This week I found myself listening to new music by veteran artists. It’s hard not to measure an artist against his/her/their prior works, especially when it comes to pop music. This week’s releases were highlighted by Pearl Jam Twenty, the soundtrack to the much-heralded Cameron Crowe documentary of the same name, and a new duets album by Tony Bennett ,hyped by his collaboration with the late Amy Winehouse. Well deserving releases, but my ears were focused on three other music vets doing their best to look ahead and leave their legacies in the past.
Add It To The Collection… In February I wrote about Mick Jagger’s jaw-dropping performance on the Grammy’s and what might be next for Mick and the world’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll band. As we wait for the Rolling Stones to announce plans to celebrate their upcoming 50th anniversary in 2012 (a not-so-secret meeting of the band took place earlier this month in London), Mick Jagger is showing no signs of entering retirement mode, even at the ripe old age of 68.
Jagger’s latest project, SuperHeavy, is a modern day, international super-group in every sense of the word. Jagger is joined by reggae royalty in the form of Damian Marley (son of Bob), Eurythmics alumni Dave Stewart, soul singer Joss Stone, and Indian singer/writer/producer A.R. Rahman. The fruits of their collaboration can best be described as an audible melting pot of modern pop/rock music driven by world beats, Euro-synths and big guitars.
With Jagger effortlessly stepping out of his Rolling Stones front-man persona to share lead vocals with his much younger band mates, there’s no denying that his energy is the driving force of the album. Many of the songs hit their apex when Mick is front and centre. Clearly this is the kind of music he wants to be making and even at 68 years of age, he is breaking new ground and delivering impressive vocal performances that give SuperHeavy its swagger. Must-have track: Energy (and not just to hear Mick rap the second verse!).
Add It To The Collection… Another veteran rocker keeping things fresh and exciting is Nick Lowe. At 62, Lowe is best known for producing Elvis Costello’s first five albums and penning the timeless classic (What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding. He also had a Top-20 hit with Cruel To Be Kind as a solo artist in 1979. Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Lowe open both Wilco shows in Toronto. I must confess that I had heard of him, I knew some of his music, but I was not a fan. Well, I am now. Lowe captivated the crowd with just an acoustic guitar, his incredible voice, some witty banter and a collection of songs spanning his 40-year career. In addition to his hits, Lowe did an exquisite cover of Costello’s Allison and a sampling of tracks from his recently released album, The Old Magic. Lowe’s new material is mesmerizing in its simplicity as he tackles tales of love, loss and isolation through the eyes of someone who’s been there before. Must-have track: I Read A Lot – Lowe received a standing ovation for this great tune.
Skip It/Worth Another Listen …Alt-country pioneers The Jayhawks return with Mockingbird Time, the first album to feature founding members Gary Louris and Mark Olson since 1995’s Tomorrow The Green Grass Grows. The album has The Jayhawks in familiar territory with Louris and Olson harmonizing together on a collection of jangly tunes. The problem for me is that their sound hasn’t evolved in the last 15 years, making Mokingbird a decent alt-country album for 1995, but nowhere near where contemporaries like Wilco are in 2011 (more on this next week). So, while Mockingbird Time is worth a listen for fans of the genre, to really understand the magic of The Jayhawks you’re better off checking out the 2011 Legacy Recordings reissues of the bands’ quintessential albums, 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass Grows.