Dig These Discs :: Donald Fagen, Kaki King, Cody Simpson, Taylor Swift, Ceelo Green
CeeLo Green proves he has "The Voice" to belt out all kinds of holiday songs, and Kaki King delivers an all-guitar powerhouse. Teenage Aussie heartthrob Cody Simpson drops his pop album, and pop sensation Taylor Swift debuts her new release. Steely Dan front man Donald Fagen adds a bit of gravitas to the mix with "Sunken Condos," rounding out a Dig These Discs that has something for everyone.
"CeeLo’s Magic Moment" (CeeLo Green)
Grammy Award-winning superstar CeeLo Green lights it up just in time for the holidays, with this collection of 14 seasonal tracks. He kicks things off with a swinging version of "What Christmas Means to Me," first recorded by Stevie Wonder for his 1967 album "Someday at Christmas." He tackles the sultry, harmonic duet "Baby, It’s Cold Outside" with his "Voice" co-star Christina Aguilera. The two lack the chemistry to make it sizzle, but it remains one of the best holiday songs ever. He brings charm and warmth to "This Christmas," singing, "And this Christmas will be a very special Christmas for me." And his deep voice is well suited for the soporific "The Christmas Song," as every mother’s child spies to see if reindeer really know how to fly. He adds a swing to "White Christmas" and Disney’s The Muppets team up with Green for an original song, "All I Need is Love." Green tells Kermit (also green, coincidentally) that he doesn’t need fancy watches or a 60-in flat screen TV in every room -- all he needs is love. The song is catchy, with the humming kazoo sound that marks most Muppets tunes. "I think the Muppets hit a new low," banters the theater critic puppets Statler and Waldorf. "Yeah, and his name is Cee," replies the other. Green teams up with a capella group Straight No Chaser for the classic baddie tune, "You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," about the man with spiders in his heart and garlic in his soul. He brings soul to "Please Come Home For Christmas" and provides a Motown vibe to "Run Rudolph Run," especially as he sings "all I want for Christmas is an electric rock-and-roll guitar." He seems to rethink that in the following track, "All I Want For Christmas," choosing love to trump in this jazzy version of a holiday standard. His deep voice brings an R&B gospel feel to "Mary, Did You Know," and shimmers on Joni Mitchell’s somber 1971 hit, "River." He teams up with classic rock icon Rod Stewart for "Merry Christmas, Baby," a rollicking, rock-and-roll holiday tune with nice brass. Green finishes us with a bucolic "Silent Night." "CeeLo’s Magic Moment" may not have the same chart-topping élan as his breakthrough hit, "Fuck You," but it’s a family-friendly collection of holiday hits that will keep your yule cool.
(Warner Music Group)
"Glow" Kaki King
Genre-bending artist Kaki King releases her new, guitar-centric, all-instrumental album "Glow" this month, cementing her decade-long reputation as an extraordinarily diverse musician. "This is a guitar record," she says. "This is the sound of a person playing guitar. Whatever additions we made, the fundamental of this record is still one person playing a guitar. That’s who I am." The album features a dozen tracks that feature this Brooklyn-based artists’ trademark imaginative tunings, rare instruments and idiosyncratic percussion, but the guitar is the star. In the instrumental track, "Great Round Burn," King’s fine guitar work is regimented, heightening drama, almost like chamber music, with flourishes of violin. She has been playing guitar since the tender age of 4, and this album really shows off her chops. "Streetlight in the Egg" builds slowly, with the thump of hand drums and fast-moving acoustic guitar. "Bowen Island" has a similar progression, and "Holding the Severed Self" moves fast and loose, a fine piece of guitar playing that take the listener on a psychic journey. She forays into the "uncharted territory" of Open D minor tuning in "Cargo Cult" and "Kelvinator, Kelvinator." In other tracks, she seizes on the high, bright sound of her Veillette Gryphon High 12-string guitar, which she has dubbed, "a songwriting machine." "Skimming the Fractured Surface to a Place of Endless Light" is a very slow and deliberate piece, and "King Pizel" moves fast and nimbly, with a Celtic vib, like Irish pub rock. In the album, King taps Richmond Johnson for bagpipes and New York-based quartet ETHEL for strings. It is easy to see how King’s dramatic instrumental pieces have been called upon again and again for film and television soundtracks, including Sean Penn’s "Into the Wild" and the drama "August Rush." She finishes the album with "March Slav," a piece inspired by Tchaikovsky, and King’s fascination with Russian history. "For a long time I wondered, how am I going to have a normal life, how am I going to be an adult, and still write good music," she says. "The answer came from not worrying about it. I’m just not going to argue with the muse anymore."
(Velour Music Group)
"Paradise" (Cody Simpson)
Watch out, Justin Bieber! Teenage dream Cody Simpson has teamed up on the Beebs’ sold-out "Believe" tour, and the girls are already going ga-ga. This blond, 15-year-old dreamboat made a splash with 11 million views on YouTube for his new film "Finding Cody," available on Warner Music Group’s channel, "The Warner Sound." He was named "Favorite Aussie Superstar" at the 2012 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, and his early four-track EP hits #2 on iTune’s "Top Pop Albums." His single, "Got Me Good" is a sonorous tune with an island beat, with Simpson vowing that he’s changing his hound-dogging ways to stick with the girl who, "even when you wake up with no make-up, I’m in love." This sound resurfaces in "Tears on Your Pillow," in which he vows to his girl that although he may not be able to give her the world, she has his heart, so the crying is over. "Summer Shade" is another tune about young love under the summer sun. Still fairly young, Simpson sings with a fine, high voice devoid of the recriminations of love that come to the more mature. He opens the album with the sun-kissed "Paradise," a bouncy pop song about young love that has him singing, "If I’m dreaming, don’t let me wake, cause I’m in paradise." In "Be The One," he blends old-school teen rock in the style of Katy Perry with some electronica backing, to produce a decent dance track. He moves through the motions of a teenage Casanova in "Hello" as he works to get the girls’ digits and give her a call. New single "Wish U Were Here" has Simpson singing, "The music is better and the lights are brighter when you are near," promising that he will come right back home to his woman. The song features a tight rap break by Becky G. The predictable "I Love Girls" is blessedly short, and segues into "Back To You," a slower song with a catchy clap-track intro and vocal distortion that has Simpson begging his love for the code to make everything all right. He finishes up with "Gentleman," crooning to his lady that he will be as gentle as he can, to win her love. Oh, to look at love from such a pure, unsullied place! Pick up "Paradise" for the teen or tween in your life. He’s sure to be the next big thing.
"Red" Taylor Swift
After moving to Nashville at the age of 14 to pursue a career in country music, Taylor Swift became the youngest person to write and perform a Number One country song. She crossed over, and has since won six Grammy Awards, 10 American Music Awards, and a passel of country music awards. She has sold over 22 million albums and 50 million song downloads, and became the target of Kanye West in 2009 when she snatched the Best Female Video awards from Beyoncé, whom he favored. The subsequent fallout endeared Swift to the nation, cementing her reputation as a mainstream celeb. Swift is now set to release her fourth studio album, "Red." She wrote nine of the albums’ 16 songs herself, and co-wrote the rest with artists Ed Sheeran, Liz Rose, Gary Lightbody and Max Martin. She has said that the album examines her attraction to drama-filled relationships, and that since writing it, these relationships have lost their appeal. The song selections vacillate from more musically mature tracks to trite teenage crap. The opener, "State of Grace," a solid pop ballad, with a catchy hook and toe-tapping instrumentals, "This is the state of grace, this is the worthwhile fight, love is a ruthless game, unless you play it good and right." Her voice soars on the title track, "Red," as she sings about love and loss, and adds some interesting vocal distortion in the chorus. But she shows her youth in "Treacherous," when she scandalously, gleefully admits that she loves the feeling of doing what she shouldn’t be. Oh, forbidden pleasures! "I Knew You Were Trouble" forays into electronic samples, but the arrangement is simple and repetitive. She fares better with the confessional, country music ballad "All Too Well" as she sings, "left my scarf there at your sister’s house and you still got it in your drawer, even now." In "22" she celebrates her youth with this punky anthem about dancing all night, and having breakfast at midnight. Her country roots shine in the heartbreaking, "I Almost Do," singing with emotion in her voice, "I just want to tell you, it takes everything in me not to call you, and I wish I could run to you and I hope you know that every time I don’t, I almost do." She does a 180 on that sentiment in her lead single, "We Are Never Getting Back Together," a far less mature track, targeted to the teen listener. Released in August, became her first number-one Billboard Top 100 Hit, getting the highest-ever one-week sales for a female artist. In September, her single "Begin Again" hit the country radio play. In "Stay Stay Stay," she fights with her man, but still convinces him to stay the night. "Holy Ground" is a fast-moving pop track, and "Sad Beautiful Tragic" is as good as its name. "The Lucky One" tackles stardom, "Starlight" is a simple pop tune about young love and "Begin Again" is about growing up. She teams up with Sheeran in "Everything is Changed," singing, "I just want to know you better now." Gary Lightbody leads in "The Last Time," to a nice effect, as Swift’s harmony rises to the top when paired with a male voice. Swift’s album is ambitious, and only a fool would say that she lacks talent. For now, though, her music seems aimed toward a teenage audience. Like the Hayden Panettierre character Juliette Barnes in the hit show "Nashville," first speculated to be based on her, Swift must decide if she wants to continue to be a teenage dream, or take her music to a more mature place. Either way, she clearly has the talent to stay at the top of her game.
(Big Machine Records)
"Sunken Condos" (Donald Fagen)
Steely Dan front man Donald Fagen has rocked the airwaves since the early ’70s with his unique brand of elaborate arrangements of bouncy brass and keyboard-driven rock and jazz harmonies with a bent toward attracting (sometimes statutorily criminal) younger women. Although he often works with partner Walter Becker, he’s up to his old solo-album tricks in "Sunken Condos." On the first track, "Slinky Thing," he sings, "Everybody stood around thinkin’: Hey what’s she doin’ with a burned-out hippie clown/ Young dudes were grinnin’. I can’t say it didn’t sting./ Some punk says: Pops you better hold on to that slinky thing." He records the album with Michael Leonhart, who adds much to the songs via clavinet, vibraphone, percussion, trumpet, Glockenspiel and background vocals. Fagen gives the Kelly Clarkson spin to "I’m Not the Same Without You," singing "Since you’ve been gone, it’s like somebody switched the stars back on." In "Memorabilia," he croons about the dusty old memorabilia in the back of Louis Dakine’s backroom, but the song is ostensibly about "that lovely creature, the exceptional Ivy King," and features a trademark sax break that is equally lovely. An acid electric rhythm guitar intro keeps "Weather in My Head" on its cutting edge, as Fagen sings that while they may "fix the weather in the world, just like Mr. Gore said," what’s to be done about the weather in his head? His lyrics compares tragedies like typhoons and Hurricane Katrina to the world of hurt his lady unleashed upon him when she lied. He gives his younger lady the kiss-off in the bouncy track, "The New Breed," noting that this young kid "really knows his shit, a real diamond in the rough," and graciously bows out before she twists the knife. It’s the same old story in the Motown-influenced track, "Out of the Ghetto": you can take the girl out the ’hood, but you can’t take the ’hood out the girl. And for the record, that’s just fine with Fagen. He goes even younger than his "Hey, Nineteen" when he sings of "Miss Marlene" who could roll like a pro, hammered or straight, when she was 17. The song is ostensibly about bowling that seven-ten split, but the wicked guitar leaves little to the imagination. He goes back to the bootlegger days of old in "Good Stuff," with a funky guitar track, and finishes off with "Planet D’Rhonda," a song about a girl from upstate, who was "somewhere between nineteen and thirty-eight." Unlike other far-reaching artists who throw a bunch of stuff to the wall to see what will stick, Fagen has assembled only nine songs in "Sunken Condos." But with his laser-like attention to detail, they all instantly enter the growing pantheon of classic Donald Fagen/Steely Dan hits.