Hey, hey, some new Monkeys (the Arctic kind), Willie Nile on the “Streets of New York” and a little Ella Fitzgerald are among the new albums out this week.
“Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” Arctic Monkeys
The Arctic Monkeys are the latest in a continuing stream of British exports that wash up on American shores wrapped in reams of hype.
But, hey, hey, these Monkeys are different.
The title of their debut, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” should tell you that. And people have been saying plenty about the Arctic Monkeys, especially since their album last month became the fastest-selling debut in British history.
And Britain has, if memory serves, produced a couple of decent bands.
Oddly, the Arctic Monkeys aren’t really that exceptional from groups like Franz Ferdinand or the Strokes, and are well in line with the current batch of ‘70s-inspired, buoyant punk.
But while the Arctic Monkeys might not sound radical, that doesn’t mean they aren’t excellent. And, man, do they have a single: “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.”
Like all great singles, “Dancefloor” is euphorically catchy — a drug that will make repeat listens a legitimate addiction. The song is a monster.
It opens with a fast, heavy-metal riff that politely pauses a moment so the lead guitar can catch up and whip itself into a proper frenzy — and then they’re off. The next three minutes are an unrelenting onslaught.
“Lighting the fuse might result in a bang, with a bang-o,” sings Alex Turner, who knows how to stutter like a rock star.
But the Arctic Monkeys — who number four, formed at art school and are infuriatingly young (Turner is 20) — aren’t a one-hit wonder. “Whatever” boasts more grade-A rock stomp on “Fake Tales of San Francisco,” “Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured” and “When The Sun Goes Down.”
They also show versatility on elegant, upbeat ballads like “Mardy Bum” and “A Certain Romance.”
It’s true, however, that the Monkeys’ anthems about “scummy” men and “totalitarian” bouncers will always sound best blasted in booze-soaked pubs. The morning after you might reach for something that doesn’t urge you to “put on your dancing shoes,” but by nightfall, you’ll be guiltily spinning “Whatever” again.
The Arctic Monkeys have started off their career with a bang-o.— Jake Coyle
“Streets of New York,” Willie Nile
Maybe it’s true that every good idea in rock ’n’ roll has already been taken. That doesn’t mean an old guitar slinger can’t make a worthwhile record.
“Streets of New York” is a gem, even if it’s wholly derivative. On his first album since 1999, the journeyman channels Dylan, Springsteen and, when he wants to slum, Tom Petty.
The title cut mimics “Jungleland,” but beyond that, the album has the sonic grandeur of the Boss, with lots of guitar, keyboards and harmony vocals. Nile sings like Dylan and sometimes writes like him, too, with clever couplets, images and celebrity references ranging from Jean-Paul Sartre to Bo Diddley.
The album’s centerpiece is “Cell Phones Ringing (In The Pockets Of The Dead),” a ranting rocker that refers to the 2004 Madrid bombings. Equally ferocious is Nile’s cover of “Police On My Back,” while the lovely ballad “Lonesome Dark-Eyed Beauty” provides a change of pace.
Best played loud, these hook-filled songs would work in a pub or an arena. It’s unlikely Nile will be playing any arenas, but “Streets” deserves a large audience.— Steven Wine
“The Hidden Land,” Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
The music of banjo player Bela Fleck has always been about so much more than just the banjo.
With his group, the Flecktones, Fleck has pushed musical boundaries and expectations for 15 years, and that continues with a vengeance on the group’s latest release, “The Hidden Land.”
Musically complex, the Flecktones — featuring a banjo, percussion, horns and a bass guitar — continue to mix bluegrass, jazz, pop, country and even classical music into a gumbo utterly beyond definition but captivating.
“The Hidden Land” starts off with a take on a Bach fugue. The Flecktones start from a recognizable home base with the song, then take it to the extreme of improvisation and back, but it all makes sense within the framework they have created over the years that pulls listeners in with an endearing unpredictability.
The four Flecktones are musicians of the highest order. The fact that they can continue to produce interesting music that doesn’t kowtow to any categorization or neatly defined boundaries only increases their allure.
Not to be missed on the latest release is a hilarious satire contained on a DVD that takes a droll look at the group’s reassembling after a year off. Be on the lookout for a surprise appearance from one of our nation’s founding fathers.
It’s off the wall, but what else should be expected from a group that revels in taking the banjo to the outer limits and back again?—Scott Bauer
“Ella Fitzgerald & The Tommy Flanagan Trio ’77,” Ella FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald, often dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” sings in Norman Granz’ Jazz in Montreux in this performance from 1977. Despite being 60 years old and several decades in to her career, Fitzgerald’s voice is unwavering.
Fitzgerald gives a solid performance, switching energies from song to song quickly and seamlessly, especially from the pensive “My Man” to the upbeat “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Fitzgerald shows off her signature scatting on “One Note Samba” and “Billie’s Bounce.”
A highlight of the show is when she finishes up with a robust, jazzy cover of “You Are the Sunshine of my Life.”
The DVD’s features include an introduction about Fitzgerald by Nat Hentoff, a gallery of Fitzgerald as well as the member of the Tommy Flanagan Trio.— Pauline Millard
Ne-Yo, “In My Own Words”It must be weird to hear someone else make it to the top of the charts singing a song you helped write. That was the case for Ne-Yo, who was part of the creative effort behind “Let Me Love You,” which became a monster hit for Mario.
But now the 22-year-old, born Shaffer C. Smith, gets to use his talent for himself on his debut recording “In My Own Words.” While not a complete smash, it’s a solid effort with some definite moments of real star power.
Among the highlights are the uptempo first single “Stay” with its infectious beat, and of course, the can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head clean melody and catchy lyrics of Ne-Yo’s current radio offering, “So Sick.” Another lovely song is “Time,” a track where Ne-Yo uses his smooth vocal tone to chastise a man for not making his relationship enough of a priority.
Not everything is up to the high level set by those tracks, though. “When You’re Mad,” about how he thinks his lady is cute when she’s upset, wastes good music on uninspiring lyrics, as does “It Just Ain’t Right.” It’s the opposite problem in “Get Down Like That,” where refreshing-to-hear lyrics about a man refusing to cheat on his girlfriend just don’t seem to gel with the music.
But Ne-Yo clearly has an ear for what makes a successful track, and will probably be doing as much songwriting for himself as he does for other artists in the future.—Deepti Hajela
Jessi Colter, “Out of the Ashes”Rocking out instead of easing into retirement, Jessi Colter sounds as vital now as she did 31 years ago when her hit “I’m Not Lisa” broke beyond the conservative boundaries of country music. Back then, she joined husband Waylon Jennings and friend Willie Nelson at the forefront of the outlaw movement.
Today she comes across as decades younger than her 62 years. Her first album in 21 years draws on blues, gospel, classic rock and country, and the distinctive results are rough and sexual yet gloriously spiritual, like a rockin’ biker bar that evolves into a morning church service.
With producer Don Was, the pianist and singer turns Bob Dylan’s stoner classic “Rainy Day Women .12 & 35” into a New Orleans
strut and the gospel standard “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” into a personal hymn.
But the real story emerges in the original songs: the blues-rocker “Out of the Rain,” featuring Tony Joe White and her husband Jennings in one of his last recordings, and in the sensual directness of “The Phoenix Rises” and the cleansing renewal of “Please Carry Me Home,” a duet with her son Shooter Jennings.
“Out of the Ashes” proves again that Colter is an untapped talent whose occasional dispatches leave listeners hungering for more.—Michael McCall