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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Solid As A Rock? Often, But Not Always. The Two Most Disappointing Albums Of 2009.

OK.  2009 isn't over yet, so indeed there may be more disappointing albums to come, but I thought it warranted noting that 2 of my favorites musicians have seen fit to release 2 of the worst albums in their respective catalogues.  Some background is also necessary, both are certainly stalwarts and maybe even pioneers of the alt-country/americana genre, and I worship the ground that both of these musicians walk on.  Hence, you, the reader, should recognize that this piece was difficult for 'ol Knox to write and that any criticisms set forth here on the mighty Shotgun are probably understated.  Just who are these folks you ask? Read on my friends.

First out of the gate this year was Steve Earle, with his Townes album, dedicated to the late and arguably great Texas singer-songwriter and Steve Earle mentor, Townes Van Zandt.  I say arguably because many, including Steve Earle himself, have railed on about his unquestionable songwriting genius, while I have never been terribly enthralled by either his songs, or Van Zandt's delivery of them.  Sure, "Pancho and Lefty" is a great song and is probably best delivered on the Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark Together At The Bluebird Cafe album, but the rest of his work I find morose, monotonous and one-dimensional.  It should have been no surprise to me then that Earle's tribute album is largely just that - plain, droning and sometimes, downright numbing.  It's not that Earle doesn't pour his soul into this one.  He clearly does.  His delivery just isn't enough to lift this album up out of the doldrums, given the nature of Van Zandt's material.  However, as an old friend of mine likes to say "the sun even shines on a dog's ass sometimes".  On that note, "Colorado Girl" is a great listen.  A brooding, intense number that really sustains repeated listens, this one warrants a download.  I would suggest that you pass on the rest of the album though, as much as it pains me to say it.  Kudos to Steve Earle though for the passion that was obviously thrown at this shout-out to his old, departed friend.

Next came Rhett Miller, lead singer, rhythm guitarist, songwriter and frontman of one of my Top 5 favorites bands of all-time, the Old 97's, with his self-titled album released back in June.  Now to be clear, I am the closest thing to an Old 97's/Rhett Miller/Murry Hammond (Old 97's bass player, singer-songwriter) sycophant as you can get, and I have loved nearly everything that has come out of them since their arrival on the scene in the early 90's.  Even Miller's previous solo albums, which while poppier and more slick than the usual 97's sound, have made Knox's ears ring and have set his toe-a-tappin'.  This newest effort though, while produced by genius-producer and longtime Miller friend, Salim Nourallah (who also produced last year's Old 97's home run album, Blame It On Gravity), really lacks any cohesion or punch and like Townes, never hooks the listener and instead, rambles through 12 disjointed tracks before coming to an end.  Like Townes too, the album is not all bad.  "Caroline" is worth a download, even though it certainly doesn't take up any space in the Miller/97's hall of fame.

I've always believed that Texas is the birthplace of much of the best music in North America.  With these 2 releases though, perhaps the solid foundation that belief rests upon is eroding.  Let's just hope that the upcoming Radney Foster release, Revival (September 1st, 2009 Release Date) restores my faith in Texas and the glorious sounds that emanate from the Lone Star State.

Posted by Knox Harrington on July 30, 2009 | Permalink


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