Drake, Tommy Keene, Bill Callahan 

Sound Advice

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Nothing Was the Same

Cash Money/Universal Republic

File next to: Lil' Wayne, Chris Brown

Drake tends to be showered with accolades with every album or event, perhaps because he tries to meld dissimilar hip-hop and R&B styles. The problem is that the result is far less interesting than his proponents might suggest. Nothing Was the Same's soul melodies are awash in Auto-Tune and falsetto trills, while its hip-hop banter relies on self-serving money-making tales that already sounded old in the 1990s. The same tedium that pulled down Take Care resurfaces here, though it's rescued from time to time by tracks like "Worst Behavior" and "Pound Cake." Drake can be a decent street poet when he attempts to reach outside the norm, and the last five or six songs of the extended version drift into some worthy weirdness. But with folks like Earl Sweatshirt and the industrial-punk Kanye West defining the new hip-hop, most of Drake's efforts sound mediocre. — Loring Wirbel

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Tommy Keene

Excitement at Your Feet

Second Motion Records

File next to: The dB's, Matthew Sweet

Tommy Keene's cool covers album serves as a quirky homage to five decades of rock 'n' roll that's great fun and says plenty about Keene. A taut, rhythmic take on Mink DeVille's "Let Me Dream If I Want To" is pure '70s New York punk — a strong part of Keene's musical roots. His affection for the British Invasion comes through in power-pop takes on the Who's "Much Too Much" and the Rolling Stones' "Ride On, Baby," as well as a warm, acoustic-rooted re-working of Donovan's "Catch the Wind," the only "hit" on the record. The newest song here is a loud ringing guitar journey through Guided By Voice's "Choking Tara," while choices like Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Puppet" provide additional zip. Add in a gorgeous version of Big Star's "Nighttime" and it's clear Keene has great taste in music and knows how to show it. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Bill Callahan

Dream River

Drag City

File next to: Van Morrison, Tom Waits

When Bill Callahan was recording under the name Smog, his sweet baritone voice was used in the service of odd country-tinged pop and folk. Sometime between his live album in Australia and 2011's Apocalypse album, Callahan stretched out with his jazz ensemble, incorporating flute, violin and other sounds to resemble nothing so much as Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece era. On Dream River, he combines this scat style with a lyricism that is downright happy, at least for Callahan. Some say great lyrics don't come from contentment, but Callahan tosses out lines like "I've got limitations like Marvin Gaye" even as he's talking about the comforts of home. Callahan's odd poetics are nothing new; his parents were both cryptanalysts at the NSA. But a rich voice, free-form jazz, and gentle joy combine to make him a first-rate musician in what may be his most fruitful period. — Loring Wirbel


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