Freshly Unwrapped: New Music Releases, 6/24/08

Written by Freshly Unwrapped, Music

Gerald Albright, Sax for Stax (Peak)
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He’s become known mainly for his smooth jazz sides, but Albright’s chops are too big for any single genre — and this collection, which finds him tackling Stax classics like “Cheaper to Keep Her,” “Knock On Wood,” and “Who’s Making Love,” promises to be at least twice as interesting as anything he did for Atlantic in the ’90s. Of course, this is still Gerald Albright we’re talking about, so don’t go into Sax for Stax expecting anything approximating actual grit, but it’s hard to mess up these songs too badly. Stream tracks from the new album at Albright’s MySpace page.

Deborah Bonham, Duchess (Rhino/Atco)
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In which the littlest Bonham cuts out on her own with a stack of sides influenced by classic soul and British Invasion rock. She doesn’t stand a chance of emerging from her dad’s shadow, but given that her big brother is drumming for Foreigner now, odds are it’s Deborah who will be sharing the best press clippings at the Bonham family table this Christmas. Listen to the album at her MySpace page.

Ry Cooder, I, Flathead (Nonesuch)
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Cooder’s crazy-ass California trilogy, which started off promisingly with Chavez Ravine before plummeting into the kooky depths with My Name Is Buddy, reaches its conclusion here, in a song suite about…well, who knows, really, but there is an appearance by an “alien who races around in a souped-up flying saucer on the desert salt flats.” Dear Lord. This time around, Cooder has penned a 104-page novella to go along with the music; some of us liked it better when he just played guitar.

Bobby Digital (RZA), Digi Snax (Koch)
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Bobby Digital is back — and he’s joined here by David Banner and “various Wu-Tang members.” It’s a pity that so many of the genre’s most talented artists are stuck releasing product through Koch, but hey — the majors’ loss is the indies’ gain, I guess. Digi Snax serves up 16 new adventures from the fictional ghetto superhero; from the looks of the album artwork, they involve a horde of scantily clad girls in surgical masks. Finally, a rap album I can relate to. Hear all kinds of new stuff — and get RZA’s cellphone number! — at his MySpace page.

Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal (EMI/Back Porch)
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He’s danced with hepatitis and lived to tell the tale — and Escovedo’s ninth album, which finds him sharing a label with Charlie Sexton and the Subdudes, teams him up with Tony Visconti for a typically rootsy, wide-ranging trip down memory lane. Escovedo’s list of famous admirers includes Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, John Cale, Rosie Flores, M. Ward, Vic Chesnutt and Charlie Musselwhite, and Real Animal has already been raved about by my Bullz-Eye colleague Jim Washington — now listen to it at Escovedo’s MySpace page. (And buy it, of course.)

Morten Harket, Letter from Egypt (Universal)
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The a-ha frontman embarks on his second solo journey, following 1996’s Wild Seed and a few well-received (outside the United States, anyway) a-ha records. You’ll have to part with $21 to get the import from Amazon, but if you even know who Morten Harket is, you’re probably enough of a fan that you’ve had this pre-ordered for weeks. Still on the fence? Dig those cheekbones (and listen to some new stuff) at Harket’s MySpace page.

Less Than Jake, GNV FLA (Sleep It Off)
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Holy shit, Less Than Jake is still around? The answer, apparently, is yes — they might be indie artists now, but considering they were once on Capitol, going the self-release route is probably an improvement. If you guessed that the title of the band’s seventh (!) album is a nod to their hometown of Gainesville, Florida, give yourself a gold star for the day — and then head over to the band’s MySpace page for an advance listen to some of the new tracks.

G. Love & Special Sauce, Superhero Brother (Brushfire)
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Parlaying alarmingly sloppy diction and rudimentary songwriting skills into a recording career that has lasted a decade and counting, G. Love provides inspiration to somewhat talented people from all walks of life. Love has done more with less than anyone besides … well, besides Jack Johnson, actually, which is why it’s so perfect that Love and his Sauce have been signed to Johnson’s Brushfire imprint for the last few years. The band’s last release, 2006’s Lemonade, benefited from John Hammond’s guiding hand. Will Superhero Brother be so lucky? Sample some tracks and judge for yourself.

Edwin McCain, Nobody’s Fault But Mine (Time Life)
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Driving through the middle of North Bumfuck, Massachusetts a few months ago, I noticed a sign over a dingy corner bar that read “NEXT FRIDAY EDWIN MCCAIN,” and I wondered for the first time whether it might be time to forgive the man responsible for “I’ll Be.” I still think the answer is probably “no way,” but I’m willing to admit that I could be wrong; after all, having your new album come out on Time Life Records is probably punishment enough. Oh, but wait, this is a covers record. Anybody need to hear McCain covering “Some Kind of Wonderful” or “I Can’t Get Next to You”? If you answered “yes,” I don’t understand you at all, but have yourself a sneak peek at McCain’s MySpace page.

Motley Crue, Saints of Los Angeles (Eleven Seven)
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I once knew a girl who was known to threaten to run you over with her Mustang (license plate: MOTLY66) if you so much as breathed a negative word about Motley Crue, but I have to think that by now even she has wised up to the human suck surplus that is Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx, and Mick Mars. Goddammit, when are these guys going to stop making records? How many humiliating reality shows do its members have to participate in before the band stops being a reliable concert draw? I’m sure Saints of Los Angeles is going to be just as terrible as everything they’ve done post-Dr. Feelgood, but if you insist on tempting fate, go ahead and try before you buy.

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (deluxe reissue) (ATO)
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Has it really been 15 years since Liz Phair caused a massive simultaneous rock-crit orgasm with her delightfully filthy, wonderfully lo-fi debut? It has, and yes, you’re getting old. This deluxe reissue will help take some of the sting out of your expanding gut and receding hairline, adding four cuts and a DVD documentary to the album that has hung like an albatross around Phair’s neck since 1993. And yes, it is somewhat depressing that she’s trading in on Guyville now — but it isn’t as depressing as that “H.W.C.” song she recorded a few years ago, and anyway, she’s on Dave Matthews’s ATO label now. Good things are bound to follow.

Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof (Yep Roc)
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The shit-kickingest act on the Yep Roc roster returns this week, with beer on its breath, yellow in its eyes, and an album recorded at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios. After you use the CD booklet to separate the weed from the seed, turn up the volume and enjoy what the band is referring to as a “call to arms” and “an opening salvo in Reckless Kelly’s campaign to spread the nearly religious dedication of its Texas followers to fans all across the U.S. of A.” Hear some cuts and hop on the bandwagon here.

Sigur Rós, Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (XL/Beggars Banquet)
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That sound you hear is the bodies of 48,000 hipsters vibrating in excitement. (Well, either that or it’s this album’s ninth track, “Fljótavík.” It’s hard to tell.) The band hired Flood to produce and recorded outside of Iceland for the first time here, stopping on on places like Abbey Road and Sterling Sound, and expanded its sonic palette to include an orchestra, a boys’ choir, and a more acoustic aesthetic. The odds that it will still sound like a lot of pretty but pretentious hooey most likely remain fairly high.

Various Artists, Big Blue Ball (Real World)
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No, it isn’t a concept album about what happens after Robert watches too many episodes of The Ghost Whisperer back-to-back — it’s Peter Gabriel’s long-in-the-making “pan-global collaboration” with a slew of artists, including Karl Wallinger, Stephen Hague, Joseph Arthur, Sinead O’Connor, Papa Wemba, Vernon Reid, Jah Wobble, Tim Finn, and many more. (And I do mean many.) Like pretty much everything Gabriel does, Big Blue Ball was supposed to come out a long time ago; by Gabriel’s own estimation, these songs were finished tracking back in 1995. He refers to the album as “a fine wine ready to be drunk,” but this kind of meticulousness rarely bodes well for an album. Visit the project’s MySpace page and decide for yourself.

Watson Twins, Fire Songs (Vanguard)
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The scary Shining-lookin’ twins that Jenny Watson used for backup on her Rabbit Fur Coat album strike out on their own here, and while I found Fire Songs to be disappointingly short on fire and long on Natalie Merchant-esque beige balladry, it’s nothing if not pretty — and really, how often to you get the chance to listen to backwoods duets sung by twins who traded the south for Silverlake? Pour yourself a sample glass at the twins’ MySpace page.