallpaper’s original was actually a euphoric novelty song, titled F***ing Best Song Everr (with 2 r’s) as in: “I’m dancing in the best night club with my best girl to the F***ing Best Song Everr”.
So Wallpaper band leader Ricky Reed will get a huge paycheque for the cover by One Direction even if this self-titled sophomore album doesn’t sell worth a bean.
And, of course, One Direction’s cover is so sanitized you might not recognize it from its origins. Ricky Reed Is Real is almost a concept album about bad choices, mistakes and drinking way too much during boys night out and most of it is done with bratty tongue in cheek.
There is a lot of energy to these gonzo hedonistic club songs that always scream hang-the-consequences on obvious titles like Drunken Hearts, Last Call, Puke My Brains Out and Life Of The Party. One of the key tracks is the knowing WHO RLY CRS with its woozy singalong outro “all the first world problems of all the sad souls” which makes you think that Reed is winking at the suckers who buy into the notion that sodden juvenile delinquency is some kind of rebellion.
In spite of all the party-out-of-bounds songs, Ricky Reed ends this album with the quasi-redemptive mortality song You n Me n Everyone We Know, with “one day we are all gonna go” where I think Reed is also trying to say, in some odd way, that like the Rat Pack of Frank, Dean and Sammy of the ’60s, those brandy snifters were often full of apple juice.
In other words, have a good time but get out alive.