Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

I have a rule of thumb that I listen to any new album at least four times before writing a review (or, prior to having this blog, before I formed a definite opinion of it in my mind). I’m not one of those people who can hear a song or an album and know instantly how I feel about it. I know if I like the sound or not, but I don’t know if it will be something I’ll know and love until I’ve lived with it for awhile.

But sometimes I can’t make it to four listens. And that’s the case with the eponymous debut CD by a much-hyped group called Fleet Foxes.

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Sugarland – Love On the Inside

I always rejected the sterotypical country music genre, the crying-in-my-boots Garth Brooks and Toby Keith kind of thing. But I’ve realized over the past ten years or so that it really is just a stereotype, and there’s a wide variety of country music as good as anything else I listen to.

It probably started with Lyle Lovett, who is certainly many things, but a country music singer is very high on the list. And it branched out from there to include k.d. lang, The Dixie Chicks, Loretta Lynn, Ryan Adams, Neko Case, Tift Merritt, Lucinda Williams and on and on. Some of those artists are more “country” than others, but they all prove how effective the genre can be.

My latest country success story is Sugarland, a duo who are currently lighting up both country and pop charts with their new album Love on the Inside and its first single ‘All I Want To Do.’

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She & Him – Volume One

The track record of actors turned musicians is not a strong one. Eddie Murphy, Bruce Willis, Lindsay Lohan, Juliette Lewis — crap, all of it. It doesn’t seem to work the other way around, though. Plenty of musicians (especially rappers) make fine actors. I guess singing is already a form of acting, while the reverse isn’t true.

I mention this to point out why the success of She & Him is a very special achievement. Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, Elf, All the Real Girls) is the “she” in She & Him, while the “him” is alternative singer-songwriter M. Ward. But the band’s name is deceiving, because this is truly Deschanel’s work. She wrote all the original songs and sings every track, while Ward handles production and plays the guitar.

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Randy Newman – Harps and Angels

Randy Newman has been away for awhile, and right when the country needed him most.

His last album of original songs, Bad Love, was released in 1999. And so the first decade of the 21st century had thus far gone unchronicled by America’s finest musical satirist. That is truly a shame, because George Bush has certainly deserved an earful.

He finally gets it in the centerpiece song of Newman’s excellent new album Harps and Angels. That song is ‘A Few Words in Defense of Our Country’ and anyone who knows Randy Newman knows defense isn’t what’s really on his mind.

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Ron Sexsmith – Exit Strategy of the Soul

Ron Sexsmith is either incredibly consistent or maddeningly inflexible — perhaps both.

Over nine studio albums, he has danced with the girl that brung him, rarely straying from his signature McCartney-esque singer-songwriter blend of folk and pop. And by rarely, I mean never. If you listened to his albums at random, you’d have a hard time putting them in chronological order. Sure, his vocals have gotten stronger and his production a little more crisp, but only by the smallest degrees. His idea of a bold stylistic departure is hiring a horn section to back him up on a few tracks.

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My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

I had heard a lot about My Morning Jacket but I’d never actually heard them. Then I saw songwriter/lead singer Jim James’ haunting performance of ‘Goin’ to Acupulco’ in I’m Not There and I realized it was time to jump in.

My Morning Jacket is one of those bands (like Radiohead and Wilco) that did a certain thing very well for awhile,┬áthen suddenly started doing something strange and different equally well. Evil Urges is their OK Computer or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Now, coming to the band fresh with this release doesn’t allow me to talk about their evolution, so all I can talk about is the music. And the music is nothing short of superb.
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Beck – Modern Guilt

Throughout his impressive career, Beck has explored many, many paths — dabbling in funk, rap, tropicalia, metal, folk and psychedlia, just to name a few. He’s released albums I can dance to and albums that make me want to cry in my beer (ok, my Coke). What he hasn’t done, until now, is bore me.

Modern Guilt is not a bad album, by any means. I’ll go so far as to say it’s a good one. But it’s the first Beck album that hasn’t hit me as something brand new. Most of the tracks feel like B-sides to his earlier, better material.

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