Songs of the Week
January-June 2005

June 27, 2005

Master of Disaster
John Hiatt
From the June 2005 New West Records album "Master of Disaster"
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No heart-wrenching domestic epiphanies here or socio-political clenched fists -- just a feelgood piece of pure pop goofiness and singalong catchiness, as Dr. Johhny gets his groove back and revels in the sort of clever, irreverent wordplay and killer musicianship that was his pre-Bring the Family forte. I mean, you gotta hand it to a guy who can rhyme "Master of disaster," "ask her," "Telecaster" and "mean old bastard," and still never miss the beat in this ode to, um, the heady early days of the LA punk scene, the middle-aged blues, a long-ago love, and uh, gee, Mexican professional wrestling? Who knows? Who cares? Just play it again...

June 20, 2005
Something Beautiful
Tracy Bonham
From the June 2005 Rounder album "blink the brightest"
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Doncha just dig when the song title more-or-less writes its own review? The lead cut off this classically trained Boston gal's newest release, "Something Beautiful," may have toned down the anger of her earlier work but that doesn't mean she shortchanges emotions. A talented multi-instrumentalist (she plays violin, piano, etc.) who dabbles in a variety of styles (electro-folk, string-laden pop, piano soul and atmospheric synthesizer noodling) and a vocal range that can soar effortlessly from alto to soprano, Bonham refuses to be pigeonholed -- she follows her muse where it leads. This time it leads her to a soaring heart-felt ballad that balances Dylanesque wordplay "Lightweight, too straight, no reaction / I don't care if I'm out of fashion" with a pure, heart-on-sleeve quest for something to devote herself to, be it her lover, her art or perhaps just herself. "I will follow you," she concludes, in a plaintive confessional tone that simply rocks the heart.

June 13, 2005
Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)
Alanis Morisette
From the June 2004 Sony Release "De-Lovely: Music From the Motion Picture"
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Yeah, I know the soundtrack came out over a year ago, but the girl Detective and I only got around to seeing this uneven musical bio pic on DVD recently. But here's a real jagged little pill for the naysyaers to swallow -- the Queen of Angst's sexy sassy romp through this Porter classic is 100% pure fun, a sly, raunchy take on a sly, raunchy tune, a classic arrangement with just a little modern ooomph thrown in. Possibly the sexiest thing Alanis has ever done (and with not a parental warning sticker in sight, yet), it's clear she had a hoot doing this. And damn if the fun isn't contagious.

"Even educated fleas do it"? You bet.

June 6, 2005  
Carry On Regardless
Van Morrison
From the May 2005
Geffen Records album "Magic Time"
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Van the Man struts his stuff with considerable big-shouldered swagger on the closer of his latest, and once again teases us with a glimpse of the lion. It's an ode to perseverance and tenacity and -- for those of us in the know -- a cock-eyed tribute to an unbelevably popular series of nudge-nudge wink-wink British film comedies. Carry on up the Khyber indeed.

May 30, 2005  

From the May 2005 Interscope Records album "Arular"
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Hey, maybe the kids are alright, after all. Maya Arulpragasam, a young musician of British/Sri Lankan/Indian/whatever descent who performs solo under the name of M.I.A., serves up heapin' helpin' serving of funky chunky electronica burps and belches and tribal stomp hip-hop world beats with seriously warped lyrics that at first sound like total Tower of Babel gibberish. But in reality she's "one paranoid youth blazin' thru the hood," delivering a stream-of-consciousness agitprop howl of righteous anger directed at those who deal in -- or profit by -- violence. One of the catchiest bits of pure pop noise, right up there with "Iko-Iko" and "Be-Bop-A-Lula," but it kicks the door off its fucking hinges like the early Clash. "London calling"? "Purple haze"? "BMW"? "Galangalangalang-AH"! "Get DOWWWWWNNNNN"! Here's one chick who ain't workin' for the clampdown.

May 23, 2005  

To come...

May 16, 2005  

To come...

May 9, 2005  
To come...
May 2, 2005  

I Can't Reach You
Petra Haden
From the Bar None album "Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out"
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While the entire album is a treat for Who fans with a sense of humour (Townshend supposedly loves it), the very idea of someone "singing" the Who's classic 1967 tribute to commercial radio and pop musak -- not just the vocals but the guitar, bass, assorted horns and sound effects and even drums -- displays a real set of musical balls. Fortunately, Haden, the daughter of jazz bass great Charlie, has not just the required musical testicles but the chops to pull it off, and makes some damn fun music in the process. She sticks to the original arrangements for the most part, and while some songs work better than others, it's the ballads that really shine, particulalry this one. Haden's vocals fit perfectly with the alternately soaring and cascading melody, adding an ephermal, cosmic quality to this tale of unrequited longing as viewed from a would-be suitor separated by impossible obstacles of age and distance and even time. Haden's world weary lead is surrounded by a chorus of -- thanks to multitracking -- about a million angels, all of whom are Haden herself, of course.

April 25, 2005  

To come...

April 18, 2005  

Why Do You Love Me?
From the April 2005 Geffen album "Bleed like Me"
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Nasty. Shirley Manson rolls in broken glass and defies you to look at her scars in this snarling, ripped-from-the-gut scream in the night. Offering a litany of People Magazine details in this space of the band's myriad problems (both professional and personal) over the last few years would just cheapen the hard bitter truths about self-doubt and self-loathing revealed here. Suffice it to say this is the "Gimme Shelter" of the human heart, raw and fucked-up. And alive.

"Get back up and do it again."

April 11, 2005  
To come...
April 4, 2005  
To come...
March 28, 2004   
Back to Me
Kathleen Edwards
From the March 2005 album "Back to Me"
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Imagine a rootsier Chrissie Hynde mining the alt-country vein, and you've got this battle hymn of the bedroom. A feisty declaration of personal independence aided and abetted by a killer double entendre lyrical hook, it recalls both Joni Mitchell AND Lucinda Williams, not to mention the brass-in-pocket balls and rock'n'roll 'tude of the early Pretenders. She might let you fuck her, Edwards seems to be saying, but you better not fuck WITH her. The fierce acoustic strumming builds up until the band kicks in, and then all hell breaks loose. Make no mistake: this l'il gal from Canada? She WILL have some of your attention. Cos she's special. So give it to her...

March 21, 2004   
Whole Life
David A. Stewart and Paul McCartney
From the January 2005 Coca Cola/Transistor Projexct EP "One Year On: 46664"
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Back from the dead, it's friggin' Paul Sir Friggin' McCartney! The Eurythmics' Stewart once again performs his voodoo that he do so well. First he resurrected Mick Jagger with last year's Alfie soundtrack, and now he's put a well-deserved boot up the ass of the ex-Beatle, whose output for the last few years (decades?) has certainly needed a little, uh, posterial prodding. This tossaway rocker, pulled from one of Nelson Mandela's AIDS in Africa charity EPs, isn't necessarily gonna set the world on fire (although it would be nice if it did -- its "shit or get off the pot" message is always timely), but the sheer joy Paul seems to have just rockin' out suggests there's life in the old boy yet, and bodes well for the upcoming album the Knighted One has been reportedly toiling on. He's alive!

March 14, 2004   
Mercy Now
Mary Gauthier
From the February 2005 Lost Highways album "Mercy Now"

Lucinda, watch out! Exile from Main Street Gauthier sounds like God's been using her life to scrape the shit right off His shoes. She hints at things like alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness, but clings to her faith, making this one of the saddest but most inspirational songs I've ever heard, dark but ultimately triumphant, ending up a prayer for -- what else? -- mercy and a testament to love of (dysfunctional) family, faith and survival. And the way she switches from the personal to the universal in the last verses, begging for mercy for her church and her country, in that great been-there, done-that voice of hers, is as breathtaking as it is moving.

"We dangle in the balance/Between Hell and hallowed ground/But every single one of us/Could use some mercy now."

March 7, 2004   

Catch My Disease
Ben Lee

From the February 2005 New West album "Awake is the New Sleep"
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This one digs into your brain like a KC and the Sunshine Band song (that's intended as a compliment, by the way), and not just because of the lyrical hook. It's the sort of cheesy feel-good summer song that you can't help singing along to, top-down riding to the beach music. We'll probably all hate it by August (po-faced critics will hate it immediately), but right now with the days of sunshine and Coppertone a long ways off, it sounds pretty damn good to me. And that's the way I like it. So open your heart and catch his disease.

February 28, 2005   

Fistful of Love
Antony and the Johnsons
From the February 2005 Secretly Canadian album "I Am a Bird Now"
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Huh? Lou Reed meets Barry Manilow? Man George? The bath house Randy Newman? Elton John drunk? Rufus out-Rufusing himself? Whatever... this campy two-fisted ode to some, uh, hands-on lovin' of the S/M kind has to be heard to be believed. Gleefully over the top, New Yorker Antony's fearless voice swoops and swirls like a male Nina Simone on Viagra and the Johnsons (Ho-ho! Good one!) offer ample muscular support, bumping and grinding things to a slow-burn climax. Faith Hill probably won't be recording it any time soon.

February 21, 2005   

Twista featuring Faith Evans
From the January 2004 Capitol album Coach Carter: "Music from the Motion Picture"
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Don't fear the rap. Even old farts like me can dig this hip-hop prayer for lost comrades and a better life for the living -- and after all, isn't that really what we all want? Twista spits out a long litany of wishes for peace, for justice, for health -- for his children, for his people and for all of us, and Faith Evans' straight-outta-church gospel choruses bring it all home. Most of the soundtrack is predictable hip-hop/jock dick-wagging boasts, but "Hope" is of one of the warmest, most open-hearted cross-over hits in a long time. Maybe one day we can all get along. Like Faith says, "Be hopeful. Take this music and use it."

February 14, 2005   

My Funny Valentine
Rufus Wainwright
From the January 2005 Hear Music release "Sweetheart: Love Songs"
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Starbucks' pet record company delivers another smart, classy compilation, this one a savvy collection of love songs just in time for St. Valentine's Day, full of quirky genre-hopping covers, but the set kicks off with Rufus Wainwright's relatively straight (sorry) and heartfelt treatment of Rodgers and Hart's 1937 standard. Covered by everyone from Chet Baker to Elvis Costello, Wainwright harkens back to Ella Fitzgerald's version, but makes it distinctly his own, and even tosses in the seldom-recorded spoken intro. The boy can sing.

February 7, 2005   

Everybody Hurts
Joe Cocker
From the February 2005 New Door Records album "Heart and Soul"
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The former plumber turned veteran soul man unchains his heart, unleashing his considerable talents on a real barnburner of a standard, R.E.M.'s stone-cold classic ballad "Everybody Hurts." Cocker gets a good grip on it, setting his teeth right in, and not even the bumbling "Everyone into the pool" production by knob twiddler C.J. Vanston can negate the grizzled force of nature that is the voice of the Mighty Joe. Scoff at those who think Cocker's way past his expiry date -- he plays it just right here, starting off slow, letting the song itself dicatate when he should bear down and when he should cut loose. And when he cuts loose, nobody can top him -- or stop him.

Heart and soul? Present and accounted for.

January 31, 2005

We Can Have It
The Dears

There's a great in-joke for Canadians in the name of this Montreal band's lead singer/mastermind, Murray Lightburn,but an even bigger joke is that The Dears' music sounds nothing like typical Canadiana folky singer-songwriter icons Murray McLauchlan, Gordon Lightfoot or Bruce Cockburn. Nope, the influences here are straight BritPop (via Ste. Catherine Street) , all churchy prog-rock synths and chilly machinery, but wrapped around lyrics boiling over with all the heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism of someone breathing in the same air Leonard Cohen did.

January 24, 2005  

When the President Talks to God...
Bright Eyes
A January 2005 Saddle Creek single
Available free from iTunes Music Store

Buddy Miller's take on "God on Our Side" may have been open to interpretation, but there'sd no doubt who Wunderkid Connor Oberst, A.K.A. "Bright Eyes" is pointing the finger at here. He kicks off the New Year right with this stripped-down Dylanesque howl of contempt for the hypocrisies of those who claim to have and an inside track on what the Almighty really wants and . Yeah, he picks the easiest and most obvious target available, but he gets full marks for it from me -- after all, somebody had to say it, and I doubt if it will be Beyoncé. But seriously, is Dubya really any worse than a hundred other moral hypocrites and flip-flopping ethical poseurs in positions of power wrapping themselves in the cloaks of self-righteousness while actually bowing down before the gods of greed and self-interest and intolerance? Apple and iTunes also gets kudos for making this one available for free.

Doncha just love the "deer-in-the-headlights" look?
January 17, 2005  

Wild Horses
Charlotte Martin
From the August 2004 RCA album "On Your Shore"
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I missed this when it came out last summer (so what else is new?) but this stripped-down take on the classic Stones slowburner has lodged in my brain and just won't leave. Almost every chick singer on the planet has covered it (can a Norah Jones version be far off?), but the classically trained singer-songwriter, accompanying herself on solo piano, brings something special to the song: a spooky, understated but dramatic reading that smacks at times of Kate Bush or Tori Amos, but sidesteps the scenery chewing, settling for a moving delicateness. Haunting.

January 10, 2005  

Don't Wait Too Long
Madeleine Peyroux
From the September 2004 Rounder album "Careless Love"
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Coy, flirty and sexy as all hell, this is the sound of a confident, mature woman who knows exactly what she wants, and isn't afraid to show it. Yeah, with its twenties/thirties arrangement and Peyroux's eerie penchant for Lady Day vocal affectations, this song wouldn't have been out of place on a dusty old 78, but that just adds to its saucy timelessness -- and its utter charm.

Does Lenny know about this woman?

January 3, 2005

Go No More A-Roving
Leonard Cohen
From the Sony Album "Dear Heather"
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Lenny, you sly dog! Displaying a lust for life that rockers half (A third? A quarter?) his age don't show, the septegenarian love man casts his spell once more, invoking the spirit (and words) of Lord Byron in this regret-tinged promise to behave (while amply demonstrating thar his mojo's still working). as befits a man of his age, Lenny lays back and lets the female backup singers (all beauties, I'll bet) do most of the work, before unleashing a rake's digression on the travails of age and even perhaps a little nostalgia for the glory days. But Cohen doesn't seem too torn up --he knows the night's still for loving. Tsk-task, and at his age.


Artists and recording companies wishing to send me review and promotional materials should address all correspondance and material to:

Kevin Burton Smith
The Thrilling Detective Web Site
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