The Top Ten Albums of 2008

Originally posted 2009-07-28 14:08:51. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For the 2008 “Yes, No, or Maybe So” one-sentence reviews, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

At long last, here it is…

My top ten list of the best albums of 2008.

Top Ten Albums of 2008

1.  Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings – The Counting Crows
2.  That Lucky Old Sun – Brian Wilson
3.  Viva La Vida – Coldplay
4.  Accelerate – R.E.M.
5.  Modern Guilt – Beck
6.  Snacktime – Barenaked Ladies
7.  A Hundred Million Suns – Snow Patrol
8.  Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs
9.  The Red Album – Weezer
10. Loyalty to Loyalty – Cold War Kids

Honorable Mention:

Liverpool 8 – Ringo Starr
Momofuku – Elvis Costello

Yes, No, or Maybe So: One-Sentence Reviews of 2008 Albums

Originally posted 2009-07-31 10:50:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

(Arranged in alphabetical order by band)

With so many albums being released every week, what are they all like?  Which are worth your time?  These one-sentence reviews are the answers to those questions!

Snacktime (Barenaked Ladies) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Fun and even educational for kids, yet substantive and musically interesting for adults – don’t let this be the one Barenaked Ladies album missing from your shelf!

Top Two Tracks:  “7 8 9” – “Pollywog in a Bog”

Modern Guilt (Beck) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Beck’s unique voice is the anchor of this rock album that successfully integrates both loops and modern effects with the simplest acoustic, electric guitar, and keyboard sounds front and center in the mix.

Top Two Tracks:  “Gamma Ray” – “Modern Guilt”

Way To Normal (Ben Folds) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  While this is a great breakup album with some typically provocative Ben Folds lyrics and strong instrumental work, there are simply too many disposable tracks and a general feeling throughout much of the album that we’ve been here before.

Top Two Tracks:  “Bitch Went Nuts” – “Brainwascht”

That Lucky Old Sun (Brian Wilson) – YES

Review:  This is Wilson’s modern masterpiece for the summer months, offering more punch than a fresh cup of coffee (“Morning Beat”), piano ballads for the ages (“Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” and “Midnight’s Another Day”), and spoken word transition tracks (lyrics by SMiLE collaborator Van Dyke Parks) that won’t disappoint, all in a thoughtfully ordered and nicely blended track listing.

Top Two Tracks:  “Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” – “Live Let Live”

11 (Bryan Adams) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  This is pretty much what you would expect, which doesn’t mean it can’t be great fun – clichéd, cheesy lines notwithstanding.

Top Two Tracks:  “I Ain’t Losin’ the Fight” – “Oxygen”

Loyalty to Loyalty (Cold War Kids) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The Cold War Kids’ breakthrough album (#21 on the Billboard 200) further establishes their strong, unique sound – Willett’s vocals and Russell’s guitar work being their strongest assets, set against the driving force of Maust’s bass and Aveiro’s drums – aside from perhaps a couple disposable tracks, the album is a stand out.

Top Two Tracks:  “Against Privacy” – “Mexican Dogs”

Prospekt’s March EP (Coldplay) – NO

Review:  Okay, Coldplay, it’s time to step up to the plate a la Wilco: release these tracks (only 3 or 4 are really worth the listen, anyway) on the next reissue of Viva La Vida AND offer them as a free download to anyone who has already bought the album; none of this shameful EP garbage for one of the most wildly successful bands in the world!

Top Two Tracks:  “Life in Technicolor II” – “Glass of Water”

Viva La Vida (Coldplay) – YES

Review:  Coldplay has finally hit an album-worthy home run, complete with beautiful instrumental bookends, richly explored thematic elements, big pop-radio worthy singles, and multi-movement tracks; this is the album that will help them begin living up to the hype that has surrounded the band for years.

Top Two Tracks:  “42” – “Violet Hill”

Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (Counting Crows) – YES

Review:  The concept album of the year, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings’ songs are aptly split between those that address the primal side of human nature, making decisions by instinct and engaging in debauchery, and the more reflective side of the psyche, reconsidering past decisions, experiences, and even dream images in the early light of Sunday morning.

Top Two Tracks:  “Insignificant” – “You Can’t Count On Me”

Momofuku (Elvis Costello) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Named for the inventor of instant ramen noodles, Momofuku may have been recorded at a breakneck pace, but there are some quality songs here: interesting arrangements, heartfelt performances, and of course, clever and poetic lyrics.

Top Two Tracks:  “American Gangster Time” – “Flutter and Wow”

Electric Argument (The Fireman) – NO

Review:  The guise of the Fireman may allow Paul McCartney the opportunity to relax, experiment, and otherwise stretch out, but a fully realized album that lives up to his vastly impressive recent work this is not.

Top Two Tracks:  “Sing the Changes” – “Dance ‘Til We’re High”

Sleep Through the Static (Jack Johnson) – NO

Review:  Filled with peaceful songs recorded in very clear sound quality… that will most likely put you to sleep – not even close to what you would expect from the follow-up to In Between Dreams.

Top Two Tracks:  “What You Thought You Need” – “Go On”

The Glass Passenger (Jack’s Mannequin) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  With their most recent release, Jack’s Mannequin has cracked the top ten of the Billboard 200 and found a bright, clean, and upbeat sound while addressing a number of serious topics; if some of the songs didn’t sound so similar and if McMahon’s vocals didn’t strain and reverberate oddly at times, this would be a great album.

Top Two Tracks:  “Crashin’” – “Bloodshot”

Seeing Things (Jakob Dylan) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Jakob Dylan finds some soothing and rootsy acoustic sounds on his debut solo album… now, let’s just hope he uses it to return with more force and feeling to a full band next time!

Top Two Tracks:  “Valley of the Low Sun” – “War is Kind”

Greenlight (Jeff Copperthite) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The first solo album from one half of the late nineties rock band Quilt, Greenlight is all you could hope for from a debut release – a range of songs that demonstrate Copperthite’s considerable instrumental abilities, including a couple standouts that will make listeners look forward to the next solo release.

Top Two Tracks:  “Home” – “Aware”

Perfectly Clear (Jewel) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  The latest phase for this folk singer turned dance/big band star turned country artist, Perfectly Clear is a well executed country album – nothing less, but not much more.

Top Two Tracks:  “Love is a Garden” – “Till It Feels Like Cheating”

Insides Out (Jordan Zevon) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  Bitingly witty at times, helplessly romantic at others, and always in-your-face realistic, Jordan Zevon’s debut release boasts finely crafted – if predictable – vocals and strong – although standard – instrumentation; he’s on his way to a great album, but hasn’t quite made it this time.

Top Two Tracks:  “The Joke’s On Me” – “Payday”

Mudcrutch (Mudcrutch) – MAYBE SO

Review:  An instantly likeable album with a classic sound that is somehow still unique and infectious, the power of Mudcrutch’s debut release – much like the faded face on its cover – tends to dissipate over time; as with many releases this year, it’s not bad for a start and is perhaps the best debut album (and one of the best new bands) of 2008.

Top Two Tracks:  “Orphan of the Storm” – “Lover of the Bayou”

Home Before Dark (Neil Diamond) – NO

Review:  An album of enjoyable three minute songs… that drag on redundantly for six minutes.

Top Two Tracks:  “Pretty Amazing Grace” – “The Power of Two”

The Slip (Nine Inch Nails) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The landscape of The Slip is that of violence and corruption, but even more acutely of the impact upon and influence of the individual in a society that is taking turns for the worse – add in Trent Reznor’s supplying this album for free online, taking intricate care to provide track (not just album) artwork and typed-in lyrics, and you’ve got a strong release.

Top Two Tracks:  “1,000,000” – “Discipline”

Break Up the Concrete (The Pretenders) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  While there’s nothing particularly remarkable here, Break Up the Concrete is a surprisingly strong release from Chrissie Hynde and company, nicely blending acoustic and electric rock with a rockabilly sensibility peeking through intermittently.

Top Two Tracks:  “Love’s A Mystery” – “The Last Ride”

Accelerate (R.E.M.) – YES

Review:  From the first notes of distorted electric guitar to the final “yeah” voiced by frontman Michael Stipe, Accelerate is a non-stop rock’n roll joy ride punctuated by numerous standout tracks, instrumental moments, and some of the strongest lyrics from Stipe in years; this R.E.M. album more than lives up to what its title implies about the pacing.

Top Two Tracks:  “Living Well is the Best Revenge” – “Supernatural Superserious”

Consolers of the Lonely (The Raconteurs) – MAYBE SO

Review:  For anyone who claims there are no new bands making great rock music, here come the tremendous Raconteurs to tell stories with urgent vocals, infectious guitar licks, plenty of distortion while maintaining a healthy respect for the acoustic guitar, horns, and so much more as traces of classic rock and modern rock are inseparably mixed.

Top Two Tracks:  “Top Yourself” – “Many Shades of Black”

The Bird and the Bee Sides (Relient K) – MAYBE SO

Review:  In and of itself, The Nashville Tennis EP is a generally middle of the road affair with a handful of standout tracks and several disposable songs; however, when combined with The Bird and the Bee Sides, it boasts new material as well as enough rare tracks to fill the gaps in any Relient K fan’s collection – never mind that 13 songs add up to a generous “EP,” clocking in for a total of 26 songs on this single disc release.

Top Two Tracks (“The Bird”):  “At Least We Made It This Far” – “I Just Want You To Know”

Top Two Tracks (“The Bee Sides”):  “Up and Up (Acoustic)” – “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been (Acoustic)”

Liverpool 8 (Ringo Starr) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Even though Starr split with longtime collaborator Mark Hudson during the making of Liverpool 8, this album is a worthy addition to his recent catalog, and although it may not be the strongest of the Roundhead records, it’s a must-hear for Ringo and rock fans alike.

Top Two Tracks:  “Liverpool 8” – “If It’s Love That You Want”

Detours (Sheryl Crow) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  This album is a bit of a mess, as some songs (“God Bless This Mess,” “Love is All There Is”) are heartfelt standouts and others (“Love is Free,” “Peace Be Upon Us”) seem phoned-in and generally distract from the great material this album has to offer.

Top Two Tracks:  “Shine Over Babylon” – “Detours”

A Hundred Million Suns (Snow Patrol) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Don’t let the inferior first single “Take Back the City” fool you: A Hundred Million Suns is the long-awaited next step in Snow Patrol’s evolution, offering up much to enjoy hearing and feeling and even more to interpret – and, thankfully, AHMS is a vast improvement over Eyes Open, and a worthy follow-up to Final Straw.

Top Two Tracks:  “Crack the Shutters” – “The Planets Bend Between Us”

The Red Album (Weezer) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The Red Album is something of an enigma – several tracks (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” “Everybody Get Dangerous”) are among the quirkiest, most original and inventive work ever to grace a Weezer release, yet the album gets sidetracked in material that is easy on the ear, but overly simplistic (think “Heart Songs” and “Dreamin’”) – but it’s an interesting one; it is difficult to determine whether the first ever contributions from the other band members provides an exciting boost or simply more confusion to the album.  (And why no “Miss Sweeney” on the main album release?)

Top Two Tracks:  “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” – “Thought I Knew”

“Run” (Snow Patrol Cover)

Originally posted 2008-11-15 23:45:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Greetings from the other side of the midnight chimes — this is your latest (and late) Laptop Session!  Tonight, I bring you a new band to the sessions… Snow Patrol.  Specifically, this is “Run,” the seventh track of their 2003 album Final Straw.  This album was first recommended to me by then-fellow Staples Copy Center employee John Fortin, after he heard the Chris, Jim, and Becky album Live in the Studio.  He said, based on our album, he thought I might enjoy the band.

At first, I liked the album, but I wasn’t crazy about it.  It became one of those albums you go back to every so often, and over time, I grew to like it more and more.  Recently, as I went back to both this album and their subsequent one, Eyes Open, I fell in love with the songs of Final Straw.  The next album is solid, but lacks the hooks and flairs — really, the strength of individual tracks that are great and stand on their own — of the 2003 release.

My sister has also become a fan of Snow Patrol, so I hope that she gets a chance to read this post and check out the video.  Jaime and I have fairly divergent tastes in music, but we have found much more overlap in the past few years — we can especially agree on the awesome-ness of Ben Folds and Elliott Smith!  We actually both had a similar reaction to the new Snow Patrol single, “Take Back the City.”  Specifically, we were hesitant about the new album based on the strength of this track.  I can’t speak for her, but I know that — for me — the song seemed a bit forced at first, as if they were trying to make a hit single that could climb the charts as well as their last big hit, “Chasing Cars,” did.  Really, though, what was most off-putting to me was what I initially interpreted as being a line — “God knows you’ve put your life into it tons.”  Tons?  Really?  Is this the poetry I’m rushing to the store to purchase?

Well, those of you who know me will check this off on the list of times that I misinterpret something due to an accent.  (Stories for another time…)  The line is really “God knows you’ve put your life into its hands.”  Lead singer Gary Lightbody’s Irish accent through me off.  And, while I’m in a confessional mode, can I also admit that one of the factors that has always prevented me from entirely liking the band was the way Lightbody sings?  Yes, it’s true… It took me until a few weeks ago to research and discover that they’re an Irish band.  How I didn’t figure that out before is beyond me!  But, now that I know, I’ve been going through a Snow Patrol renaissance of sorts.

Their 2008 release, A Hundred Million Suns, is — in my opinion — their best work since Final Straw.  I was hesitant to buy it at first, based on their 2006 album and the aforementioned single.  But, I’m really glad I did buy it.  The opening track “If There’s a Rocket Tie Me to It” is one of my favorite track ones in a long time.  Track two, “Crack the Shutters,” is one of my favorite songs on the album and would have been my choice for a single (To date, it has reached #9 on the iTunes alternative rock charts!).  Then, track three is the single.  Track four, “Lifeboats,” slows it down a bit and is another of my favorites.  And it goes on from there…

I found it really interesting to read that the band considered this to be a more upbeat and “cheerful” album than previous releases.  I didn’t really interpret it that way, but that could just be my current state of mind.  Regardless, I do agree with their statement that it is their best album to date.

Well, that’s enough ranting and rambling about Snow Patrol for one post!  In other news, I broke down and bought the first season of the Chappelle show, with hopes that Jim will want to watch some of the episodes.  So far, I’ve only watched the first episode, which includes not only my favorite sketch (the Clayton Bigsby, black white supremacist skit) but also the Pop Copy sketch that so wonderfully makes fun of my previous profession as a Staples Copy Center employee!  So, as you see, this post really comes full circle.  It started with a band that was recommended to me by a Copy Center co-worker and ends with me going off to watch Pop Copy!

But, before I go, I should also mention that I have not made my last post of the day.  In fact, there may be as many as two new posts from me in the next few hours.  So stay tuned and come back soon for much more brand new fun on the best acoustic rock cover songs blog in the universe — the Laptop Session!

See you next session!

The Weekend Review: January 2012 Report

Originally posted 2012-03-11 09:58:40. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Fallen Empires (Snow Patrol)

Producer: Jacknife Lee

Released: January 10, 2012

Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Called Out in the Dark” & “The Symphony”

With an overall sound and feel crossing entirely too closely to that of 2006’s Eyes Open for my taste, Fallen Empires is no match for the best work in Snow Patrol’s catalog.  Since the departure of Mark McClelland, their approach has veered away from the feel of 2003’s excellent Final Straw, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially given the achievements of A Hundred Million Suns (2008) as an album.  Already, Fallen Empires has risen above this immediate predecessor in chart rankings in most countries.  Though it is clearly an inferior, less artful, less fully rendered effort than A Hundred Million Suns, this album does have its moments: it kicks off strongly, and “Called Out in the Dark” is an excellent track.  The next several tracks hold their weight until a fade is taken on the title track.  From the middle to the end of the album, it is a hit or miss affair with some songs sounding half-baked, others coming across as masterful (see: the lively, catchy “The Symphony” or the aptly chosen – albeit fourth – single “In the End”). 




Those Around Us (Jim Fusco)

Producer: Jim Fusco

Released: January 13, 2012

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Chameleon” & “Opportunities”

For several records now, Jim Fusco’s advertising rhetoric has focused on the theme of continuous improvement, on the idea that the album in question is at least one step forward from the previous one.  While That’s All Jim (2003) will forever stand higher in my estimation than What About Today? (2005), I had to admit that the technical expertise, songwriting, production quality, and concept of the latter were indeed a step forward from the former.  Then, when Halfway There was released in 2009, it would have been difficult to argue that it was not Fusco’s best record.  Now, with the arrival of Those Around Us, it is time again to weight the question: does this most recent release truly outshine the previous record?  More on that after the review…  The brighter, crisper sound of Those Around Us is the logical progression from the clean, sharp innovations that were immediately apparent on Halfway There, though it is less a progression than an extension of that sound, with the single greatest difference being the addition of crunchy distortion on the electric guitars throughout, in addition to the new instruments introduced this time around.  Several songs would have fit seamlessly into Halfway, most notably the live, tuning-up feel of “Run My Way” kicking of the album much like “A Night  Away” revved up Halfway’s “b-side” and the upbeat, vocally driven rock track “Opportunities.”  And yet it would not be fair to suggest that Those Around Us is some sort of Halfway There, Part Two (or would it be called All the Way There?).  This album offers some unique tracks heretofore unequaled in the Jim Fusco catalog.  The standout track is clearly “Chameleon” which, as was the case with Halfway’s “I Got You,” showcases an impressive leap forward in terms of lead vocal, instrumentation, and overall songwriting quality.  The brilliance of “Chameleon” lies in its use of the high and low ranges, mixing the bright guitar and keys with the dull throb of a disappointed-sounding bass line.  Other standouts include “In Your Head,” one of the most naturally fast-paced Fusco songs to date, and “Helpless,” if not as much for its overall quality then for its out-of-time feel and for featuring what is perhaps the least recognizable, least predictable guitar part on the record.  Elsewhere, the sequencing of the album is typically thoughtful, as in “Chameleon” – a song about appearances, adaptation, blending in and thus fading away – being followed by an extension of the visual/appearances theme in “Look Around,” which is also notable for being Fusco’s first recorded performance on lap steel, unless you count his part on the May 2009 Laptop Sessions cover of the Wilco / Woody Guthrie song “Jolly Banker.”  Elsewhere on the album, there are several aspects that either confuse previous sentiments from Fusco’s music or demonstrate maturation.  Take, for instance, “Choose Your Words (Carefully)” – which, for the record, seems less a referendum than a lecture – and its track two advice; seven years ago, he used the second track to instead assert that you “can’t count on words to fill the space between.”  This is an interesting modification of that original suggestion.  Another notable difference comes in the closing track.  “How Are You Feeling Tonight?” marks the first time Fusco has ended an album with an interrogative song since 2003 (That’s All Jim’s “Where Do We Go From Here?; before that, he ended side one of 2002’s My Other Half with “Why Do You?” and side three with “What Did I Expect?”).  This most recent question track is a departure in the sense that it closes with the refrain: “Try to live just for today, hey…,” whereas the other three end by fading out with the question still unanswered (though, to be fair, “What Did I Expect?” offers syntactical challenges that would easily merit a ten page paper to fully deconstruct, and that’s a task for another day…).  What this structural difference suggests is not entirely clear, though it is in keeping with the declarative nature of the record’s other songs, which taken as a whole constitute a series of observations and, ultimately, recommendations: Fusco sings “Choose Your Words (Carefully),” “Don’t Give Up,” “if she’s the one, believe in me, you would know,” “just don’t put off what you can take right now,” “Look Around,” and “in your head, it always comes out the way you choose it; in your head, you live at the top until you lose it,” in addition to reminding us – in a slight variation on “Follow You Home” – of that classic theme “you can never go home again.”  Ultimately, the technical achievements of Those Around Us cannot be denied, particularly in Fusco’s nice overall use of reverb, distinct instrumentation, and (as the bonus tracks further prove) vocal arrangement.  However, there are several facets of Halfway There which, I would argue, serve to maintain its position as the best Jim Fusco album to date: namely, there is a certain longing, a sense of innocent questioning, exploration and discovery, and raw displeasure that surge through the 2009 album that simply isn’t present here.  This is not to undermine the strengths of Those Around Us, but rather to put them in relative perspective.  To my thinking, and I’ve often seemed alone in this critical stance, My Other Half still stands as the second best album in Fusco’s catalog (for its conceptual sequencing, ambitious strides in songwriting and packaging, and for its raw, unsettled emotion), placing Those Around Us in a smack down with That’s All Jim.  As must as I love the latter, I’m pretty certain the former would triumph in the end. 




A Different Sort of Solitude [Mini-EP/Single] (Steven Page)

Producer: Steven Page

Released: January 17, 2012

Rating:  4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “A Different Sort of Solitude” & “Manchild”

While I find it difficult to be excited about a mere two song EP two years after Page’s first album was released, I suppose we can’t expect more than for him to “make art when inspiration blows [his way],” as he sings in “Manchild.”  In that sense, this “mini-EP” – aka glorified single – is a tease, as both songs are clearly not throwaways from Page One but new, fully realized compositions with a tendency toward the expansive and epic in their soundscapes.  If anything, the theme of separation and recreation of one’s identity is stronger and more focused here than it was on his debut album, a thread that’s made clear up front in a title like “A Different Sort of Solitude.”  One has to wonder if “Manchild” is a significant title given Page’s long tenure as a Lady, but perhaps that’s just the BnL fan in me stretching things a bit…




Clear Heart Full Eyes (Craig Finn)

Producer: Mike McCarthy

Released: January 24, 2012

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “”Honolulu Blues” & “Not Much Left of Us”

There is something truly beautiful about a solo project from the front man for a rock band that redefines his sound while retaining his core attributes and maintaining the interest and edge of a full band effort.  Craig Finn has achieved this sort of stark, perhaps even raw beauty on his solo debut Clear Heart Full Eyes.  As soon as the opening chords of the first track, “Apollo Baby,” there is just a hint of a gorgeous sort of menacing snarl that pervades the record.  The instrumentation on Clear Heart is stripped down in comparison to the Hold Steady’s typical arrangements of Finn’s songs, but it is far from minimalist; on most tracks, there are one or two guitar parts with distinct parts, unique bass tracks that add cohesion, and a drum beat to drive the progression.  Even though Finn’s themes here are as serious as ever and perhaps a little more so in some places, there is an unmistakable sense that he is having the time of his life.  It may be written off as a side effect of his lead vocals being stronger, higher in the mix than usual, but it is difficult not to feel the smile – or is it a smirk? – in “New Friend Jesus” or not to sense the general lyrical force and vocal conviction offered up by Finn throughout.  There’s not a clunker in the bunch, and tracks like the character tale “Jackson,” the rootsy romp “Honolulu Blues,” the sparse, devastating “Rented Room,” and the heartbreakingly perfect closer “Not Much Left of Us” will stand among the best songs in his catalog.  While I hope this solo detour doesn’t extend the time between Hold Steady records too much, I also hope that he’ll find his way back to a solo record in the not-so-distant future. 




iTunes Session (Wilco)

Released: January 24, 2012

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “War on War” & “Cruel to Be Kind”

I’ll preface this by admitting that if Wilco wasn’t one of my favorite bands of all time (top ten, if not top five), then I would never have considered spending money for what is essentially a live-in-the-studio rehash of tracks from last year’s The Whole Love, with the lead single from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) and a deep track from A.M. (1995) thrown in, topped off with a cover of Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind” with the man himself taking lead vocal duties.  This being said, while there’s nothing really new here, there is the tremendous take on YHF-alum “War on War” and a general sense of vitality in their performances.  While I can’t in good faith rate this iTunes Session higher than three stars, I do recommend it for diehard Wilco fans.  Others should download The Whole Love in its entirety, as it was the best album from 2011 and perhaps the second best Wilco album of all time. 




Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (Various Artists)

Producers: Jeff Ayeroff & Julie Yannatta

Released: January 24, 2012

Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Ring Them Bells” (Natasha Bedingfield) & “One Too Many Mornings” (Johnny Cash, [Bob Dylan,] and the Avett Brothers)

What a mess.  One would think that, what with nearly eighty tracks assembled from a widely varied and not-so-untested array of artists, a compilation of this depth and breadth – referring to both artist and song choice – would have enough gems to make its purchase worthwhile. Instead, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International largely function as a reminder that there is no replacement for artistry and, often, perfection the first time around.  The only truly great track here is the only one previously released: the title track, from Dylan’s 1964 acoustic album Another Side of Bob Dylan.  There are standouts, of course, in the efforts of artists like Natasha Bedingfield, Brett Dennen, Patti Smith, Jack’s Mannequin, Elvis Costello, and others.  There is remarkably strong work from artists that surprised me – most notably Rise Against’s take on “Ballad of Hollis Brown” and Raphael Saadiq’s better-than-competent cover of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” (though none will ever top Beck’s version).  And then there are the other sixty-something songs, less than half of which are bearable enough to be termed mediocre.  The majority are simply uninspired, and an uncomfortably high number are utter garbage.  The only truly surprising jewel is a reworking of The Times They Are A-Changin’ alum “One Too Many Mornings” by the Avett Brothers, who were granted access to the session held with both Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan early in the 1970’s, when Dylan was still in the heart of his “Lay, Lady, Lay” voice phase.  I have yearned to hear fully rendered songs from this reportedly spotty (in terms of quality) session, and the Avett Brothers have done this track justice.  At the end of the day, my consolation arrives in the knowledge that the proceeds here go to Amnesty International, and I wish I could recommend more than a handful of – maybe ten at best – tracks.




Ringo 2012 (Ringo Starr)

Producer: Ringo Starr

Released: January 31, 2012

Rating: 3.5 / 5 starrs

Top Two Tracks: “Wonderful” & “In Liverpool”

Ringo Starr returns to rock after but a brief absence – a mere two weeks more than two years since Y Not was released – and this time without an embarrassing title and without the song quality falling apart at the end.  It would be disingenuous to suggest Ringo 2012 is a return to pre-Y Not form, as it is no less a hodgepodge than its predecessor, an album on which Ringo collaborated with someone different to write every track, as well as returning to a previously recorded track.  Ringo 2012 follows the same pattern, including a cover of a thirties folk song (“Rock Island Line”), a Buddy Holly cover (“Think It Over,” first released last year on the Listen To Me: Buddy Holly tribute album), and two re-recorded songs (“Wings” from 1977’s Ringo the 4th and “Step Lightly” from 1973’s Ringo).  This leaves a mere five wholly original tracks.  Even still, this latest Ringo album bears the marks of an artist who has worked to make a cohesive compilation of songs.  They are smartly sequenced, the best being saved for (almost) last, namely the beautifully arranged, heartfelt “Wonderful” and “In Liverpool,” which somehow manages to transcend being the token “remember when I was a boy on the verge of becoming a Beatle” track.  The rest fall in line well: despite its brevity, “Think It Over” is fun and well arranged, of all the tracks to revisit, “Wings” fits well here as the single, and “Slow Down,” despite bearing the oh-so-obvious songwriting influence of Joe Walsh (see: Y Not’s “Fill in the Blanks for comparison), is an excellent, upbeat closing track whose energy defies its title.  In the end, Ringo 2012 won’t change the world, but it will make you want to tap your feet, dance and sing, or play along, not to mention crossing your fingers that Ringo continues to be so prolific.




Old Ideas (Leonard Cohen)

Producer: Ed Sanders

Released: January 31, 2012

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Darkness” & “Different Sides”

In a fast-paced world, Leonard Cohen refuses to hasten his step to draw us in.  Listening to a Leonard Cohen album requires attention and patience to fully appreciate its lyrical and musical nuances, and Old Ideas is no exception.  There is a timeless quality to this album, a sense throughout that the songs could have been written at any time during the past one hundred years.  Yet they weren’t written long ago and they are not covers; these are brand new tracks, and clearly driven by Cohen’s passion.  What I find most intriguing about Old Ideas is the manner in which Cohen manages to interweave elements of the sad and the sensual, taking the gruffness of turn-of-the-century Dylan vocals and flavoring it with a subtle array of inflections that make it inextricable from the casual beauty of the instrumental arrangements.  “Darkness” is as close as the album gets to an up-tempo track, and it is driven along by some of the strongest lyrics on the album; as the song continues, so the darkness spreads as though it were a contagion whisking away pleasures both present and past.  Likewise, “Different Sides” kicks off with one of the best opening lines: “We find ourselves on different sides of a line nobody drew.”  This closing track incorporates all the best elements from the nine that precede it: crisp, grumbling Cohen vocals, silky smooth female background vocals, an organ hovering somewhere between lilting and mournful, and percussion that holds the piece together.  In short, Old Ideas is a strong effort with consistently arranged and strongly poetic tracks, and though some do fade into the mix there are several that stand out as more, elements able to stand apart from the rest and yet encapsulate the beauty and sorrow of the overall record.