My skin was positively tingling the minute I got the news that fresh music from Ray LaMontagne was imminent, but my anticipation for Gossip in the Grain, the artist’s forthcoming third album, just slid into warp drive, because Grain‘s resplendent leadoff single “You Are the Best Thing” went up at this week, and it’s a startling knockout. However searing and wrenchingly brilliant the lion’s share of LaMontagne’s music may be (and trust me, it most definitely is), his discography isn’t exactly littered with what one would call happy tunes, and that’s precisely what makes “Best Thing” such a wicked revelation, as LaMontagne seems to funnel all his obvious inspirations — from two hundred year old Negro spirituals to ’30s jazz to the ghosts of Tapestry — into a horn-drenched sing-along which somehow sounds completely fresh. With this unexpected leap over to the sunny side of the street, LaMontagne has hurled out an opening salvo clearly meant as a challenge to his peers, and a confident declaration that he is the musician to beat this crowded fall. Believe it: the artist who has designs on beating this in the season to come had better have already gotten one hell of a head start, because New England’s most lovably eccentric hermit has just thrown down the gauntlet.
the Buzz for August 2008
And then I told him, without a trace of jest, “If you lose this one, I will kill you.”
(If you missed the original blog post which more or less explains the above picture, you can find it here.)
Need more convincing that fall is definitely on the way? Look no further than this week’s music lineup, which features a staggering seven new releases (and not an ounce of filler in any of it!). So settle into your most comfortable chair and take a gander at the following brilliance:
Hot on the heels of last week’s triumphant Gossip Girl set arrives on DVD the fifth season of that resilient CW stalwart One Tree Hill, an irresistible cocktail of trashy plotlines and gorgeous young people that keeps chugging along just like the little engine that could. The series’ creative team took a huge risk this past season — one which, judging by the fact that “Desperate Housewives” copied it wholesale a few months later, ended up paying off dividends, in that it completely revived the energy level of the acting company — by leaping ahead four years into the future in episode one, thereby eliminating the contrived need to funnel all the kids into one college (“90210,” anyone?) for the sake of keeping all the characters together in one place following high school graduation. Another dicey move — this one far less successful, in my humble opinion — was the show’s disappointing decision to scale back its adult cast; Barry Corbin (whose character Whitey, Tree Hill High’s basketball coach, retired) and Moira Kelly (easily the show’s grounding force and its most relatable character — Karen, the protagonist’s mother) were kindly shown the door (though Kelly returned for one midseason episode revolving around her son’s doomed wedding), and Barbara Alyn Woods (the hilarious horndog Deb, the coolest cougar on network television) was dropped to recurring status. Still, the season-ending cliffhanger was a heartstopper (no pun intended there, but if you caught it, you know what I’m talking about), and as we gear up for season six (which begins next Monday night), what better way to prepare than by taking a leisurely stroll through the angst-drenched antics of the strike-truncated season five. (Incidentally, Target is advertising their version of this DVD set as containing “exclusive journal”, and I have the strangest feeling that this could be the protagonist’s much-ballyhooed novel, An Unkindness of Ravens (you have to watch the show to get it, I suppose). If that’s indeed the case, all I can say is, “Holy freakin’ crap!”)
After what seems like years, the dreadful month of August is finally crawling to an end, and taking with it the abominably dull music lineup which has bogged us down since late July. And now that we can turn our attention toward fall and its transformative glory, we can begin to anticipate with breathless, open-mouthed vigor the terrific tuneage laying in wait for us.
The item I was most looking forward to this season was The Annie Lennox Collection, a first-ever solo best-of set from one of the most fiercely divine artists we have. But after word broke last week that Lennox required emergency spinal surgery, Collection was pushed back to spring 2009 so that its creator could have ample recovery time.
Fear not, however: Ms. Lennox, as monumentally necessary as she may be in our lives, wasn’t slated to be the only game in town this fall. New works from Pink, James Taylor, Rachael Yamagata, Whitney Houston, Sarah McLachlan, and many others are in the pipeline, as are the following five records, which — now that Lennox has been taken off the table — I’ll confess I am most excited about.
“I’m amused at the pundits, you know, ‘He’s gonna pick somebody younger!’ Gee, ya think? Who’s available that’s older? Bob Dole, uh, Lauren Bacall, and Abel, I think, is on that shortlist.”
— Bill Maher, sizing up Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s running mate options on “Larry King Live”
Posts will be a bit erratic over the next few days, as I am off on another mini-vacation (visiting family and friends, this time). Stay tuned to the Buzz over the coming weeks, as I get set to unveil the five albums I’m most looking forward to owning this fall, recap the season which is coming to an end with a smashing summer ’08 playlist, and conclude the road trip dispatches.
Another Tuesday, another much-anticipated DVD set taking precedence over the week’s less-than-stupendous music lineup. (September’s almost here, guys, I promise.) Take a gander, if you’re brave:
Hot on the heels of Lily Allen, Duffy, Adele, and that Grammy-winning wack job Amy Winehouse, the new invasion of sassy Bri’ish females continues in earnest with This is the Life, the spacey debut record from 21-year-old Scottish lass Amy MacDonald. She’s already drawing comparisons to Kirsty MacColl and Regina Spektor (let’s hope like hell Ms. MacDonald pulls stronger karma from the former, as the Buzz wouldn’t wish the latter’s incoherent insanity on anybody) and raves aplenty, although I have a sneaky li’l sneaky that the American marketplace has finally reached its saturation point on foreign-based kitsch, and that without a solid radio hit, Life may end up slipping through the cracks.
As noted in last week’s Vol. 1, I recently embarked an extraordinary road trip with my two favorite people on the planet, and during the course of this week-long vacation, I was made privy to fifteen vital, life-altering lessons about life, love, music, and madness, all of which I’m itching to share with you, my loyal readers. Screw Tuesdays with Morrie; you can learn urrything you need to know about this insane world and the folks who inhabit it right here at the Buzz.
In Vol. 1, we delved into the first set of those lessons, and without further ado… I now give you Vol. 2:
LESSON NUMBER FOUR: While the food is marvelous, The Rainforest Café isn’t exactly a quiet, retiring lunch locale.
After a couple of hours in the car (a fabulously gorgeous gunmetal-gray 2008 Mustang which quite literally broke my heart to return to Hertz when the rental week was up) with me and Sherry Ann — during which time we discussed everything from the soaps to the unexpected brilliance of Peggy Scott-Adams to Jewel’s maddeningly incoherent comments on “Nashville Star” — A looked as though he was ready to choke one or both of us. (When she and I share the same space, we have this tendency to forget that other people are around.) So, to break the trip up a bit (as well as feed our faces), we stopped off at Katy Mills on our way into Houston. Sherry Ann had been up since 3:30am, or some similar ungodly hour, in order to catch a 7am flight out of Amarillo, and she was understandably starving by the time one o’clock rolled around, and while A and I had dined on watermelon and homemade waffles that morning while catching the “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son” reruns on TV Land, our breakfast had long since worn off.
“I think there are a lot of people rooting for me, because if I get to heaven, everyone goes.”
— talk show host Jerry Springer, speaking to “Entertainment Tonight” in 1998
While the industry gears up for fall, the typical August doldrums are in full swing, as evidenced by this week’s threadbare music lineup, but take heart: with a “new” Eva Cassidy album due at the end of the month, the sophomore record from Jon McLaughlin (one of last year’s most intriguing (and gorgeous) newcomers), an official live recording of Tori Amos’ historic early-’90s appearances at the Montreaux Jazz Festival (the bootlegs of which have been long-treasured amongst Amos’ rabid faithful), and breathlessly anticipated efforts from Ray LaMontagne, Annie Lennox (via a just-announced best-of set dotted with new songs), Michelle Branch, Whitney Houston, U2, James Taylor, Lee Ann Womack, and Oasis in the pipeline, autumn 2008 promises to be astonishing. All we gotta do is get there.
Easily the funniest and most enjoyable of the largely lamentable sitcoms that occupied the plum real estate following “Seinfeld” during the latter half of the ’90s (though — full disclosure and all — the opening episodes of “Veronica’s Closet” had their share of hilarious highlights, methought), Caroline in the City: The First Season lands on DVD this fine week. Starring Lea Thompson as the titular character, a cartoonist looking for love and laughs in the Big Apple, the series featured invaluable supporting turns from Amy Pietz (as Caroline’s best friend Annie, a dancer in the chorus of Cats) and Malcolm Gets (as Caroline’s illustrator Richard, a buttoned-up bundle of natty neuroses), and though I’m not sure there was a pent-up demand for this release — the show is hardly regarded as a beloved classic, even by those of us who were fans — I’ll be buying it anyway, if only to own a crisp, clear copy of the uproarious 1996 episode in which the priceless Elizabeth Ashley (whose brilliantly fiery dialogue delivery singlehandedly makes last month’s first-season DVD set of “Evening Shade” a worthwhile purchase) shows up and wreaks havoc as Richard’s outlandish mother. If you ever saw it, you know damn well why I’ll never again think of the state of Utah without smiling.
“You are our brio, our storytellers…. As your predecessors have done since we first stood up around the fire, you keep the lore of the tribe, our identity, our history. You lift up the mirror to the community, the whole one, of man, for us to look at ourselves and, hopefully, to grow…. You are our perpetual healing…. You are making history. You are telling the stories, you are giving us the view from that very particular place where you stand and live. You are blessing the earth, and us on it. You are documenting the fact that we have been here.“
— the magnificent Alfre Woodard, addressing the filmmakers present at the closing ceremonies of the 1998 Sundance Film Festival
For a minute there, didn’t it feel like Austin was gonna become the next Seattle?
In much the same way that Seattle gave birth to the grunge scene in the early ’90s, with homegrown bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam leading the zeitgeist-capturing charge, a new singer-songwriter boom — one, no doubt, which got kicked off by Jagged Little Pill, got stoked by the staggering success of Jewel’s debut and Sheryl Crow’s sophomore efforts, and got sent into orbit by the phenomenal, out-of-the-box success of Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair — exploded across the landscape in the latter part of the decade, and, thanks to the emergence on the national stage of supremely gifted local talents like Patty Griffin, Kelly Willis, Shawn Colvin, Sister 7, Fastball, and the peerless Abra Moore, its epicenter was Austin. Having long labeled itself the “live music capital of the world,” the city had all of a sudden become ground zero in the most significant cultivation of introspective music since the early days of Dylan, Mitchell, Collins, and Taylor. (Clive Davis was so certain it was gonna stick that he launched the Arista/Austin imprint to discover and develop new artists.)