Sunday, October 24, 2010

Straight From The Heart

After spending the last few years on the road delivering sharp performances all over the place, the Wilson sisters have returned with their first new disc since 2004's Jupiter's Darling. But where that album held some vestiges of the group's more commercial past, Red Velvet Car finds the sisters returning to the sound of their earliest work. Like Led Zeppelin III, Heart pummels their acoustic guitars into rocking form while occasionally flipping on the electrics to burn the place down. The buzzsaw riffage of "WTF" is offset by some sturdy strumming on tunes like "There You Go" or "Wheels". The dramatic "Safronia's Mark" is pretty good too. Where Red Velvet Car stalls is in finding memorable hooks to go with their fervent guitarwork. The song writing is solid and likeable, definitely within Heart's comfort zone, but nothing with the Wow factor.

Heart is one of those bands that have definitely earned a victory lap and after all these years it is nice to hear them make a disc that reflects their original concept clearly. Red Velvet Car is a nice reminder of how great they are and in terms of performance they are as sharp as ever, if only the songs had been beefed up a little more they probably could have turned out a classic. So good stuff yet still a missed opportunity.

Friday, October 22, 2010

String Theory

Sting returns with an album filled with symphonic renditions of his reggae/jazz-rock classics...oh, wrong Sting pictured here.

Okay, I haven't posted in a month's time so I got a backlog of stuff to write about. Here's to hoping I can keep it up this time. Some of the music I've listened to feature two aging British rockers taking their music uptown to the symphony.

I'll start with the erstwhile Peter Gabriel's album Scratch My Back. This disc started as a project where Gabriel would cover another artist's song and then that artist would cover one of his songs. As time went on, the covers became a bit one sided with Gabriel doing most of the covering so it looks like he just decided to release his set as a full album. Lots of tasteful folk get the Gabriel treatment like Radiohead, Arcade Fire, David Bowie, Lou Reed and others. Usage of a symphony harkens back to Gabriel's prog rock roots and is a marked departure from his standard polyrhythmic antics. The orchestral arrangements take a straight nod from Suftjan Stevens with strings that stir and go twinkle-twinkle at the end. It's all done with forethought and artistry, too bad the end result is a snooze. After the opening version of Bowie's "Heroes" I find it hard to pay attention to this, it's like sitting through a science class - you know the information is useful and helpful but it still puts your ass to sleep.

Sting and his strings fare better on his album Symphonicities. Ever notice if you add an "r" into the third letter of Sting you get String? The Stingster covers his own material, giving fresh reworkings to both hits ("Roxanne") and album cuts ("We Work The Black Seam"). Unlike Gabriel, Sting doesn't straight jacket his songs with stuffiness instead opting for what must be the Disney music orchestra. The orchestra swings and grooves in a way that will give figure skaters background tracks to at least ten different routines. Best moments include a version of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" that would sound appropriate in The Little Mermaid, a slowed down "Roxanne" and a fired up "She's Too Good For Me". Favorite cut was "We Work The Black Seam" which originated from Sting's first solo album, "Seam" is given new life and relevance in it's muted meditation on world peace. As long as you don't think too hard (like asking what's the point of this project?) Symphonicities is a pleasant effort with some high points.