Rock & Roll Salvation: Jack White, The Black Keys and The Strypes

This summer we can look forward to new albums by two of today’s giants of rock & roll, and we can expect to here a lot about a young Irish band.

Jack White is scheduled to release his second solo album “Lazaretto” in June, and a couple of weeks ago he put out the video for the instrumental “High Ball Stepper”, the album’s first single.  The Huffington Post claims that you will be watching a physics demonstration of non-Newtonian fluids and the operation of a Chladini plate as you listen to Jack’s blistering soundscape.   Physicists out there, feel free to comment.

The Black Keys have announced that “Turn Blue” will be out in May.  The title track and “Fever” have been released in advance and seem to be preparing us for a bit of a different album than 2013 Rock Album of the Year “El Camino”.  Danger Mouse helped produce the new album, just as he did “El Camino”, and the track below carries his influence.

While Jack White and the Black Keys are digging into all the corners of rock & roll, The Strypes tunnel right down the middle.  The young Irishmen have been on all the late night TV shows following last summer’s major label debut “Snapshot”.   The tracks “Blue Collar Jane” and “What a Shame” leave no doubt where this band’s heart is at.  They are fun to watch, and that drummer – wow.

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Sean Lennon, Charlotte Kemp Muhl and The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger

Sean Lennon, youngest son of John, together with Sean’s collaborator and long-time girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl, are about to release their third full-length album “Midnight Sun” later this month.  Their work together is put out as The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT), and the first track released from the new album is “Moth to the Flame”.  The video has a strange and elaborate story line, and it might be best to close your eyes to really hear the music which is equally as elaborate (the song kicks in about 2:00 into the video).

Kemp Muhl began a modeling career as a teenager, and she is possessed of a beautiful singing voice that meshes perfectly with Sean’s and of the ability to make simple, tasteful contributions on a wide range of instruments. These live studio performances of “Jardin de Luxumbourg” and “Lavender Road” show off the pair’s vocals, subtle backing instrumentation, and cerebral lyrics. Try taking your eyes off Kemp Muhl – Sean can’t.

Both Lennon and Kemp Muhl have other projects. One of Lennon’s is Mystical Weapons, where he teamed up with drummer Greg Saunier of Deerhoof for an album of psychedelic instrumental tunes in 2013. The video for “Colony Collapse Disorder” has all the right visuals – especially to accompany the retro guitar riffs that come in at about 2:00. Kemp Muhl and childhood friend Eden Rice combined their ethereal vocals on the album “Black Hole Lace” in 2012.

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Mellow Tracks from Stephen Malkmus, Kings of Convenience and Paul Simon

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks recently released their sixth album, “Wig Out at Jagbags” to critical acclaim. Malkmus is an indie music fixture from California, heading up the band Pavement in the 1990s and The Jicks ever since.  The new album features a broad range of sounds, including the very mellow track “J Smoov”.

The Norwegian duo, Kings of Convenience, have been releasing albums together for over a decade – though they’ve been lying low since touring in the summer of 2013. Their acoustic sound has a heavy dose of bossa nova guitar. Here is “Misread” from their second studio album “Riot on and Empty Street”. If you like this song, you won’t be disappointed with their other material. Try “Peacetime Resistance” from their third album “Declaration of Dependence”.

Rounding out this week’s mellow set is an old, lesser-known tune from a lesser-known album by Paul Simon, “Train in the Distance” from the 1983’s “Hearts and Bones”. The album came out in between “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “Graceland”, both of which won Grammy awards for Album of the Year. Thanks to Jess at pH Balanced (see our list of favorite blogs) for continuing to unearth these gems.

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Happy 65th Nick Lowe!

This week we indulge in a bit of nostalgia for a true rock hero, Nick Lowe. One of the central figures of New Wave music in the late ’70s, Lowe is a musician, singer, songwriter, producer who’s done great work for decades.

In 1979 Lowe wrote a song that became a big hit for Elvis Costello, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. The track appeared on the U.S. release of Costello’s third album “Armed Forces”, one of five albums that Lowe produced for Costello. The video below includes Lowe sitting in with Costello in 1987. The lyrics are for all time.

Lowe also wrote “Cruel to Be Kind” in 1979, and it appeared on Lowe’s second album, “Labour of Lust”.  The video is apparently a reenactment of Lowe’s wedding to Carlene Cash (playing herself in the video), granddaughter of Johnny Cash.  Dave Edmunds, another icon of New Wave and bandmate of Lowe’s in Rockpile, plays the limo driver.

Fun fact: both of Lowe’s songs were among the videos played on MTV’s first day of broadcasting on August 1, 1981.

In 1987 Nick played on John Hiatt’s album “Bring the Family”, a recording that marked the beginning of the upward trajectory in Hiatt’s tremendous career. The other musicians who played on that album were guitar virtuoso and musicologist Ry Cooder, and session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner. That lineup came together again to release an album as “Little Village” in 1992. Here’s a performance of “Fool Who Knows” featuring Lowe on vocals.

Lowe’s latest effort, released in October 2013, was a Christmas album. His voice is clear as ever. While it’s a bit late (or early) to play Christmas music, file the thought away and just listen to a bit of this track.

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Beck’s Back with “Morning Phase”

After a nearly six-year hiatus, Beck aka Beck Hanson real name Bek David Campbell, released his 12th album “Morning Phase” a couple of weeks ago.   Loaded with melodic, acoustic tracks, it’s been receiving critical acclaim – though that’s never been in short supply for Beck.

Here is a performance of “Say Goodbye” from an appearance on The Tonight Show.  If you like it, he also performed “Waking Light”.

Pretty much every music reviewer relates the new album in style and sound to Beck’s 2002 release “Sea Change”, and apparently Beck or his record company connected the two in early press on “Morning Phase”. Decide for yourself – here’s “The Golden Age” from the earlier album.

There are reports that Beck will release yet another album later this year, but likely with a much different sound. He’s put out a few singles recently that might give an indication of what’s in store. Here’s “It Won’t be Long”, and you might also give a listen to “Gimme” to hear him stretch even further to the electronic side.

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