Monthly Musical Musings
February’s best CDs include those by Beck, Neil Finn and Neneh Cherry.
February heralds many ugly traditions, including Valentine’s Day, the annual turning of movie theaters into major-studio dumpsters and something about a rodent’s silhouette. Yet the month also heralds the start of spring training for baseball and a last respite before we hear (endlessly) about March Madness.
February 2014 has, furthermore, provided musical riches: the list below could’ve easily been doubled with synth-marinated indie pop (St. Vincent’s self-titled fourth record), folk revivalism (the newest from William Fitzsimmons and Barzin) and NYC-based genre-bending via Japanese expatriates (Cibo Matto’s reunion disc, Hotel Valentine). After the shakeout, here are:
FIVE TO FEEL…
- Beck, Morning Phase (Capitol). When Beck supposedly represented the slacker side of alt-rock mainstreaming, traditional singer-songwriter throwbacks like 2002’s “Sea Change” indicated his mature side. Eleven years later, and six years after his last LP, “Morning Phase” shows the subtlety with which his mature side has become, artistically speaking, his better half.
- Neil Finn, Dizzy Heights (Lester Records). As Split Enz sideman and Crowded House frontman, Finn has been an almost (but never quite) boringly reliable pop-rock purveyor. On the latest of his rare solo forays, he and Mercury Rev producer Dave Fridmann almost (but never quite) conceal engaging melodies and contemplative lyrics beneath fascinating, charged layers of atmosphere.
- Neneh Cherry, “Blank Project” (Smalltown Supersound). Two years ago, the cosmopolitan Cherry reemerged with “The Cherry Thing,” a collaboration that was her first new music since 1996; “Blank Project” consolidates her avant-garde tendencies with the hip-hop and pop angle that impressed on 1989’s “Raw Sushi,” resulting in music at once challenging and accessible.
- Robert Ellis, The Lights From the Chemical Plant (New West). A limpid remake of Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” is the least interesting track on this Texan’s second wide-release LP. That and his own lovely, idiosyncratic adjustments to Americana are why Robert Ellis might be the most compelling voice to move to Nashville since the Mavericks’ Raul Malo made the trip.
- Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else (Bloodshot). The young women—Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves et al—of neo-Nashville country music are smarter, tougher and more talented than their male contemporaries. And on her third album, Ohio native Loveless makes those women seem like wallflowers.
- Candice Glover, Music Speaks (19 Recordings/Interscope). Nearly every “American Idol” winner has stumbled with the first post-“Idol” album, which usually ends up a somnambulant testament to MOR blandness. The latest champion has a great set of pipes and a goodly amount of control, but these 11 songs do nothing for her, and a supper-club cover of the Cure’s “Love Song” sounds like the kind of joke a pseudo-hipster producer would play on the artiste.