Perhaps it’s the overindulgence of holiday food and drink, or maybe it’s just the stress of mall hopping and the shortening of daylight hours this time of year, but I found myself more confused than entertained by a number of new releases this week. The music seemed too complicated and the themes too deep for the season. After listening to the latest by The Roots and Amy Winehouse, I went searching for a non-holiday winter album that made me feel like I’d just drank a warm cup of cider…I found three.
Add It To The Collection…I thoroughly enjoyed The Roots’ 2010 release How I Got Over. I thought it was the perfect blend of hip hop and modern soul delivered with live musicians playing a style of urban music that was more than just a collection of clever rhymes. I’ve also enjoyed seeing the band every night on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon where they have earned the right to call themselves ‘the best band in late night’. Their latest offering, Undun, is a concept album that plays out backwards – think Memento – as we retrace the tragic steps of the main character Redford Stephens from death to the decisions that led him there. The cinematic reference above is not by accident. Undun is a layered album that plays out like slow, deliberate film noire. The individual tracks are less than impressive, but as a collection, it works. A little heavy for a holiday release. Must-have track: Like I said, it’s a collection.
Skip It…The death of Amy Winehouse earlier this year was certainly a tragedy. The loss of life, any life, at such a young age is sad and perplexing. I wasn’t really a fan of hers as I came to know her more for her tabloid exposure then her artistic endeavours. After she died, HDNet re-aired a live concert of hers that showed her to be, at times, an uncomfortable performer clearly fighting her internal demons. It also showed off her incredible voice and style – a throwback talent with so much potential. Unfortunately, all we’re left with is a small collection of recorded music and a legacy that is tainted at best. Lioness: Hidden Treasures feels like a rush-to-market product targeting holiday shoppers. Some of the material feels unfinished and some just feels like recordings the artist would have never wanted her fans to hear. Still, you get a sense on her cover of The Shirelles classic, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, that Amy Winehouse was destined for bigger and better things.
Now it’s time to grab a warm blanket, turn up the fire and pour yourself a nice hot cup of something sweet…here are my three quintessential winter albums, perfect for this time of year.
Worth Another Listen… On the heels of their quintessential summer album Five Days In July, soon-to-be Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Blue Rodeo returned to the studio and delivered Nowhere To Here – in my opinion, their best album to date. The songs weren’t as catchy as those of Five Days and the country/acoustic tones were replaced by tremolo guitars and Fender amps turned up high. I always felt that this album was underappreciated and was a perfect companion for a cold Sunday morning or long winter drive.
Worth Another Listen…The Black Crowes are another band that release albums that often seem inspired by the seasons. Where Shake Your Moneymaker and Amorica feel like summer albums, Three Snakes And One Charm and Warpaint feel like cold weather albums to my ears. But it’s the Crowes’ 2009 double album Before The Frost…Until The Freeze that is the perfect remedy for this time of year. Recorded at Levon Helm’s barn in Woodstock, NY in front of a live audience, the album feels warm and comforting, like you’re in the middle of a drop-in party with friends and a live band just happens to be there playing their hearts out. The tones are warm and the songs are tight. Pour me another eggnog and rum.
Worth Another Listen…Finally there’s Long Cold Winter by Cinderella. Obviously a cold weather album but not an obvious pick. I feel like Cinderella is the forgotten hair band of the 80’s and it’s too bad, because their actually pretty good. If you can get past frontman/singer/songwriter Tom Keifer’s vocals (guy can scream his ass off) what you have is a blues/rock band that sounds a lot like Aerosmith. While Cinderella weren’t able to deliver as many quality albums and singles as Aerosmith, their first two albums are pretty solid examples of blues-inspired hard rock. With tracks like ‘Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone’, ‘Coming Home’ and ‘Gypsy Road’ Cinderella take you on a long cold journey worthy of another listen.