A pair of fascinating newcomers releasing long-awaited sophomore projects, up against a host of old pros returning to the spotlight, punctuate this week’s (regretfully belated — sorry, Sherry Ann!) record store report.  But don’t just take my word for it:


Her already legendary spot-on spoofs of Gov. Sarah Palin will almost certainly stand beside Dana Carvey’s oafish takeoffs on the elder George Bush in the upper echelon of “Saturday Night Live’s” political pantheon, and if there’s any justice, the enormous buzz generated thereby will draw some much-needed attention to the product of the peerless Tina Fey’s day job, as writer and star of NBC’s enormously funny riotous farce 30 Rock.  Critically adored — the series just swept the comedy Emmys, nabbing acting trophies for Fey and Alec Baldwin (as masterful a buffoon as can be found anywhere on the dial these days), as well as honors for the series itself and for its writing — but a Nielsen also-ran — even as a niche show, this thing’s ratings are paltry — Rock miraculously returns for its third season at the end of the month, and to whet appetites for the series’ imminent return, this week brings the arrival on DVD of the outrageously hilarious Season Two, which features another Emmy-nominated turn from Elaine Stritch (as Baldwin’s ribald mother) and guest turns from, among others, Jerry Seinfeld and Edie Falco.  The textbook definition of eccentric television, this often-demented series is certainly not for everyone.  But it is funny, and given how shockingly short is the supply on that these days in TV land, that’s worth celebrating.

In the wake of Coldplay’s bracing breakthrough, the hunt was on for moody British bands who made melancholy music and gave the world’s cameras good face.  But, with the possible exception of Keane (whose third album is due next week), not a single one of them managed to make similar waves.  Not even Aqualung, who, despite heaps of critical praise for their first two Columbia albums (2005’s Strange and Beautiful and 2007’s Memory Man), have yet to make any kind of mainstream dent.  That fact is likely to remain true with their latest record, Words and Music, which contains more bravura vocal work from Matthew Hales — imagine Chris Martin’s lilt and Bob Dylan’s timbre, and you’re not far off — as well as a kooky cover of Paul Simon’s classic “Slip Slidin’ Away,” just for good measure, but very little that’s going to merit them any serious radio attention.  Too bad, that, because they’re a band worth getting to know.

The lineup of musicians is now completely new, but nobody ever listened to Pretenders records for the stinging guitar licks; the exotic, alluring vocal stylings of that legendary battle-ax Chrissie Hynde have always been the star of this show, a fact that seems not to have changed on Break Up the Concrete, the band’s ninth studio album (and first since 2002’s Loose Screw).  Early word on the record is quite strong, earning Hynde her uniformly finest reiews since 1994’s Last of the Independents, the project which contained one of her most memorable tunes — the left-field radio smash “I’ll Stand By You” — and while the band’s hitmaking days are almost certainly behind them, that doesn’t necessarily mean this won’t be a terrific album.

Her 2004 debut Happenstance was nothing short of spun gold:  a record full of both shimmering hooks and stunning confessionals, it heralded the arrival of an unstoppable new talent.  Four excruciating years hence, the divinely unique Rachael Yamagata finally returns to show us her initial success wasn’t merely a fluke.  Her second record, Elephants… Teeth Sinking Into Heart, is an audacious (perhaps even schizoid) double album which finds her trying to emulate both Tori Amos and PJ Harvey.  (Stranger still, she more or less pulls it off!)  Call her crazy — as the brilliant Sherry Ann noted, Yamagata always seems to look like she just got back from a three-day crack binge — but don’t ever accuse her of playing it safe.

His exquisitely smoky voice often outshone the sometimes-thin material on Indiana, his 2007 major label debut, and hot on the heels of “So Close,” his Oscar-nominated contribution to the Enchanted soundtrack (his performance of which on the Academy Awards telecast gained him an audience of approximately one billion pairs of eyeballs), comes OK Now, the much-buzzed-about second album from bold newcomer Jon McLaughlin.  “Beating My Heart,” Now‘s refreshingly uptempo lead single, is gaining some traction at radio this fall, and its video does a masterful job of showing off both McLaughlin’s keen musicianship and his steel-melting good looks.  Color me taken.

One of the most striking discographies of the past two decades has been constructed with painstaking care and grace by the ravishing Sarah McLachlan, who this week aims to pull together the highlights of her career with Closer, an extraordinary two-disc, 24-track best-of set which, from the unpolished strains of “Vox” and “Ben’s Song” to the cool flash of “World On Fire” and new single “U Want Me 2,” spans the entirety of her riveting journey as a recording artist.  As always with such sweeping projects, there are major oversights here — where, for instance, is “Elsewhere,” perhaps Fumbling Toward Ecstasy‘s most valuable player?  Or Surfacing‘s wrenching “Do What You Have to Do”?  Or the much sleeker radio edit of “Fallen” (Afterglow‘s album mix of which appears here instead)? — but, on balance, this is an above-par overview of a brilliant woman’s first act.  I, for one, can’t wait for the next chapter.

To hear them tell it, the brothers Gallagher have recovered (or reclaimed) their musical mojo and are ready to resume their quest to conquer the world.  I don’t know about all that, but I can tell you:  after a string of uninspired duds, Oasis roared back to relevance three years ago with their extraorinary comeback effort Don’t Believe the Truth, and they’re aiming to extend that roll with the brand new Dig Out Your Soul.  The ghosts of the Fab Four have always haunted this band’s work (particularly in its best instances — to name two, “Don’t Go Away” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger”), and while it may seem at first glance to be an egregious comparison, consider that the very same contentious love/hate dynamic that drove John and Paul to the very zenith of their ambitions likewise drives Liam and Noel, which is why you’d like to believe these two men have yet to see their best days, and are yet to create their most thrilling art.

Also noteworthy this week:


  • Greatest Hits, Vol. 3, yet another best of from one of country music’s most reliable artists, Tim McGraw.

  • Tell Tale Signs, the latest in a series of rarities — this one focusing on his late-career renaissance during the Time Out of Mind era — from the legendary Bob Dylan


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