Some newly released (or about to be released) albums that have been floating my catamaran (perfect for summertime sailing):
The Clientele – God Save the Clientele
XTC. Crowded House. The Pernice Brothers. What that disparate group of musicians has in common is that they know how to write a perfect pop song. Add The Clientele to the list. 2005’s Strange Geometry was a classic of 3:00 a.m. mopery and regret, a pop symphony to lost love, complete with heavily reverbed guitars and weepy strings. The new one is just as good, albeit a little more varied. “The Garden at Night” actually rocks, something altogether strange for this rather twee band, and opener “Here Comes the Phantom” comes close, but far more typical are the wistful“From Brighton Beach to Santa Monica” and the gorgeously aching“No Dreams Last Night.” A few folks from Wilco and Lambchop stop by to play, and the album was produced in Nashville. But make no mistake, The Cliente is the brainchild of one very British Alasdair MacLean, and he’s again created the aural equivalent of fog lying low over the Thames; thick, mysterious, eerily lovely music.
Devon Sproule – Keep Your Silver Shined
I don’t know if this is the best album I’ve heard this year. It’s close. It’s easily the most joyous. Devon Sproule’s music meets at the intersection of folk, country, and jazz; clarinets colliding with pedal steel, old-time country songs that sound like they could come from The Carter Family subverted by some Django Reinhardt gypsy guitar work. Sproule’s songs are something to behold: Victoria Williams’ playfulness and spunk meeting up with Joni Mitchell’s confessional songwriting chops. To top it off, this is the sexiest, sultriest southern album since Lucinda’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Is that good? What do you think?
Scissors for Lefty – Underhanded Romance
So file this one under Guilty Pleasure. I have no defense. The music is derivative in the extreme, and the lyrics veer between meaningless and silly. Mix some Cars new wave synths, some Robert Smith vocal histrionics, and some dance floor beats and angular guitars courtesy of Franz Ferdinand. The thing is, when I listen to the absolutely ace singles “Ghetto Ways” and “Mama Your Boys Will Find a Home” I find my middle-aged body moving involuntarily, more or less in rhythm. Don’t tell the wife and kids.
The Traveling Wilbury’s – The Traveling Wilbury’s Vol. 1/The Traveling Wilbury’s Vol. 3
I was never much of a Tom Petty or Jeff Lynne/Electric Light Orchestra fan. George Harrison was great -- from 1963 to 1970. Roy Orbison was past his prime, and Bob Dylan was in the worst funk of his career. Given the era and the massive egos, it shouldn’t have worked. But it did. And if you missed it the first time in the late ‘80s, you can catch it again when Rhino Records rereleases the two Traveling Wilbury’s albums in a few weeks. What you’ll discover is that all of that musical talent and all of those raging egos came together in the most unassuming ways imaginable; these are the kinds of lowkey, relaxed songs that friends play while sitting around on the front porch. And it works for precisely that reason. Vol. 1 is a minor classic; the guys trading off on verses when they feel like it while collectively writing some of the best songs of their storied careers. And if the incongruously named Vol. 3 is missing the spark (not to mention the recently deceased Roy Orbison) from Vol. 1, it’s still good, clean, friendly fun. As an added incentive, let this Dylan fan note that these are Dylan’s best songs from the ’80s.