Thursday, January 10, 2008

Post-Holiday Music Post

I got my hands on a few records over the holidays that I've been enjoying, and I thought I'd share them with y'all. Many of these show up on a lot of critics "best of" lists that are so fashionable at the end of the year.

Jens Lekman / Night Falls over Kortedala
A few years ago, I opened a show for Jens Lekman, and wasn't terribly impressed with his stuff, though he was really nice guy. So when this album came out earlier this year, I didn't really pay it much mind. Then I started reading and hearing a number of positive reviews...finally, I broke down and bought the record. And I really like it. Jens Lekman is like the Swedish Morrissey. He croons, and his lyrics are often really funny in the way he sings with such earnestness about pedestrian moments.

For example, the song "Your Arms Around Me" opens with a celestial harp and violin line...very pretty, then come the drums and the guitar lick, all very earnest in a poppy love ballad kind of way. But the first lyric is "I was slicing up an avocado." It's the last lyric you would expect, and it totally works.

Another such moment is in the song "A Postcard to Nina." The song is about Jens Lekman posing as the boyfriend of his lesbian friend Nina to fool her father. He's got to get his story straight with what she's told her family, and he's having trouble: "Oh God, Jesus Christ! I try to focus on your eyes. We're having dinner with your family now, I keep a steady look at your left eyebrow. If it's raised it means yes, if it's not it means take a guess. Hey! You! Stop kicking my legs, I'm doing my best. Can you pass the figs?" I crack up every time he sings "Can you pass the figs."

Night Falls over Kortedala is a really fun and fresh pop record. Good arrangements, hummable melodies, and delightful and surprising lyrics that give you a sense of a real person singing the songs, some one you might like to hang out with, not an "important songwriter" with "important lyrics." And in the pedestrian moments, Lekman finds some authentic insights. Delightful is the bets word for this album. It is full of delights.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss / Raising Sand

When I first heard about this record and mentioned it to some friends, they laughed and thought I was joking. But it's no joke. It's a terrific album, and the disconnect people seem to find in Plant and Krauss is really unfounded. Plant has always been a musical journeyman, venturing into different genres, playing with different musicians, and singing duets with beautifully voiced women. Perhaps you'll recall Sandy Denny's soaring vocal on "Battle of Evermore."

The first track I'd heard off the record was "Please Read the Letter" which was a track Plant and Jimmy Page recorded for their "Walking to Clarksdale" album. I think because I already knew the song form the lackluster Page/Plant effort, I wasn't that impressed with the Plant/Krauss version. Still, the glowing reviews kept piling up, and I really do love both Plant and Krauss, so I put it on my Christmas list and I'm glad I did. What a great album. And Plant/Krauss's version of "Please Read the Letter" has redeemed the song for me. It's wonderful.

T Bone Burnett produced it, and it bears his eerie mark, reminiscent of Lanois's production of Dylan on "Time Out of Mind" but more organic and warm. The ethereal production is the perfect compliment to Krauss's angelic voice, and Plant's superbly delicate delivery. Also in the mix is one of my favorite guitarists, Marc Ribot, who's distinctive style only adds to the otherworldly space the music creates. There are too many highlights to mention, but 2 songs that stand out for me as exemplary of the mood and sound of the record are "Polly Come Home" and "Nothin'".

Plant sings lead on both of these tracks, and for me, he is really the glue of the record. Krauss has an amazing voice, no doubt about it. And she can use it. But anyone who thinks Robert Plant is just the guy who said "push push yeah" a lot in Led Zeppelin hasn't heard what this guy can do. When he sings lead on this record, it's delicate, reserved and incredibly emotive, while still leaving room for Krauss. When Krauss sings lead, Plant shows his range in his absolutely essential, but often nearly imperceptible supporting vocals. He's an exeptional singer, and he shines on this album. And Plant and Krauss sing absolutely beautifully together on the full fledged duets.

Finally there's Tinariwen. I'm sort of short on time at the moment, but briefly: Tinariwen is a Tuareg band from Mali, and the music is trancey and hypnotic and totally intoxicating. Amazing from start to finish.


Jens Lekman / A Postcard to Nina
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss / Polly Come Home
Tinariwen / Matadjem Yinmixan

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