Albums of the Week

April 26-May 2

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In this edition: Paul Simon, The Trews, Richard X. Heyman and Duff McKagan’s Loaded.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What (HEAR Music)

Few tunesmiths possess the insight and fluidity of Paul Simon, and So Beautiful (released April 12) offers the jaundiced romantic and cynical optimist at his very best. The solitary, acoustic bones of these songs are clear, and Simon wraps them in a subtler worldly wardrobe than he’s employed since the early 80s – think One Trick Pony wearing Graceland’s “Gumboots.” The liner notes penned by Elvis Costello state, “This is a man in full possession of all his gifts looking at the comedy and beauty of life with clarity and the tenderness bought by time.” Well said and utterly true, something felt in one’s marrow as the author and his empathetic cohorts tiptoe through the emotional minefields of love, children, war, money and other capital “T” truths. Simon is so dexterous in his handling of big things here that it takes a few listens to pull apart the closely packed layers. Everything has been whittled to a master storyteller’s point, sharp and revealing and so quick one doesn’t even feel the cut at first. There is great love inside these grooves, but also great tragedy and cosmic wonderment that doesn’t insist on platitudes or certitude to balm natural human fears and concerns. Unlike recent heralded late career offerings from John Fogerty and Robbie Robertson, Simon doesn’t need to try for relevance. When one trucks in universal themes garbed in novelist worthy imagery, relevance comes easy. So Beautiful or So What is a casual masterpiece from an artist that seems aware of the end but far from ready to place a period on his life’s work just yet. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
The Trews: Hope & Ruin (Bumstead)

Meat ‘n’ potatoes rock doesn’t come much more filling than Toronto’s The Trews, and their fourth studio release, Hope & Ruin (released April 12), is their finest end-to-end offering yet. A bit earnest, hearts worn right out on sleeves, the songs here are about falling in and out of love and finding a few things to get us through in between. It’s not overly complex or particularly new territory but The Trews deliver it all with such conviction, sweetness and non-ironic grandeur – not to mention a goodly amount of rockin’ chug – that one wishes they were a radio staple Stateside so the other guys would have to measure up to them. What impresses on Hope & Ruin is how they excel equally at big rave-ups and swoonier slow numbers, raising and lowering the volume and weaving together strong harmonies to suit each track to a tee, a feat made all the more impressive by the album’s live-off-the-floor recording tactic. Like fellow Great White North Americans The Tragically Hip, The Trews are a consistent pleasure, a fact this set nicely confirms. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Richard X. Heyman: Tiers/And Other Stories (Turn-Up Records)

From his days as the drummer for the recently reactivated late 60s underground New Jersey band The Doughboys to session work with such varied names as Brian Wilson, Jonathan Richman, Link Wray and Ben E. King to his celebrated solo career as one of the foremost icons of living room power pop of the last 25 years, Richard X. Heyman has enjoyed a career flying just under the radar of the national consciousness for nearly a half-century now. For his first set of new material since 2007’s Actual Sighs, Heyman delivers his most ambitious project yet: a staggering 30-song collection intended to be seen as “two complete works on two separate discs in one package.” But while RXH would rather have the listener hear both LPs as unique titles unto themselves, in actuality Tiers/And Other Stories (released April 19) works far better as a singular song cycle that serves as an autobiographical account of the artist’s many years as a working musician on both a personal and professional level. Tiers tells the tale of Heyman’s equally tender and tumultuous relationship with his longtime wife, Nancy Leigh, beautifully articulated through songs like the baroque Hot on the Trail of Innocence, the twangy Good to Go and the jazz-flavored Game Stays The Same. Meanwhile, And Other Stories picks up like the immediate sequel to Tiers, containing 15 tracks that reflect upon the joys of the couple’s post-nuptial life together whilst living in New York City intermingled with the singer’s musings on everything from 9/11 to animal rescue to remembrances of friends and family who have passed through the ether. This is essentially Heyman’s own private version of Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, a definitive compendium to the romantic genius of one of rock music’s most unsung heroes, and a perfect launch pad for anyone looking to venture into the brilliance of this Plainfield, NJ boy’s artistry as one of the primary purveyors of American power pop. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Duff McKagan’s Loaded: The Taking (Armoury-Eagle Rock)

It’s strange to think of the difficult time Velvet Revolver is having in their quest to find a replacement for Scott Weiland, especially when you consider the fact that they have a perfectly fine and functional frontman in bassist Duff McKagan, who continues to strengthen his own aptitudes as a singer, songwriter and guitarist with his longtime side band Loaded. On the group’s third album (released April 19), Duff, bassist Jeff Rouse, guitarist Mike Squires and current drummer Isaac Carpenter deliver their heaviest set of material yet. Working in collaboration with veteran Deftones producer Terry Date, The Taking finds Loaded punching up McKagan’s punk roots on the old Seattle scene in the early 80s as a member of The Fastbacks and The Living before he achieved superstardom in Guns ‘n’ Roses. And it’s that blistering combination of streetwise, three-chord fury and Loaded’s already-established metallic AOR shuffle that gives The Taking‘s dozen tracks their fiery edge, as songs like Lords of Abaddon, We Win and Cocaine measure up to some of the most feral stuff Duff has been a part of since the recording of Appetite for Destruction. So, while his mates in Velvet Revolver continue to troll the classifieds in search of a new lead singer, perhaps Slash, Matt Sorum and Richard Fortus will soon come to their senses and realize their need to look is over so long as Duff remains amongst their ranks. (RH)

One thought on “Albums of the Week |April 26-May 2

  1. Hey Dennis, good album reviews. I met you last night at Paul Simon, I was the person standing outside of the concert with a blue hoodie. Thanks for the cd and I really like this website. I love the diversity of music it covers, keep up the good work. And- nice video of Duff McKagan! I was a huge GNR fan back in the day.

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