New Releases: Bruce Springsteen, Rosanne Cash, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Jennifer Nettles
Every Tuesday, Dan Weiss runs down the week’s new full-length music releases, from charting hits to more obscure depths, the underrated and the overrated, from a critical pop fan’s perspective.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes (Columbia)
A mess, as you’ve heard, with all the subtlety of a Kanye interview, thus also pretty fun. Every which way there’s old songs, covers, alternate versions, dusted off and lacquered up with orchestras, hair-metal dynamics, trumpets, bagpipes, and crassest of all, E Street new blood Tom Morello, who adds three minutes and a faux turntable solo to “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” I’ll take the slowcore ’94 version, not to mention “Hunter of Invisible Game,” the stringy 90s Dylan-90s Zevon mélange that precedes it here. “Down in the Hole” is the most shambolic offender here, with a pretty, well-plucked tune that can’t decide if it’s a slow one or a double-time ticktocker like “I’m on Fire,” which you can sing over it. It’s followed by “Heaven’s Wall,” which breaks from a Latin percussion-cum-Justin Timberlake intro and an insistent choir into “Orange Crush”-style bowed rock.
Better are the occasionally gorgeous mutterings of “The Wall,” echoing like a ballad off Tom Waits’ Bone Machine, and the Stones-y “Frankie Fell in Love.” Except for Bruce Springsteen‘s well-timed feedback screeches in the tumbling Gypsy punk title track, Morello’s overchucked solos mostly embarrass, though the incredible “American Skin (41 Shots)” remains unassailable even with full-on Achtung Baby production, and still depressingly necessary in the wake of Trayvon Martin. Again, a mess. But there’s not a bad song in the outrageously-produced bunch. And the grandpa-funk of “Harry’s Place” has something to teach Arcade Fire.
Rosanne Cash – The River and the Thread (Blue Note)
One of the 80s’ most distinctive and easygoing “country” stars, you’d think she’d hire Haim to reunite her with those gated studio effects. Instead she follows two albums that mourned her famous parents seven years ago by venturing back down from Manhattan for some of her most plainspoken, organic new originals. Unlike Springsteen, Rosanne Cash wields a string section with effective delicacy on “A Feather’s Not a Bird” and employs shrewd na-na-nas for the catchy “Modern Blue,” and all over the place turns in some of her sharpest songwriting ever. Her highest highs might have never scratched the legacy of, oh, timely reissuer Lucinda Williams, but Cash sure makes it look so much easier.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want (Daptone)
Damn right Sharon Jones doesn’t want to share a genre with Drake—they call it soul for a reason. And while she’s right that people only paid attention because Amy Winehouse brought the tragic tabloid fodder you won’t get from say, Mayer Hawthorne, this cancer survivor and combustible stage charmer’s album title and its contents are a knowing nod from someone who deep down believes nothing matters in music but music. And while even her fans claim her albums are rarely more than an advertisement for the live show, she’s got more twists in the offbeat swing of “Now I See” or the playfully vindictive threat “Retreat!” than either fans or dismissers might expect.
Jennifer Nettles – That Girl (Mercury Nashville)
Probably no more for fans than distant respecters who dig on her main band’s “Settlin’” or “Take Me as I Am,” this acoustic R&B showcase for her gigantic voice shows off her pyrotechnics without quite making the case Jennifer Nettles can go on without Sugarland, mostly skittering across rimshots and strum until it’s time to go full Bob Seger on, you guessed it, “Like a Rock.” But while she can occasionaly belt the anthems that Sharon Jones or Rosanne Cash can’t, she’s far less reliable a songwriter and far less fleet of foot, so only the opener “Falling” will set your blood afire.
Lee Bannon – Alternate Endings (Ninja Tune)
I am all damn for a drum ‘n bass revival, as I couldn’t scream louder for Plug’s Back on Time, Four Tet’s “Gong” or DJ Rashad’s game-subverting Double Cup, which helped cement and simultaneously transcend the legend of “footwork,” which whatever you want to call it has supplanted the blunt, half-time sludge of most dubstep with fleet jazz chords and spacious double-time breakbeats yet again. Calfornia’s Bannon is less subversive than his revolution-minded Chicago counterpart, though this is one area of traditionalist EDM that won’t make you wonder if those presets came with the jam box. Strewn about the polyrhythmic edgeplay: a hockey puck skidding across the rink, video lasers swiped from your old Nintendo zapper, and some kind of wadded up seagull/carhorn/strings entitled “Phoebe Cates.”