This week, the Big Music Machine is raising the musical dead. The Black Keys bring the blues back from the grave one more time, while the Rolling Stones reanimate a rock classic, Tracey Thorn returns from Everything But the Girl purgatory, and Nas & Damian Marley summon the ghosts of their African brothers. Please press play now and thank me later.
VOTE: When is a band too old to rock?
PLAY: The Rolling Stones, "Exile on Main St." [Reissue]
In 1971 the Stones were in self-imposed tax exile in a former Nazi headquarters. Keith Richards was in the grips of a major heroin addiction, Mick Jagger was waiting for his wife to give birth, and the band rarely met at the same time. It was the perfect recipe for a masterpiece recording. "Exile on Main St." is the blueprint for every ragged, country-infused, booze-soaked album ever made. Unlike the waste heap of worthless reissues foisted upon us each month, this one matters. "Exile on Main St." is instructive for any self-respecting rock wonk and manna for all the Stones junkies out there (the ten bonus tracks -- including the perfect mid-tempo "Plundered My Soul" -- will give hardcore fans months of new musical fodder to chew on). Most importantly, it just rocks in a way little else has in the years since.
WATCH the music video for the Rolling Stones' outtake "Plundered My Soul."
PLAY: Tracey Thorn, "Love and Its Opposite"
It's been more than ten years since Tracey Thorn and her partner (now husband), Ben Watt, mothballed their jazz-electronica duo, Everything But the Girl. (Remember their great '94 single "Missing"?) Now Thorn emerges from a maternity leave with a new solo album -- her third overall. "Love and Its Opposite" picks up the same themes of love, longing, and loss that made their way onto EBTG albums over the years. Thorn's bedroom alto has lost none of its heavy, sad charm. She is a quiet storm -- and not in that cheesy jazz format way. Her music is the antidote to all the vocal histrionics that pass as sensuality these days. Dig her mood.
WATCH Tracey Thorn perform "Oh, The Divorces!" solo at her home.
PLAY: The Black Keys, "Brothers"
The Ohio duo has been channeling Delta blues dudes for almost ten years. On "Brothers" they dive even deeper, giving us 15 songs that will make you forget about Motown, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals. Akron is the cradle of black music -- or at least the home to 21st century white blues dudes who convincingly sing and play like legendary 20th century black blues dudes. Get down. Get funky. Get ironic.
PLAY: Nas & Damian Marley, "Distant Relatives"
Bob Marley's youngest son hooks up with one of hip-hop's most famous sons. "Distant Relatives" refers to the two rappers' shared African ancestry that forms the lyrical and musical glue of the album. The two take on weighty topics, drawing a line from the poverty of modern-day Africa to the struggles of African-American populations in our nation. This is an album that lives up to the promises of the best socially conscious rap before the music devolved into a narcissistic ball of gunfire, posturing, and blunts. Nas and Marley make music that not only bridges two continents but is also a life raft to save hip-hop from its hedonistic self. Thanks for bringing it back to the roots.
WATCH the music video for the Nas & Damian Marley single "As We Enter."
PLAY: Band of Horses, "Infinite Arms"
Flannel, plaid, and distortion did not die with the '90s. The center of the musical universe shifted from Seattle long ago, but Band of Horses is keeping the Seattle spirit alive. Actually, they're keeping the music of Neil Young, the Band, and every other bearded '70s hippie alive. They even made the requisite recording pilgrimage to the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals -- home to classic albums from the Allman Brothers, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, and nearly every other musical giant of the past 50 years. "Infinite Arms" stands on their shoulders. It deserves a place up there. The harmonies are sweet, and the hooks are solidly '70s radio. Soak it up.
WATCH the music video for Band of Horses' single "NW Apt."