Jakob Dylan seeks rootsy revitalization in ‘Women and Country’
“Women and Country”
* * 1/2
The son of a legend, Jakob Dylan would seemingly have all the cred one could need. But after five albums with the modern rock outfit the Wallflowers, each with a declining chart impact, and one rather quiet solo acoustic effort with 2008’s “Seeing Things,” a creative and career revitalization is in order. Teaming with alt-country scorchers Neko Case and Kelly Hogan certainly can’t hurt the effort.
Add a former collaborator and veteran producer in T Bone Burnett, and the resulting “Women and Country” is as rootsy and elegant as all the aforementioned résumés would foretell. It’s a comfortable fit for the hushed-voiced artist. “Truth for a Truth” accentuates Dylan’s sense of melody with steel guitar shading, a Wild West strut and seductive barking harmonies, while the three vocalists are up to something far more haunting on “Down on Our Own Shield.”
Yet one can’t shake the feeling that the real star here is Burnett. Pairing Dylan with a number of musicians who helped shape the Burnett-produced Robert Plant-Alison Krauss collaboration “Raising Sand,” the 11 tracks of “Women and Country” are similarly dressed with low-key Americana atmospherics. The results, however, are mixed.
“They’ve Trapped Us Boys” has a saloon feel and out-of-nowhere backing vocals, yet “Lend a Hand,” despite a horn section that could be backing Cab Calloway, is more forced than lively, and all the textures in the country rule book can’t rescue “Yonder Come the Blues” from lullaby status. Worse, Case and Hogan are relegated largely to backing duty, as if to provide a sense of mystery that wasn’t there from the start.
-- Todd Martens Guitarist’s search for a soul mate
On Slash’s first solo album the most faithful approximation of the classic Guns N’ Roses sound doesn’t come in the track featuring Ozzy Osbourne or the one with Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows. Nor is it in “Watch This,” which includes input from another ex-GNR member, Duff McKagan. Rather, it’s “Beautiful Dangerous” that comes closest to old hits like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “You Could Be Mine.”
The guest vocalist on that cut? Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas.
Slash’s recruitment of such a heavy-metal outlier illustrates his determination to find a replacement for Axl Rose, whose paranoid whinny so perfectly complemented the guitarist’s arsenal of trashy glam-blues riffs. You can look at the 14 all-star collaborations on “Slash” as evidence of his impressive Rolodex, or you can view them as a series of creative tryouts -- musical speed dating in search of a new Mr. (or Ms.) Right.
Team-ups with Ian Astbury (“Ghost”), Chris Cornell (“Promise”) and Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale (“By the Sword”) produce familiar sparks but die out quickly.
And a ballad with Adam Levine of Maroon 5, “Gotten,” aims for “November Rain” but ends up pretty soggy.
Slash seems more energized in “Doctor Alibi,” a brainless fist-pumper with Motörhead maestro Lemmy Kilmister, and “We’re All Gonna Die,” in which Iggy Pop up offers some of the cheerful nihilism that originally inspired Rose.
-- Mikael Wood Imagination has its complications
David Byrne &
“Here Lies Love”
* * 1/2
David Byrne has never lacked for ideas or curiosity, whether it’s unearthing world music gems for his former label Luaka Bop, creating art with the presentation software PowerPoint or seizing around in an oversized suit with the Talking Heads.
But on his collaboration with Fatboy Slim (a.k.a. Norman Cook) on the story of Imelda Marcos, “Here Lies Love: A Song Cycle About Imelda Marcos & Estrella Cumpas,” Byrne gets bogged down in the fertile ground of his boundless imagination.
Spanning two CDs and 22 songs with as many guest singers (mostly female), “Here Lies Love” tracks Marcos’ rise from poor girl to disco-hopping wife of dictator Ferdinand Marcos to disgraced exile most famous in the U.S. for her shoe collection.
Using Imelda’s relationship with her childhood maid as a focal point, Byrne wrote the songs, with Cook supplying the beats.
The disco-heavy songs with Afro-Cuban flourishes pan out well, but when Byrne relies on more schmaltzy Broadway-lite fare, the work loses steam. The pacing of this 89-minute-long cycle suffers: Byrne, a meticulous researcher who’s embedded the songs with direct quotes and crafted a 120-page hardcover book to accompany the CD/DVD package, could have used a good editor.
Nonetheless, there are several rollicking moments: Sharon Jones spices up the proceedings on the more lively second CD; Cyndi Lauper is seductively sly on the courtship romp “Eleven Days”; and “Every Drop of Rain,” with Candie Payne and Annie Clark of St. Vincent, is a successful merger of show-tune ditty and salsa-inflected hip-shaker.
There are worse indulgences than chasing every idea -- as far as we know, Byrne doesn’t have 3,000-plus pairs of high heels.
-- Margaret Wappler