The latest edition of Beyond Playlist includes reviews of the Jonas Brothers' A Little Bit Longer; the original soundtrack to the film Hallam Foe, featuring numerous Domino Records artists; a jazz compilation, Justin Time Records 25th Anniversary Collection; and Bits by Oxford Collapse.
Jonas Brothers A Little Bit Longer (Hollywood)
Over the years, Rolling Stone has made a habit of overrating currently popular albums in a frequently sad effort to seem in touch with the zeitgeist: Remember their championing of Hootie & The Blowfish? So when I saw the mag had bequeathed four stars upon A Little Bit Longer, I naturedly figured the Stone scribes were at it again. But although the disc is not nearly strong enough to deserve that rating, neither is it the sonic catastrophe I’d anticipated. Some of the sonic Bazooka on display has had most of the flavor chewed out of it, but the rest tastes pretty sweet.
Granted, there are several underwhelmers on hand. Before “Lovebug” erupts in ripe guitar, it sounds like something by (shudder) Jack Johnson Jr., and despite the fact that pre-teen girls will no doubt swoon over “Can’t Have You,” it struck me as more queso than chips. Big ballads like the lugubrious title cut didn’t activate my tear ducts, either. But there’s quite a bit of hyper-catchy power pop on hand, including the opener, “BB Good,” and “Got Me Going Crazy,” whose production actually qualifies as clever. And although I don’t feel especially comfortable adding to the chorus of historically revisionist Hosannas in regard to the first single, “Burnin’ Up,” for reasons that can be summed up in three words – “embarrassing rap section” – I caught myself humming it the other day totally against my will.
Oh my God: The Jonas Brothers have their hooks in me, too! -- Michael Roberts
Various artists Hallem Foe: Original Soundtrack (Domino)
Given the downturn in the music business, of which I presume you’ve heard a thing or two, fewer soundtrack albums are being released – and those that reach stores tend to be of the castoff-tracks-by-famous-people variety, as opposed to film tie-ins that use tunes in an imaginative or thematic way. But the disc issued in conjunction with Hallem Foe, a Jamie Bell flick set for stateside release in early September, is a pleasant exception. The recording was originally released in the U.K. last year, but it’s finally ready for its American closeup – and stateside Anglophiles will undoubtedly feel that the wait was worthwhile.
The recording spotlights artists from Domino, a British label that’s had as good a track record of finding interesting and accessible performers as any current imprint of late. As a result, the CD works as a fine Domino sampler – but it also flows like an intelligently assembled mix tape. The songs that rock, such as Orange Juice’s “Blue Boy” and Clinic’s “If You Could Read Your Mind,” do so in a rather foreboding way, and down-tempo efforts such as King Creosote’s “The Someone Else” and Juana Molina’s “Salvese Quien Pueda” prove to be wonderfully evocative. Other highlights include Sons and Daughters’ “Broken Bones,” “Here on My Own” by U.N.P.O.L. and Psapp’s whimsical “Tricycle” – and if Cinema’s “They Nicknamed Me Evil” doesn’t quite live up to its name, well, what could?
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but after listening to Hallem Foe, I feel as if I had, and liked it a great deal. Not many soundtracks can pull off that trick these days, but this one does. -- Roberts
Various artists Justin Time Records 25th Anniversary Collection (Justin Time)
Like Domino, Justin Time has established such a strong track record that music lovers – specifically those with a fondness for jazz – pay as much attention to its name on an album as they do to the artist who made it. No wonder this two-CD compilation proves to be so satisfying.
A handful of jazz luminaries have cut tracks with Justin Time over the years, including Diana Krall (represented here by a sprightly take on “This Can’t Be Love”) and Oscar Peterson, who duets with Dave Young on “OP & D.” For the most part, though, the company has provided a home for musicians a step or two out of the mainstream. First among equals is saxophonist David Murray, who checks in on several strong (and varied) numbers: “Sacred Ground,” which teams him and his Black Saint Quartet with an especially evocative Cassandra Wilson; “Gwotet,” performed with assistance from the Gwo-Ka Masters and Pharoah Sanders; and the World Saxophone Quartet, the foursome behind an amazing deconstruction of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” fronted by guitarist/vocalist James “Blood” Ulmer. Other worthy contributors include longtime Colorado resident Hugh Ragin (“Not a Moment Too Soon”), Paul Bley (“Startled”) and Oliver Jones (“Good Day Miss Lee”).
Indeed, the only misstep her is the inclusion of a ghastly version of “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears vocalist David Clayton-Thomas. It’s proof that Justin Time isn’t perfect. But the imprint comes a lot closer than most of its rivals. -- Roberts
Oxford Collapse Bits (Sub-Pop)
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Simplicity is a usually a good thing in rock and roll – but when something that’s ostensibly straight-forward gradually reveals unexpected complexity, the results can be even better. That’s certainly the case with Bits, by Brooklyn’s Oxford Collapse. In the beginning, the tracks don’t seem to be full of surprises, yet they become more sonically interesting with each subsequent listen.
Take “The Birthday Wars.” First time around, the track comes across as an uncomplicated bash, replete with Dan Fetherston’s trash-can drums and lyrics about how “it only happens once a year.” But Michael Pace’s guitar playing juxtaposes exuberant chording with precise picking that finds a corollary in the way his vocals blend with those of bassist Adam Rizer. These elements lift the song without making the cut seem any less spontaneous. Likewise, “Young Love” gives off a raucous vibe, replete with repetitions of the phrase, “So it goes.” However, the vivacious approach gives way at the two-thirds point to a melancholy passage in which Pace asks, “Why can’t we go home/And spend some time alone?” – a question ultimately answered by hammering riffs and falsetto oooh-ooohs whose sloppiness only enhances their charm.
Clearly, there’s more to Oxford Collapse than initially meets the ear. -- Roberts