Dig These Discs :: Coldplay, Dolly Parton, Tori Amos, Guided By Voices, Disclosure
Country music legend and beloved gay icon Dolly Parton releases a substantial collection of new songs and covers, and Tori Amos is well settled in to her fine, high voice. Guided By Voices releases a collection of 18 very short tunes, and Coldplay drops the saddest breakup album ever. Newbies Disclosure kick off their debut album with a bang, melding dance and R&B sounds seamlessly.
"Blue Smoke" (Dolly Parton)
Country music legend and beloved gay icon Dolly Parton drops her 42nd studio album this month, "Blue Smoke." The title song finds a woman who "packed her suitcase full of heartaches heading for the train depot and bought a one-way ticket on the train they call Blue Smoke." Parton sang her single about a broken family, "Miss You, Miss Me," last fall on the Queen Latifah Show, to announce the album. To my delight, Parton has included "Unlikely Angel," from the Christmas movie of the same name, in which she plays country music singer Ruby Diamond, who must bring a family back together in order to earn her wings from a persnickety Roddy McDowell. The finger picking in "Don’t Think Twice" is impressive, and the grit in "If I Had Wings" is palpable. Even her corny "Lover du Jour" is a fun and funny romp. The album features a duet with Kenny Rogers on "You Can’t Make Old Friends," which was released on his 2013 album of that name. She also teams up with Willie Nelson for "From Here to the Moon and Back, from his recent album. Parton tackles some covers, including Bob Dylan’s "Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right," and Bon Jovi’s "Lay Your Hands on Me." She also covers the 19th century murder balled, "Banks of the Ohio," in which a man invites his young lover for a walk, during which he rejects his proposal, and he in turn "killed the one I love tonight, because she would not be my wife." She ends the album with the anthem of empowerment, "Try." A special edition marketed for Wal-Mart adds four bonus tracks. As critics have noted, although Parton has nothing to prove, she is certainly not resting on her laurels.
(Dolly Records/Sony Masterworks)
"Unrepentant Geraldines" (Tori Amos)
Few artists have the inimitable soprano range of Tori Amos, whose high notes have the ability to get under your skin and raise goose bumps. With her 14th studio album, "Unrepentant Geraldines," the 50-year-old Amos brings the best of all of her sides together, melding folk, classical and orchestral music with her fabulous theatrics. She kicks off the album singing about Trouble having a falling out with Satan and looking for a new home in "Trouble’s Lament," a song about women battling aging and their very existence. She broaches this topic again in the jazzy "16 Shades of Blue," singing, "If 50 is the new black, this could be your lucky day." Her classical piano strokes paint the picture in "Wild Way" and "Weatherman." She delves into fantasy in "Maids of Elfen-Mere" and "Selkie." "Wedding Day," recorded on the Cornish countryside with flutes and lilting jigs feels very Celtic. Amos’ voice shines in "Promises" as it moves up and down the scales. She has teamed up with her teenage daughter, Tash Hawley, in this tune about a mother-daughter relationship. Amos keeps things modern with "Giant’s Rolling Pin," looking at the NSA’s spy scandal. And the title track is oddly alluring, growing on you with each subsequent listening, from the whispery opening to the complex piano break. "I’m gonna free myself from your opinions, I’m gonna break myself from your religion," she croons. In "Rose Dover," she sings, "You don’t have to throw it all away." Have all these years taken their toll on Amos? This new release doesn’t seem to show any signs of strain. Her voice is still high, fine and lovely, and her music still has the ability to touch us. If anything, Amos is just more rooted and self-aware than ever before. There’s more of her here, and that spells success for this release, with no reason whatsoever to repent.
"Ghost Stories" (Coldplay)
Coldplay drops their sixth studio album, a sad journey inspired by lead singer Chris Martin’s "conscious uncoupling" with Hollywood beauty, Gwyneth Paltrow. The album charts a man going through a dramatic breakup, with each song reflecting his various emotional states ’til acceptance. Gone is the optimism of "Mylo Xyloto," but the album will still get you grooving. Martin stays up thinking of his love in the first track, "Always in my Head," a sad ballad of loss. The band has done well with singles "Magic," "Midnight" and "A Sky Full of Stars." "Magic" is a slow song that swings with a steady beat, with lyrics like, "call it magic when I’m with you/ and I just got broken, broken into two." It’s followed by "Ink," a song about a man looking sadly at the tattoo of his lover’s name. The beat and clap-track reminds one of the Anna Kendrick cup song. Martin’s voice is high and lonesome in "True Love," calling on his love to "tell me you love me/ and if you don’t then lie." The trippy "Midnight" is compelling, and the sad "Another’s Arms" will have you in tears as Martin remembers the regular stuff of relationships, like "late-night watching TV." He waits for her call in "Oceans," and bemoans his loss in "A Sky Full of Stars," a song with amazing keyboards and a banging dance hall vibe. The track "O" is trippy, two songs in one, with a long, silent break in the middle. Perhaps this represents the stage of bargaining? Martin gets the life back in the second to last track, "Charlie Brown," a more upbeat, poppy song with a narrative. He sings his heart out in the final track, "Atlas," with fine piano. Taken in its entirety, "Ghost Stories" is a powerful statement that almost makes you feel bad for this loveable loser.
"Cool Planet" (Guided By Voices)
For a group that officially disbanded in 2004, indie rock band Guided By Voices sure keeps busy. On the heels of last year’s "Motivational Jumpsuit" is their sixth comeback album, "Cool Planet," another chock-a-block collection of 18 short (read two minutes) tunes. There’s something for everyone, from ballads, pop tunes and assorted. The band still has their classic lo-fi vibe, with lots of rocking guitars and Robert Pollard’s staid vocals. "Have one for the road then fall on your face, it’s a quick pace," Pollard sings in "Fast Crawl." They vibe on a psychedelic-era Beatles sound in "Psychotic Crush," with Pollard warbling off-key, and the trippy "Hat of Flames." They get more of a dark Doors sound from "These Dooms," and "The Bone Church," with its clawing electric guitar. "Pan Swimmer" is like old GBV fresh out of Dayton, Ohio, but it’s far too short. Better still is "Table at Fool’s Mouth," with its classic rock feel. But it can feel like GBV is trying to recapture the success of their early career. Sometimes it works: the chord work in the dour "Costume Makes the Man" is excellent, and the overly dramatic strumming in "You Get Every Game" will at least pique your interest. But songs like "All American Boy" and "Cream of Lung" are lackluster, although the former does have some nice piano work. "The No Doubters" and "Males of Wormwood Mars" are at least straightforward rockers. But the best of the bunch is undoubtedly the title track, followed by the piano ballad "Narrated by Paul," which is somehow touching. But if you don’t like one song, you can always just wait 60 seconds for the next. The band hits the road on May 22 in Philly, and are now at West Coast cities through July 20.
(Guided By Voices, Inc.)
The English electro duo Disclosure drops their debut album in the U.S., and it’s already been nominated for the 2013 Mercury Prize. Their singles are hitting the European charts like gangbusters, with hits including the lead single, "Latch," which has great beats and effects overlaid with a deep bass vocal track and the chorus, "now I’ve got you in my space, I won’t let go of you." Disclosure seems to reside at the intersection of club music and R&B, an unusual juncture that they somehow make work. The band starts out with an old-time Christian revival preacher sound, melding into beats for the dance track, "When A Fire Starts To Burn." "F For You" features Mary J. Blige on guest vocals, with the chorus, "Because I play the fool for you." Other guest singers include AlunaGeorge, who brings her quirky rap sound to "White Noise," singing, "I don’t need you given it straight to me/ telling me how to be." It has become their highest-peaking single yet. Ed Macfarlane croons on "Defeated No More" and Sasha Keable shows off her high, fine soprano in "Voices." They break things up with the old-school record player interlude "Second Chance," and the beats go on in "Stimulation" and "Grab Her!," two pounding dance tracks. If you like double the beats, check their third single, "You & Me," a super-fast track with vocals by Eliza Doolittle. In fact, it seems like everyone in town stopped by the studio to lend a hand. Jamie Woon helps out with "January," Jessie Ware sings her ass off in "Confess to Me" and London Grammar finishes the album with "Help Me Lose My Mind." If you like super-long club tracks that make you feel like you’re tripping balls in the middle of a Baptist church revival, then Disclosure is the band you’ve been waiting for!