Lana Del Ray, The Mastersons, and NRBQ 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey



File next to: Marianne Faithfull, Nico

Fans of Lana Del Rey must take it for granted they will never convince the haters. Part of the listener-appreciation problem lies in the singer's grim parodies of her own societal background of listless rich in the manner of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Many might not get the bite-the-hand-that feeds-you social critique. That problem is enhanced by Del Rey's embodiment of JFK's Camelot as filtered through The Twilight Zone. When she recorded as Lizzy Grant, Del Rey could sing the occasional upbeat club number, but now she has thoroughly given over her identity to the dark chanteuse. That can yield wonderful songs like "West Coast" and the title track, but the 14-song bonus edition of Ultraviolence clocks in at 65 minutes, a potlatch of slow melancholy. Still, no one ever asked Marlene Dietrich to sing a bouncy polka tune. Every century needs its torch singer of the damned. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge The Mastersons

The Mastersons

Good Luck Charm

New West Records

File next to: Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris

Steve Earle brought two new Dukes to his recent Chico Basin Ranch concert — Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore — who also perform and record as husband-wife team The Mastersons. It's scarcely hyperbole to say that Earle's label-mates have positioned themselves as heirs to such country-folk duos as Johnny & June or Dave & Tracy. The arrangements on Good Luck Charm are more polished than on their debut album, while songs like "Cautionary Tale" and "Closer to You" carry the potential to become classics. Hitching their fortunes to Earle has its advantages, including the distinctive folk-art packaging that's characteristic of New West album covers and doing double-duty as Uncle Steve's opening act. The Mastersons are sometimes guilty of too much starry-eyed kumbaya in their political songs, but songs like "Uniform" prove that they're no innocents. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge NRBQ


Brass Tacks

Big Notes/Clang

File next to: Dave Edmunds, Flaming Groovies

After 48 years, 20-odd studio albums and more than a dozen live records, NRBQ is back with another gem. With Terry Adams now the only original member, Brass Tacks still finds the band conjuring up a bouyant mix of pop, rock 'n' roll, country and jazz that's made NRBQ one of the great rock 'n' roll bands ever. Among the highlights are the wry credit-card commentary of "Greetings From Delaware," the pop perfection of "Sit in My Lap," and the Bakersfield country of "Fightin' Back." There's a car song — no NRBQ album is complete without one — in the twangy "This Flat Tire," while hints of clattering Sun Ra-style jazz turn up on "Places Far Away." There's even an off-the-wall cover of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Getting to Know You." In other words, Brass Tacks is all NRBQ, played and sung with great joy, musicality and charm. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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