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New Music week of June 29th, 2009: old geezers, young geezers, country geezers, alternative geezers and a coupla Wu Tangs

Questions For the Angels – Paul Simon
Tennessee Jed – Levon Helm
Growing Trade – Levon Helm
Real World 09 – Rob Thomas
Her Diamonds – Rob Thomas
Back when I was a whippersnapper we had a name for this stuff: Middle Of the Road and plonk your car right in the center of the edge here. After a terrific concert last Valentine’s day Simon has boatloads of goodwill in my vehicle and he uses a lot of it here. A pretty shimmer of a glossammer wings of a tune, “Questions For the Angels” is not as good as “St. Judy’s Comet” or “Father And Daughter,” which it faintly resembles. Does Paul have a new kid we’re not aware of? Anyway questions like “If you fall out of a barn store and you don’t get what you bargained for, can you get your money back?” aren’t helping anything very much and I’m not sure if that’s what I’d ask an Angel.. Anyway, this song is so ephemeral it floats away as you’re listening to it. Levon Helm has a great voice, loved him with the Band, liked him at the Beacon this March, the cover of the Grateful Dead’s oldie from “Europe ’72’ “Tennessee Jed” (here is Jerry Garcia crushing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxgRYeO34O4) is magical, all Helm really needs to add is that voice we almost lost to throat cancer but there is a tightness to the arrangement that fits in so well with Helm’s dirt farmer having a hoe down after the crops are reaped persona. The self-penned “Growing trade” is the darker side of growing stuff for a living. Both from “Electric Dirt”. Rob Thomas can’t write a smart lyric but he can write a smart song with a knock out melody and generic vocals, production and sound. “Real World 09” is an astounding clap your hands but not too hard pop trifle, “Her Diamonds” a snooze but not unpleasant and neither song is as good as “Give Me The Meltdown” . All three of the apparently pretty damn good “Cradlesong”.

Best I Ever Had – Drake
Harbor Masters – Wu-Tang
Radiant Jewels – Wu-Tang
Drake is a protogee of Lil Wayne and he is a crushing ladies man who can also rap pretty well. “Best I Ever had” has been a big hit which I am finally getting around to. Who is that rapping with him? He sounds real good. The new Wu is a real interesting mix of old school 70s soul by the Revelations and Wu rappers like Ghostface Killah on the astounding “Harbor Masters” which seems to mesh effotlessly and in a different time would push their album “Chamber Music” hard and fast. RZA is so esoteric his pop chops leave him time after time and year after year but the string hook on “Radiant Jewels” is addictive. It has been so long since any Wu except Ghostface has blown my socks off, really this entire decade is disappointing. My friend and big RZA fan Mike di Gregorio says the tracks are incredible but the raps are missing something.

American Saturday Night – Brad Paisley
Wine Me Up – Tanya Tucker
Love’s Gonna Live Here – Tanya Tucker
Brad Paisley doesn’t seem to be showing off his guitar playing chops on the album “American Saturday Night” but on the song “American Saturday Night” he is playing up a storm, the guitar is country rock and the break and coda is virtuostic kick some patootie prioving last years “Play” was no fluke. Except for “Water,” maybe this is the come back we’ve been hoping for. Who doesn’t love Tanya Tucker? Maybe you know her as Mrs. Glenn Campbell or maybe as a tough country gal but she has had a long and wonderful career behind her and “Wine me Up” is fine and “Love’s Gonna Live here” with Jim Lauderdale sounding more comfortable than on his recent work with Elvis Costello is a hoot and a pleasant country stroll and Tanya sounds like a woman with her problems in the rearview mirror. Both songs are from her new album “My Turn”.

Innocence – Bjork
Shot In The Back Of the Head – Moby
Wilco – Wilco
Got Nuffin – Spoon
Before Bjork went on tour behind her previous album “Volta” in 2007, she recorded a clutch of songs live in the studio and “Innocence” the absolute highlight of “Volta” sounds even better on this exciting and ultimately accessible version. Actually, all four of these songs are so accessible they are a truer middle of the road off center. Spoons return sounds edgy on the sides but it’s a mushy rock standard in the center. I like the (doctored?) guitar sound going from one verse to the other a lot but the stuff in the center is a snooze. Why is Jeff Tweedy so damn unlikable… wouldn’t we be better off if the immensely likable Rob Thomas covered Tweedy’s material? Anyway, this ode to his fanbase isn’t bad. It isn’t good either. Finally, all the background on Moby’s new song is terrific, all the foreground isn’t terrific at all.

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