Return To Planet Earth
It's been six years since Kim Fox's whimsically rich, quirky debut, Moon Hut, was launched on Geffen and propelled Fox on the Lilith Fair circuit.
Sadly, while some critics recognized the songwriting prowess of that first disc, the public didn't, and Fox disappeared for a time from performing, concentrating on world travel and photography. But rather than translate those recent experiences into an album of disparate world beats or esoteric mysticism, Fox's long-overdue sophomore release looks back for inspiration, drawing power from nostalgia and her native New York's musical history in its mining of doo-wop harmonies, Tin Pan Alley song savvy, and even disco nightlife rhythms.
Compared to everyone from Aimee Mann and Sam Phillips to Susanna Hoffs and Laura Nyro, Fox displays a wide stylistic breadth on Return to Planet Earth, wrapping her girlish, heart-breaking pipes (and lots of retro "ba-ba-bas" around songs of disco-driven lust in "Baby, I Want You Back," introspective pop in the unabashedly catchy "I've Got Music" and eerie melancholy in the spacey piano-backed "Return to Planet Earth," which includes a Kate Bush-esque interlude. Fans of the underappreciated '90s bass-drums-piano trio Suddenly Tammy! will connect instantly with the trilling piano and wispy vocals of "Little Piece of Heaven" and "My One Kiss Wonder," the latter of which opens with a Carole King piano nod.
"I'm a sucker for old nostalgia/and I'm a sucker for you" Fox sings on "Something Just As Good," a warm prayer of hope for "something better" played atop a Burt Bacharach-rich bed of strings and quiet horns that is one of the album's richest offerings. That track is topped only by the sing-along "I've Got Music," a perfect self affirmation for the lonely:
"To an empty apartment
Who greets me when I'm home?
A record player and a pair of headphones…
I've got music
So I've got love."
Every track on this 13-song disc offers picture-perfect songwriting. Smart, funny, sad; Fox covers every emotion, even offering a jaunty head-nodding tribute to spending a day on the couch ("let's do nothing together") in "Lazy." It all closes with the achingly sad guitar strums of "Tread This World So Lightly," where Fox sings of the ever-fickle nature of love, begging "teach me how to be loved/teach me how I can stay … so that I won't fade away."
With the help of Aimee Mann co-writer Jon Brion, Jellyfish founder Roger Manning, former Hooter Eric Bazilian and producer Linus of Hollywood, Return to Planet Earth, while appearing on a tiny label (and no doubt created on a tiny budget) is a warm, wonderful gem of a pop record. Seek this one out at www.kim-fox.com.
Kim Fox will play at Chicago's Uncommon Ground (www.uncommonground.com) Saturday, opening for local acts the Mark Watson Band and Phil & the Idea.
Jeff Pryor Band
From the gentle crooning of "Raining Love" and the Spanish guitar intro to the classic '60s-sounding tango "Into the Night," to the Detroit R&B fire of "Ticket to Malibu" and the horn-punching soul of "Affectionate Fools," the new album by the Jeff Pryor Band, Loverland, on Teze Records, offers a wealth of roots rock styles.
Pryor, a California guitarist who's built a loyal following but never hit the "big time" with any of his previous bands, plays in a classic, expressive '60s-'70s rock style, backed by a band with a pedigree a mile long.
Vocalist Joey Bowen sang with two previous major label bands, DC Drive and General Cluster Funk, bassist Leland Sklar has worked for the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne, rhythm guitarist Stephen Bruton has played with Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand and Willie Nelson and keyboardist David Paich and drummer Simon Phillips are longtime members of Toto, and have also worked separately with dozens of acts from The Who to Steely Dan.
What does this pedigree get you? A rootsy album of bar rock that can't be played any cleaner. This is the kind of band you expect to be playing the late show to a packed house in a smoky club, invoking the Blues Brothers legacy while special guests like Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker wander on and off the stage.
There's nothing new on Loverland; rather, this is a "comfortable" album of well-worn R&B grooves and soulful pop melodies about losing and finding love, played by some of the best session men you could find. For ordering information, check www.jeffpryorband.com.
New on the Shelves:
Casual fans of The Grateful Dead can now nab all the band's FM radio favorites on one CD. The Very Best of The Grateful Dead, a 17-track CD on Warner/Rhino Records, opens with "Truckin'" and its biggest Top 40 hit, "Touch of Grey," and also offers "Sugar Magnolia," "Casey Jones," "Uncle John's Band," "Fire on the Mountain" and more.
If you missed Cher's recent Farewell Tour, you can now experience a glimpse of it through either a CD or DVD copy of Cher Live – The Farewell Tour on Warner/Rhino. The saucy, costume-happy diva offers an energetic update of all her major hits, from "Half Breed" and "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" to her recent hits "Heart of Stone," "If I Could Turn Back Time," and "Believe."