Diana Krall, Glad Rag Doll. All hands on deck for this one, as a great modern jazz vocalist heads for Tin Pan's back alleys and finds new freedom there. With producer T Bone Burnett offering some greasy guidance, Krall hits the moon. To call the album old-timey would be a mistake, because what the singer really does is create a whole new presence for songs like "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye," "Lonely Avenue" and "Here Lies Love." The studio musicians leave enough room to drive a Model-T through, while Krall's sultry voice grows even sultrier thanks to the ability of all to suspend time.
Burnett likely had a big hand in helping find some of these songs. He's got an off-road twanger that is able to locate deep surprises in the unlikeliest of places. From there the musicians frame the compositions like the masters they are, but are able to refrain from hitting the retro zone. That takes talent, because the last thing anyone wants to hear is an absolute remake from the past. Diana Krall also surprises with her new look on the album cover and inner sleeve, posing suggestively in what could easily be an old New Orleans bordello. Maybe there's a Pretty Baby sequel in the works? Or maybe girls just want to have fun?
American music can be approached many different ways. Even though Diana Krall has made other albums that capture the heart of romanticism, for this one she seems to be ready to use simplicity to amp up the emotions. Hearing such a voice provide an easeful atmosphere so each instrument gets to shine is to learn how singers really make their mark. Special kudos should be given to guitarist Marc Ribot along with Krall's piano because the lights shine so bright when their solos begin. By the time they get to Julie and Buddy Miller's beautiful "Wide River To Cross," the ground is shimmering and there is a warm glow surrounding Diana Krall. The way she takes that oft-covered classic and totally turns it into her own is one of the joys of modern music. It's the kind of recording that should be played in church, at ball games, in school and maybe even at funerals. Just call it an unofficial new national anthem and listen in awe. Whew.
Graham Parker & the Rumour, Three Chords Good. Sometimes things just take awhile. Like putting English rocker Graham Parker back together with his razor sharp band the Rumour, and letting them set fire to the landscape and burn that playhouse down. In the great musical resurgence of 1977, when Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Talking Heads, Mink Deville, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and others were kicking up major sand around the land, nobody tore things up more than Parker and crew. They had a finely-honed grasp of soul music, coupled with a punky take on rock and roll that was fueled by producer Nick Lowe's street stride of what made records sound great. No one was better.
Of course it couldn't last. After two unbeatable albums overseriousness set in, and before you could say Major Artist, Parker split from the Rumour and like so many others got lost in the '80s. Whatever he was looking for began to elude his abilities, and by the time MTV had changed the channel completely the Englishman became a cult figure who continued to write affecting songs but with a little less fever. In 2012 the thermostat is turned all the way up again, and Graham Parker sounds like he's been infused with nitrofuel. And, of course, the Rumour are still true. Thirty-five years have passed in a flash, and on songs like "Long Emotional Ride," "She Rocks Me" and "That Moon was Low," there is a sheer urgency to the albums's sound that demands to be heard.
This time around Parker and the Rumour are full-fledged collaborators, weaving guitars and keyboards together with a seamless strength that's a bit mind-boggling, while the rhythm section, schooled on studio bands like Stax and Hi Records, provide a groovalicious bottom. Listening to such a timeless combo return to the top provides plenty of thrills for anyone who can't forget early classic like "Howlin' Wind," "White Honey" and "Heat Treatment," or the rush of first seeing the short Brit command a stage like Otis Redding's illegitimate love child. While the past might be impossible to relive, in reality it's always there and ready to be reignited at the drop of a song. Here are a dozen guaranteed to take you there.
Jeff Gold, 101 Essential Rock Records: The Golden Age of Vinyl from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols. If you're going to make a list, there has to be some rules and author Jeff Gold has come up with a good one: start with the Beatles and end with the Sex Pistols in definining rock's halo years. Within those goal posts, then pick 101 albums that helped turn rock into a religion and shepherd the mega-flock to the promised land. During those years, albums really did become the Good Books as listeners lived with them like scrolls from above. That might seem somewhat silly now, but going through Gold's choices it all comes back in a blinding vision just how glorious the music—and album jackets themselves—were.
Naturally there will be exceptions taken to these choices but that's not what's important. The (Jeff) Gold standard here is inarguable because this is what a single person believes, and that has always been the real essence of rock criticism. There is no right and wrong; there is only one person's opinion holding up the sky. Luckily, these 101 albums are undeniable in their greatness, and Gold's descriptions of each brings them roaring back to life. Going through this book is almost like taking a trip on a visual time machine, seeing album jackets again that reminds how the world changed before our eyes and ears during these 15 (only!) years.
As a bonus there are guest writers brought onboard to spice up this history lesson. David Bowie, Peter Buck, Devendra Banhart, Nels Cline, Suzanne Vega, Johnny Marr, Graham Nash and others all weigh in on various subjects. To discover what Bowie loved about the first Velvet Underground album, why Banhart is so transfixed by Skip Spence's solo release Oar, or Vega waxing about the Beatles and Leonard Cohen is like overhearing a backstage conversation about long lost artifacts, and finding out others care about them too. Plus, just to make sure democracy is honored, there's even a website for others to throw in their thoughts about missing treasures. How about starting with the 13th Floor Elevators' "Easter Everywhere" gem? Slip inside this house as you pass by.