By Joel Francis
Keep grinding and hang in there, my friends.
Dinosaur Jr. – Farm (2009) Of all the ‘80s underground bands that reunited, Dinosaur Jr. might be the most underappreciated. If you read Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life, you may remember the chapter on Dinosaur Jr. as being the most venomous and spite-filled. (If you haven’t read this book, grab a copy and chow down. It’s not only a wonderful primer on how we got from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana, but a heck of a ride in the van with several then-unknown/now-influential bands.)
Yet just six years after guitarist J. Mascis and bass play Lou Barlow spilled their bile over the page, they were not only playing shows together again, but making new music. Farm is the second album in the reunion run. The trio – including drummer Murph – have blown out the cobwebs and are locked in, particularly on the nearly nine-minute song “Imagination Blind.” In the past, Mascis’s ferocious guitar was matched only by his aggressive vocals. His singing is more laid back these days, providing a counter-point that makes his guitar roar even louder. To date, Dinosaur Jr. have released four albums since reconvening – one more than they gave us in their original run. Farm is my favorite from the second batch.
John Cale – Paris 1919 (1973) Perhaps its because he only appeared on half of their albums, but John Cale has always been hidden in Lou Reed’s shadow of the Velvet Underground. There are no traces of the Underground’s sonic experiments with Cale on this, his third album. The songs are all stately and proper, with orchestration and a lyric sheet that reads like Victorian poetry. It’s also a masterpiece. Cale’s lyrics were rarely this direct and his music this accessible – and elegant – again. Think Brian Wilson spiked with Dylan Thomas and you’re getting close. Either way, you’re going to want to hear this. And then play it again.
Bryan Ferry – Boys and Girls (1985) Prior to Boys and Girls, Bryan Ferry solo albums were almost exclusively vehicles for the singer to put his own twist on other people’s material. With the end of Roxy Music, however, solo albums became Ferry’s outlet for his own compositions. Boys and Girls is Ferry’s first album after Roxy, and it retains the same impeccable sheen as Avalon. If anything, Boys and Girls is so polished it tends to get a bit samey. That said, Ferry’s songwriting is strong enough to keep me coming back to it. My favorites here are the opening singles “Sensation” and “Slave To Love” and the haunting title track. If you miss the sound and feel of late-period Roxy Music and want to keep the party going, Boys and Girls is the place to go.
Meshell Ndegeocello – Pour une ame Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone (2012) Look closely at the album title – this is a dedication to Nina Simone, not a tribute. For her tenth solo album, Ndegeocello does her best to reclaim these well-known covers associated with the diva and civil rights activist. It works.
It is almost impossible to think of the Animals version of “Don’t Let Me Be Understood,” except to comment on the vast differences between the interpretations. The same thing goes with Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and “House of the Rising Son.” The sensual “Real Real” with Toshi Reagon sounds something Ndegeocello wrote yesterday, not a 45-year-old Simone song. Simone was always searching for something new in her music, regardless of the cost, personal or professional. Ndegeocello captures that restless, temperamental spirit well across these 14 tracks. This won’t replace either woman’s individual work, but can proudly rest next to them.