After sleepwalking through the past several weeks, we’ve finally got a release slate we can really sink our teeth into. While we wait to see what gifts this week’s lineup of music has in store for us, allow me to throw out this question for discussion: am I the only one who thinks the new U2 record is mind-numbingly inane and dull? What the hell was Rolling Stone thinking giving that ridiculousness a five-star review?! (I would take a stab at tackling that second one, but I’m afraid I already know the answer and it would just be way too depressing to see it in cold print.)


After Eric Clapton (whose incredible, stripped-down versions of “Layla” and the devastating “Tears in Heaven” notched their album sales of ten million-plus and won their performer a wagonful of Grammys) and Mariah Carey (whose impromptu cover of The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” became a radio supersmash) showed the network what a commercial goldmine it had on its hands in the early ’90s, a spare and intimate appearance on “MTV Unplugged” suddenly became a mandatory promotional tool — within a pair of years, Neil Young, Nirvana, 10,000 Maniacs, and Melissa Etheridge all had turned in landmark performances — and for many, a nifty li’l comeback vehicle. Take the case of Rod Stewart, who reunited with his former Faces partner Ronnie Wood for an acoustic set and unwittingly hurled his career back into orbit. Thanks to a startlingly fine cover of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately,” upon which — to the surprise of more than a few — top 40 radio immediately leapt, the resulting live album, entitled Unplugged… and Seated, went on to move more than three million units stateside and produced two additional hit singles (a reworked version of his early classic “Reason to Believe” and a raucous cover of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party”). Unplugged returns this week in a special expanded edition which contains two bonus tracks — including a radically reinvented take on his 1989 smash “Forever Young” — as well as the original television broadcast, which finally makes a belated debut on DVD. And trust your Uncle Brandon, here if nowhere else: if only for Stewart’s priceless rendition — which can now be enjoyed aurally and visually, natch! — of Tom Waits’ unspeakably magnificent “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda),” this is worth the purchase price. (And memo to MTV, Natalie, and/or whomever else may be in charge of this: I’m still waiting for the aforementioned 10,000 Maniacs episode from 1993 — the recording of which would damn straight be one of my five desert island discs — to make its way to DVD, and am willing to do whatever is necessary — up to and including pleading right here on the Buzz — to facilitate the correction of that foolishness.)

Also reappearing with a deluxe edition reissue this week: Trailer Park, the ravishing 1996 debut from the incredible Beth Orton. Park was largely overlooked by American audiences — who wouldn’t catch on to Orton’s exotic allure until the release of her sophomore effort, 1999’s brilliant Central Reservation — and is now getting a well-deserved second chance at success with a two-disc expanded set, which includes thirteen bonus tracks, live performances, instrumentals, and a complete reproduction of Orton’s rare Best Bit EP, which nicely bridged the gap between Park and Reservation. If you’re not familiar with Orton’s music, consider this a fabulous entry point.

Propelled by endless hype, by the fun radio hit “Colorful,” and by Kiefer Sutherland’s influential imprimatur — the band was signed to his Ironworks label, and he filmed a documentary about their first tour — I Trust You to Kill Me, the thoroughly engaging 2006 debut record from Rocco DeLuca and the Burden, received the kind of heaven-sent leg up most first efforts can never dream of getting. DeLuca tries to dodge the sophomore slump this week with follow-up album Mercy; who knows what will happen commercially, but with the legendary Daniel Lanois, who has previously steered U2 and Emmylou Harris (among countless others) to their greatest triumphs, behind the wheel, the creative results are certain to be impressive.

Just in time to mark the 90th anniversary of
the birth of legendary rhythm and blues pioneer Nat King Cole comes Re:Generations, a collection of Cole’s best-known classics given a fresh and wholly modern twist by some of today’s most revolutionary DJs and artists. No one dares to touch “Unforgettable” or “The Christmas Song,” but pretty much everything else in the catalog is fair game: prog-rock band TV on the Radio turns the gentle standard “Nature Boy” into an anthemic arena epic; Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo futzes with “Lush Life”; and Natalie Cole lays a vocal atop her dad’s original take of “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” which is given a hip-hop redo by The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am. The results of this noble experiment are as uneven as you might expect, but it’s a fascinating musical journey nonetheless.

A pair of notable situation comedies of yore find their latest DVD sets hitting stores this week, and if you’re wondering what in the world I’m doing hawking season two of Lea Thompson’s otherwise humdrum NBC series Caroline in the City, I have but four words for you: The. Peerless. Elizabeth. Ashley. (Ashley’s pricelessly funny cameo as Malcolm Gets’ bawdy, off-kilter mother on a season one episode — which I blogged about here last summer — was such a triumphant success that they brought her back for the second season’s premiere outing, and while the encore wasn’t nearly as hilariously ribald as the original, it’s still worth the price of admission, folks, mark it.) As for that unforgettable ’80s classic Family Ties, season five contains what are not only the most powerful episodes in the series’ entire run — the two-part “A, My Name is Alex,” which was staged like an Our Town-style play and found the elder Keaton son (in a remarkable star turn by Michael J. Fox) in a prolonged therapy session dealing with the tragic death of his best friend in a car crash that Alex himself should have been in — but also the all-time funniest: the uproarious “It’s My Party,” which finds young Jennifer Keaton (the hysterical Tina Yothers, then heading into her awkward teen years with rip-roaring grace) going to calamitous lengths — like, adopting the most annoying valley girl accent in the history of them, okay? — to fit in with the “cool crowd” at school. You’ll laugh until you’re bawling, I guaran-damn-tee it.

After a disastrous detour into ponderous pablum — on the awful, shallow My December, she was clearly aiming for the Patty Griffin Palace, but instead failed to even make it beyond Avril Lavigne Land — the original “American Idol”
Kelly Clarkson would seem to be squarely back where she belongs and loving urry second of it. With her fourth album, All I Ever Wanted, Clarkson has returned to the formula — crunchy guitars, fun songs, and irresistible hooks — which made her breakthrough Breakway such a runaway success. And she’s already off to a fast start: lead single “My Life Would Suck Without You” (which, as frisky as it is, is no “Since U Been Gone”) is a monster at radio as we head into spring, and it seems as though the December debacle has been forgiven and forgotten.

You might be thinking that Miss Kelly owns this week’s marquee release, and while Wanted is all but certain to be this week’s hottest-selling record, it’s not — at least not ’round these parts — the most anticipated album heading down the pike. For that, you must turn to Covered, A Revolution in Sound: Warner Bros. Records, a companion piece to last fall’s riveting box set chronicling the highlights of the past half-century of the titular record label’s existence. Covered brings a handful of WB’s most acclaimed and interesting current artists together to put their own stamp on classic songs of yesteryear, and I’m literally shivering in my boots waiting to hear the final product. The lineup of talent involved here is uniformly impressive: the brilliant Missy Higgins (who is havin’ herself a whale of a first quarter with her breakthrough smash single “Where I Stood”) takes on Roxy Music’s classic “More Than This”; crunchy up-and-comer James Otto takes a stab at Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” (but will it be more impressive than Michael McDonald’s left-field cover from last spring?); Dan Auerbach and The Black Keys cover Captain Beefheart’s “Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles” (though I’m betting sound unheard that their version won’t even approach Joan Osborne’s harrowing 1995 cover); and, most stunningly, my beloved Michelle Branch lends her peerless pipes to Joni Mitchell’s brilliant milestone “A Case of You.” (I’ve been on record for quite a time now saying that that tune — and, specifically, Tori Amos’ shattering version of same — is my all-time favorite piece of music, and as such, I’m not too keen on people covering it out of turn. However, I’m making an exception this time, and my reasoning is two-fold: 1. Like Amos, Branch is a songwriter herself (and a damn fine one, thank you very much), and I’m fully confident that she’ll give this monumental track its due respect; and 2. Branch is one hell of a dynamite singer, and she’ll navigate these twisty verses using the exact same skill and grace with which she manages her own.) Color me breathless.

Also noteworthy this week:


  • Former Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell is back with his third solo record, the long-delayed Scream, which features production work from the one and only Timbaland.

  • Am I crazy, or is smash British band Razorlight heading into Kings of Leon territory with their third album, the more musically adventurous Slipway Fires? If the sound of leadoff single “Wire to Wire” is any indication of what the rest of this is gonna sound like, I say count me in.

  • On his own again after a one-off flirtation with major-label stardom following his surprise win during season five of “American Idol,”
    Taylor Hicks is back with his latest record, The Distance, which features a duet with his former competitor Elliott Yamin.

  • Acclaimed chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux is back with Bare Bones, each of whose eleven tracks she had a hand in writing for the first time in her career.

  • Evidently, they sing as well: “Dancing with the Stars” standouts Mark Ballas and Derek Hough have joined forces as Ballas Hough Band, whose debut record bhb is out this week.


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