Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away. Let's get one thing straight: there is no one who can open up a psychic wound like Nick Cave, letting the slash spill out liquid emotions to an ultimate end. The man is so full of pain, desire, memory and God knows what else it's like he is walking a tightrope made of razor blades. There is no other way to put it. Luckily the Australian saves his ammunition until he's got a nuclear set of songs and then drops the bomb, in no hurry to record an album until he's absolutely ready. It works every time. By the last track, there aren't many left standing, and those that are might not be too happy about surviving the assault. He does it here with only nine songs—but what a lethal bunch they are. Opener "We No Who U R" may have a title written in textual script but there are no shortcuts in the way Nick Cave is adept at the wet work. "No need to forgive," indeed. From there it's as unrelenting a ride as music offers in 2013. Cave and the Bad Seeds may frame their music with elegant strings, warm horns and classical piano, but underneath all that accomplishment lies a haunted heart, with a spirit locked trying to escape what well could be an ignoble end. Except, of course, for the salvation of rock and roll and the human ability to believe there is hope just beyond the horizon. That is the true beauty of Nick Cave. Like Plato struggling for sense in his famous cave, the modern singer breaks out of the shadows in a heroic attempt to set himself free. The road for Cave goes on forever, even when he's walking downtown in tie and tails with a foetus on a leash.
Endless Boogie, Long Island. Now for something completely different. Or maybe not. Endless Boogie have taken their name very seriously in the past, but this latest attempt at staking their claim feels like an invigorated new assault. Okay, the jam sessions they're known for still rumble through the landscape like oversized Peterbilts fueled by nitrogen, but they've got poetry inside them too. As songs start and head for vast stretches of the frozen prairie, with a vocalist who may well have been Captain Beefheart's personal valet on nights of long nocturnal bat-hunting, there is a luminescent beauty at their core. Call it inspired by white light or big skies, but either way the grinding power of guitarist Jesper Eklow (how's that for a real name?) just will not let go. In a righteous pursuit of regal rage, it's like they're all possessed by the idea of finding more, whatever more may be. Throw in a limitless knowledge of Civil War esoterica, namechecks a-go-go and the knowledge of men in their 50s who likely realize there is no time left for auditions or even empty dreams, and everything starts to bear down on the music to the point of explosion. So whether it's "The Artemus Ward" or "Taking Out the Trash," Endless Boogie had found their way far beyond Brooklyn and way past Long Island, all the way into the great uknown where rock and roll is no idle pursuit. This is the Big Show, one that might not end up exactly like the band wants, but when a group has come this far, turning back or even slowing must seem like a bad joke. No matter what you might say about this nearly 80 minutes of sonic bliss, it is most definitely no joke. Don't forget to boogie.
Dan Penn, The Fame Recordings. If anyone in the music business could ever be convicted of having a race change, it might be Dan Penn. Alabama's favorite son fell under the spell of black music as a very young man, in church really, and went over to the other side almost immediately. He grasped the timelss nature of rhythm and blues from the very start, and once his voice took on the unrelenting feeling of all great soul singers it was only a matter of time before Penn found his way to the record charts and, really, infamy. His songs have been covered by the greatest singers of all time, and Dan Penn has recorded brutally moving classics himself. The story really starts at Rick Hall's Fame studio in Florence, Alabama, and from there expands to Memphis, New York, Nashville and the whole world. These two dozen songs from the Fame studio during the mid-'60s will be a revelation even to confirmed Pennheads, and show how a Southern man finds freedom in sounds from the other side of the tracks and never looks back. One listen to "I'm Your Puppet" or "Rainbow Road" will seal the deal, and the golden era when Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham were writing together still shines like a beacon on the hill. Both artists continue to collaborate and seek the golden road on their own, and there's no reason to think it's going to stop soon. And equally as great as this music, the booklet's long interview with Dan Penn is also a rollicking revelation, one that starts at square one and offers an inner view on how black and white melded together when music became the guiding force integrating America. Leave it to the English to once again figure it out, and send it back to our shores in this irresistible release. Say it loud: Dan Penn is back and he's proud.