NO MEDICINE LIKE THE BLUES
Buck69 (Parachuting Buddha Records)
The difference between Toledo-based Buck69's second album, "No Medicine Like the Blues," and many of the national releases in the sweaty, contemporary gutbucket blues-rock genre is so small it's not worth overanalyzing, because that's what it would be: overanalyzing.
Will somebody please give these guys a contract? This album's got what hardcore blues aficionados expect: 16 songs that traverse misadventures of love, life, and the working-class struggles of cobbling together a daily existence, with fiery guitar solos, acceptable lyrics, and a strong contrast between a husky, weathered male voice — in this case, Buck69 frontman Tom Clawson — and a sweet, but not syrupy voice of a strong-willed woman, in this case former American Idol contestant Candice Coleman Lange.
Buck69 won The Blade's 2009 Battle of the Bands in the blues category, and has won or placed high in other competitions. Songs on this disc were recorded mostly in the 2008-2012 timeframe. The title track in particular plays like a house on fire. This is the latest of several albums by area musicians in recent years that have done Toledo proud.
— TOM HENRY
Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski (Palmetto)
One common complaint in jazz circles is that the music has grown too labyrinthine and interior for casual comprehension, sealing itself off from a lay audience. Whether or not you buy into that argument, there’s no way to pin the problem on Matt Wilson.
A drummer and bandleader drawn to exuberant gestures, he has held fast to a value system that prizes simplicity and sincerity, rugged effort, and sturdy design. This is especially true of any and all albums by the Matt Wilson Quartet, from the late 1990s onward. “Gathering Call,” the newest of these, augments the current edition of the quartet — Wilson, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, saxophonist Jeff Lederer, and bassist Chris Lightcap — with a featured guest pianist, John Medeski.
It’s an album of unabashed swing and unassuming expedition, drawing no distinctions between the two. Wilson, who will turn 50 this year, seemingly leads from his ear as a composer, forming each tune around the spine of a melody. He isn’t afraid to repeat himself: The same fanfare, effectively the last four notes of a major scale, appears as a refrain in “Some Assembly Required” and the album’s title track. When he reaches for a meditative air, as on “Hope (For the Cause),” he finds room for stillness and starkness.
As usual, he also forages in some of the neglected corners of jazz repertory, coming up with choice morsels by Charlie Rouse (“Pumpkin’s Delight”), Hugh Lawson (“Get Over, Get Off and Get On”), and Butch Warren (“Barack Obama”), along with Duke Ellington (“Main Stem” and a later, lesser-known theme, “You Dirty Dog”). The strong performances by his band, and the subtle but serious lift provided by Medeski, makes Wilson’s choice of tunes seem both wise and like no big deal.
The garish outlier is a version of “If I Were a Boy,” the 2008 Beyoncé hit, that Wilson has been playing live for a few years. At this point it’s neither timely nor transformative, and its inclusion feels too much like a bid for popular appeal. But that’s assuming Wilson hasn’t simply fallen in love with playing the tune. I wouldn’t put it past him.
— NATE CHINEN,
New York Times
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
A Great Big World (Epic)
The competition show So You Think You Can Dance? has popularized — or maybe resuscitated — a particularly maudlin strain of pop that it uses when dancers are performing what the show refers to as “contemporary” dance: think extended erotic embraces, liquid body movements, and lots of flowing tulle. The music they often choose for these routines is spare, generally with piano, overlaid with cloying vocals that have pluck but not power. The goal is to create a stark backdrop over which the dancers can emote without interference, a verdant field that’s actually bare.
Last year, “Say Something” by A Great Big World was one of those songs, used to good effect but still essentially anonymous. But then, in an unlikely turn, it caught the attention of Christina Aguilera, who invited the duo — Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino — to re-record it with her. That version reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, opening the pipestream of twee to come.
And oh, does twee reign on “Is There Anybody Out There?,” this duo’s painfully executed major-label debut album. Like a starter folk album, it’s gentle and plain-spoken and free of any artifice. And also dull. Axel especially has a grating voice with no color, almost digital in its simplicity. And lyrically, the duo are clumsy, approaching musical theater at their best, and rarely even that — “Shorty Don’t Wait” is the sort of song Jason Mraz would toss for being too simple. “Land of Opportunity” and the dim empowerment anthem “Everyone Is Gay” land with the blunt-force good cheer of a Dan Zanes children’s album. Occasionally, A Great Big World only ends up suggesting better options: “Rockstar” has purposeful echoes of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” a far better piano-pop tune, and also of Billy Joel’s signature stop-start piano revving.
Last month, “Say Something” ended up on another reality show, The X Factor, sung by the show’s eventual winners Alex & Sierra, a button-cute duo with occasional bursts of intense vocals. The lyrics are still limp, but their delivery forgoes some of the restraint of the original, and even the contrived dignity of Aguilera’s version. Theirs is the version worth seeking out.
— JON CARAMANICA,
New York Times