Foo Fighters Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (RCA)
Dave Grohl has become a reliable professional, a performer who consistently releases product that’s steady and well-crafted. But if he’s never put out a less-than-good album during his decade-plus as a frontman, neither has he issued the sort of next-level mind-blower that would cause the average listener to go from liking his work to loving it. And so it goes on Echoes, a disc that mixes and matches the Fighters’ heavy rockers with acoustic sensitivity showcases. The former tunes are generally more memorable: “The Pretender,” which opens the disc, starts slowly before turning up the juice in a persuasive way, and “Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)” mates ringing riffs with a catchy power-pop melody. However, a few of the quieter ditties work pretty well, too, including the tender “Come Alive” and the concluding “Home” – and “But, Honestly,” a strum-along hybrid that adds electricity on the way to a stirring conclusion, also earns its space. In the end, though, the tracks aren’t a whole lot different from, or better than, previous Foo efforts. Fine job, Mr. Grohl: Another solid B. Still, you haven’t quite qualified for honors class. -- Michael Roberts
Various artists I’m Not There: Original Soundtrack (Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax)
Bob Dylan Dylan (Columbia Legacy)
I’m Not There, an unusual film by director Todd Haynes that features several actors (including the decidedly female Cate Blanchett) portraying Bob Dylan, may be a tough sell, commercially speaking – but at least it’s spawned an intriguing, if scattershot, two-disc soundtrack. Haynes recruited a load of worthy artists to try their hand at Dylan compositions, and most of them attempt to put their own stamp on the material instead of simply aping the master. A few of the resulting tracks get ugly: On her version of “Highway 61 Revisited,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs yelper Karen O offers the sort of self-conscious, overly affected performance capable of inflicting listeners with TMJ, and Antony & the Johnsons’ rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is so drippy that it needs to be wrung out. Others range from okay (Eddie Vedder’s “All Along the Watchtower”) to dull (the somnambulant Jack Johnson medley “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind/A Fraction of Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie”). But that still leaves a lot of fascinating stuff. Recommended offerings include Cat Power’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again;” “Dark Eyes” as performed by Iron and Wine, with backing from Calexico; a stirring “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” courtesy of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the duo from the film Once; “Cold Irons Bound” as delivered by the too-long-absent Tom Verlaine, and more. At least half these songs are worth hearing and having, and for a project like this, that’s way above average.
Meanwhile, Columbia, Dylan’s longtime label, has created Dylan, a new three-CD retrospective – not that there’s anything particularly new on it. Rather than digging up lost tracks, live renditions or other oddities, the programmers have put together a roughly chronological presentation of his best known and/or most representative recordings: “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” etc. This overview approach will have little appeal to listeners with a longtime fascination for the enigmatic Mr. Z – the type of people most likely to see I’m Not There, presumably. Its main value, then, will be for folks who may have lost track of Dylan during portions of his career and want to fill some gaps. For instance, disc three highlights comparatively worthy material from the late ‘80s through the early ‘90s, making the period seem less erratic than it actually was. That’s the sort of reinvention Dylan would appreciate. -- Roberts
The Go! Team Proof of Youth (Memphis Industries/Sub Pop)
The main critical complaint about Proof of Youth seems to be that it doesn’t constitute an enormous advance over the exciting Thunder, Lightning, Strike -- and that’s true. The new disc is built upon roughly the same sonic foundation as its predecessor: a crazily exuberant conglomeration of pop, rock, hip-hop and soundtrack kitsch, with brass an important ingredient. But in the end, such gripes seem churlish and premature. If Ian Parton and his squad put out five albums that strike similar notes, they deserve the spanking they’ll get. In the meantime, though, tracks such as “Grip Like a Vice,” with its infectious groove, “Doing It Right,” which marries Motown with cheerleading chants, and “Flashlight Fight,” co-starring an out of place but effective Chuck D, sound too good to shrug off. This is one enjoyable holding pattern. -- Roberts
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Alper Yilmaz Clashes (Kayique Records)
Rightly or wrongly, bassists seldom get the chance to step forward as band leaders. Because they provide the music’s bottom, they’re regularly topped by players who specialize in traditional solo instruments. Even so, Yilmaz, a Turkish émigré currently living in New York, doesn’t take advantage of his opportunity on Clashes to push his bass to the front of every mix. Far from it: He gives associates such as saxophonists Michael McGinnis and Nick Kadajski plenty of room to express themselves across the length and breadth of his compositions. This egalitarianism pays dividends on the title cut, a moody ten-minute excursion dominated by David Binney’s alto and Jon Davis’ atmospheric Rhodes, and “Junk Mail,” which turns out to be a special delivery. Yet the concluding “Landscapes,” consisting entirely of electric bass work plus assorted loops and effects, proves that Yilmaz doesn’t need to hide behind anyone. A promising debut. -- Roberts
Angie Stone The Art of Love & War (Stax)
Stone has always seemed like a performer born at the wrong time: Had she come along during the late ´60s or early ´70s, she might have become a mega-star, not a cult favorite. Still, things seem to be looking up, at least from an artistic standpoint. The reconstituted Stax imprint is a perfect fit for her talents, and The Art of Love & War, her first release for the company, demonstrates that her old-school R&B aptitude hasn’t dimmed. She participates in several fine collaborations, including “Baby,” which pairs her with vintage soulster Betty Wright, and “My People,” which gets more mileage out of sometime schlockmeister James Ingram than most observers would have expected. But she doesn’t need any help on the effortlessly inspirational “Take Everything In” and the rapturous “Wait For Me.” Both will make listeners happy that Stone came along when she did. -- Roberts