ROB FETTERS, Ship Shake (Independent, 2020). With its crafty songwriting, earnest vocals, and top-shelf instrumentation, Rob Fetters (Psychodots, Raisins, The Bears) continues to prove intelligent pop music is still possible in the modern music industry. Ship Shake is a prime example. Few can fire off a clever mid-tempo rocker the way Fetters offers “Turn This Ship Around” and Can’t Take it Back,” or an acoustic-driven ballad like “Scripture” or “Me & Eve.” He offers up his own form of spirituality without actually making any such declaration, and turns any preconceived notion on the subject directly on its ear. Musical input is provided by fellow Bears Adrian Belew, Bob Nyswonger, and Chris Arduser among others, but this is for the most part a self-contained effort, and a magnificent one.
ELVIS COSTELLO, Hey Clockface (Concord Records, 2020). If you’ve been releasing records for five decades, you earn entrance to the I’ll Make Whatever Kind of Record I Feel Like Club. Proto-punk/New Waver/Intelli-Pop mainstay Elvis Costello has taken that membership and run with it. Hey Clockface is a delightfully eclectic mix of sounds and genres poured into a blender and linked by the common element that is Costello’s distinct voice. There are sounds fit for a smoky bar, a theater stage, an EDM club, and other surprising places. More than one listener will be baffled by what they hear. They needn’t worry. It’s gonna change in a minute anyway.
THE MASTELOTTOS, The Romantic’s Guide to King Crimson (7Media, 2021). If there’s one thing progressive rock seems to lack, it’s a female audience. Sure, there are more than a few out there, but they seem to be few and far between. King Crimson fans looking for a way to get their girlfriends and wives interested in this band are in luck. Current Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto and his wife Deborah have collaborated on a collection of re-arrangements they call The Romantic’s Guide to King Crimson (released, not accidentally, on February 14). The duo pulls 12 tunes from the 50-plus year history and gives them “softer” and “smoother” textures no doubt considered easier on the ears, and therefore more palatable to women. This is NOT to say the new arrangements are condescending, as musical challenges still await within each number. But Deborah’s soothing, lilting voice (not unlike Margot Timmons from the Cowboy Junkies) provides an fascinating sense of tranquility that will also keep the original fans rooted in place. Standouts include “Two Hands,” “Moonchild,” and “Matte Kudasai.” Light a candle, cuddle up on the couch, and enjoy.
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