The pile of albums released over the last couple months that I’d like to review for you is now threatening to eclipse the screen of my computer. So, this week, Pop Stops goes for a marathon session of short reviews:
Step Inside This House
Taking a cue from the Other Rooms, Other Voices albums of fellow Texan Nanci Griffith, Lovett has released his own state-song-survey of tunes written by other Texas singer-songwriters. Step Inside This House is a two-CD set of the songs that Lovett loves, and he gives tender readings to many of these easy strumming country-folk-rock songs. Probably the highlight of the album comes in disc 2’s three-song reading of Steve Fromholz’s descriptive “day in the life of a country town” “Texas Trilogy.” He also opens the first disc with Fromholz’s quietly amusing “Bears.” Other songwriters represented on the CDs include Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Keen and Walter Hyatt.
This Spoken Word album is not for playing around kids or those with delicate sensibilities (the F word appears frequently) but sometime hard rocker Rollins, a self-described “aging alternative icon,” turns out to be a very intelligent, funny monologuist who, over the course of two CDs, runs the gamut from standup comedian style considerations of “Airport Hell” and “The Gay Thing” to a thoughtful, touching tribute to a teenage leukemia victim in “Marius.” Recommended.
A lot of Hole fans are going to be disappointed in Celebrity Skin, because Courtney Love has ditched some of her alt-rock attitude and grungey attack to produce a surprisingly mainstream rock ‘n’ roll album. That said, Celebrity Skin offers chunky rock riffs galore, and a handful of co-writing credits with Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan (whose subsequent fall-out with Love has resulted in his name being all-but-impossible to find on this disc. But you can hear him here, nevertheless). Love knows she’s risking her underground credibility with catchy crunchy collection — she belts out the album manifesto in the first line of the titletrack “make me over.” While her voice still shows a limited range, Celebrity Skin is definitely a step forward for Hole. If she loses some of those hardcore fans over the facelift, she’s bound to gain a host of new ones.
Phil Collins has racked up a phenomenal number of hits with and without his band Genesis over the past couple decades. This disc collects those recorded over the past 17 years without the help of his progressive rock pals. Included are “Another Day in Paradise, “ “Easy Lover,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Against All Odds,” “Sussudio,” “In The Air Tonight,” and 10 more, including a new gentle reading of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”
In My Life
A look at the track listing would make you think that this could qualify as one of those Rhino Records Golden Throats albums, which find media icons tackling (with laughable effect) popular songs. But Beatles producer George Martin manages to carry most of these non-singing stars into at least competent renditions of Beatles classics. Subtitled With Heroes & Friends, the album is a collection of Martin’s favorite Beatles tracks performed by a collection of actors, comedians and musicians. Martin says rather than trust to fate, he wanted to retire from the industry by making a final album exactly the way he wanted. So the invitations went out and the result is intriguing, to say the least.
Robin Williams teams with Bobby McFerrin for a surprisingly straight reading of “Come Together” (you have to listen hard at the end for some of Williams’ trademark ad libbing, otherwise, it’s impossible to recognize that it’s him singing lead). Goldie Hawn turns “Hard Day’s Night” into a torch song, and Jim Carrey ably tackles “I Am The Walrus.” Phil Collins is apparently on a cover tune jag this year (see his ...Hits review above). Here he handles one of the Beatles finest creative stretches — “Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End” from Abbey Road. There are a handful of instrumental moments — hip violinist Vanessa Mae bows through “Because,” Jeff Beck makes his guitar speak eloquently on “A Day in the Life” and John Williams takes his orchestra through a surprisingly anemic arrangement of “Here Comes The Sun.” There are also two Martin-performed orchestral numbers and a soaring, full arrangement of “Here There & Everywhere” by Celine Dion. Sean Connery brings the album to a world-weary, but appropriate close as he reads the lyrics to the title track over a subdued orchestration. So, while this is a bit of a novelty record with the inclusion of Williams, Carrey, Hawn and Connery, it also offers a nostalgic, relaxing listen that, unlike most Golden Throat series songs, won’t leave you laughing at the performers, but nodding along with them at their tribute to both The Beatles, and Martin.
Seems like everyone’s getting in on the rediscovery of swing. The latest seems the most unlikely — Kane is a former adult film star who started recording for an Austin, Texas roots music label a couple years back. Her leadoff track on Swango about herself — “200 Lbs. of Fun” gives a good indication of why she changed industries. Whatever her checkered background, she produces a nostalgic mix of swing jazz horn charts and walking bass ‘50s rock on Swango. This sounds like a ‘50s or early ‘60s disc that was recorded in full stereo instead of mono. Though it has that classic jukebox sound, there aren’t that many covers of oldies here, but Kane does a catch-in-the-voice run-through of Lloyd Price’s 1957 hit “Just Because.” Kane has the kind of voice that moves from girlish tease to full-bodied blues call in an instant. It makes Swango a fun finger-snappin’ listen.