There’s not much to do in the sweltering heat of July and August but hide indoors and listen to what the first half of 2012 has delivered musically. This summer’s must-haves include a soundtrack, two debuts, a punk rock marching band and everything in between…
GLEN HANSARD “RHYTHYM AND REPOSE”
($9.99, ANTI- Records)
What a glorious success Glen Hansard has been riding of late. First, an Oscar in 2007 for his song “Falling Slowly” from the boy-meets-girl musical film “Once”, in which he played the adorably rumbled, Irish street busker. And a few months ago, the adaptation of “Once” to Broadway brought rave reviews and an impressive 8 Tony Awards. A stunning, international achievement for a man whose songs are so personal, intimate and, dare I say but not in a bad way, small. So it comes a bit of a surprise that after making music for nearly three decades, he finally releases his first solo effort Rhythym and Repose. It’s an even quieter effort than his previous work thanks to its haunting and whispered delivery, leaving the listener with the impression that he/she is eavesdropping on Hansard’s very thoughts. A troubadour of the first order, the musician and his guitar revive the laid back, Van Morrison 70s feel of “Maybe Not Tonight” and the first single, “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting”. “Song Of Good Hope” will break your heart while Hansard ups the down and out drama of a lost relationship on “High Hope”. In all, a lovely poetic 14-track heartbreaker.
Soundtrack ($9.99, Abkco)
If you’re yearning for something simply whimsical and delightful, check out the soundtrack to the latest Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom. From the director who brought us Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums and the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, comes a kooky audio mix of orchestral classics, French pop and vintage country. The combination of Hank Williams, the 60s Parisian chanteuse Francoise Hardy and Leonard Bernstein’s kiddie tutorial of the NY Philharmonic continues Anderson’s penchant for making a film’s score and incidental soundtrack as integral a part of the story as the script. Set in 1965, “Moonrise Kingdom” is the quirky love story of a Camp Ivanhoe scout and his crush, who run away together from their New England island homes. Our kooky heroes launch their adventure to the mellifluous yearnings of Hank Williams’ “Ramblin Man” and dance a wacky frug at their beachside campsite to Franciose Hardy’s “Le Temps De L’Amour”, i.e. “It’s Time To Love”. Setting a more sophisticated tone and avoiding being cartoonish are the angelic voices of children in the English Opera Group orchestra. The resplendent sounds of trumpets blaring and snare drums pounding is perfect for the off-to-the-races” caper our two young sweethearts embark on.
THE SHINS “PORT OF MORROW”
($11.37, Columbia Records)
What a surprise it was to re-watch an episode of The Gilmore Girls recently to find the indie pride of Portland, The Shins, on screen, performing in a bar during Rory’s Spring Break trip. This fact completely escaped me but made total sense since 2004, the year the band made their guest appearance was when The Shins truly arrived on everyone’s collective radar. That this well-deserved, critically acclaimed band has carried itself forward and further musically is a testament to their infectiously resplendent songs. Port Of Morrow, the band’s fourth release, features 10 bright, bouncy tracks and, unfortunately, the exit of three original members. With this line-up change, front man James Mercer has grabbed an even clearer sonic direction of where he wants the band to go and the toe-tapper “Simple Song” is the best among them. It’s a dense pop tune dedicated to young love with, not one, but two football references. Huh? Mercer is as lyrically mercurial as ever but seems older and wiser, offering up advice (“It’s Only Life”), regret (“For A Fool”) and experimental knob twiddling (“The Rifle’s Spiral”). There is something so appealing about Mercer’s crystal clear vocals, targeted drumbeats and whirling melodies that make The Shins a perennial favorite.
JACK WHITE “BLUNDERBUSS”
($11.88, Third Man Records/Columbia)
Like Glen Hansard, Jack White has finally released a solo album after more than a dozen years in to his career, and recording with a handful of bands. He’s the driven mastermind behind The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, and in a recent interview, said he’d put off making a solo record until now because “these songs feel like they could only be presented under my name. These songs…had nothing to do with anyone or anything else but my own expression.” This is White at his most personal and his most vintage. His lyrics run through love found and lost (no surprise since his marriage ended divorced) while the music is a groovy calliope of early and mid-20th century blues and parlor music. Sounding like a roguish Robert Plant (a redundant description?), White is a throwback of the highest order with “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” resonating like a modern day “Goodnight Irene”. The simple instrumentation mirrors his work with Meg White and drafting a group of solid musicians (clarinet/bass clarinet player Emily Bowland, Wurlitzer pianist Brooke Waggoner and the incomparable vocalist Ruby Amanfu, who does wonders on the sultry duet “Love Interruption”) reinforces how smart White can be.
BECK “I JUST STARTED HATING SOME PEOPLE TODAY”/ ”BLUE RANDY” - 7” vinyl ($6.00, Third Man Records)
Marking his first 7” release on Jack White’s Third Man Records label, Beck presents I Just Started Hating Some People Today” a subversive country ode to “wanting to kill someone” or, at the very least, “wanting to punch your face”. Think Gram Parsons calmly singing about going on a homicidal tear. After Beck’s turn at the mic, White pops up to replace the country twang with a hostile hardcore assault before his ex-wife, model/singer Karen Elson, delivers a pulp fiction like serenade to offing her offender. What a luxury it is to have one’s own label to indulge one’s twisted creativity. And oh, what fun!
MUCCA PAZZA “SAFETY FIFTH”
($12.00, Cowbell Records)
The world’s only punk rock marching band (you know another?) is out with an explosive, jubilant collection of post-modern half-time songs. The spectacle of 30+ musicians decked out in vintage marching band uniforms is a sight to behold and hear. Safety Fifth is a playful mix of dark camp (“Monster Tango”), kitsch (“Touch The Police”) and pageantry (“Rabbits and Trees”). Add a touch of 60s surf music (“Sexy Bull”) and Italian cinema (“Tube Sock Tango”) and you’re enveloped in a brilliantly delightful world of band geeks. If you see Mucca Pazza live, get there early. They parade single file in to each venue and launch their musical assault submerged in the audience.
REDGRAVE “NATIONAL ACT”
($10.00, Lovitt Records)
Proving it doesn’t take much to whip up an assault, boy-girl duo Redgrave’s 5-song debut is bursting with an intensity that’s bright enough to blind. Vocalist/guitarist Angie Mead maneuvers between Kate Bush and Grace Slick with her echoing, gut-wrenching delivery, while drummer Stephen Howard steamrolls with military precision. Three of the songs come in at 5 minutes plus but are never exhausting, as each are well thought out, clever orchestrations. “Taunt” finds Mead turning her lyrics in to emphatic facts, as she screams the last word at the end of each refrain while the closer, “Digital Track”, is a slam fest for those who love the one-two combo of 90s punk and 70s rock.
BETH SORRENTINO A Curt Boettcher Songbook: Would You Like To Go
(TBD, Basta Music)
Suddenly, Tammy! front woman Beth Sorrentino returns with a most fitting and appealing project of Curt Boettcher cover songs. Best known for his 60s brand of sunny, layered pop, Boettcher, who died in 1987, worked with The Beach Boys and The Association, for whom he upped the tempo on their debut single “Along Comes Mary”, turning it in to the band’s first chart hit. Sorrentino, with her sweet soprano and stellar piano chops, takes ownership with a warmer version, highlighting the vocal acrobatics it takes to sing such a densely lyrical song. Rounding out the collection with the childlike “Would You Like To Go” and the bossa nova inspired “I Just Want To Be Your Friend”, Boettcher and Sorrentino make an inspired coupling for these innocent and charming pop tunes.