'Clockwork Angels' by Rush
Rush has never been a hits band, but the power trio's best records at least spawned one or two memorable tunes. 2007's "Snakes and Arrows" was a good album as a whole, yet stripped into pieces it missed that one killer track.
With the band's newest effort, "Clockwork Angels," several tracks continue to linger in the mind long after the music has stopped: the prog-rocker "Clockwork Angels," the quiet regret of "Halo Effect," the gut punch of "Headlong Flight," and the catchy chorus of "Wish Them Well." All 12 album tracks are prime examples of the essence of Rush: the underrated arena rock riffs of Alex Lifeson, the dexterous bass lines of Geddy Lee, and the crushing percussion of drummer deity Neil Peart.
"Clockwork Angels" is a throwback to Rush's earlier days with a thematic lyrical concept: "a young man's quest across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy as he attempts to follow his dreams." (There's even a novelization of the album's story by science-fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson.) The music is unmistakably classic Rush too -- proggy adventurous, hard rock grunge, crazy time signatures -- by way of a newer, smarter, and perhaps even musically tighter band that's unafraid to link to its past as it pushes into the future.
"Clockwork Angels" will never be a well-worn classic like "Permanent Waves," "Moving Pictures," and "Signals," from Rush's apex more than two decades ago, but it is an impressive achievement by a nearly 40-year-old band that refuses to fade away.
-- KIRK BAIRD
'Ya Know?' by Joey Ramone
Joey Ramone (BMG)
The back story behind this surprisingly tight, fun disc belies the fact that it sounds like a coherent work made by a focused man with a clear sense of purpose. It would be a nice story if this was consciously Ramone's last recording, the final blast from a man who defined punk for a couple of generations.
But it's not. That would be 2002's "Don't Worry About Me." Instead, "Ya Know" is basically a reworked collection of demos, knock-offs, and off-kilter punk anthems that were never intended for release. Never mind that Ramone has been dead for more than a decade, the music here sounds fresh and surprisingly contemporary.
Credit goes to a stellar cast of side musicians, including Joan Jett, Little Steven Van Zandt, Ed Stasium, and Bun E. Carlos, who bring the music to life. The foundation is a punky bedrock of brawny guitars and Ramone's distinctive, underrated vocals and the louder you play it, the better it sounds.
Tunes like "There's Got to Be More to Life," "Cabin Fever," and "21st Century Girl" are reminders that rock and roll lost a true original when Joey Ramone succumbed to cancer in 2001 at the age of 49.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
'Punching Bag' by Josh Turner
Josh Turner (MCA Nashville)
Josh Turner, to his credit, continues to follow a creative path outside that of other contemporary country stars. It's not only his distinctive deep voice that sets him apart; it's also his openly religious persona (he includes at least one fundamental gospel tune on each album and testifies during concerts) and his dedication to traditional country arrangements that hold off on incorporating hard-rock or modern-pop flourishes.
On "Punching Bag," Turner stays the course, mixing Christian songs ("For the Love of God" and "I Was There") with up-tempo novelty tunes (the title cut) and romantic songs that bop along to mid-tempo rhythms ("Left Hand Man").
Love songs continue to be his forte: The married father of three repeatedly finds ways to sing about love in clever, positive terms that fit his voice and personality without turning women or relationships into cliches.
From the moody bass lines and acoustic accents in "Time Is Love," about making his marriage a priority in his schedule, to the R&B-influenced guitar melody of "Good Problem," about how his obsession with loving his partner is the kind of dilemma he can handle, Turner once again proves he ranks among the most effective -- and most hard-core country -- performers of his generation.
-- MICHAEL McCALL, Associated Press