A pair of bands who, even though they could not be more distinctly different, are responsible for some of the most compelling and most magnificent music of the past decade face off against each other this week, and though I generally end up with egg on my face whenever I make such bold proclamations, is it entirely impossible to believe that the album of the year waits patiently behind door number…?


‘Tis that time of year once again, as that annual tradition known as the Christmas album rears its ugly head anew. And while you await the imminent arrival of Annie Lennox’s yuletide offering (which must be considered this season’s marquee holiday release, and whose first single is just up at iTunes), you could do a hell of a lot worse than to tide yourself over with Christmas in Harmony, the very first seasonal release from the wondrous Wilson Phillips, who this year — believe it or not! — mark their twentieth year as recording artists. Harmony brilliantly reunites these ladies with producer Glen Ballard (who shepherded their sensational self-titled 1990 debut record to glory), who tosses a handful of holiday-related originals into the mix alongside Christmas classics like “Silent Night” and “Little Drummer Boy.” (Also stepping forward with Christmas albums as we chug toward November: those incredible
Indigo Girls, the sassy Shelby Lynne, and — in a pair of Target exclusives — Sheryl Crow (turning in a slightly revised version of her 2008 holiday record Home for Christmas, which itself was a Hallmark exclusive)
and Lady Antebellum (closing out their preposterously perfect year with
A Merry Little Christmas, a six-track EP of holiday favorites).

I have already praised to high heaven their powerfully poetic breakout smash single
“If I Die Young” (which continues to claw its way toward the top ten at country radio, the gatekeepers of which should be flogged mercilessly for their inexplicable reticence to fully embrace such a miraculous and astoundingly profound piece of art); now, we get a chance to revel in the full-length self-titled debut effort from The Band Perry. I’ve not yet had a chance to pop this in the player, but I’ll freely admit to being absolutely captivated by the unmistakable Alison Krauss-ish vibe in frontwoman Kimberly Perry’s refreshingly distinct voice, and I can’t wait to hear if the rest of the record stacks up with the delirious grace of its first punch thrown.

Sony Legacy’s brilliant (and budget-priced) Playlist series sends out a new wave of entries this week, and while they’re all quite worthy, the title which without question delivers the most bang for your buck — and, ergo, the one you’d be well-advised to search over hill and dale for —
is The Very Best of Mat Kearney, which pulls together some highlights from Kearney’s first two albums with a handful of heretofore hard-to-find rarities (including a pair of tracks that were previously available only on a Best Buy-exclusive release of Mat’s major-label debut CD). Best‘s tracklist is far from perfect — not that my vote matters, but I’d have swapped out “New York to California” (last year’s most rapturously riveting love song) or even “Won’t Back Down” (thanks to One Tree Hill, Sherry Ann’s favorite Kearney track) for almost anything here — but if you’re in the market for a Mat Kearney starter kit, there are far worse places than here from which to start. (Also newly available in the Playlist series: hits compilations from Jessica Simpson, Julio Iglesias, Janis Joplin, and Barry Manilow, as well as gospel-only collections from Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton, and a disc focusing on the best of Bob Dylan‘s ’80s work (to complement previously released discs of Dylan’s
’60s and ’70s output. As for Mr. Kearney, you should most certainly lend your ears to “Head or Your Heart,”, the just-released lead single from his forthcoming third album.)

Their wonderfully wacky latest single “Stuck Like Glue” is officially a smash at country radio (which is perhaps a little surprising considering few of the format’s other offerings feature Rastafarian-style rapping in their bridges), but it seems clear as day that Sugarland are anthemically aiming for the heavens with their adventurous fourth album, The Incredible Machine, which the band’s marvelous members, Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, have already described — to the chagrin of higher-ups from all across Tennessee, surely — a “steampunk”-inspired record. Having watched Taylor Swift (whose forthcoming third album is widely expected to end up as the year’s top-selling disc when the final tally is taken) and Lady Antebellum (who, in a heartbreakingly brilliant move, are following up their multi-format instant classic “Need You Now” by servicing to pop radio a jazzed-up, tougher-edged take on “I Run to You,” the terrific tune that broke them at country eighteen months ago) run completely away with the lion’s share of their crossover thunder (and, one must assume, having become quite irritated by the very fact of same), Nettles and Bush consciously set out to craft a record that they feel could compete on that exact same playing field — the president of their record label even admitted as much, in roughly as many words, during a Billboard interview a couple of weeks ago — and I, for one, can’t wait to find out if they have succeeded.

A pair of years ago, they unleashed their entrancing epic Only By the Night and walked away with an armload of Grammys, the respect of their peers, and, at long last, the commercial success they had long chased. So this week, with the arrival of their fifth studio album,
Come Around Sundown, the eyes (and, most certainly, the weight) of the music world fall squarely upon Kings of Leon. The dazzling, dirtied-up lead single “Radioactive” sounds nothing like the band’s breakthrough monster hit “Use Somebody” (and, in my book, they get bonus points for that), and so far, pop radio seems to be taking a wait-and-see tack on it; nontheless, expectations are sky-high for Sundown to help the horrifically talented Followill boys continue their momentous march toward U2-style rock domination.

Also noteworthy this week:


  • He swears this is it: disco divo turned classic crooner Rod Stewart takes his fifth (and, so he claims, final) dip into the Great American Songbook, Fly Me to the Moon.

  • Former Hootie and the Blowfish hero Darius Rucker is back with Charleston, SC 1966, his third solo disc (and second helping of
    country fare).

  • The magnificent Miranda Lambert takes an unexpectedly tender turn with her first-ever concert DVD, Revolution: Live By Candlelight.

  • The fabulous Joshua Radin is back with his third album,
    The Rock and the Tide, the Amazon-exclusive version of which contains a concert DVD.

  • Recent remixes of hits from Katy Perry, Lady GaGa, Adam Lambert, Kylie Minogue, and that annoying poptart Ke$ha highlight the lineup of
    Now That’s What I Call Club Hits 2.

  • Anybody out there remember with acute fondness those ’90s one hit wonders Sister Hazel and Shawn Mullins? Refresh your memory with their respective latest efforts, Heartland Highway and Light You Up.

  • Speaking of ’90s relics, the original angry young grrl Liz Phair is back with the decidely more chipper Funstyle.

  • Cheeky Britpop icon Robbie Williams takes a look back at
    two decades of hitmaking with a new triple-disc greatest hits collection,
    In and Out of Consciousness.

  • Silversun Pickups, Bat for Lashes, and Alison Sudol (of A Fine Frenzy) turn up on the inaugural original television soundtrack for the CW’s smash drama series The Vampire Diaries.

  • Their ridiculously goofy single “Like a G6” is an out-of-nowhere left-field sensation, and now Far East Movement follows it up with their full-length debut, Free Wired, which features cameos by Keri Hilson and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder.

  • Following the incalculably massive misfire that was her latest
    solo album — June’s painfully pretentious bomb Can’t Be Tamed
    Miss Miley assume the role of her musical alter ego one final time with Hannah Montana Forever, as the tween-beloved Disney Channel series is closing up shop after four seasons.

  • Former Barenaked Ladies leader Steven Page steps up
    with his solo debut, Page One.

  • Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ masterful, delicately edgy score for David Fincher’s monumentally magnificent The Social Network is only one of the things that make it the must-see motion picture of the fall.

  • The remarkable Dana Glover, from whom we have not heard
    nearly enough in the years since her terrific 2002 debut Testimony, pops in to help out stunning saxophonist Dave Koz on his latest album, Hello Tomorrow.

  • Kooky indie icon Sufjan Stevens is back with his latest record,
    The Age of Adz.

  • The great Suzanne Vega continues renovating her own discography with the latest installment Close-Up, Vol. 2: People & Places, which opens with a gentle re-recording of her breakthrough smash “Luka.”

  • Their music is difficult to describe and impossible to pigeonhole; let it suffice to say that Antony and the Johnsons are back with more indisputably pretty melodies with their latest album, Swanlights.

  • Crunchy crooner Trace Adkins recaps an incredible
    thirteen-year run on top of the charts with a new two-disc retrospective, ‘Til the Last Shot’s Fired: The Definitive Greatest Hits.

  • Those damned Glee kids are at it again, this time with their own takeoff of a demented classic film musical from yesteryear on their latest EP,
    The Rocky Horror Glee Show.

  • With one disc of hits (including her 1997 classic “Are You Out There,” which I have just decided must turn up in honey from the hive pronto) and another disc of newly recorded takes on some of her personal favorites (and featuring contributions from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Larkin, and Nickel Creek), the dynamite Dar Williams offers up a unique career retrospective, Many Great Companions.

  • Separately they are Joseph Arthur, Ben Harper, and Dhani Harrison; together, they are A Fistful of Mercy, and their debut recording as a band is As I Call You Down.

  • Hits collections from soft rock king Barry Manilow and country legend Ronnie Milsap receive Sony Legacy’s latest Essential 3.0 updates.

  • And finally, in one of the most anticipated recordings of the fall, the iconic Elton John has teamed up with Oklahoma legend (and old pal) Leon Russell for a one-of-a-kind collaboration entitled The Union.


3 responses to “it’s in the water, it’s in the story, where you came from
(or: october 12 and 19 — a thumbnail sketch)”

  1. the buzz from Blake Boldt:

    Hopefully this will put the chocolate icing on your yellow cupcake day, but “If I Die Young” in fact moved from 11-10 on this week’s Billboard chart. Kudos to the Band Perry.

    I love Sugarland, but this is my least favorite of their four albums. I’m in admiration of their ambition and their moxie, but this one skids off the tracks. Too much information for my ears. 🙂

  2. the buzz from brandon:

    I’ve got Sugarland on tap in honey from the hive later today, so I’ll save most of my comments for that time, but I listened to Machine twice through yesterday, and while it’s far from terrific, it is an incalculable step forward from Love on the Inside (the more I think of that middling record, the more dreadful it becomes). But, debatable quality aside, I was absolutely staggered by how NOT country this thing is! God bless ’em, they’re really shooting rubber bands at the moon with this one!

  3. the buzz from Blake Boldt:

    As someone who dabbles in country music journalism, I’m so sick of the “Is it country?” debate, no matter how much I love the good old traditional stuff. I know you’re not small-minded enough to be caught up in those silly arguments.

    While some of the moments are excellent, I feel the problem is that Jennifer Nettles was “performing” on this album much more than she was “singing.” Her voice is the single greatest instrument this duo has going for them, bar none.

    I also miss the more quiet, contemplative moments where her voice can really come alive. A disappointing trend in recent times is for country acts to tweak their craft in order for it to fit the stadiums/arenas they hope to (or are currently) performing in. Of course, I’m someone who thinks Lee Ann Womack standing and singing a cheating song is more entertaining than fancy light shows and giant rubber balls bouncing around the arena.

    Like Carrie Underwood, I think Sugarland’s musical output has diminished with each album. Unlike Carrie, they do seem to have a wealth of creative ambitions and I always anticipate their next move.