Petty & the Heartbreakers make most of ‘Mojo’
By the writers of Last Word Features
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: ‘Mojo’ (Reprise)
It has been eight years since Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers released Petty’s music-biz diatribe, “The Last DJ.” Since then, they’ve been busy rediscovering their mojo, which has manifested itself this time around in a series of jazz-blues tunes full of Allman Brothers influences (“Running Man’s Bible,” “First Flash of Freedom”); lots of soaring instrumental interludes, many courtesy of guitarist Mike Campbell; and an all-around vibe that’s more about groove than attitude.
Petty’s still got bones to pick, like the one about his unhappy relationship with his dad, addressed in “Running Man’s Bible.” “I Should Have Known It” also carries a bite.” But the humidity-drenched steam of “Lover’s Touch,” the back-porch blues visitations of “Takin’ My Time” and “U.S. 41,” and even the reggae-juiced ”Don’t Pull Me Over” help cast a heckuva spell. It’s like “Breakdown,” all over again. — Lynne Margolis
Buy if you like: Allman Brothers, Steely Dan
Devo: ‘Something For Everybody’ (Warner Bros.)
Seeing bands reunite has gotten as common as BP underestimating the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. But when a group goes more than 20 years between albums and a full-fledged reunion, living up to expectations is no small challenge.
At least in the case of Devo, songwriters Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale worked together on music for the occasional commercial or film project after Devo went on the shelf at the end of the 1980s. And with “Something For Everybody,” the group has beaten the odds by making a CD that both picks up where its music left off in the 1980s, while still sounding inspired and creative.
To be sure, Devo 2010 doesn’t sound nearly as jarring as in 1978 when “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” shocked the senses with its spastic synthesizer-heavy pop. The band’s music grew more accessible over its next three albums. And now, “Something For Everybody” goes in the more approachable direction, with songs like “Fresh,” Watch Us Work It” and “Please Baby Please,” among the catchier tracks on the new CD.
The quirkiness also is there, however: Just note the vocal playfulness of “What We Do” and the whacked-out synth melodies of “Sumthin’” or “Signal Ready.” Whether there’s much demand for Devo 30 years after “Whip It” made the band famous remains to be seen. But the band is certainly worth rediscovering. — Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: XTC, They Might Be Giants
Cowboy Junkies: ‘The Nomad Series: Reunion Park, Volume 1’ (Latent/Razor & Tie)
From the sound of things, the group has gone on quite a songwriting binge lately. Three more volumes of this “Nomad Series” are planned for release over the next 18 months.
The first installment in the series of albums, “Reunion Park, Volume 1” finds the Cowboy Junkies working familiar musical territory. The Junkies remain the quietest band in rock, with a set of hushed songs that fall into the group’s usual blend of folk/country, blues and rock. Fortunately, the group maintains another hallmark of its albums: solid songwriting. Songs like “St. Francis Bacon At The Net” and “I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side” and “My Fall” are prototypical Cowboy Junkies, with the lovely, dusky vocals of Margot Timmins rising above the understated playing of the rest of the band to set a dark and alluring mood.
Like many Cowboy Junkies albums, the songs are deliberately paced. One exception on this album is “Stranger Here,” which gets considerable edge from wailing lead guitar lines and fills. But the muffled production keeps the song from really rocking out and allows “Stranger Here” to blend in with the quieter moments of “Reunion Park, Volume 1.” But while the Cowboy Junkies continue to whisper their musical thoughts instead of letting them shout, the songwriting remains striking. And that’s a good sign for the remaining CDs in “The Nomad Series.” – Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: Velvet Underground, Mazzy Star
Wintersleep: ‘New Inheritors’ (The Tom Kotter Company Ltd.)
This Canadian group’s first CD, “Welcome To The Night Sky” won Wintersleep a Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy) for best new band. The follow-up to that debut, “New Inheritors,” confirms that the Juno voters knew what they were hearing.
Wintersleep makes dramatic, often elegant, music that also has a plenty of rocking muscle. Songs like “Experience The Jewel,” with its symphonic sweep, and “Black Camera” (a brisk and catchy anthem), are the kind of songs that immediately demand attention. And those are just two of the excellent songs on “New Inheritors,” a CD that rarely slips much below the impressive standard set by those songs.
The one thing that may work against Wintersleep on “New Inheritors” is the lyrical content of the CD. Many of the songs are topical. While cleverly written, they can also be a bit abstract and cerebral. It’s hard to imagine listeners getting emotionally engaged to the repeated refrains of “stacks of government checks” and “dull eyed specimen.” But the power of the music is undeniable, and in the end, that’s what makes “New Inheritors” one of the year’s better albums, and Wintersleep a band that deserves to achieve big things. — Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: Midnight Oil, the Alarm
The Henry Clay People: ‘Somewhere on the Golden Coast’ (TBD Records)
When “Nobody Taught Us To Quit,” the first song on “Somewhere on the Golden Coast,” cranks up, the Henry Clay People sound like any number of garage bands trying to make some entertaining noise — a worthwhile pursuit in itself. But get a little further into the “Somewhere on the Gold Coast,” and it becomes clear that the Henry Clay People has much more to offer.
The song “The Digital Kid” is the kind of winsome pop melody that made the late Alex Chilton of Big Star a hero to fans of heartfelt, smartly crafted pop. Then comes “Slow Burn,” a terse rocker with a tangy slide guitar line woven through much of the song, followed by “End Of An Empire,” which brings back the slam bang of the opening song, but with a big-time hook, some pounding piano and a few smart lead guitar lines.
The highlights continue, with “This Ain’t A Scene” and its fat and juicy rhythm guitar riff, and the boozy Stones-ish swagger of “Saturday Night.” From the sound of “Somewhere on the Golden Coast,” the guys in the Henry Clay People won’t need to worry about quitting what they do anytime soon. — Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: The Replacements, The Hold Steady
Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King: ‘Have Blues Will Travel’ (Alligator)
At this point, some 30 years into the band’s career, it’s pretty easy to predict what one will get on a Kubek/King album. In short, it will be more of the group’s rocking brand of blues, spiced with some down-to-earth lyrics and a good amount of tasty guitar work from Kubek.
And like most albums by this long-running duo, “Have Blues Will Travel” is another solid collection. It doesn’t necessarily surpass the usual Kubek/King CD, but songs like “Payday In America,” the title song, and “What A Sight To See” are perfectly listenable rockers, while the CD offers a couple of slow-burning ballads in “Shadows In the Dark” and “Wishful Thinking.”
At this point in their career, Kubek and King know what works for them musically, and fortunately their sound – which falls between the refined soul/blues of Robert Cray and the raw rock of a George Thorogood – is a sound that never seems to go out of style. — Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, B.B. King