Monday, May 08, 2006

New Release Tuesday: Simon! Jolie! Gnarls! Neil!

Surprise! Would you believe that Paul Simon's new album-- his first in six years-- is drawing raves from top critics? Just check out this high praise from Stephen Thomas Erlewine:

With repeated plays, Simon's songs don't seem as open-ended, and there's more to discover within Eno's production, particularly in how it plays off Simon's recurring themes of faith, aging, fatherhood, and getting by in George W. Bush's U.S.A. But this is not by any stretch a protest record; "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" and "Wartime Prayers" are about the uneasiness of living in the post-9/11 America, yet they're not statements of outrage, they're about the emotional toil of the time, and they have counterparts in the wearied narrators of "Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean" and "Outrageous." It adds up to a bittersweet undercurrent that runs through Surprise, not unlike the melancholy threaded throughout Hearts and Bones, which this also resembles in its overall introspective tone and arty bent, but this is hardly a one-dimensional record; there is gentle hope and wry humor as well, giving this music a rich elegance that makes it stand among Simon's best work. Unlike such deservedly praised comeback albums from some of his peers -- such as Dylan's Love and Theft, the Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang, Paul McCartney's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard -- Simon doesn't achieve his comeback by reconnecting with the sound and spirit of his classic work; he has achieved it by being as restless and ambitious as he was at his popular and creative peak, which makes Surprise all the more remarkable.

Meanwhile, Thom Jurek loves the new Jolie Holland disc, Springtime Can Kill You:

Jolie Holland's sophomore studio outing for Anti is a leap from her landmark Escondida. While that album traveled seamlessly from genre to genre without trying, Springtime Can Kill You moves at a slower, more labyrinthine pace toward an end that only Holland could conjure. There are many artists these days stepping deep into the rich tradition of American roots music, whether it's country, blues, folk, or gospel. To her credit, Holland is looking for something even more mercurial in her songwriting and cover performances: the American parlor -- or living room in the era before television when the radio was its centerpiece: it was the terrain where many voices, experiences, and stories from near or ghostly far came to life. Here,she articulates them in the present, often in the first person, as musical languages and as well-worn fables from life's margins.

Plus, there's no new artist more hyped than Gnarls Barkley. And, astoundingly, Neil Young's new album of politically-explicit protest songs, Living with War, is also drawing raves.

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