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Mike Ragogna

Mike Ragogna

Posted: June 22, 2009 04:59 AM

New Tunes On Monday: Wilco, The Mars Volta, Don Henley and Christina Courtin


Wilco - Wilco (The Album)

Oh, Tweedy, must we go all first person in the first song on an album that's self-titled? We know, it's supposed to be a song to the fans, and it's been on the net to ponder for a while now, but...really? Wilco's going to love, maybe even protect us from all our personal ills and demons ("...a sonic shoulder to cry on")? And another question or two: Was "Bull Black Nova" invented so Nels Cline could play his ass off and not quit the band (considering this is practically a singer-songwriter album in disguise)? Has someone been listening to George Harrison's Dark Horse period, World Party and Danny O'Keefe's Breezy Stories album? Speaking of parties, what's up with that cover with a camel in a Shriner's cap?

Ah, we kid, it's all good, this is a fine record, really. The songs are laden with fat, beefy hooks although there isn't the usual amount of boundary pushing here. On the other hand, can't these fellers record some guilty pleasures now and then, like the sublime "One Wing" with Cline playing a restrained koo-koo in the last minute or so? There's also "You And I," a coo-y duet with pop pixie Feist that's the more than obvious hit, you hear that, powers-that-be? Then again, there's another potential hit in "You Never Know" with its Harrison guitar-ish licks and big vocal chorus on "...I don't caaaaaaaare anymore" that takes the listener back to Cracker Box Palace.

No, the influences don't stop there: "Country Disappeared" has enough of the late Chris Bell's phrasings to get you a little misty for "Look Up" or "I Am The Cosmos"; "I'll Fight" has some great oldies swipes, specifically, from The Zombies' "Tell Her No"; the personal read on "Solitaire," with its doubled vocals and acoustic atmospherics, is almost as charming as "You And I," though it's a bit more sullen; and if one needs a fun, happy summer sing-a-long that will have you bummed out when you realize its about the exact opposite thing the music infers, then "Sunny Feeling" is the song for you. The closing track is another buzz-kill of sorts, but it sums up an album that reels you into all its happy happy, joy joy...then sends your children running from a party where a camel with a Shriner's cap came to eat your kids. Pretty cool.

Tracks:
1. Wilco (The Song)
2. Deeper Down
3. One Wing
4. Bull Black Nova
5. You And I
6. You Never Know
7. Country Disappeared
8. Solitaire
9. I'll Fight
10. Sunny Feeling
11. Everlasting Everything


The Mars Volta - Octahedron

With the eight tracks on Octahedron, main gunners Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala have delivered their most accessible Mars Volta album yet, and they did it without kvetching over ramifications. These 2008 Grammy winners (for rocking hard and being Rush-like on the track "Wax Simulacra") have lived up to Rolling Stone's dubbing them best prog-rockers of 2008 by delivering a project that may bang a little less, but musically competes with most classic albums of that genre. Their initially acoustic "Since We've Been Wrong" takes its Yes-Scorpions amalgam seriously, building a story about feeling cosmically foreign within one's body upon five simple chords. Lyrics like "I have grown inside this skin, I'll find a way outside these eyelids" may not seem all that clever at first, but the music gives this vessel a mystic coat of paint. This is the set-up for a very evenly-paced, somewhat pared-down release, Omar having explained back in January, "I consider it to be our acoustic album." Though some tracks do rock, this is a brand of Volta we've only heard hints of on earlier records, and their version of "acoustic" is really just relative. "It's our version," Cedric added in that earlier interview. "That's what our band does...celebrate mutations."

But if the music, especially on the first track, flirts with too much mellow for some fans' tastes, the lyrics still kick and claw. In the very next song, "Teflon," we're told, "Let the wheels burn, let the wheels burn, stack the tires to the neck with the body inside" -- not the most evolutionary of suggestions. And "Desperate Graves," well, the title says it all. Musically, when things get more mucho macho, we get struts like the single "Cotopaxi" that whips out a little Geddy Lee over a chord pattern that borrows from seventies barroom bands on speed and occasional Crack The Sky time signature shakeups that pass by without throwing the rhythm into chaos. But overall, the vibe is pretty much pretty, with "Copernicus" and "With Twilight As My Guide" driving that silken point home. The potential single and rock-waltz, "Halo Of Nembutals," is another beautiful track for the masses and would-be highlight of the album...if lyrics and a title like this didn't matter. And then there's the partly vibra-voiced last track, "Luciforms," that reminds us these guys still love to get their geek on, which is great because over the span of five or so albums, they still like the gimmick of it all, even while they're taking a slight rest from the raucous.

Tracks:
1. Since We've Been Wrong
2. Teflon
3. Halo Of Nembutals
4. With Twilight As My Guide
5. Cotopaxi
6. Desperate Graves
7. Copernicus
8. Luciforms


Don Henley - The Very Best Of Don Henley

"Out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a cadillac...a voice inside my head said, 'Don't look back, you can never look back.'"

It's all a blur now...that little kid smackin' the crap out of his snair; a Grease-like couple running and twirling on the beach; two headless, super-toned bods jumping up behind that ominous fence; and a black and white town in quick-motion behind ex-Eagle, Don Henley, cloaked in his dark, flip-collared jacket. Normally, this is the stuff that art house theaters pedal, but Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" chant, "I can tell you my love for you will still be strong after the boys of summer are gone," tempers the song's theme of grand disillusionment with a simple love story that brings us back to the local cineplex. It's one of the most memorable videos of the eighties, and it added to music television's launch of U.S.-artsy, high-concept shorts--Europop already having given us mini-movies à la Duran Duran and the like.

Its complex follow-up, "All She Wants To Do Is Dance"--co-starring ex-companion, Maren Jensen (also from the original Battlestar Galactica series)--mixed just the right amount of colloquial phrases with international politics, such as in its line "Molotov cocktail, the local drink...mix 'em up right in the kitchen sink." As the singles progressed, Henley's ability to mesmerize and disorient simultaneously grew, and his patriotic anthem, "The End Of The Innocence" (co-written with Bruce Hornsby), set us up with lines like "remember when the days were long and rolled beneath the deep blue sky" before breaking it to us that "happily ever after fails and we've been poisoned by these fairy tales, and lawyers dwell on small details..." This and other tracks such as "I Will Not Go Quietly," his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows," and the single that kicked the door down as well as the media in the groin, "Dirty Laundry," showcased Mr. Henley Goes To Washington both as a contributor to popular music and a culture warrior; almost all of these recordings reached beyond the mundane and the four-minute single. But he also never abandoned writing simple love songs, and "The Heart of The Matter" probably was the best of the bunch.

This collection gathers almost all of his best moments (what, no "Johnny Can't Read" or "Love Rules" from Fast Time At Ridgemont High?), and is a fine study of one of our best singer-songwriters for four decades running. So toss your Actual Miles collection and pick up The Very Best Of Don Henley if only for its upgraded A&R (credited to famed compilation producer, Andy McKaie); its mastering, dialed-in by sonic connoisseur, Stephen Marcussen, plus its three Inside Job inclusions. These new songs raise the track count from Henley's previous greatest hits, replacing "The Garden Of Allah" and "You Don't Know Me At All" with the tender, acoustic guitar-laced Larry John McNally original, "For My Wedding"; his Randy Newman-tinged "Everything Is Different Now," that both lyrically and musically contrast a dark past with a more joyful present within verse-versus-chorus switch-ups; and "Taking You Home," with its hook, "This love is like nothing I have ever known," resolves Henley's collection like a Hollywood happily-ever-after that you kinda want this guy to have after ten tracks stuffed with social consciousness, relationship phobias and angst. For many, Don Henley's music was just too intense, but his slapping us around a little with deeper concerns was good for those of us who listened since, yeah, when we're faced with hard political or personal decisions, too much of the time, all we want to do is dance.

Tracks:
Dirty Laundry
The Boys Of Summer
All She Wants To Do Is Dance
Not Enough Love In The World
Sunset Grill
The End Of The Innocence
The Last Worthless Evening
New York Minute
I Will Not Go Quietly
The Heart Of The Matter
Everybody Knows
For My Wedding
Everything Is Different Now
Taking You Home


Christina Courtin - Christina Courtin

On the track "Foreign Country," we get this wild mix of old school Melanie ("Brand New Key") and Maria Muldaur ("Any Old Time"), with a hair of Julia Fordham's breath control, all set against a sort-of country swing that seems to have originated in 1960s France. It's these flavors and more that make Christina Courtin's self-titled debut on Nonesuch a wonderful concoction, with intoxicating moody numbers such as the quite simple "Bundah" (really, "Bundah"?) and its gorgeous lines like "the stars burn bright for you" that sit you by your East Village walk-up's windowsill, looking out at a cloudy late-afternoon. Guest musicians like Jon Brion, Benmont Tench, Greg Leisz, and Jim Keltner wander amidst orchestrations and occasional alt-guitar drones that paint an overall disorienting landscape in which you need the occasional melodic hook and Courtin's toasty-warm, reassuring vocal to reel you back to "reality" (not that you'd want that). Though the lyrics are engaging, they barely matter beyond effect as the artist's lilting, breathy voice steers her adventures through layers of hypnotic music and production. And one of the most alluring sirens of the record, "February," will possess you like Dr. Smith ensnared by Lorelei (any Lost In Space fans out there?).

Tracks:
Green Jay
Bundah
Foreign Country
Hedonistic Paradise
Mulberries
February
Laconia
One Man Down
Rainy
Unzipped
Bonus Track:
We'll Meet Again

Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008