This week I review some new releases courtesy of Sony.
Willie Nelson - "Band of Brothers"
This single disc CD, released June 17, shows the older Willie gets the better he gets.
It's amazing to consider a man well into his 80s shows no signs of slowing down and still has much to contribute, especially on "Band of Brothers," which could be his best release in several years.
Nelson, who seems to record a new album every six months or so, did what he's been doing for years - take a short vacation from the road, go into the studio and record some great songs with his unique band, guitar-playing and laid-back, behind-the-beat golden voice.
What makes "Band of Brothers" special is that Willie is writing material again, and it shows he still knows how to pen an authentic country tune or two. Most of the songs, such as "Guitar in the Corner" and the title cut ring of the autobiographical - Nelson, the eccentric, gifted artist who makes no bones about smoking a little weed and keeping life loose and fun.
But there are other aspects of Willie most people are unaware of, such as his penchant for exercising several hours a day and being a fifth - or sixth - degree black belt (I can't keep up). Willie's lifestyle might not be for everyone, but for this wandering gypsy with his family caravan "Band of Brothers" shows he's still at the top of his game.
-Dave Matthews Band - "Remember Two Things"
This long out-of-print CD released by Matthews on an indie label back in the early 1990s before they were international stars is highly coveted and little known outside of Matthews' hard-core fan base.
The re-release by Sony in mid-June also shows much of the template for the band already was set, but as in many indie releases, wasn't well known outside of regional parts of Virginia.
And the album was out-of-step with the grungy, guitar-dominated sound of the Northwest in the early 1990s.
Listeners really became aware of Matthews and his band's unique sound featuring acoustic guitar, violin and a smoking rhythm section, on 1994's "Under the Table and Dreaming."
But the sound - also featuring Matthews malleable vocals and a multi-cultural band, are here on "Remember Two Things." It even has an earlier version of "Ants Marching," which would become a centerpiece for the band's jam-driven and legendary live shows.
"Remember Two Things" also is available as a double vinyl album release as well. Fans of Matthews can see where it all began with "Remember Two Things."
The The - "Soul Mining"
The The may be a group unknown to many, but it's similar to that of Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails in that the band is pretty much all Matt Johnson creating music in the studio and then hiring musicians to play the music live.
There are more than a few similarities between NIN and The The in the fact they both perform electronica-based music laced with guitars, bass and singers full of angst. But The The came first, and I would even be so bold to say NIN was inspired, if not modeled, after The The.
"Soul Mining" is the band's best-known release, a bonifide classic rock album, and Sony plans to drop this double-LP reissue July 1. The The's main ingredient - particularly on "Soul Mining" - is the almost overwhelming pain in Matt Johnson's voice, not to mention his dark arrangements. This is not easy music to listen to, but The The has built a cult audience through a string of compelling releases, with "Soul Mining" being, in my opinion, the cornerstone of his career. Johnson's band hasn't exactly been all that prolific, having only released six official albums since 1983.
The The was founded in the ashes of British punk and new wave music, and the "band" has gotten together for occasional shows and the odd album. "Soul Mining" is considered the band's synth masterpiece and still holds up well today, 30 years later.
- "Studio Rio Presents: The Brazil Connection"
Released this week by Sony/Legacy, "The Brazil Connection" is an odd collection of songs capitalizing on the resurgence of bossa nova internationally.
A select group of extremely gifted songwriters from Brazil in the late 1950s and early '60s invented a new music form that swept the world. A sexy, laid-back and sensuous music - much like Brazil itself - bossa nova became a craze everywhere, especially America, where bossa was incorporated into pop and jazz music. The trademarks of bossa include softly plucked, nylon-stringed guitars, soft percussion, monophonic horn lines and even softer singing and quirky chord changes.
Many of the classics of the genre were written by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Jazz saxophonist Stan Getz had a hit record in the early '60s when he teamed up with Jobim and his wife Astrud Gilberto on vocals for a record of bossa tunes, now considered a classic.
Bossa has never gone away, but the music is as cosmopolitan as the country. Brazil is a sophisticated, emerging country where just about anything goes, and the sensuous strains of bossa fit the country perfectly.
"The Brazil Collection" features artists - many of them long dead - and their vocals stripped of their original arrangements and substituted with a first-rate bossa rhythm section. The result - an awkward attempt to fuse bossa with vocal classics from Billie Holiday, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, Sly and the Family Stone and the Isley Brothers, among others.
Now, I've never been a fan of "necro-izing" artists with new arrangements that just don't fit their style or for the another artists' vain wish to do duets with dead artists. The fact is, some of these attempts on "The Brazil Connection" fall flat, especially with Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," Holiday's "You've Changed" and Johnny Nash's "I can See Clearly Now."
These great songs sound, well...silly with bossa arrangements, because that's not what these great vocalists originally were singing. It's well-known bossa is compatible with all types of music, but this just seems contrived.
It cheapens both the artists and bossa.