Few could dispute that 77-year-old Leonard Cohen is a musical treasure, the author of some of the most beautiful and poetic songs of the last four decades. And only the heartless would deny the Canadian artist the very late and long overdue career resurgence courtesy of the legion of admirers reinterpreting his greatest tunes, starting with the Pixies, Nick Cave, R.E.M., John Cale, and others on Iâm Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (1991), reaching its pinnacle with Jeff Buckleyâs celebrated rendition of âHallelujah,â and arguably hitting overkill with not one but two versions of that tune on the soundtrack to Shrek.
Yet Cohenâs catalog of 11 earlier studio albums often has been plagued by fussy overproduction that not only fails to match his gruff, homely, but endearing baritone, but often detracts from it.
Second only to true love, no bond in life is tighter or endures longer than one with someone youâve made music with.
Friendship and shared experience are part of it, of courseâall of those hours spent rehearsing, recording, performing, and waiting to perform, to say nothing of crossing the country huddled together in a wreck of a van, or sleeping side by side on someoneâs floor, if touring was involved. But it goes deeper that that.
When you play with a group that really clicks, you instinctively come to sense where your bandmates are going next, following their lead or guiding them where you want to go. You laugh with commiseration at their missteps, or your own; celebrate spontaneous moments of inspiration, and conduct running commentaries on everything happening on stage, in the roomâŠ and in the universe. At the risk of waxing mystical, this ability transcends verbal communication, or even visual exchanges.
When an artist has built what for better or worse has come to be hailed as the ideal musical vehicle to couch his grand thematic musings, going solo inevitably feels like a pointless exercise, if not a guaranteed disappointment. This certainly was true of Bruce Springsteenâs first two non-E Street Band rock albums in the â90s, Human Touch and Lucky Town. And itâs true as well of the first extra-Hold Steady release from the Bossâs beloved Brooklyn acolyte, Craig Finn.
âThe Hold Steady is celebratory, but I donât feel that way 100% of the time,â Finn told Pitchfork. âIâm a human being.â Maybe, though he never tires of positioning himself as a literary superhero: The lineage heâd have us follow goes Kerouac, Dylan, Springsteen, Craig! (though lately heâs also name-checking Graham Greene and Joan Didion). But the first half of that statement promises that the singer and songwriter is exploring some sadder, subtler musical territory than his regular bandâs admittedly infectious and uplifting roots/classic-rock bombast.
From Marvin Gaye to Prince, and from R. Kelly to Drake, R&B artists have a long tradition of working out their sexual neuroses in song. For the greatest of them, the musical invention mirrors the lyrical weirdness, and the latter ultimately plays neither as confession nor celebration, but as a declaration of humanity. Such is the case with the Weeknd, which he fittingly pronounces as âweakened.â
Hailed by fellow Toronto native Drake and widely celebrated on the Net, one-man band and home-recording wizard Abel Tesfaye became an underground sensation and the latest example of the growing power of self-distribution and promotion via three mix tapes that all were given away for free on his Website in 2011:House of Balloons, Thursday, and, Echoes of Silence.
Arriving just before Christmas and combining the darker vibes of the debut with the experimentation of the follow-up, the latest is his strongest, starting with the opener, a lighthearted but nonetheless powerful cover of Michael Jacksonâs âDirty Diana.â This is a bold statement that the Ethiopian musician sees himself as ranking with the greats (and it no doubt will eventually prompt the notoriously litigious estate of the Gloved One to block further distribution, so download the disc now).
For a history geek and a student of what Greil Marcus called âthe old, weird America,â the History Channelâs American Pickers is one of the best shows on television, though only rarely does it intersect with the music world: Say, when hosts and expert antiques scavengers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz find an old National Steel Guitar rusting away in a rural barn, or they go picking in the store room of Mickey Gilleyâs famous Texas roadhouse.
Last night, though, in one of the seriesâ best exchanges ever, the dynamic duo engaged in an epic swap with rock giant Jack White at his new recording studio and record label headquarters in Nashville (where the pickers recently opened the second of their two stores; the other is at home in LeClaire, Iowa).
Mike and Frank had scored a huge, pre-poaching laws stuffed elephantâs head during a visit to a taxidermist in New England, and then were faced with the challenge of how to unload their $9,500 purchase.
The new year could see a new level of ferocity in Chicagoâs always-competitive club wars, thanks to a new hire by Ticketmaster/Live Nation that's sure to shake things up.
Though it dominates at the arena level, the local office of the giant national concert behemoth long has been thwarted in its efforts to muscle into Chicagoâs thriving club scene, where independent owners and talent bookers hold fast from the smaller spaces up to roomier venues such as the newer and very classy Lincoln Hall (capacity 507) and the venerable and legendary landmark Metro (capacity 1150).
But the company that many of its own employees call âthe Evil Empireâ once again is setting its sights on clubland, hiring veteran talent buyer Sean McDonough not only to book the tourist-trap House of Blues, but to continue programming the Bottom Loungeâonly now under the monopolistic corporate banner.
Well-known and much-respected by local music-scene stalwarts, McDonough spent 14 years as the talent buyer at Metro.
Though theyâve been building a shockingly staunch following since bursting out of Akron, Ohio, in 2002, guitarist-vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney never gave me anything close to the originality I need to accord such devotion; striking me as sweaty at best onstage, I wrote the Black Keys off as a second-tier White Stripes wannabe on album. Now, Iâm not so much sure that I was wrong as Iâm pleasantly surprised that they had an effort as powerful as El Camino in âem for their seventh trip to the studio.
The musicians have cited the Clash as an inspiration for the tracks they laid down in their Nashville home studio, and that would seem to be the Clash of London Calling, in the sense that this is a sprawling, expansive set that pays homage to roots much wider and more diverse than theyâd previously given us reason to suspect, all while maintaining a consistent vision uniquely their own.
We get hints of randy glam-rock (in the swaggering âGold on the Ceilingâ), Dr. John-style acid-gospel (âHell of a Seasonâ), bombastic blues-rock (âLittle Black Submarinesâ),and of course plenty of Nuggets-stylegarage-pop (gotta love that ponding opener âLonely Boyâ). We get heartfelt declarations of love, lust, and the desire for redemption.