Now this is more like it: as is typical of this time of year, the last three weeks of September 2010 have been positively bustling with activity, the primary point of interest of which is the latest full-season DVD release of the program that gets my whole-hearted vote as the most hilarious sitcom in television history.
Get comfy — this might just be the longest record store report in the Buzz’s history (so long, in fact, it took me all three weeks to get the damned thing written!) — and dig in:


Of the series’ seven seasons (which originally aired from 1987-1993), number three remains the strongest and most satisfying in my never-to-be-humble opinion (an opinion that was reinforced, incidentally, when I re-watched them all in their original running order on DVD last spring). But you should not at all read into that statement that
The Complete Fourth Season of that classic CBS situation comedy Designing Women — which, full disclosure and all, I am ecstatic to be watching as I type this — is entirely devoid of perks and charms. Quite the contrary: among this sterling new four-disc collection of twenty-eight episodes (including a special one-hour show celebrating the birth of Charlene’s daughter, and a hilarious hour-long clip reel retrospective, a slightly longer version of which was shown during a 1990 Museum of Television and Radio event honoring the series), you’ll find some of the most uproariously funny installments Women ever turned in — including my all-time favorite episode (“Oh, What a Feeling,” which finds Julia and the gang racing the clock to purchase a van before midnight) as well as “Julia Gets Her Head Stuck in a Fence” (a rip-roaring broad comic showcase for the peerless Dixie Carter), “Nightmare from Hee Haw” (which entangles the women and their beaus with a toothless band of backwoods Georgia hillbillies), and “La Place Sans Souci” (where the gals find themselves in a vicious mud fight while supposedly relaxing at a spa) — not to mention enough sight gags and comic bits — Bernice’s Christmas tree skirt, Suzanne’s mink coat (which she gets trapped in after spraining her arm), and the hilarious revelation that Bill Clinton, Fred Smith, and Sam Walton are all friends of Charlene’s — to keep you in stitches for months.
(Also new on the TV-on-DVD front:

  • season four of Tina Fey’s masterful farce 30 Rock

  • the terrific third season of ABC’s underappreciated
    Grey’s Anatomy spinoff Private Practice

  • season three of what is currently television’s
    top-rated situation comedy, The Big Bang Theory

  • and, finally, the monstrously successful, Emmy-winning debut season
    of prime-time’s most undeniable cultural phenom, Glee.)

In a massive departure from his day job as the leader of Snow Patrol, Gary Lightbody has recruited something of an indie-rock all-star team for his new side project, Tired Pony: drummer Richard Colburn (of Belle and Sebastian fame), guitarist Peter Buck (a founding member of R.E.M.), and special guests M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel (better known, at least musically, as She & Him) and Tom Smith (of Editors) help Lightbody bring to life the band’s debut outing, The Place We Ran From. Lightbody’s stated goal with Tired Pony was to make a very American record, something more organic in the vein of Wilco (as opposed to Snow Patrol’s typical angst-packed anthemic bombast, which can be wonderful and wearying in equal doses), and one cursory listen reveals that, on that count, Place is a smashing success: enveloped by the natural light of loose, lovely instrumentation, Gary’s voice morphs into a tender, curious, achingly brilliant beacon.
Lend this your ears; I strongly doubt you’ll walk away disappointed.

Clearly influenced (and even emboldened) by the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, and Suzanne Vega just a handful of years prior,
a new generation of genre-defying female singer-songwriters broke through in the mid-to-late ’90s, with ladies like Patty Griffin, Jonatha Brooke, and Kim Richey defiantly leading the charge. And notwithstanding the immense quality of their output, they failed to fit neatly into any clear-cut boxes (which is the only explanation I can muster for why radio foolishly turned a blind ear to their records), but they managed to carve out a niche for themselves within a punishingly tough industry; Richey has even co-written major chart hits for such artists as Radney Foster, Brooks and Dunn, and Trisha Yearwood (which makes it all the more ridonk that she never managed to crack the top 40 on her own, despite one stellar single after another), and last week, she returned with her sixth full-length studio effort, Wreck Your Wheels.

Damn you, Kenny Chesney! You know that, with a fleeting handful of exceptions (mostly from the first half of your career, before your largely inexplicable fame turned you into hapless sap), your music — including, most certainly, your pandering latest single, “The Boys of Fall,” so sticky-sweet it makes my teeth itch — tends to give me hives. Which means, consequently, that you also know that you’re gonna have to whip out the big guns to get me to pay attention to your latest studio album, Hemingway’s Whiskey, which in this case means enlisting the assistance of the ferociously brilliant Grace Potter — of whose excellence I’ve raved about here on this site on a number of occasions — on a duet for inclusion on Whiskey. How terribly sneaky of you, Kenny, to know, in your bones, that I would step into the store, pick up your record, catch sight of Ms. Potter’s name right there in boldface print, and not be able to stop myself from plopping down my hard-earned cash on the counter and buy the damned thing. Clearly, you have zero compunction against not playing fair in the pursuit of selling albums (and since I’m being brutally honest, I’ll go ahead and admit I kinda sorta admire that about you, in a grudging sort of way). So there. You win this round, Kenny. Damn you.

They flew out of the gate with their terrific 2003 debut Songs About Jane — which won them a Best New Artist Grammy — and, even though pop radio quickly lost interest, they beat the sophomore slump with 2007’s frenetic
It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. But in many ways, Maroon 5 are a band still in search of their true sound: an odd melange of clear R&B, hip-hop, pop, and even country influences, they’ve never fit into any one particular genre, and while that can be quite freeing artistically, I think even they have come to realize that the general schizophrenic feel of their records is a checkmark in their career’s negative column. So enter famed producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, whose iconic work with the likes of Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, AC/DC, and, in particular, his former wife Shania Twain, has made him the go-to behind-the-scenes wizard. The band put themselves entirely at Lange’s mercy for the creation of their third studio release, Hands All Over, and — to my ear, at least — the results are a bit mixed: radio is grudgingly playing along, but I have found lead single “Misery” to be viciously underwhelming, but the title track is riveting, and the duet with white-hot Lady Antebellum, “Out of Goodbyes,” is a fascinating departure from the band’s harder-edged pop-driven norm.

She is well into her fifth decade as an indestructible showbiz icon, and she is one of precious few entertainers who has in her possession an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy, and now the peerless Liza Minnelli is back with Confessions, her first studio album since 1996’s Gently, which was marked by a rollicking, raucous duet with disco icon Donna Summer on Reba McEntire’s classic bitch-fest “Does He Love You.” I’m sad to report that this new record doesn’t feature anything nearly so fun; Miss Liza plays it straight this time around, taking a competent trip through the great American songbook and putting her stamp on such standards as “At Last” and “All the Way.”

I’m quite alarmed that after forcing the likes of Barry Manilow, Rod Stewart, and Clay Aiken into the dreaded he’s now a covers artist box over the past few years, Daddy Clive has now seemingly set his sights on pigeonholing Carlos Santana, who has returned to prominence over the past decade with three celebrated collections of collaborative recordings with today’s A-list crowd. Santana is back with a new record of that very stripe, the just-released Guitar Heaven, and the cast list — bolstered by the likes of Chris Cornell, Train’s Pat Monahan, and the iconic Joe Cocker — is typically top-notch, but this time around, instead of tackling original material, the gang are lending their pipes to what the album calls The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time.
To be fair, the guests work overtime to ensure that Guitar transcends
the ghoulishly trite creative fate which befell Manilow’s hot-selling
“Decades” series and all of Stewart’s jaunts through the great American songbook — in particular, India.Arie contributes a stunning take on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and Rob Thomas tears the house down on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” — yet it still feels like a major comedown to see that these magnificent artists have been saddled with the task of rehashing songs that, by and large, were done to perfection the first time around, as opposed to creating a handful of new guitar classics for our time. (And speaking of great guitarists, one of the best ever is back with a new studio album — his first set in five years — entitled, simply, Clapton.
And while we’re on the subject of all-star extravaganzas, don’t miss
Mark Ronson‘s Record Collection, which features contributions from such far-flung artists as Boy George, D’Angelo, and Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes.)

Following the lead of Blake Shelton’s massively successful “Six Pak” experiment (which has seen him release a series of six-song EPs in rapid-fire succession), my beloved Michelle Brancheasily the most talented of that first batch of post-Lilith female singer/songwriters which popped up at the turn of the century — returns to her brilliant solo recording career (after a brief detour as one half of short-lived country duo The Wreckers) with her long-awaited third effort, Everything Comes and Goes. The record blessedly includes “Sooner or Later,” the terrific single that country radio stupidly turned down flat last summer. And while I continue to think it’s long past time that she gave up her quest to be the next Martina and head on back to the pop world, which she conquered so thrillingly upon her debut almost a decade ago, I’ll tell you quite honestly, I’ll take new Michelle Branch music any way I can get it. Welcome back, lady. You’ve been desperately missed.

Also new and noteworthy:


  • Sherry Ann’s favorite band Jimmy Eat World are back with a new album, Invented, the Best Buy exclusive deluxe edition of which
    contains four bonus tracks.

  • Just ahead of the classic film’s deeply-anticipated Blu-Ray debut (not to mention its return to DVD after an excruciating eight-year absence), the astonishing Academy Award-winning soundtrack for Disney’s landmark animated masterpiece Beauty and the Beast returns to print, this time containing a new version of the film’s iconic title theme — recorded by Jordin Sparks — to go alongside Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion’s
    heart-melting original. (I’m not sure how I feel about them messing with perfection so cavalierly, but it is good to have this record back in our consciousness after too long a hiatus.)

  • Fresh from his triumphant Grammy-sweeping collaboration with
    Alison Krauss, Robert Plant is back on his own with his latest solo set, Band of Joy.

  • This year’s Best New Artist Grammy recipients, Zac Brown Band,
    are back with a new studio album, You Get What You Give, which features collaborations with Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett.
    (Zac and his gang also turn up on Album Number Two, the self-explanatory sophomore outing from indie country act Joey + Rory.)

  • One of my favorite people on the whole planet, the stunningly gorgeous Paula Cole, returns with her fifth album, Ithaca.

  • Recent radio hits from Lady Antebellum (“Our Kind of Love”),
    Luke Bryan (“Rain is a Good Thing”), Little Big Town (“Little White Church”), and Dierks Bentley (“Up on the Ridge”) are among the highlights found on Now That’s What I Call Country, Vol. 3.

  • Gospel legend Mavis Staples has teamed up with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy for her riveting latest release, You Are Not Alone.

  • The Killers’ flamboyant, fascinating frontman Brandon Flowers temporarily steps away from his band for a frisky solo effort, Flamingo,
    a chronicle of debauchery — largely produced by Daniel Lanois — in Flowers’ hometown of Las Vegas. (Lanois also mans the boards for
    Neil Young‘s latest album, Le Noise.)

  • Musician Ben Folds wrote the music; novelist Nick Hornby supplied the words. Together, they take a lovely li’l stroll down Lonely Avenue.

  • Earlier this year, former Guns ‘n Roses guitarist Slash released a self-titled album featuring collaborations with Fergie, Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy, Kid Rock, and others. This week, he updates the record with a new three-disc deluxe reissue, which includes a behind-the-scenes DVD chronicling the making of the album, as well as
    “Mother Maria” — Slash’s enthralling duet with the extraordinary Beth Hart which was previously available only on the album’s digital version — and previously unreleased cuts with Alice Cooper and Cypress Hill.

  • Grunge pioneers Soundgarden have assembled a triple-disc, all-stops-out retrospective of their output entitled Telephantasm, which contains two CDs of greatest hits and much-loved live recordings (as well as a previously unheard bonus track, “Black Rain”) along with a DVD of music videos and various television and concert appearances. (A more streamlined single-disc version of this set arrives next week.)

  • Modern pop legend Phil Collins returns to his boyhood love of the Motown era on Going Back, his first studio album in eight years.

  • Country’s most lovable lout Billy Currington continues his hot streak with his fourth album, Enjoy Yourself.

  • Now six albums into one of the most sterling discographies of the past decade, the sensational Pete Yorn is back with a new self-titled effort.

  • The incomparable Leonard Cohen presents twelve of his most notable compositions, performed in various live and intimate settings, with his latest collection, Songs from the Road.

  • Two years ago, they burst onto the scene with their powerful debut single “Angels on the Moon,” and now Thriving Ivory follow it up with their sophomore disc, Through Yourself and Back Again.

  • Up-and-coming band The Afters step up with their third album,
    Light Up the Sky.

  • Nashville’s most thrilling renegade, the fearless Jamey Johnson,
    defies the rules with his latest effort, the double-disc The Guitar Song.

  • Those mega-selling rock gods Linkin Park return with their
    fourth studio album, A Thousand Suns.

  • The ever-unpredictable Rivers Cuomo offers up a unique take on Coldplay’s Grammy-winning classic “Viva la Vida” for his band Weezer‘s latest album, Hurley.

  • Earlier this year, they celebrated their long-awaited commercial breakthrough with a radio smash called “Say Hey (I Love You)”; Michael Franti & Spearhead now follow up that stunning success by reveling in The Sound of Sunshine.

  • ’90s alt-pop kings Gin Blossoms are still kicking, and this week,
    they return with their fifth studio album, No Chocolate Cake.

  • Super-producer David Foster takes the reins of Commitment,
    the seventh album from Grammy-winning crooner Seal.

  • Considering they only have one album under their belt, you might say it’s waaaay too early for The Airborne Toxic Event to be releasing a concert record, but nonetheless, this week sees the release of
    All I Ever Wanted: Live from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which includes an oddly affecting cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love,” a terrific track popularized a few years back via a gorgeous remake done by the inimitable Peter Gabriel.

  • Neo-soul icon John Legend teams up with The Roots
    on his latest effort, Wake Up!.

  • And finally, in closing (!!), a few exciting additions to the
    iTunes music store, including:

    • “Radioactive,” the electrifying lead single from Kings of Leon‘s forthcoming fifth record, Come Around Sundown (due October 19)

    • “Incredible Machine,” the powerful title track (and yet another vocal tour-de-force for the sizzling Jennifer Nettles) from Sugarland‘s imminent fourth album (also due October 19)

    • The enchanting “Hidden Away,” a fascinating teaser for Illuminations, Josh Groban‘s upcoming unlikely full-length collaboration with producer Rick Rubin, which is due November 15

    • “I Will Stand By You,” the first official single in just over a decade from legendary (and just-reunited) mother-daughter duo
      Naomi and Wynonna Judd

    • Finally, if you caught last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, you heard the fearless Greg Laswell putting his imprint on one of the best songs ever, Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” And while it’s quite true that the world needs another cover of that tune about as bad as I need a Fruehauf truck perched atop my head —
      after all, Michael McDonald, Marc Cohn, James Otto, and even Once‘s Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova have all turned in their own cover versions in the past couple of years — at least
      Greg is bold enough to step outside the box and do something strikingly different with a divine pop classic.


1 response to ““suzanne, we’ve already seen plan a
and plan b, you can just put ’em away now!”
(or: september 14, 21, & 28 —
a (mega-sized) thumbnail sketch)”

  1. the buzz from A.:

    Wow, this is a monster of a report! Just one quick word on Designing Women: Bernice!