CD reviews we couldn’t fit into Saturday’s paper — Martha Wainwright, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Donald Fagen, Benjamin Gibbard, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Pinback
“Come Home to Mama” (Cooperative Music)
2012 is the year of the Wainwrights.
Rufus Wainwright gave us a smooth, poppy record with the Mark Ronson-produced “Out of the Game,” and now his little sister delivers a top-notch album with her third CD.
On “Come Home to Mama,” Martha Wainwright acknowledges there were two main sources of inspiration for the album: becoming a mother and becoming motherless.
The album gets its title from the song “Proserpina,” a track written by her mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle. It was the last song McGarrigle wrote before she died in 2010. Her daughter’s version uses simple piano chords and strings, and its simplicity keeps the focus on the song’s touching lyrics and Wainwright’s soft vocal range.
Another highlight is “All Your Clothes,” a beautiful open letter from Wainwright to her mother with lyrics like: “The baby is doing fine, my marriage is failing, but I keep trying” (Wainwright gave birth to her son in 2009).
Wainwright’s voice works nicely on songs that take on an electronic direction, like “Four Black Sheep” and “Some People.” The latter is littered with emotional conflicts as she sings “I don’t love the way I used to” and “If only I believed in God, then I would ask God to help me find my way.” Honesty like that makes “Come Home to Mama” a must-listen.
— Sian Watson, Associated Press
RICKY SKAGGS & KENTUCKY THUNDER
“Music To My Ears” (Skaggs Family Records)
Ricky Skaggs — who played FloydFest in July — made Bill Monroe a promise, not long before the “father of bluegrass music” died in 1996, that he and others would keep the music alive.And, not long after that, Skaggs returned to bluegrass in a big way after years of success in country music. But bluegrass purists continue to be a little dismayed that country seems to be creeping back into his bluegrass.
They’ll note that “Music To My Ears” features bagpipes on one cut, a piano on another, an electric guitar on two and a keyboard on three.
But the rest of the listening audience will just concentrate on some good (mostly) bluegrass music.
As always, Skaggs pays homage to the old songs – Kirk McGee’s “Blue Night,” Don Stover’s “Things In Life,” Carter Stanley’s “Loving You Too Well” and Jimmy Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud” (a tribute to the late Doc Watson). But happily, he also introduces new material as well.
“You Can’t Hurt Ham,” which Skaggs wrote with Gordon Kennedy, pays homage to the ham that early entertainers like Monroe and “Uncle” Dave Macon took on the road with them and kept eating even when it got moldy. And “Soldier’s Son” pairs Skaggs with Barry Gibb (yes, that Barry Gibb) in a duet on a song written by Gibb and two of his children – Stephen and Ashley.
That’s definitely a surprise.
Another strong album by one of bluegrass’ top performers, a man who’s been playing the music for more than half a century now.
Can’t find it in stores? Try www.SkaggsFamilyRecords.com.
— Keith Lawrence, Owensboro (Ky.) Messenger-Inquirer
“Sunken Condos” (Reprise)
Maybe this was a fun album to make, with no need for metaphysical weightiness or pondering. That would make this record one that straddles the line between pleasure and perfection.
All in all, the end result may not be the sheer sonic thrill that we would come to expect from someone who had the brains behind “Aja,” but is actually quite groovy to listen to: to crib a message from one of the song titles, “Sunken Condos” might not be prime Donald Fagen-related material, but it’s still “Good Stuff,” even “Very Good Stuff.” At this point, that’s probably all we can ask for.
— Zachary Houle, PopMatters.com
“Former Lives” (Barsuk Records)
The Death Cab for Cutie frontman steps out with a solo effort that works best when he falls back on the high-concept lyrical daring of his earlier work.
Songs like “Teardrop Windows,” “Broken Yolk in Western Sky,” and “Bigger Than Love,” an F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald-inspired duet with Aimee Mann, hint at how good “Former Lives” could have been had Gibbard simply indulged his storyteller side.
It’s on these songs that the distinctive, high-concept Benjamin (or “Ben,” as we used to call him) Gibbard of the past – the one who wouldn’t blink at spending a whole verse pontificating on a tear in a dress or, as it turns out, writing an entire song about a building’s hurt feelings – makes himself known.
— David Bloom, PopMatters.com
GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR
“’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” (Constellation Records)
The 10-year wait for “!Allelujah” probably raised a lot of questions. Would there be any substantial changes to Godspeed’s core sound? Would the band still have “the edge?”
The latter is of considerable importance given they began their hiatus in 2003 after “Yanqui,” which while not bad was the weakest of their career at that time. Fortunately, “!Allelujah!” is a solid example of a band that hasn’t lost any of its compositional uniqueness. Godspeed requires patience, as the songs burn slow into bombastic climaxes, but once the music has picked up, it’s relentless.
“!Allelujah” captures the greatness that made the band such a force back at the turn of the century in a new and invigorating way.
— Brice Ezell, PopMatters.com
“Information Retrieved” (Temporary Residence Ltd.)
Pinback is either the quietest rock band working, or the loudest pristine pop band working. Whichever it is, the fact that Rob Crow and Zach Smith derive so much muscle and power from so little reliance on volume has always been remarkable, and that amazing restraint has reached an impressive new peak on “Information Retrieved.”
As the band’s albums become more ornate, or rather more glossy in their texturing, it’d be easy for them to fall into either toothless sheen or blaring day-glo decibels. On the new album, they do neither. Instead, they continue the slow growth of their sound, but this time it’s just a little different.
— Matthew Fiander, PopMatters.com