|Eden Without Eve||Seileen||5:24|
|Carnival of Blood||Seileen||4:40|
Throughout the distinct phases of their recording career, from straight rhythmic gospel to Civil Rights protest anthems, to what might be called soul folk to the funky grit of their Stax years, the Staple Singers always delivered songs that said something, and even when the grooves of songs like 1971's "Respect Yourself" or 1972's reggae-tinged "I'll Take You There" were sending people to the dancefloors, the lyrics were hopeful, message-driven missives of support for a better self, a better community, and a better world. Stax Profiles is a fine anthology which collects tracks recorded between 1968 and 1975 during the Staple Singers productive stay at Stax Records, and includes both "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There," as well as the powerful "City in the Sky," "Touch a Hand, Make a Friend," "Are You Sure," with its brilliantly staggered vocals, and the Steve Cropper produced "Long Walk to D.C." There isn't a single lame track here, and while there are lengthier collections of the Staple Singers' Stax years on the market, this one has a wonderful flow.
David Olney's career has included forays into hard-edged roots-rock, quiet, introspective acoustic folk, and everything in between. The one constant has been his abilty to write concise, masterfully crafted and memorable songs.
High, Wide and Lonesome represents simultaneously the most consistently strong and diverse selection of songs collected on any of Olney's albums. In addition, his performances are perhaps the best of his career, his voice striking a perfect balance between the bluesy swagger of Spider John Koerner and the intense, whiskey-soaked warblings of Townes Van Zandt. The backing musicians are uniformly excellent as well. Highlights include Rick Danko's funky bassline on "My Family Owns This Town," as well as guest performances throughout the album from several other alumni of the Band. The above-mentioned song and the preceding track, "Another Place, Another Time," are interesting in that each deals with the same small-town murder from a different point of view. In one song, the narrator is the deceased's spurned husband, in the other, her secret lover. Unusual twists of this kind are a specialty of Olney's and make High, Wide and Lonesome a must-have for anyone interested in thoughtful, yet raw and powerful folk music.
The format for single-artist Christmas albums has remained static nearly since the dawn of the LP: a popular artist reprises his sound of the moment in a Christmas setting, sometimes mixing sacred material with secular, but always generating a time capsule that rarely holds up to repeated listenings. The Beach Boys recorded one of the best rock Christmas records of all time, and contributed an even rarer thing than a good holiday album -- a new composition to add to the canon in "Little Saint Nick." Brian Wilson's first solo Christmas album (although he did attempt a second Beach Boys edition in the mid-'70s) was recorded with the same group that made his 2004 SMiLE LP, and it shows the influence of that record.
The two new songs are intriguing because each pairs Wilson with a great rock lyricist.
The first, "What I Really Want for Christmas," finds Bernie Taupin thrusting some fine sentiments into a very SMiLE-like melody. The other is the odd title "Christmasey," written with Jimmy Webb, a bright song with a kinetic power that makes it the highlight of the record. Surprisingly, Wilson doesn't shy away from the sacred material -- in fact, nearly half of the songs are hymns -- and sings multiple verses of "Hark the Herald Angels" and "O Holy Night" like he's reading straight from the hymnbook (except for the excellent new vocal arrangement he writes for the beginning and outro of the former). Wilson's oddly emphatic vocals don't quite suit the Christmas concept, but the arrangements and treatments are very good; the long instrument list and sound will be familiar to Beach Boys fans who have long since memorized the credits on Pet Sounds and SMiLE. Only two choices are puzzling: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" definitely doesn't benefit from a backbeat, and things get a bit confused on "The Man with All the Toys" when the band essays a single line from "O Come All Ye Faithful" ("let every heart prepare him room") and the listener starts wondering whether they're still talking about Santa Claus.
One nice fillip for Beach Boys fans is how Wilson consciously swipes the beginning of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" (long recognized as his favorite song) for the bonus track "On Christmas Day."