I wrote the majority of what follows last night while flying home from Las Vegas (where I managed to enjoy a weekend of enormous fun and mirth wholly in spite of the fact that I failed to win as much as a penny), so if this week’s record store report seems a bit incoherent, blame the oversized slice of Sbarro pizza I scarfed down at the airport, which — though it tasted utterly divine going down — gave me the worst case of heartburn I can ever recall.


She has strayed away from that formula in recent years, but there’s no question that Mariah Carey made her name belting out sappy love songs — and the schmaltzier, the better, especially in those early years.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Carey has assembled eighteen of her best-remembered slow jams (line ’em up:  from “Vision of Love” and “Love Takes Time” up through “One Sweet Day” and even “Thank God I Found You,” they’re all here) and is re-releasing them as simply The Ballads, and while much of this is as disposable as it was then, pay special attention to a pair of tracks — “When You Believe,” her 1998 diva-fest duet with Whitney Houston (who was still remarkably, umm, sane in those years), and “Without You,” Carey’s smashing 1994 cover of Harry Nilsson’s classic — which have aged with stunning and extraordinary grace.

He seems to subscribe to Ray LaMontagne’s infamous hermitic lifestyle, and he makes poor Joshua Radin’s music sound as hard as Marilyn Manson’s.  But his gorgeous 2008 debut, the under-the-radar surprise For Emma, Forever Ago, came out of nowhere to make its way to countless year’s-best critics lists last month, and now all eyes in the music world are fixed firmly on
Bon Iver.  Wisely, he’s taking his time crafting the follow-up to Emma, but in order to get some new product out into the marketplace and capitalize on the massive influx of name recognition, Iver (real name:  Justin Vernon) returns this week with a four-song EP, Blood Bank.

In Sherry Ann’s house, he’s best known as Mr. Kelly Willis; around Nashville, he’s much more well-known as a songwriter than as a singer; and this week, Bruce Robison releases His Greatest, an album featuring his own takes on a handful of his most famous tunes, including “Travelin’ Soldier” (which those goofy bitches The Dixie Chicks took all the way to number one shortly prior to divebombing their commercial career), “Angry All the Time” (a searing duet with his wife which lost an immeasurable amount of its power and heft when Tim McGraw and Faith Hill decided to try it on for size), and a pair of George Strait home runs, “Wrapped” and “Desperately.”  (Also be on the lookout for Robison’s own version of “Not Forgotten You,” the finest song atop which Ms. Willis ever laid her dulcet tones.)

They are arguably Austin’s most compelling and most enormously talented young band, and they can count Sheryl Crow and, umm, the Buzz among their most loyal high-profile fans.  (If you’re lucky enough to recall that weird summer a few years back when their ultra-fun shoulda-been-a-smash “She Likes Purple” actually got played on local radio, you, too, surely love them as much as I do.)  And this week brings Something That We Can’t Let Go, the fourth album from Scott Leger and his sensational band Wideawake.  You’ll probably have to trek down to Waterloo to get this one — although I was pleasantly surprised to run across their last album, the 2005 masterpiece Not So Far Away, at Best Buy — but I’ll wager that won’t induce too many tears.

Also noteworthy this week:


  • Covers of songs from such far-flung artists as Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan, and Corinne Bailey Rae — but, strangely enough, not one of Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection,” the iconic classic which gives this record its name — mark The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me, the third jazz-inflected record from Jane Monheit.


  • Striking band (and surprise winners of Britain’s coveted Mercury Prize) Antony & the Johnsons return with their third full-length effort,
    The Crying Light.


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