TWO LANES OF FREEDOM Tim McGraw (Big Machine Records) ****
I’ve always been a sucker for a good story, be it a book I’m enjoying or a song on the radio. Tim McGraw’s new album, his first for this label, is a collection of 3 and 4 minute stories that can really pull you in- perhaps more than any other record he’s done.
“These songs are written and constructed in a way that people can impose their own memories and put themselves in your place, like going to a great movie and making yourself the hero” he says. “Art has to be cathartic; that’s why people enjoy it. It makes you think or reflect, it purges you emotionally.” It’s a more complex attitude than you might expect from a country artist, but that’s why more than just country fans enjoy McGraw’s music.
I’ve always found his music to be deeper than most country, certainly since Live Like You Were Dying in 2004, a song that reflects my feelings about my own father. And when he does something thematically more typical of the genre like Truck Yeah on the new album, it just flat-out rocks. McGraw isn’t afraid to draw from different palates to make the music he’s feeling- some rock here, a little bluegrass there and yes, some straight up country too-maybe that’s why I’m enjoying this record so much.
“I don’t ever want to paint somebody into a box when we’re in the studio” he says of the musicians he works with. “We want(ed) these guys to come in and bring everything they have to the table.” McGraw’s attitude isn’t ‘let me see if I can top the country charts again’, it’s ‘I want to make the best record I can’. Congrats, Tim- this is one’s a winner.
TOP TRACKS: Book Of John, Truck Yeah, Two Lanes of Freedom
FIELD RECORDING Kevin Breit & The Upper York Mandolin Orchestra (Poverty Playlist) ***
I know this dude from the 3 records he did with Harry Manx, even got to see them perform at The Rossland Miner’s Hall a few years back. Having recorded with many others and always looking for a new musical adventure, Kevin has teamed up with the Upper York Mandolin Orchestra for a startling set of 11 originals.
I suppose how much you’re going to enjoy this will depend somewhat on how you feel about mandolins, because there’s a ton of them. Too much of a good thing? Perhaps- but I like his sense of adventure, and it’s a trip to see where it leads him. As a singer Kevin sounds somewhat like Dylan back when he could sing. No bass, no drums, just mandolins- without such traditional accoutrements, the album drags a little.
I get the sense that there isn’t a huge market for an album like this, and I also get the sense that Breit couldn’t care less. Sure you want people to enjoy your work, but he’s making music to please himself first- something not many people seem to do nowadays- and if some fellow space travelers tag along for the ride, even better. Having worked with folks like Manx, Holly Cole, Norah Jones, Hugh Laurie and k.d. lang, Breit has earned the right to step out with Field Recording and express himself.
TOP TRACKS: King Kong Strut, Boom Chicka Boom, Big Bill Broonzy
KING OF CONFLICT The Virginmarys (Wind Up) ****+
I was scanning my DMDS play list for another album to review, and it came down to a choice between this and the new Josh Groban. Not in the mood for whiny new age sincerity, I went with this- and am damn glad I did.
The Virginmarys formed in ’06 in the north of England and, after 4 e.p.’s, this is their first full length album. When I fired this up, King Of Conflict came on like a cross between Jet and Wolfmother- dirty and sloppy, cool riffs and some decent singing. In their 5 star review, Stereoboard says “It is not very often that listening to a new album makes you want to cry, dance and brawl at the same time” and there’s some truth to that. Tight, charging riffs that might recall classic Green Day and an unexpected musicality in the background vocals combined with a sort of twitchy energy makes this fun to listen to.
A power trio- Ally Dickaty guitar, Danny Dolan drums, Matt Rose bass- this is good old fashioned, bare knuckle guitar rock and, after having watched some of the Grammys last night as I write this, it’s a welcome slap across the face. King Of Conflict really does make you want to cry, dance and brawl at the same time- isn’t that what rock & roll is all about?
TOP TRACKS: Dressed To Kill, Dead Man’s Shoes, Bang Bang Bang
HOLY FIRE Foals (Warner) ** ½
Here is the band’s 3rd album, for those of you with scorecards. Compared in the past to Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, this new record carries some of that same spirit.
Holy Fire is the sound of Foals’ arrival, moving past the sort of lost boys club vibe that has informed their music in the past. Yannis Philippakis credits much of the leap this album represents to producers Flood and Alan Moulder. “The two of them have a knack for taking something that at its core is fairly leftfield or fairly idiosyncratic, and whatever they capture becomes a universal experience” he says. It return, Moulder comments “I was impressed with their attitude to making a record and their ambition towards achieving something individual and unique, but still wanting to appeal to the masses.”
To me, this sounds like an album made by weed enthusiasts, as Foals are known to be- some dreamy, echoey soundscapes that, no doubt, sound really cool when you’re ripped to the tits on your herb of choice. I prefer my musical jollies more direct and primitive, which could be a generational thing.
To capture a more honest representation of where the band is at, the producers let the band think they were running through demos of tracks, when in fact actual takes were being recorded. “We vacillate between our experimental side and the side that enjoys the possibilities of what pop music can do” says Yannis. “If anything we feel that we’ve made a record that doesn’t exist between those two subsets- we’ve made a record that is just what it should have been.” Amen to that.
TOP TRACKS: Providence, Inhaler, Milk & Black Spiders