RUSH, Moving Pictures 40th Anniversary Edition (Anthem). Even before they were an arena band (and who remembers when THAT wasn’t the case), Rush always sounded like an arena band. The music coming off their stage was much too big for a club and struggled to be contained within the confines of a theater. And while stadium gigs worked for them (see the Rush in Rio video for proof), the arena is where they’ve always belonged. Moving Pictures presents absolute proof of this. Fans know this album backward, and it still sounds as spectacular as ever. One listen to the drum break in “Tom Sawyer,” and we’re reminded why Neil Peart was so important and why he is so deeply missed. The basic deluxe package (supersized sets including vinyl and over-the-top extras are available for the super serious and/or fanatical) contains the real treat: a 2-CD set from the band’s hometown performance in support of this album at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. To be certain, there are resemblances to the live album originally released to document this tour, Exit … Stage Left. But this is the entire show with a much better mix than what ESL gave us. It’s easy to see this show as the band hitting its second peak (after 2112) before shifting gears, and it should not be missed.
JAH WOBBLE, Metal Box — Rebuilt in Dub (Cleopatra). Under the disc in the CD edition of this album are the phrases “One big energy field,” “Bass! Don’t think, just play,” and “Make music silent.” The last statement may be open to interpretation, but there’s no questioning what comes before it. Bassist Jah Wobble has built and earned his reputation as a musician with a singular sound, and that sound follows him wherever he goes, regardless of musical context. Wobble’s playing is as free-form as it comes while remaining disciplined enough to maintain and hold the groove. This album is a reinterpretation of Public Image Ltd.’s legendary 1979 album, which Wobble was a part of. Comparisons and contrasts will be made, but this album should be allowed to stand on its own, as it nicely explores the further maturation of an already highly influential musician. Fans should own it. Newcomers should have no problem starting their exploration here.
JOHN STOWELL/DAVE GLENN & THE HAWCAPTAK QUARTET, Violin Memory (Origin Records). Laid-back yet assertive, this is one of those “illogical but works just fine” albums combining nylon or fretless baritone guitars (Stowell), trombone (Glenn) and a string quartet. Stowell and Glenn have played together before and it shows. Their sense of interplay is dynamic and tasteful, with the strings (when present) providing a nice foundation for the duet to work from. None of the album’s 21 pieces overstays its welcome, with only one tune clocking in at more than five minutes. This makes for a pleasant musical encounter that can be enjoyed in the foreground, background, or somewhere in between. A solid balance.
BILL BRUFORD, Making a Song and Dance: A Complete Career Collection (BMG). It’s always interesting to see what an artist considers to be their best work. Even more so when that work spans multiple decades and contexts. Fans have one idea of what makes the artist great. The artist often has another. Bill Bruford is no exception. With 71 tracks over six CDs, Bruford’s “complete career collection” covers a LOT of musical ground. Fans looking for absent favorites should refer to their own collections, where there is a 99.8 percent chance they can find said track. Let’s appreciate this collection for the gift it is. Bruford’s decision on how to subdivide his career makes things flow in interesting ways, and more than a few of the tracks are alternate or live versions found on official bootlegs or via other means. Bruford’s tightly loose drumming technique allows him to alter and invert time in in ways that leave mortal drummers quaking on their thrones. But there is NO mistaking his snare drum sound. It travels quite nicely, thank you. Apparently he had trouble getting the licensing for some tunes he wanted to include (Genesis, maybe?). But truth be told, this no doubt opened up other possibilities for this collection. It could be a LOT worse. A must for any Bill Bruford fan.
COURTNEY SWAIN, Silver Lining. Just when you thought you knew Courtney Swain (best known for her vocal and keyboard work with Bent Knee) the page turns, the gears shift and we’re off in a completely different direction. With Silver Lining, Swain calmly shoves aside the candlelight piano-driven ingenue image for an electronically-driven raw and aggressive musical style destined to leave more than one set of jaws agape. No doubt producer Vince Welch had a hand in this sonic shift, given his proclivity for electronic soundscapes. Combined with Swain’s brilliant (as usual) vocals, we are treated to a highly experimental album that still remains highly accessible. Check any and all expectations at the door.
JOMO TUUN, One Turn (Drogo Records). On their debut album, prog-metallers Jomo Tuun come out swinging and connect on multiple levels. The band gets in your face from the get-go, and stays there. Their raw instrumentals have an almost punk vibe to them. The riffs might seem elemental on the surface, but there is more than enough information going on underneath to keep listeners busy. The album never bores and works best when played loud!
TEARS FOR FEARS, The Tipping Point (Concord). Ready to feel old? It’s been nearly 40 years since Tears for Fears told us everybody wants to rule the world. Now they’re back with a new album that brings back the 80’s synth-pop sound and goodness without trying to relive the glory days of youth. Like the rest of us, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith have been through some stuff over the last four decades. A bitter band breakup, a less-than-fully realized reunion, the death of loved ones and other life events have made them just as human as anyone else firmly entrenched in middle-age. Their songwriting reflects that level of maturity. The songs are thoughtfully composed and tightly arranged, reminding us why they were so popular back in the day. But it’s not necessary to go back in order to appreciate what’s here. And isn’t that what any maturing artist should offer? This is the musical definition of aging gracefully.
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