mine’s on the 45
--- the Buzz to here ---


Quite the amusing cottage industry has sprung up over at Ultra Records, which, in a brilliant bit of counterprogramming against the ridiculous hip hop plague that ate top 40 radio, has emerged over the past two years as one of the premier labels for American dance music. Their terrific series of continuous mixes, all released under various shades of the Ultra um-ba-relly — pay special attention to the riveting Ultra Chilled compilations, which regularly feature brilliant, mellow mixes from Dido, Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay, and others — have proven to be reliably entertaining collections of music, and none more so than their latest project, Ultra.Mix.


Arranged by New York DJ Vic Latino (one of Ultra’s primary go-to guys; he’s that good), Mix contains stomping club versions of recent radio smashes from Rihanna (Jody Broeder’s remix of “Don’t Stop the Music,” whose dazzling centerpiece sample of Jacko’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” soars here), Jordin Sparks (“No Air,” her runaway hit duet with Chris Brown), September (the enchanting “Cry for You,” whose virtues I’ve already extolled ad nauseam on this site), and Madonna (“4 Minutes,” her nakedly desperate collaboration with Justin Timberlake and his posse). For good measure, Latino also tosses in two of 2008’s most fascinating dance tracks: “Pjanoo,” another breakneck masterwork from British electronica maestro Eric Prydz (best known over here for the club hits “Call On Me” and “Proper Education,” his amazing reinventions of Steve Winwood’s “Valerie” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” respectively); and “The One,” Sharam’s bold (and stunningly adroit) attempt to refashion Daniel Bedingfield’s classic ballad “If You’re Not the One” as a dizzy four-on-the-floor epic.


Flawlessly assembled and rendered, Mix adds up to a brilliantly thrilling hour of nonstop fun, the likes of which are way too difficult to track down on the standard radio dial these days. If you’re not tappin’ your toes by the end of track number one, it must be because you’ve already fainted from the sheer giddy exhilaration of it all.


If you’ve not yet purchased the new Switchfoot retrospective The Best Yet, which arrived in stores two days ago, make sure you pick it up at your local Wal-Mart, whose version comes packaged with an exclusive DVD containing fourteen music videos and rare live performances. (Don’t you really hate it when stores get these red hot exclusives and then refuse to advertise them?!) Now, if you’ll ‘scuse me, I’ve gotta head off to Borders to return my copy of the original version, which, praise Jesus, I haven’t opened yet.

(P.S.: Be aware that the version of “This is Home” which appears on Best is a vastly inferior re-recording, not the staggering original from last summer’s Prince Caspian soundtrack. Grrr.)


Conceived as a benefit project with one hundred percent of the proceeds supporting the charity — an honest-to-God four-thousand-acre farm area near Santa Fe, New Mexico which was conceived specifically to give cancer-stricken children something substantive on which to focus their energies and interests — named in the record’s title, The Imus Ranch Record finds a bevy of acclaimed country music stars wrapping their golden voices around tunes that were personally selected for them by the charity’s organizer, Mr. Don Imus, himself.  The lineup of talent is top-shelf — Vince Gill, Bekka Bramlett (Bonnie’s daughter, and still searching for her ticket to the big time), former Maverick Raul Malo, Dwight Yoakam, and my eternal hero John Hiatt, to name just a few — and the results are often fascinating (Patty Loveless presents a twangy take — one you gotta hear to believe — on Fleetwood Mac’s overlooked classic “Silver Springs,” WIllie Nelson offers a sweetly unique spin on the old R&B standard “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” and Lucinda Williams — whose latest album, Sweet Honey, is due October 14 — lays down a tender reading of Willie’s classic “Mammas, Don’t Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”).


Whatever you may think of Imus and his exploitative, self-aggrandizing stances, sometimes you gotta measure a man’s actions against his words.  The man has just displayed killer taste in music, and for as good and worthy a cause as this, that’s worth something.



singin’ for the womankind

posted at 11:21 pm by brandon in mine's on the 45

Despite a relatively tony cast — Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Cloris Leachman, Candice Bergen, Bette Midler, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Carrie Fisher would pretty much comprise any enterprising artist’s dream canvas, methinks — and a fair box office showing on opening weekend, Diane English’s new update of the classic ’30s screwball comedy The Women has been roundly reviled by critics, a great many of whom seem to hold English’s past triumphs — as the creator and producer of the television classic “Murphy Brown,” as scorching hot a political potato(e) as the medium has seen this side of Archie Bunker, she was once one of Hollyweird’s most elite power brokers — unjustifiably against her. And while I’ll refrain from debating the film’s merits and/or charms (except to say that I was at once amused and outraged at the numerous news reports — I read no fewer than five of ’em — which expressed shock and awe at the fact that the movie attracted a sizable percentage of gay men to theaters nationwide), I’ll tell you without equivocation: the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is worth checking out.


Anchored by a pair of divine Annie Lennox tracks (“Womankind,” from last year’s disappointing Songs of Mass Destruction, and “Money Can’t Buy It,” one of Diva‘s multiple classics), the record also features terrific work from Feist (“I Feel It All,” perhaps the strongest song off of her Grammy-nominated breakthrough The Reminder) and KT Tunstall (“Someday Soon,” from her underrated sophomore release, the slow-burning Drastic Fantastic) as well as tunes from up-and-comers Jessie Baylin and The Bird & the Bee (a band my friend Chip turned me onto earlier this summer).  To hear some critics tell the tale, the soundtrack is a damn sight better than the film it supports; having not seen the movie, I’ll just say that to even think about matching the quality of its music, it’s got a lot of ground to make up.


Four tumultuous years after her last release — 2004’s erratic Afrodisiac, which, despite its wild inconsistency, closed with her best-ever track:  the dazzling “Should I Go,” which was built around a riveting sample from Coldplay’s overblown “Clocks” and which sent a clear signal that she was seriously rethinking her lifeplan — Brandy is back, armed with both a cleared mind and with her strongest single since “The Boy is Mine,” the hilarious 1998 bitch-fest that won both herself and Miss Monica well-deserved Grammy awards.   Produced with uncharacteristic simplicity by the prolific Rodney Jerkins, “Right Here (Departed)” Brandy - Right Here (Departed) - Single - Right Here (Departed) forgoes the beat-heavy nature of much of Jerkins’ past discography and makes Brandy’s terrific voice — nearing thirty now, and richer than ever — the song’s unopposed centerpiece.  (Contrast “Departed” with a few of Brandy’s other singles, especially from this decade — 2002’s horrifying trainwreck “What About Us” springs to mind — and you’ll instantly recognize and appreciate what an unexpected gem this truly is.)  The new album is due early next year, and if it sounds anything like its leadoff single, I’d say we’re in for a smashing return to form from an artist whose learning curve has been pretty damned breathtaking to behold.

The physical CD won’t be available until September 30, but Simple Things, the hotly-anticipated sophomore effort from brilliant boy wonder Joshua Radin (whose soothing debut release, 2006’s We Were Here, was a textbook model of shattering grace) went up at iTunes on Tuesday, and I’m here to tell you:  although I detest the idea of buying digital albums — hey, I’m ol’ school, I like having something tangible and concrete, something to hold in my hands, at the end of a transaction — this is probably the closest I’ve ever come to breaking my own rule.  In the end I decided to wait until month’s end (although the ever-expanding torture will be intense), but I broke down and purchased the one album track Joshua Radin - Simple Times - You Got Growing Up to Do (feat. Patty Griffin) — “You Got Growin’ Up to Do,” a sweetly haunting duet with one Patty Griffin, a magnificent artist who most certainly knows from such things — that I couldn’t stand not to immediately own.  Combine Radin’s return with imminent new projects from Ray LaMontagne and Rachael Yamagata (herself out to follow up a masterful debut), and you understand that the singer-songwriter movement — seemingly an endangered species in these times when a full four of the crunchy’s top twenty singles have that doofus Akon’s name on them — is still alive and kicking.



No offense to the girls who managed to stay afloat in a crowded field during the sun-scorched months — imports Duffy and Leona Lewis both managed to score critical and commercial bullseyes, and Cyndi Lauper, an old friend of ours from way back, came out of nowhere with what was my hands-down favorite album of the summer, the brazenly brilliant Bring Ya to the Brink (more on that in an upcoming now hear this post celebrating the season’s strongest offerings) — but it was, by and large, the guys who made the music of summer 2008 such a pleasant surprise.  Fall is on our doorsteps, but before we close the book on the season just passed, let’s take a glance back at the men (some young, others not so much) who gave us the works of art worth getting out of bed for.


She has never asked me to explain the origins and the depths of my seemingly nonsensical obsession with one Hilary Duff, so I have likewise refrained from forcing Sherry Ann to quantify her fixation with that supreme doofus Jason Mraz.  (Mocking it outright is markedly easier, besides.)  Best known for his inescapably goofy 2003 radio smash “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry),” Mraz and his often-cloying attempts at flippant cleverness have the most mystifying effect on Sherry Ann’s otherwise potent mind.  (However, as the proud owner of all of Duff’s records, up to and including all of the Lizzie McGuire soundtracks — film and television, honey — I understand better than most that we all have our vices.)



shake this sense of sadness

posted at 11:49 pm by brandon in mine's on the 45

My skin was positively tingling the minute I got the news that fresh music from Ray LaMontagne was imminent, but my anticipation for Gossip in the Grain, the artist’s forthcoming third album, just slid into warp drive, because Grain‘s resplendent leadoff single “You Are the Best Thing” went up at Ray LaMontagne - You Are the Best Thing - Single - You Are the Best Thing this week, and it’s a startling knockout.  However searing and wrenchingly brilliant the lion’s share of LaMontagne’s music may be (and trust me, it most definitely is), his discography isn’t exactly littered with what one would call happy tunes, and that’s precisely what makes “Best Thing” such a wicked revelation, as LaMontagne seems to funnel all his obvious inspirations — from two hundred year old Negro spirituals to ’30s jazz to the ghosts of Tapestry — into a horn-drenched sing-along which somehow sounds completely fresh.  With this unexpected leap over to the sunny side of the street, LaMontagne has hurled out an opening salvo clearly meant as a challenge to his peers, and a confident declaration that he is the musician to beat this crowded fall.  Believe it: the artist who has designs on beating this in the season to come had better have already gotten one hell of a head start, because New England’s most lovably eccentric hermit has just thrown down the gauntlet.



Easily the most maddening megastars of their (and, quite possibly, any other) generation, Chris Martin and the guys who comprise Coldplay have rebounded from a three year hiatus with Viva La Vida -or- Death and All His Friends — and incidentally, would someone kindly let ol’ Chris know that split title idea is only cute when I do it? — yet another commercial smash which pretty much cements this band, for better or worse, as this decade’s “it” artists.




One of the finest performers in the history of the world is back with a pair of projects that beautifully illustrate the rich and inspiring depth of her range and artistry.


A little-remembered 1982 live recording which has just been restored and expanded for a first-ever release on compact disc, Live in Washington, D.C. finds American soul icon Patti LaBelle — whose powerful pipes have long since passed into legend — at the very zenith of her talent and ability. Still in the infancy of her solo career at that time, following her amazing run as the frontwoman of the pioneering ’70s trio Labelle (whose classic #1 hit “Lady Marmalade” — a performance of which anchors this live album — endures some three decades later), Miss Patti was stuck on tiny Philadelphia International Records (following an inconsequential three-album stint at Epic) and, in ’82, was still a full year away from finding and recording “If Only You Knew,” the tune that would eventually become her signature smash. LaBelle needed something concrete to help reignite the once-deafening buzz that used to surround her, and although few realized it at the time, this concert would end up being just the ticket. By mixing a handful of classics (like her showstopping take on Harold Melvin’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and a riveting (and flirting-with-definitive) cover of “Over the Rainbow”) with a series of songs that would become Patti staples (like “I Don’t Go Shopping” and “You Are My Friend,” which began as a random entry in Patti’s husband’s journal), she managed to get the entire music industry talking about her again. Now, at long last, you can hear for yourself a legend being (re)born.


In conjunction with the release of Live comes a new two-disc retrospective, The Essential Patti LaBelle, a thirty-track compendium of material from all three phases of Patti’s career (the ’60s, when she was with the Blue Belles; the ’70s, when she was the driving force behind Labelle; and the ’80s, when her solo career finally took off). To my immense frustration, several truly essential tunes are omitted from this collection (I’m devastated that none of Labelle’s classic collaborations with the late Laura Nyro — most notably sterling takes on Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” or Carole King’s “Up on the Roof” — were deemed worthy for inclusion; same goes for Patti’s original 1989 version of “If You Asked Me To,” which would become a top ten smash for Celine Dion three years later), but enough classics are here — “Marmalade” and “If Only,” of course, plus “New Attitude,” “Love, Need, and Want You,” and her unforgettable 1986 duet with Michael McDonald, “On My Own” — to make this a worthwhile experience. (In addition, there’s also a previously unreleased track, “Mean Ol’ Man’s World,” for true fanatics.) If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about regarding this brilliant woman, there has never been a better opportunity than this to crack the code.



I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: in the wild madness that is the contemporary music scene, the toughest hurdle to cross must be crafting a stellar follow-up after your debut scores a bullseye. (Like, for instance, aren’t you just dying to see what fresh magic The Fray and Amy Winehouse and Snow Patrol are going to conjure to try to top their initial breakthroughs? The old saying — that one about “you have your whole life to write and record your first album, and you have six months to a year to write and record your second” — really is true, and some artists — like David Gray, who followed up his stunning starburst White Ladder with the even stronger A New Day at Midnight; or Train, whose magnificent thunderbolt “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” blasted them right past the dreaded sophomore slump — navigate that pressure more gracefully than others.)

Add to the former category San Diego rock band Augustana, whose blisteringly brilliant 2005 debut album All the Stars and Boulevards was one for the time capsule. Led by the surprise radio smash “Boston” — I defy you to name me another top 40 radio staple from the last decade that has no chorus whatsoever — and buffered by one boffo song after another, from the sensationally fiery opener “Mayfield” to the devastating album closer “Coffee and Cigarettes” (to say nothing of the socko title track, already on the shortlist of this new century’s very best singles), Boulevards was (and remains) an intoxicating, intricately constructed marvel.

The band (led by the extraordinary Dan Layus, whose wise voice always seems to know just when to slump and just when to soar) has just released Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt, its second full-length effort and quite a worthy successor to Boulevards. While it lacks outright even one individual track that matches the intense power of any of Boulevards‘ MVPs (though the sinewy “Hey Now” and the mournful “Fire” each come awfully damn close), Can’t Squared overflows with the same brand of glorious, bittersweet piano-based melodies that put these guys on the map three years ago. It’s a don’t-fix-what-ain’t-broke triumph for the ultra-talented Layus — for whom stardom seems absolutely predestined — and his comrades, who seem to be just one more radio hit away from the big time and who, at worst, have just proven definitively that their masterful debut was no fluke.


Separately, they are Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement; together, they are Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo — that’s according to them, mind you, and you’ll likely just have to take their word for it, although, seriously: wouldn’t you kill to see who makes up the top three? — and thanks to the ultra-dry, hilariously deadpan HBO comedy series that bears their name (not to mention their self-titled debut album, which just landed in Billboard’s top ten), they might just be the Southern Hemisphere’s hottest import this side of the eternally divine Olivia Newton-John.


The television series — of sorts, a roman à clef, but played strictly for laughs — follows Bret and Jemaine as they move to New York City to try and make a dent in the American music scene. The loopy, arrhythmic pilot, in which the guys decide their ticket to success is a music video — “like Daft Punk!” — and find their friendship on shaky ground after Jemaine falls for a former girlfriend of Bret’s (played by the marvelous Rachel Blanchard, forever beloved as that ordinary girl Cher Horowitz in that ill-fated 1996 television adaptation of Clueless), might just be the funniest half-hour of madcap insanity since Kramer rescued from a dumpster (and, hysterically, recreated in his apartment) the old set of “The Merv Griffin Show” ten years ago. (No question, the sight of the smitten Clement singing the inanely hysterical “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” — “in the whole wide room,” he helpfully adds — to the seemingly oblivious Blanchard will leave you falling from the sofa and gasping for air.)


Conchords, the album, is very much a soundtrack for the series, and so long as you understand up front that this duo is definitely not out to save the world with their music — visualize, if you can, a much cheekier Barenaked Ladies, with that unmistakable Canadian twang swapped out for broad Aussie accents — but rather spread a little mindless joy like so much jam across a slice of dry toast, you’ll do just fine.



In 1996, as a nifty way to help bridge the excruciating three-year gap between her critical breakthrough (the sultry slow burn Fumbling Towards Ecstasy) and her commercial arrival (the Lilith-fueled smash Surfacing), Sarah McLachlan released Rarities, B-Sides, and Other Stuff, a collection of little-heard remixes, covers, and original tracks anchored by her knockout take on Joni Mitchell’s legendary touchstone “Blue.” And now, twelve years later, McLachlan returns to that well with Rarities…,Vol. 2, the title of which is a probable misnomer: seeing as she’s a hell of a lot more famous now than she was back then, a great many of this album’s songs aren’t quite so rare.

Which is not to say you won’t enjoy them all the same. Included here are a trio of motion picture soundtrack contributions — “Ordinary Miracle,” from 2006’s Charlotte’s Web; “Blackbird,” from 2002’s I Am Sam; and what stands as perhaps the finest vocal performance of her entire career (I’d only put Fumbling‘s magnificent “Good Enough” ahead of it, and even then, with great hesitation), the Academy Award-nominated “When She Loved Me,” from 1999’s Toy Story 2 — and a litany of superstar collaborations — among others, a duet with Cyndi Lauper on a remake of Lauper’s 1984 classic “Time After Time” (which appeared on Lauper’s 2005 record The Body Acoustic); a live rendition of “Angel” with special guest Emmylou Harris; and a team-up with my crazy best friend’s favorite new band The Perishers, on a harrowing track called “Pills” (a handy Sarah McLachlan & The Perishers - Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff, Vol. 2 - Pills (Live) link for which can be found here, Sherry Ann). To be sure, this latest installment of Rarities doesn’t fully sate the need for a new Sarah studio album (and not counting Wintersong, McLachlan’s 2006 Christmas album, it’s been five loooong years and counting), but if you missed one or more of these tunes the first time around (or if you would simply like to have them all in one compact collection), there are certainly far worse expenditures of your time.


If nothing else, at least she had the good sense to leave Tom Waits’ true classics alone.

As interesting a concept as it is at heart, I’m not sure the world at large was crying out en masse for a covers album of Waits tunes, and certainly not one performed by a young woman who, no matter how limp and uninspired she is as an actress, proves definitively inside of eight bars that she’s an even worse singer. Nevertheless, Scarlett Johansson (she of Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides and The Horse Whisperer) has given us Anywhere I Lay My Head, a tepid collection of lesser-known Waits compositions that might just be the aural equivalent of a burst appendix.

Even understanding that Waits himself couldn’t sing his way out of any given shower — vocal prowess was never his trump card — Johansson’s work on Anywhere stands as a marvel of godawful execution. Every song sounds as if she shouted all the lyrics through the recording studio’s ventilation system and left the mics to capture whatever they could; even on the record’s lone interesting track, “Falling Down,” you can scarcely make out a word she’s singing.

The entire project is a wall-to-wall disaster, made all the more shameful by remembering just how many brilliant Tom Waits covers — Rod Stewart’s peerless take on “Downtown Train,” for example, or Tori Amos’ heartwrenching reading of “Time,” or Shawn Colvin’s bittersweet version of “Ol’ 55” — are already in existence. And as you’re reaching for the Aleve at album’s end, you’re left only to be unspeakably grateful that Johansson, in her impossibly arrogant vanity, didn’t decide to tackle those as well.