Dig These Discs :: Roseanne Cash, Great Big World, Peter Gabriel, Saint Raymond, Against Me
Battling family rifts, vocal polyps and brain surgery, the 58-year-old daughter of Johnny Cash emerges from the other side with a hot new album of Southern-fried hits. Florida punk band Against Me catalogues lead singer Tom Gabel transition into Laura Jane Grace in "Transgender Dysphoric Blues." Genesis co-founder Peter Gabriel releases the reciprocal album to his 2010 release "Scratch My Back," in which leading artists record his hits. And enjoy new releases by talented 18-year-old singer/songwriter Callum Burrows, aka Saint Raymond; and nerd-pop duo Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, otherwise known as A Great Big World.
"The River and the Thread" (Rosanne Cash)
As the daughter of the man in black, Rosanne Cash has a musical legacy to live up to. In her new album, "The River and the Thread," she does just that, paying homage to her daddy while also singing haunting songs about her conflicted relationship with the South, up and down Highway 61. (She gets a helping hand from husband/co-writer/guitarist/producer John Leventhal.) She starts with the blues in "A Feather’s Not a Bird," sounding like a riff from CCR with lyrics like, "the rain is not the sea, a stone is not a mountain but a river runs through me." The work never ends in the sad tune "The Sunken Lands," and Cash navigates the "big, wide world" in "Modern Blue." In "Etta’s Tune," she picks out the tale of the widow of The Tennessee Three’s bassist Marshall Grant, and in "Money Road," she sings about the ghost of Emmett Till. She even teams up with guitarist Derek Trucks in "World of Strange Design." Cash rails in gospel style about a religious radio station in "50,000 Watts" and surrounds "Tell Heaven" with the mystery of gypsy music. A funky ’70s sound emerges in "The Long Way Home," but she slows things way down for "Night School" and "Tell Heaven." Cash gathers her peers around her in "When the Master Calls the Roll," a Civil War ballad with a choir including her ex-husband and song co-writer Rodney Crowell, plus Kris Kristofferson, Tony Joe White, John Prine and Levon Helm’s daughter Amy. The 58-year-old Cash dealt with family rifts, vocal polyps and brain surgery to come out the other side. Her album melds the best of the South, including blues, folk, rock, country and the sounds of Appalachia. In a world of hit singles, Cash has created a concept album in which the finished product far exceeds the sum of its parts.
(Blue Note Records)
"And I’ll Scratch Yours" (Assorted Artists)
Genesis co-founder Peter Gabriel releases the reciprocal album to his 2010 "Scratch My Back," in which Gabriel recorded the music of leading artists with the intention that they would return the favor. In the newly-released "And I’ll Scratch Yours," they do just that, as Gabriel notes that, "Rather than make a traditional covers record, I thought it would be much more fun to create a new type of project in which artists communicated with each other and swapped a song for a song." All but two of the original songwriters were able to deliver; Joseph Arthur and Fiest stepped up to tackle the uncompleted swaps. In the liner notes, Gabriel said that although he tried to keep the same artist running order, he didn’t like the transitions, and so juggled it up. No matter; these 12 songs give a fresh new look to old favorites. Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields makes a throwback version of "Not One Of Us," that sounds more ’80s than the ’80s original. Regina Spektor’s fine voice gives wings to "Blood of Eden." Arcade Fire adds an electro patina to "Games Without Frontiers," and Bon Iver melds banjo and synth in his placid version of "Come Talk to Me." Critics have wowed over Lou Reed’s menacing arrangement of "Solsbury Hill," originally a light confection. Singer/songwriter Randy Newman takes on the hit song, "Big Time" with a humorous, metered performance, adding quips like, "My ass is getting bigger." Joseph Arthur handles "Shock the Monkey" with a sedated élan that gives listeners a closer look at the lyrics. Some of the covers, like Brian Eno’s "Mother of Violence," are unexpectedly dark and broody, while songs like David Byrne’s cover of "I Don’t Remember" hew more closely to the original arrangement. But as music arranger John Metcalf asks, "What’s the point of cover versions that don’t make any effort?"
(Real World Records)
"Transgender Dysphoric Blues" (Against Me)
Florida punk band Against Me has been around since 1997, but shook things up when lead singer Tom Gabel transitioned into Laura Jane Grace -- a prophecy made in 2007’s "The Ocean," as she sang, "If I could have been chosen, I would have been born a woman/My mother once told me she would’ve named me Laura." Her voice is the same, but the grist of their songs on this sixth studio album has changed. This coming-out record launches with the title song, a barrage of snare drums and the
opening line, "Your tells are so obvious/ shoulders too broad for a girl," and goes on to bemoan, "You want them to see you like they see every other girl; they just see a faggot," and "You’ve got no cunt in your strut/ you’ve got no hips to shake." The lyrics can be heartbreaking, but the album chronicles both Grace’s physical transformation and her battle with stigma and fight for acceptance. In "True Trans Soul Rebel," the protagonist is walking the streets, wondering "who’s gonna take you home tonight." Grace remains married to her wife Heather, but sings in the long "Unconditional Love," that "even if your love was unconditional, it still wouldn’t be enough to save me." She doubles back to cover that same ground in "FuckMyLife666." Grace counters it with "Drinking with Jocks," singing about trying to pass as a straight man, and battles with her own self-loathing in "Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ." She sings about her physical transition in "Paralytic States," with the gruesome and fittingly punk rock lyrics, "Cut her face wide open, shaved the bone down thin/ Plumped her lips up exaggerated a fucked up kind of feminine," and the chorus, "Never quite the woman that she wanted to be." Grace finishes things off with the vindictive "Black Me Out," roaring about pissing on the walls of the haters’ house, with a droning electric guitar keeping the pace. Comfortable in her skin, Grace sings her truth in 29 razor-sharp minutes, to a world not always ready to hear it.
"Young Blood" (Saint Raymond)
Saint Raymond, aka Callum Burrows, is an 18-year-old singer/songwriter from Nottingham, UK, who is getting a lot of critical attention of late. His new EP "Young Blood" only features four songs, but is currently at #4 on the iTunes album chart. Fans have compared his riffing pop sound to the bands Bastille and Little Comments, as well as the lovely ladies of Haim, with whom he recently toured. In the title song, Burrows sings about being young and living for the night. The tune has great synth and clap tracks, and group vocals in the chorus of, "Sing out young blood/ We can’t help what we’re feeling." The EP also includes Burrows’ live performance favorite, "Bonfires," with lyrics, "Your house burnt down in this bonfire, cause a house is not a home when you’re alone." It is followed by "Thread," an anti-love song full of the turmoil of breaking up and making up, with lyrics like, "She will always be the queen of second chances." It ends with "As We Are Now," a short track about the perils of getting older, with a fast-moving guitar riff. At such a young age, one wonders what Saint Raymond knows about getting older. Perhaps he should just be content with getting better, as it seems to be happening just as effortlessly.
"Is There Anybody Out There?" (A Great Big World)
"Everyone is Gay," says nerd-pop duo Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, otherwise known as A Great Big World. The duo, who bounded into the spotlight singing "Say Something" with Christina Aguilera on "The Voice" in October 2013, follow double-platinum success with their new album, "Is There Anybody Out There?" The answer is yes; fans seem to be embracing the upbeat, fun, show-tune inspired music that these two young men have made, even if it is a departure from their past, more folksy work. "Rockstar" makes use of peppery piano keys to capture the dreams of youth, and up-tempo snare drums move "Land of Opportunity" along, with a goofy slide trombone, adding a Sergeant Pepper timbre to it. "If only New York wasn’t so far away, I promise this city won’t get in our way," they warble in "Already Home." The quick-moving "I Really Want It," also sends them homeward bound, and the slowed-down piano dirge "Say Something," looks at love and heartache. The two wrote the upbeat and super-dorky song "Everyone is Gay" to help raise funds for their friends’ LGBT website of the same name. "We wish we had a song when we were younger telling us everything was OK and we can be who we are and that we’re beautiful," Axel said, remembering the times they were bullied in their youth. "We felt like we were doing something right with our time and energy." The album also features the self-empowerment song "This is the New Year," made famous on the TV show "Glee." While some criticize their shrill, show-tune sloganeering, Big World will appeal to fans of the band Fun and Macklemore. Some critics have called the album "clumsy" and "ham-fisted," and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is certainly someone out there who will love what Axel and Vaccarino are serving up.