Bruce Springsteen met the members of Against Me! after a show in New Jersey a few months ago and bestowed upon them his compliments. Rolling Stone magazine recently featured the band prominently in its "Breaking Artist" section.
Why all this attention for a bunch of punks out of Gainesville, Fla.? Because their CD is one of the best of the year, a chill-inducing mix of hard rock and punk that features socially conscious lyrics and a sound that oozes commitment.
Musical mutts, their sound is equal parts Springsteen - when he rocks - the Clash in its prime, the Who, and even a little Georgia Satellites in the vocals. What separates this band of post-punk punks from the Green Day-imitating pack is the weight of its musical attack and commitment to rocking with a purpose.
The title track is a simple pounder that kicks off the disc and rails against the media, audaciously screaming "we can define our own generation." "White People for Peace" is a raging anti-war screed. "Stop!" is a Gang of Four-like funk fest, and the disc's tour de force is "Thrash Unreal," an unsentimental look at a junkie with a chorus that sticks around for days.
Simply put, this is a great disc from a band that's going to be heard from a lot more in the near future. They play Toledo's Headliners Sept. 8, so local music fans will be able to see for themselves what all the fuss is about.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
Catchy lyrics and melody hooks like his smash single, "Achy Breaky Heart" in 1992, propelled Cyrus to music fame. His country songs after that rocket-like debut were much the same, a long list of forgettable tunes. Now, Cyrus reaches deep into his emotional underpinnings for a fine assortment of originals and classics that have great depth both musically and in their soulful words and delivery.
His slightly throaty baritone isn't a great vocal instrument, but Cyrus gets the most out of it with meaningful messages and great studio musicianship behind him. On the heels of stardom on the television series Hanna Montana with his daughter, Miley, Cyrus finds a whole new generation of fans to enjoy his offerings.
Taking care not to record too much sameness and repeat what eventually bored and turned off listeners, Cyrus shows that his musical talents are far from narrow and, in fact, touch more bases than many artists long established as broad-based.
A couple of album highlights among these 13 tracks include his takes on Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" and James Taylor's "You've Got A Friend," plus his own creation of "Ready, Set, Don't Go."
- KEN ROSENBAUM
Rewind history to 1993, when two of the jazz world's most renowned and beloved musician-educators - pianist Billy Taylor and the late saxophonist Gerry Mulligan - performed a series of concerts for the first time together at the nonprofit Manchester Craftmen's Guild in Pittsburgh.
This disc captures the smooth essence of that collaboration between two longtime friends, and their respect for one another comes through as they play effortlessly off each other's strengths.
Taylor is now in his 80s, and his many accolades include 23 honorary doctorate degrees. Mulligan, who died early last year, was consistently rated in magazine polls as one of the nation's favorite instrumentalists.
Both performed with Miles Davis and an array of other greats, from Charlie Parker to Dizzy Gillespie to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, while blazing their own trails. Together, they perform pleasant, straight-ahead jazz.
- TOM HENRY
The saga of Mathangi Arulpragasam - known to record buyers as rap and dancehall queen M.I.A. - is romantic and remarkable. She's the daughter of a leader with the militant Tamil Tigers; exiled, she attended art school in London; her 2005 debut, Arular, smushed the low-watt sound of 1981 Bronx rap with the undecipherable murk of British rap, and last year, when she tried to enter the United States to record a follow-up, her visa had been revoked.
But even if you didn't know the mystique, her new record, "Kala," would sound like someone without a home - who finds herself driving through the coolest districts of the poorest parts of the meanest cities, on multiple continents, catching snippets of indigenous pop.
"Bamboo Banga" begins with a Modern Lovers line but the beat is hollow, hypnotic. A song later, the music catches up to the quote and guitars grind, but now the beat is Bollywood disco. Then add chicken squawks, gunfire, finger drums, a Timbaland-produced number (the album's lamest, surprisingly), a Pixies line (that, again, links up to its bass line a song later), Clash references, the occasional chime of a Caribbean melody.
After a rousing start, it's clear "Kala" didn't bring the songs to match all the invention, but unquestionably, it's the sound of the world, and our future.
- CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI