The big daddys, one mama and a band of youths (yutes!) brings us folk, rock & roots releases.
Bruce Springsteen intuitively knows when America needs a musical tonic to face a crisis. He did it during the 80s (Born in the USA), after 9/11 (The Rising) and now as the country climbs out of a near-depression. Springsteen again offers hopeful music with big rallying hooks of melody and a charging beat. He also thankfully avoids polemics and instead asks everyone to equally help the less fortunate. Like a latter-day Woody Guthrie, Springsteen sees both the promise of America and seeks to redress its wrongs through song.
Paul Weller is as celebrated in England as Bruce Springsteen is in America. “The Modfather” of punk led The Jam and The Style Council before he went solo 20 years ago. This release is a varied and striking set and another instant classic. Sonik Kicks features long, trippy tracks with a kinship to Traffic, mixed with more melodic and harder-edged rock songs. Weller is clearly in a great place musically—perhaps England’s most talented and influential post-60s musical artist.
Dr. John (Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, Jr.) makes his most relevant album in years with the help of Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys. Auerbach adds a heavier rock beat to the overall sound and Mr. Rebennack plays mostly electric keyboards. Strangely enough, an artist most associated with New Orleans and a producer associated with rock recorded an album in Nashville, with the results being distinctly r&b. Dr. John (aka “The Night Tripper”) remains one of the most essential American musical artists of the past 40-plus years.
Florence + the Machine
Florence Welch and a lower torque version of her Machine do not lose any of their power and majesty on this MTV live unplugged recording. Hearing songs from the group’s short but illustrious career all in one sitting is exhilarating. Welch’s influences are all on display, including Grace Slick, Kate Bush, Annie Haslam, Stevie Nicks and even Patti Smith. The group’s discography includes just two albums, but it is yet another major UK band.
Scars & Stories
The Fray won’t be singing the national anthem at Citi Field or Yankee Stadium anytime soon. But the group’s recent “alternative” rendition shouldn’t deter their bid as one of the best American bands on the scene today. The group goes through a painstaking writing and recording process between albums, ensuring each new release is better than the last. The Fray finds the elusive place between big rock anthems and introspective and heartfelt songs. There isn’t a bad track on this album.