Lightning Round III

Music Reviews 2012

Green Day – Uno

Oakland’s own preeminent punks are back. Uno is the first of three records coming out between September and January.   Green Day is nothing if not crazy ambitious.  Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre’ Cool are as big and polished as ever.  All while delivering retro, mid-90s-like Green Day. Written reviews are somewhat mixed….but my ears tell me this is a winner.   I wasn’t a fan of the band, until they dialed back a little angst and delivered some radio-friendly melody (circa mid-90s).  This record offers a ton of it.  That said, it is quite explicit and not appropriate for anything but adult-only radio.   Kill the DJ and Let Yourself Go are in your face with profanity and insidious suggestion, but they are also two of the best, instantly catchy and sing-along worthy songs.

Other key tracks are:  Carpe Diem, Troublemaker and Oh Love.   As American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown showed us, Green Day knows how to deliver a radio-friendly hook, song after song.  At this point, their records are as close to a guaranteed success as you can get.  Uno, for its part, rocks.  I can’t wait to hear Dos (release is scheduled for 13 Nov) and Tre (release scheduled for 15 January).

Dave Matthews Band – Away From the World

Charlottesville’s finest, Dave Matthews Band is legendary for their strong live shows.  No one knows this better than their Piedmont-based fans.  And while their studio albums haven’t often done justice to their live-show magic, Away From the World comes closer than the rest.

Away From The World is mature, full of character and depth….and flat-out jams in places.  You can just feel how these songs lend themselves to live pyrotechnics.  I’ve given Dave Matthews Band records a chance a few times previously, and yet this is the first album that really sunk a hook in me.  It’s a great listen start to finish.  I love Broken Things, Belly Belly Nice, Mercy, Gaucho and If Only.  I love the Mariachi-like horns, the backup vocals, and the jam-like feel.  Maybe one of these days I’ll catch a live show.  I’ll have to.  Brad, set it up.  In the meantime, maybe I’ll give their earlier records another listen.

Matchbox Twenty – North

Rob Thomas is back with his mates, after a successful foray into solo record-making. And while I loved his solo work, his best, most impactful work seems to come in the context of Matchbox Twenty.  Does anybody else remember how good Yourself and Someone Like You was back in the day? When most albums (originating in the late 90s) gave you a single or two of great music, Matchbox Twenty delivered a killer first record.   From Long Day, to 3:00 AM, to Push, it was one gem after another.   A lot of us jumped on to that fast-moving train.   It slowed as it went, but it still kept us moving and entertained.

This record isn’t in the same class (Album of the Year Candidate) as the first record but North is strong nonetheless.  I love the piano-based English Town above the rest.  As his solo works attest, Thomas and piano accompaniment yield some powerfully evocative moments (Now Comes the Night being the best example).  English Town begins there and surges into full-fledged pop grandiosity. In that regard, Matchbox Twenty is better than they’ve ever been.  Youself and Someone Like You showed the band mature beyond their age and experience.  North shows the band as mature commensurate to their experience. It’s no small distinction.  They’ve earned their stripes.  Having been thru the spin-cycle a few times, they appreciate their place and they are clearly working harder to keep it now.

The Wallflowers – Glad All Over

Jakob Dylan is also back from solo work. Rejoining the band which gave him his own place in this world, Dylan seems to have come full circle.   He is officially free from the strong gravitational pull of his legendary, Medal of Freedom winning father, Bob.

The Wallflowers burst on the scene in 1996 (coincidentally, about the time of Matchbox Twenty) with their own Album of the Year Contender, Bringing Down the Horse.  That record, featuring One Headlight, Sixth Avenue Heartache,  Three Marlenas, and Josephine, would forever set the standard for the band.  While each of the subsequent albums would have high points as high as the first record, they weren’t as consistent from beginning to end.   By the time we got to 2005’s Rebel Sweetheart,  the high points seemed fewer and further between, and consistency all but nonexistent .  As such, my hopes for Glad All Over were modest and tempered.

To my surprise, Glad All Over is terrific.  It isn’t as epic as Bringing Down the Horse, but it is very good.  It is fun, propulsive, and catchy in many places.  The great hooks are back. Standouts include: Misfits and Lovers, First in the Car, Reboot the Mission  and Love is a Country.   Bottom line, you can listen to this record end to end.  Woohoo, its great to have The Wallflowers back.  Jakob has always been a better vocalist than his father.  He certainly enunciates more clearly….even if he isn’t moving the world like his father did.   Fair enough.   Some are born to move the world….and others to merely entertain.  I’m glad The Wallflowers rekindled the old fire.  What about you?

Jason Aldean – Night Train

I’ll admit it.  I’m no country purist.  I don’t prefer the George Strait’s and Hank Williams.   I like the rockin’ cross-over crowd.   And Jason Aldean leads that pack.   Since I don’t ordinarily listen to Country radio, I wasn’t introduced to Jason Aldean, until his duet with Kelly Clarkson, on his last record.   After seeing their Country Music Awards performance, I bought My Kinda Party and was very pleasantly surprised.

In my estimation, Night Train continues the party.   Country, whether retro-pure or with cross-over appeal, is typically more direct and less ambiguous than other genres of music.   Like most people, country music “is what it is.”  And I like that…….that lack of ambiguity.   I suppose that’s what makes me a sucker for ballads.   Staring at the Sun and Black Tears are worthy examples.

Night Train is full of heartfelt, straightforward music.   I like: When She Says Baby, Feel That Again,  the title-track, and the aforementioned Staring at the Sun.   It’s mostly just country songs with raucous, well-placed rock-n’ roll guitar licks.   Thanks Jason….for keeping the Party going.

On the near horizon of impending new albums, Soundgarden will release King Animal in November.  Green Day will release Dos then too.  As such, I’m bettin’ there will be a Lightning Round IV sometime soon.  God willing.

Until then, get caught up with your own music reviews.

Support the Musicians you like.  Enjoy ~!  JDPF

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