Elvis Costello makes another case for song.
Let me first say I’m totally grooving on this record. I didn’t expect to, honestly, because I was itching for Costello to record some of those A Face in the Crowd songs he did on the last tour. While I’d love to sink my teeth into studio versions of “American Mirror” and “Blood & Hot Sauce,” maybe it’s best that Costello released this upbeat “uptown pop” record instead.
Artists like Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello are masters of their craft, and I’m just a greasy schmo. That’s not going to stop me from opining that there are at least two Elvis Costellos – the punkish new wave Elvis, and the Elvis that relishes full album detours into Motown, country, chamber, pop, and experimental music.
These two Elvises finally collide on Look Now, his thirty first album and one infused with sounds longtime fans may find familiar. There’s a hint of Imperial Bedroom in the orchestration of “Under Lime” and “Suspect My Tears,” and more than a little Painted from Memory and North in “Stripping Paper,” “Photographs Can Lie,” and “Why Won’t Heaven Help Me.”
Costello even embraces some The River in Reverse sounds on the rollicking “Mr. & Mrs. Hush” and “Burnt Sugar is so Bitter” – the latter written with Carol King.
Look Now is heavy on characters, some from recent records. As usual, Costello is not afraid to sing from a woman’s perspective – pronouns intact. You can handle that, right?
Costello doesn’t get as experimental as When I Was Cruel or Wise Up Ghost, but there’s something beautifully new about his vocal register in the very Beatlesesque “I Let The Sun Go Down” – a song cut from the same cloth as “Possession” or “You Tripped at Every Step.” He’s in fine voice and never ceases to amaze.
Once again, The Imposters prove there is nowhere Elvis leads that they can’t follow with grace. Drape in some luscious strings, some cheeky background vocals, a horn or two, and you’ve got a little something for everybody. Now about that next detour…
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What Other Folks Are Saying
Pixies Straighten Up and Fly Right
The Pixies demoed over 20 originals and some covers in their upstate NY sessions with producer Tom Dalgety last year, whittling them down to 12 tracks for the new gothic record Beneath the Eyrie. Much of the warts-and-all recording process was captured in the excellent 12-part lead-up It’s a Pixies Podcast. You’ll find no other iconic band pulling the curtain back on their process with the same amount of honesty.
Dalgety has a way of smoothing over Pixies’ rough edges to sometimes exquisite effect. Other times you may miss the rust and crunch of producers Steve Albini and Gil Norton. But it’s not 1988, and this is an older, wiser band with adult aches and pains – and a sudden interest in being less obtuse. Some fans may not be ready to hear Black Francis sing straight-forward lines like “I’m ready for love” and “Last night I was driving around, nothing to do, thinking of you.” Fans of Frank Black, however, may be better prepared. Personas are a bitch. So are rigid expectations.
Folks like to talk about a Pixies “sound,” and there is something certainly recognizable as that, but the sonic arcs between albums only extend a record or two. Surfa Rosa and Doolittle share a sound, but there’s less in common between Doolittle and Bossanova, or between Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde. Indie Cindy (made 23 years later) does pick up where Trompe left off, but the next two records, Head Carrier and Beneath the Eyrie, find the band moving beyond that entirely, even though the DNA is most assuredly Pixies.
Eyrie kicks off with the bubbling “In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain,” a track with no real precedent in their catalog, but another that proves drummer David Lovering is the skeleton holding the body up. Things get a little more traditionally Pixies with “On Graveyard Hill,” even if the lyrics are less esoteric than fans have grown to expect. This rolls into “Catfish Kate,” a downright story song with Black playing narrator Blackjack Hooligan. The track is one of the few on Eyrie to employ that tried-and-true loud/quiet/loud aesthetic.
Guitarist Joey Santiago lets it rip on “Ready for Love,” bringing his new-found sobriety into focus. Perhaps in deference to Joey, the band’s upcoming tour will be dry – no drugs or alcohol. I know it’s not as simple as that, and perhaps Black’s marital woes have something to do with cleaning up for the tour. But wine is all over this record (and the podcast), especially in the tipsy chorus of the Tom Waits-ish “This Is My Fate” and in the poetic refrain of “Silver Bullet.”
“The shade is drawn with stem and vine
Burned in the flame of a man condemned
With venom wine and golden dawn
A silver bullet in the chamber turning”
Bassist extraordinaire Paz Lenchantin gets writing credit on the ’90s-sounding “Long Rider” and sister track “Los Surfers Muertos,” which pay homage to a fellow surfer that lost her life carving the waves. “St. Nazaire” throws a raucous bone to fans, with a story steeped in the type of seaweed-covered mythology Pixies die-hards know well. It’s not as delightfully unhinged as “Planet of Sound” or “Blue Eyed Hexe,” but it’s a welcome bit of aggro.
Inspired by Black nearly driving into a deer on the way to the studio, the sprawling “Daniel Boone” slowly swells into a version of Pixies that fans have yet to meet. There’s a slow beauty to the track that resembles some of the quieter moments on Indie Cindy, but not hardly as compressed.
Eyrie ends with another ‘tranquilizing drink,’ “Death Horizon,” a mid-tempo ditty that puts the finishing touches on what may very well be a break-up record for Black Francis. In that way, it feels like Black has shed his personas and fronted the band as his true self, Charles Thompson, for the first time. It’s who he was all along.
RAPSODY – EVE
Eve must’ve bit into an apple off of the LYRICAL tree with the type of seeds Rapsody is spitting on this album! Each of the 16 branches from this sequoia is worth your time and attention. She’s praising, reflective, educating and entertaining at the same damn time!
The words that constantly sprout from the soil of her nurturing production team lets us know the work has been put in. The fruits of her labor are abundantly clear when you grasp the content of her art musically and visually. A perfect example of this combination is on full display in Ibithaj feat. D’Angelo and GZA.
But her cameos don’t end there! The features in this forest make sense and keeps the proper balance within this ecosystem. The biggest challenge you’ll find when camping out in these woods will be choosing the best collaboration.
Oprah feat Leikeili47 is the type of the track that will keep your necks nodding from beginning to end. But I can easily say the same thing about Maya feat K. Roosevelt which is also a certified banger!
There’s more than a handful to mention here, but I want you to do yourself a favor and find those other gems after you cop the album. Here’s a hint…Rapsody also trades bars upon bars on a couple of other standout tracks with J. Cole and the Queen herself…Latifah!
Despite Rapsody’s last outing (Laila’s Wisdom) being great in itself, she managed to raise the bar yet again with Eve. Her words are inspiring, refreshing and unapologetically poignant. EXACTLY what we need to hear right now!
Keep your ears and eyes open for BIG KRIT’s “From The South With Love Tour” with special guests Rapsody & Domani Harris. It’s sure to be as memorable as the first offering below from her gift basket of treats.
New Music: Sleater-Kinney’s The Center Won’t Hold
Fans of post-punk icons Sleater-Kinney have had a lot to react to since they got back together in 2014 after an eight year hiatus. They released a boxed set, and two studio and one live record since then, while singer/songwriter Carrie Brownstein made a splash in Portandia and via her memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.
The three-piece return with the divisive The Center Won’t Hold produced by St. Vincent, which traipses across a very different sonic landscape than previous records. It’s more electronic than Riot-Grrl, but Sleater-Kinney are more about finding a sound than perfecting one. With St. Vincent at the knobs, things get decidedly Big 80’s, to the delight of critics and the dismay of hardcore “fans” who’d rather hear the first few records replicated ad infinitum. That drummer Janet Weiss left the band right before the tour due to creative differences thickens the plot, but give it a listen and decide for yourself.
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