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brokenbells.comBROKEN BELLS

The Shins’ lead singer James Mercer and Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, have joined forces for the ultimate musical dream team that has indie rock fans bursting with joy. Mercer, whose beautifully warm, ethereal vocals raised The Shins’ indie profile to near devotion, and Burton, one-half of Gnarls Barkley who topped the charts with “Crazy” in 2006, are an unlikely pair that has created a beautiful piece of work. Things kick off with “The High Road”, a song that resonates with techno notes lightly dabbled in and around Mercer’s sweet melody while “Sailing To Nowhere” ping-pongs between the simple squeaking of an acoustic guitar and crashing cymbals. What makes Broken Bells work is Danger Mouse’s restraint. Known for his bombastic sampling and orchestrations, Burton allows Mercer’s vocals to lead the way while the combinations of organ, drums, guitar, bass, synth and a full string section fill in the open areas around him. There is something so magnetic about Mercer’s voice (especially on “Vaporize” and “October”) that pulls listeners in, it is an absolute shame that Broken Bells’ debut lasts less than 40 minutes. Here’s hoping the two continues their mesmerizing, genius union.


johnnycash.comJohnny Cash

The last of Johnny Cash’s collaborative work with producer Rick Rubin is out. Sad that this is the final music we’ll ever hear from the great country legend who died in 2003. But a joy to know there is more material left to hear. Sounding weaker than previous “American” efforts, Cash is in full control of expressing heartfelt emotions on 10 songs that center on just one theme…death. He sings of its arrival on “I Don’t Hurt Anymore”, on it’s intrusion on “Ain’t No Grave” and what comes after on “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound”. A calculated move on Rubin’s part, sure, but what else should a legend of Cash’s stature sing at the end of his life? First love? Without being morbid, it works, and his sweet cover of the Kris Kristofferson-penned “For The Good Times” lightens any funereal mood. As with any Cash record, spirituality and religion more than hover with “I Corinthians 15:15” and the baptismal “Cool Water”. And just when you think you’ve got the man and the myth figured out, “American VI” wraps up with a surprise…Cash singing “Aloha Oe”, a brilliant wink that’ll have you smiling through the tears.  



petergabriel.comPeter Gabriel

Not your typical covers album, “Scratch My Back” is the first in a series of song exchanges Peter Gabriel has with a dozen musicians, where he records their work with only an orchestra and vocals…no drums…no guitars. And they in turn, tackle one of his songs.  It’s a brilliant idea for one of the most gentle and emotive of voices to cover other material and a goldmine for the 12 artists to pick through Gabriel’s gem of a catalog. “Scratch My Back” kicks off with David Bowie’s “Heroes” (sadly Bowie declined to partake in the exchange) and transforms it in to a dramatic dirge. Gabriel tackles Paul Simon’s “Boy In The Bubble”, Lou Reed’s “Power Of The Heart” and Magnetic Fields “The Book Of Love”. His take on Randy Newman’s classic “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” will have you in tears. Gabriel finds a kindred fit with Bon Iver’s haunting “Flume” while Bon Iver takes on “Come Talk To Me”, which explodes with layers of heavenly vocals. What Gabriel does to these songs is to slow them down, strip them clean and elevate the lyrics over the melody revealing a deeper meaning. The result is cinematic and simply extraordinary. 


SHE & HIM “VOLUME 2” (Merge Records, $15.98)
sheandhim.comShe and Him

Actress Zooey Deschanel and musician M. Ward return with “Volume 2” of their musical collaboration. More happy, poppy, Phil Spector saturated tunes from the pair that often creep towards saccharine overload. The he sings/she sings cover of NRBQ’s “Ridin’ In My Car” had a Pitchfork reviewer calling it “hipster “Grease”” (Ouch!), while the multi-layered harmonies and glistening piano on “Don’t Look Back” lifts each and every note from a Beach Boys playbook. Even when she’s singing about a broken heart, like on the opener “Thieves” and “Over It Over Again”, Deschanel’s “sunny”-ness overwhelms any melancholy. But halfway through “Volume 2”, the over-produced kitsch dissolves and “Me and You”, an acoustic guitar-led track, returns She & Him back to what makes their partnership so special. Simplicity. The best song, “Brand New Shoes”, is a lovely, subdued waltz. “If You Can’t Sleep” wraps things up with Deschanel sounding like a musical Tinkerbell who fell out of a Disney movie. Deschanel writes with a Hollywood musical heart and composed all but two of the songs, the NRBQ track and “Gonna Get Along Without You Know”, a Top Ten hit for country-pop singer Skeeter Davis. 




THE CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS “GENUINE NEGRO JIG” The Carolina Chocolate Drops(Nonesuch, $15.98)

North Carolina string and jug band musicians Rhiannon Giddens, Justin Robinson and Dom Flemons have revived the tradition of black string music that rose to prominence in the 1920s and 30s. Clocking in at just 38 minutes, “Genuine Negro Jig” easily elevates songs that originated in minstrel shows out of their controversial past because the trio is a generation away from the last African-Americans who truly struggled. Classic tunes like “Trouble in Your Mind” and “Cornbread and Butterbeans” sit alongside Tom Wait’s “Trampled Rose” and the urban classic “Hit ‘Em Up Style”, which in The Drops’ hands, transforms in to a surprisingly, authentic knee-slapper. 


JAKOB DYLAN “WOMEN + COUNTRY” (Sony, $11.98) jacob dylan

Jakob Dylan has joined forces with singer Neko Case and her longtime co-conspirator in vocals Kelly Hogan for what Dylan is calling his first country effort. It’s a watered down version of “country” as are the contributions of Case and Hogan, two extremely formidable belters who are relegated to subdued backup singers. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, Dylan is so laid back he sounds like a worn out Bruce Springsteen (especially on “Nothing But The Whole Wide World”) so Case and Hogan have no choice but to be restrained. The idea of the trio singing in unison, especially on “Everybody’s Hurting”, is nice in theory and we can only hope their live shows this spring deliver more life than this recording.


THE JAYHAWKS (A.K.A. “THE BUNKHOUSE ALBUM”) (Lost Highway, $10.00) The Jayhawks

Lost Highway has re-released the 1986 self-titled debut from The Jayhawks, the Minneapolis band at the front of the now-near three decades old alt-country movement. Marking its first time on CD, the band’s then label, Bunkhouse Records, produced only 2000 copies on vinyl, making it a long lost, obscure rarity. Fans will re-discover thirteen tracks that underscore Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers influence. Songs like “Falling Star”, “The Liquor Store Came First” and “Tried and True” are rare cuts The Jayhawks hardly ever perform live. The good news continues…future reissues of other Jayhawks records are currently in the works.  


WILSON PICKETT “FUNKY MIDNIGHT MOVER: THE STUDIO RECORDINGS Wilson Pickett(1962 – 1978)” (Rhino Handmade, $99.98)

For the first time, the rough, soulful voice of Wilson Pickett is wrapped up in an impressive 157 tracks recorded before and during his time on Atlantic Records, a period that included two of his biggest hits, “Mustang Sally” and “In The Midnight Hour”. Pickett was a defining voice of 60’s soul but displayed ease in tackling other genres. In 1969, Pickett hooked up with then little known guitarist Duane Allman and covered “Born To Be Wild”, The Archies “Sugar, Sugar” and The Beatles “Hey, Jude”, which landed on both the pop and soul charts. Pickett is a legendary, powerful voice still left unmatched. / Issue 109 - September 2018
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