Lots of new music out there this week as artists attempt to make their way on to everyone’s holiday wish list. Two releases that caught my eye (and ears) were solo/acoustic live records by Chris Cornell, lead singer of 90’s grunge pioneers Soundgarden and super group AudioSlave, and Rhett Miller, lead singer of alt-country veterans Old 97’s. Cornell’s album is a collection of his greatest hits performed acoustically with a few choice covers thrown in, while Miller’s album is all cover material. Other than that, both albums couldn’t be more different in terms of energy and impact.
Add It To The Collection… A few weeks ago I caught a great interview and in-studio performance by Chris Cornell on the Howard Stern Radio Show. I hadn’t really paid much attention to Cornell in recent years as he bounced around between solo projects, AudioSlave and Soundgarden reunions. In between the usual Stern banter about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, Cornell delivered two incredible performances of songs that you’d think were untouchable from a cover perspective – the iconic John Lennon classic “Imagine” and Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”. Not only did Cornell play them, he killed them (in a good way). Without reinventing the melodies or adding any extra chord changes or notes, Cornell delivered powerful versions of both songs with his stamp firmly audible on each track. Even Stern (a huge Lennon and Zeppelin fan) loved the performances. Both tracks find their way on Cornell’s latest effort, Songbook, which also features 14 Cornell originals dating all the way back to Soundgarden’s earliest work. What is most striking about the album are the incredible vocal abilities of Cornell. He effortlessly delivers powerful vocals on tracks like “Call Me A Dog”, “Black Hole Sun”, and “Fell On Black Days.” The songs have new life in the hands of Cornell and you can hear the anticipation of the audience throughout the recordings, culled during his 2010 solo tour. Must-have track: “Thank You”.
Skip It …On the other hand you have Rhett Miller’s latest, The Interpreter. The limitations of Miller’s voice are on full display as he attempts to re-interpret some pretty outstanding material from music’s biggest names over the last 40 years (Simon & Gurfunkel, Tom Petty, David Bowie and Bob Dylan). Where Cornell succeeds at adding his unique vocal abilities to well-established songs, Miller falls short. Even on songs like the Wilco/Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie track “California Stars”, Miller sounds like he’s performing at a college pub’s open-mic night. Nothing here worth listening to more than once if you’re a fan of Miller or his band the Old 97’s.
Skip It … Two of the biggest selling acts in rock have new releases this past week. Canadian rockers Nickelback deliver their 7th album with Here And Now while 2006 American Idol finalist Chris Daughtry leads his self-titled band on their third studio effort, Break The Spell. If you like what you’re hearing on mainstream rock radio these days then you won’t be disappointed with either of these albums. Loud guitars, big choruses and arena-ready anthems pepper both albums. Neither record really pushes any new boundaries, although Daughtry seems to be embracing their country roots on tracks like “Rescue Me” and “We’re Not Going To Fall” (think Bon Jovi’s Lost Highway approach to country). Speaking on New Jersey’s second favourite rockers, Nickelback remind me a lot of late 80’s Bon Jovi – they sell millions of albums, sell out arenas all over the world, but nobody admits to being a fan. The latest from Nickelback likely won’t draw any new fans in and certainly won’t make any ‘Best Of’ lists for 2011.
Worth Another Listen… Even though I would consider myself a long-time fan of the Rolling Stones, I have to admit that the album Some Girls has never really resonated with me. I always thought of it as the Stones’ disco record. Man, was I wrong. The original album sounds incredible in its newly released and remastered form with blazing guitars and a backbeat/groove that keeps the toes-a-tappin’. Sure there’s a bit of a disco-flavour on a track like “Miss You”, but the rest of Some Girls is the Stones doing what they do best – combining elements of American R&B, soul, and country to create their unique brand of timeless rock ‘n’ roll. There are so many solid tracks on Some Girls, but standouts include the likes of “When The Whip Comes Down”, “Respectable” and the title track which featuring Keith Richards masterly riffing away and trading licks with Ronnie Wood. “Far Away Eyes” is a somewhat hokey take on what the Stones must have heard on American country radio in the ‘60’s until the chorus kicks in, and then, it’s an instant classic. With this reissue the Stones have also gone back to the original master tapes to uncover an additional 12 tracks that are anything but leftovers or throwaways. While “Tallahassee Lassie” would make Chuck Berry proud the cover of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” and the Jaggar/Richards “No Spare Parts” are equal parts Southern Comfort and rootsy twang. Must-have track: Hard to choose just one…they’re all good.