Bruce Springsteen and more...
I’m New Here
This is not the Gil Scott-Heron I thought I knew. This is a weird and wily 28-minute masterpiece of ironies. His voice is gruffer, grittier yet somehow still intimate and familiar. Electronic vibes and chilling blues replaced the exuberant jazz we expected, but the soul is intact. The man who influenced hip-hop wields his wisdom over a Kanye West sample, and maybe hip-hop’s self-absorption prompted Scott-Heron’s unflinching introspection. How odd that, among the spoken word selections, Scott-Heron—the songwriter, poet, and novelist—would regale us with cover tunes, skillfully wrought though they are, but the real irony is that they fit his personal challenges as perfectly as confessions from his own pen. There are no sweeping political statements, no pithy observations of the world’s current state, and his penchant for wordplay is confined to the rigors of living and the art of striving for more than survival. Then again, perhaps the true revolutionary recognizes brutal self-critique as a form of activism, knowing that self-reflection is a sign of strength, not surrender. Quentin B. Huff
It’s probably not possible for Screaming Females to ever become as big as frontwoman Marissa Paternoster’s super-sized musical persona. While the New Jersey power-punk trio has more or less flown under the radar when it comes to blogosphere hype and widespread critical acclaim, that definitely has nothing to do with the group’s bold, in-your-face sound. Tempting though it may be to describe the coed band as a street-tough Sleater-Kinney minus the politics, that would be giving the short shrift to the distinctiveness of Paternoster’s own caterwauling voice and bruising songwriting. On their latest album Castle Talk, Screaming Females swagger around more like bar-band brawlers than neo-riot-grrrls, considering the sloshed riffage of “Laura and Marty” and the rough-and-tumble guitar heroics of “I Don’t Mind It”. And when Paternoster growls “I could be the boss of you any day” on “Boss”, she might as well be issuing a mission statement about her band’s bombastic appeal. Arnold Pan
I wish I’d given Dear Companion a higher rating when I reviewed it back in the spring. At the time I thought it was lovely, but I scoffed at the idea of calling it a protest album—too polite, too pristine, and definitely too precocious. Protest music needs to arise out of a preconceived sense of urgency: Dear Companion is more about wanting to protest something and not really knowing how. But as I dwelt with Dear Companion throughout 2010, I came to recognize that as a strength. Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore are two songwriters trying to teach themselves an idea of home that they’ll be the first to admit is somewhat foreign to them. So they set out to make a record about mountains, and ended up with a lovingly written, deeply felt, 11-song rumination on home, place and identity. Dear Companion reminds us that those are ideas that need to be tended to, cared for, because they’re changing, breaking apart before our very eyes. Steve Slagg
The epic rock grandeur of 1975’s Born to Run may have made him a star, but it was 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, when those romantic dreams came crashing down in a sinewy windstorm of squealing guitars and bawling vocals about shut-down strangers and hotrod angels, that forever sealed the deal for Bruce Springsteen’s biggest fans. And now comes 22 outtakes from the Darkness, sessions, a series of songs that overwhelm by the volume and awesomeness of peak Bruceness. The studio take of “Because the Night” is here, finally, but that’s only the 16th best song on this treasure trove. What’s most immediately head-spinning among the tracks are the un-Darkness-like songs, a bunch of would’ve-been-pop-classics like “Gotta Get That Feeling”, “Ain’t Good Enough For You”, “The Little Things (My Baby Does)”, etc., songs that other writers would have sold souls for but that Bruce left in the vault for over 30 years. Year-end list-makers didn’t know quite what to do with The Promise—should this be considered a new album? A reissue? It was neither really. Then again, it only makes sense to place The Promise, an album that offers boundless returns of both historical weight and brand-new enchantment, in a class all by itself. Steve Leftridge
The word “jam” could practically have been invented for Cameron Stallones, the cap wearing pioneer behind Sun Araw’s celestial grooves. Creativity runs throughout the record’s core, from the wandering slow jam of “Ma Halo” through the echoing ryhthms of “Stakeout”—the first of two songs featuring the cassette tape loving W. Giacchi—via the subliminal wander of “Deep Cover” to the Neil Young on the moon-esque fret play of Dimension Alley. There’s a clever reticence throughout, with the use of intricate bass, echo and distortion that creates a depth in the music, thus setting him very much apart from the hipster pack. Stallones started the year much the same as he ended the last: with a mind altering live release featuring remix from none other than the technical wizardry of fellow Los Angelean, Matthew David. The experimentation of Sun Araw seems to be a light that continues to burn bright in a music scene of dull quick fixes and dim baseless blog hype. Robert McCallum