February 25, 2013

David Bowie Debuts Second New Song and Video, 'The Stars (Are Out Tonight)'

Sounding more Heathen than Heroes with its sleek guitar-and-drum synergy, David Bowie's new single, "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)," made its premiere Monday night. 

As the latest-to-be-released track from the rock legend's forthcoming LP, The Next Day (due March 12), it presents a marked contrast from the album's baleful and nostalgic first-to-be-released track, "Where Are We Now?," although both songs (visually, at least) seem to evoke veiled references and personas of Bowie's fabled past. 

Amos Lee 'Live From the Artist's Den' DVD Set For Release

Singer/songwriter Amos Lee will be the subject of the latest DVD installment of Live From the Artist's Den, slated for release on March 12. The critically acclaimed series, which so far has showcased such artists as Adele, Crowded House, and Robert Plant, features pared-down and often rare or one-off performances in intimate venues.

Recorded at the Fox Theatre in Tucson, Arizona in the fall of 2011 and aired nationally on PBS in the spring of 2012, the Amos Lee DVD will include seven cuts not shown on the television broadcast—among them is a sublime rendition of the Ray Charles/Willie Nelson classic, "Seven Spanish Angels," with Joey Burns of Arizona's own Calexico—as well as select interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. 

An MP3 audio version of Lee's full 16-song performance is already available for purchase.

Setlist: 1. El Camino 2. Supply and Demand 3. Street Corner Preacher
4. Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight 5. Cup of Sorrow 6. Flower
7. Skipping Stone 8. Out of the Cold 9. Violin
10. Turth 11. Low Down Life 12. Jesus 13. Behind Me Now
14. Windows Are Rolled Down 15. Night Train 16. Seven Spanish Angels

February 24, 2013

Susanna Hoffs: A Bangle Finds Balance

One of last year’s most delightful surprises in music came courtesy of Susanna Hoffs, whose third solo LP, Someday, recalls the spirit and sophisticated songcraft of some of the ‘60s and early ‘70s’ most distinctive and timeless recordings.

“There is something about that music,” says Hoffs, 54, reflecting on what is essentially the soundtrack to her adolescence, from the Beatles’ deceptively simple early hits to more ornate productions by the likes of the Left Banke, the Buckinghams, and Love. “You don’t notice that much when you’re listening to the songs, but when you go back and revisit them, you’re like, ‘Wow, listen to that string part! Listen to that horn part! There’s a cool harpsichord in there!’

“There’s just so much intensity and beauty and melody in the music,” she adds. “I just never outgrew it. I never got over it. I never got over the passion for how I feel, the way I connect to that.”

Hoffs co-wrote much of Someday with fellow singer/songwriter Andrew Brassell, who despite having lived through neither the ‘60s nor the ‘70s — “Not even close,” Hoffs snickers. “He was born in the ‘80s” — nevertheless shared her enthusiasm for the classic music of that era. The songs as they emerged in the early stages of their collaboration, which were still quite rough and tentative versions, soon found an ally in producer Mitchell Froom, whose credentials include albums by Crowded House and Elvis Costello as well as the Bangles’ 1986 LP, Different Light. “One of the things that Mitchell was hearing in the melodies and in the lyrics — just how the songs came across — was all that ‘60s influence,” Hoffs explains, underscoring such album standouts as “Holding My Breath,” which recalls climactic torch songs of Dusty Springfield, as well as “Picture Me” and “Always Enough,” which tap into Tommy James & The Shondells territory of psychedelic folk.

The album has garnered considerable critical and popular praise, a fate that largely eluded Hoffs’ previous two solo records, especially her 1991 solo debut, When You’re a Boy, which was somewhat overshadowed by rumored discontent amongst the Bangles and their label at the time, Warner Brothers Records. Hoffs was often (and, in retrospect, unfairly) pitted against her band mates in the press, depicted as having branched out on her own to spite them rather than to explore her talent’s potential. The stigma subsided somewhat when her eponymous sophomore album was released five years later. Nevertheless, Hoffs laments, “That perception made it very difficult, to be honest with you, because that became the story: ‘The Bangles have broken up and she’s trying to do something.’

“It was a spin that it put on things that was kind of negative,” she continues. “So I’m really glad that that’s not the way it is now.”

So, what’s changed? “I think it’s partly that you get to be a certain age and you’ve been doing this for a long time, it seems logical that as an artist you’d want to do other things and have a chance and explore other relationships,” Hoffs reasons. “The Bangles are something really, really special to me … but we all do different things, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to do that and to know that we can be Bangles too.”

In fact over the past decade Hoffs has enjoyed a healthy balance between making music with the Bangles — the band’s 2011 LP, Sweetheart of the Sun, is as vital as anything they’ve done — and singer/songwriter Mathew Sweet, with whom she’s partnered on two volumes of classic pop revival, Under the Covers, with another yet to come.

“I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to do these other explorations,” she explains. “As an artist, as a writer, as a singer, it’s just really a blast. It’s exciting. It’s fun. You really test yourself when you’re working with other people. Much as I love the Bangles it’s a familiar environment. I love it, but sometimes I need that challenge.”

Someday is available on Baroque Folk Records. For more information on Susanna Hoffs, please visit the artist’s official site.

(First published at Blogcritics.)

February 19, 2013

Crystal Bowersox Previews Second LP, Including 'Stitches' with Jakob Dylan

Crystal Bowersox is ready for her follow-up.

All That For This, the American Idol Season 9 finalist's sophomore album, is slated for release on March 26. Produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Rickie Lee Jones), it features 11 originals either written or co-written by Bowersox and one cover, The Sundays' "Here's Where the Story Ends."

Already garnering attention is "Stitches," a tender, acoustic ballad of consolation and parental devotion, which Bowersox sings with Jakob Dylan. 

“He’s a super-nice guy, a sweetheart of a fella,” Bowersox tells Write On Music. I have a son and he has four boys.... I mentioned this song, 'Stitches,' because my son had stitches, as boys will. His son had stitches too. We mutually bonded over that and then the opportunity came up. I said, 'Hey, do you want to cut the song with me on my next record?' 

Dylan was happy to oblige, she says, adding that he even flew to her and her family's hometown of Portland to record the track. 

“My husband and I took a lot of pride in writing that song together,” says Bowersox. He couldn’t believe Jakob Dylan was the one I sang it with. He was pretty happy about it.” 

All That For This (Shanachie Records) is available for pre-order exclusively at iTunes.

February 09, 2013

Album Review: Kris Kristofferson - Feeling Mortal

Kris Kristofferson is one of the rare songwriters who’ve expanded the vernacular, so to speak, having upped the ante on what a popular song can speak to or suggest. His finest musical moments over the years, from “Help Me Make It Through the Night” to “Sunday Morning Coming Down” to “Why Me,” have favored hard-won intimacy over whimsical romance, the most incriminating truths over the safest or most reassuring lies, all while exuding decidedly adult perspectives.

It’s fitting, then, that on Feeling Mortal (KK Records) he considers themes of death and earthly impermanence with much the same unvarnished veracity.

Kristofferson, 76, sings with resilience in the face of life’s ultimate inevitable, the age in his already stoic voice having only enriched his impact as a storyteller. From the title track which opens the album like a mission statement — “Wide awake and feeling mortal at this moment in the dream” — he inhabits each line as he seemingly makes sense of its greater and perhaps spiritual significance. In doing so, he sizes up a life in which he's reaped rewards and myriad versions of salvation (“Bread For the Body,” “The One You Chose”) despite his all-too-human weaknesses (“Stairway to the Bottom,” “Just Suppose”) and his conflicted struggles to resist them. This is serious stuff to write and sing about, but Kristofferson does so with humility and a bit of humor, culminating in a uniquely inspiring work with songs that will outlive us all.