CD reviews: Alabama Shakes, Jack Johnson & Friends, Train
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Boys & Girls/ATO
Forget any of the hype you may have heard about Alabama Shakes, which seems to be the darling of the moment in the indie rock world.
So often hype is just what it sounds like; unnecessary bluster about a band meant to build it up to be bigger than it actually is.
The truth is that Alabama Shakes doesn’t need hype.
For once, the music itself does all the talking and backs up that talk with action.
We’ll start with lead singer Brittany Howard, who possesses a voice that is otherworldly. It sounds as if she took the essence of Tina Turner, Big Mama Thornton and Janis Joplin, mixed them in a shot glass, lit the concoction on fire and downed it. This isn’t the sort of voice you get by practicing in front of the mirror. No, Howard was born with that incredible set of pipes.
As for the rest of the band, one can hear the ghosts of Muscle Shoals, Ala., Detroit and Memphis blues echoing throughout songs such as “I Found You,” “Rise to the Sun” and “I Ain’t the Same.”
My personal favorite track on this near-perfect album is “Heartbreaker.” As Howard sings her lament of love gone wrong over the band’s slow jam, you can hear the pain and longing in her voice. If she isn’t drawing from some previous life experience and is instead simply acting like a spurned lover, then Howard is an actress to rival all the greats.
Key Tracks: “Heartbreaker,” “I Found You,” “I Ain’t the Same”
Jack Johnson & Friends
Best of Kokua Festival/Universal Republic
If ever there was someone who attempted to use his musical gift to give back to his community, then it would have to be Jack Johnson.
The surfer and filmmaker got into music seriously while in college and has since become internationally known for his laid-back acoustic music.
For the past six years, Johnson has been holding an annual fundraising concert in his home state of Hawaii. The Kokua Hawaii Foundation benefits Hawaiian schools and communities, and thanks to Johnson’s influence, the annual concerts have been able to attract an impressive array of artists.
“Best of Kokua Festival” collects some of the top moments from the past six years on a single CD.
Johnson starts things off with a simple “Better Together,” followed by him and Ziggy Marley tackling “Cry Cry Cry.”
Elsewhere, Johnson, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds perform a lovely version of Jimmy Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” while Eddie Vedder and Kawika Kahiapo lend a hand on “Constellations,” and Jackson Browne has some fun with The Eagles‘ “Take It Easy.”
One of the best moments on the CD comes when ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro assists Johnson with his song “Breakdown.”
Other artists who show up to play here include Taj Mahal, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Ben Harper and Willie Nelson.
If you’re looking for laid-back island jams to play at the beach this summer, then this is the album. You almost expect sand to pour out of the CD case when you open it.
Key Tracks: “Breakdown,” “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”
Prior to releasing its last album, “Save Me, San Francisco,” in 2010, Train was a band on the decline. Its members had taken a hiatus following the release of a poorly received album in 2005, and the band had taken to playing state fairs to stay visible.
But thanks to the success of “Save Me, San Francisco’s” leadoff single, “Hey, Soul Sister,” Train soon was back on top and enjoying the good life.
Now comes “California 37,” the ever-crucial “can we keep the momentum going?” release.
The album’s first song, “This’ll Be My Year,” is a dreadful retread of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” so much so that Joel should consider legal action against the song’s name-dropping history lesson lyrics.
The music improves somewhat after that with songs such as “Drive By” and “Feels Good at First,” but then things quickly descend into cornball territory with the mariachi-flavored “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” as well as the sickeningly sweet “You Can Finally Meet My Mom.” The title of that song alone should tell you all you need to know, but just in case, there are references to Bieber fever, Steve Jobs, Whitney Houston, Andre the Giant and The Undertaker contained within.
“Mermaids” is even worse, sounding like some sort of Enrique Iglesias castoff.
Obviously, there is going to be a certain segment of the music-listening public that will like the music here. And to that I say to each his own. But Train has done much, much better with much, much less in the past.
Key Tracks: “Drive By,” “Feels Good at First,” “Sing Together”
?By Devin Grant