Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Working the Long Game
Lloyd’s songwriting partners this time out include Graham Gouldman (10cc), Tom Petersson (Cheap Trick), Freedy Johnston, and Buddy Mondlock, each of whom Lloyd brings out the best in, and each of whom brings out the Marshall Crenshaw in him. And, no, you won’t be able to tell the collaborative efforts from the two songs that he came up with on his own. Lyrics that illuminate the commonplace are common to both, and sunny power-pop basics are sunny power-pop basics no matter who’s reshuffling the deck.
Live at the Troubadour
Michael Nesmith & the First National Band Redux
“Just think,” says Nesmith six songs in, “it only took me half a century to get back!” Hearty cheers ensue. But while he may have intended this January 2018 concert to be a long-overdue gift to his patient fans, the quality of the performances as documented on this recording make it something else besides: proof that country-rock can be smarter and richer than anything dreamt of in the Eagles’ philosophy. Maybe not in the Byrds’ though, or—in the case of “Different Drum”—Linda Ronstadt’s.
World on Sticks
There are other instruments, but what you’ll notice most are the insistent drums, the taut strings, and the austere spaces that they create, spaces that symbolize Phillips’ vision of the ideally uncluttered heart, mind, and soul as unmistakably as her arid vocals do. There are other extremes—among them, obviousness (“American Landfill Kings,” “How Much Is Enough”) and overcompression (“Teilhard”). Thus builds a tension eventually lanced by the sharpest line (which, climactically enough, occurs in the final song): “Having it all isn’t all we were meant to have.”
This partial tie-in with Rick Altizer’s recent Russ Taff: I Still Believe biodoc has been characterized as “praise and worship,” a tag that might imply something less musically and vocally intense and more thematically and emotionally contrived than what Taff actually delivers. In fact, rooted as it is in Taff’s recent revelation that he has spent years as a legacy alcoholic, it’s not contrived at all. And as far as intensity is concerned, Taff’s as convincing singing “We Will Stand” now as he was 36 years ago.
Bryan Ferry has re-recorded his music before, as far back as 1976, when he remade Roxy Music’s “Sea Breezes” and “Chance Meeting.” And there’ve been Roxy Music live albums aplenty. But with Bitter-Sweet (BMG), he has undertaken his most ambitious revisions to date, subjecting six Roxy Music tracks (“Sea Breezes” and “Chance Meeting” included) and seven of his solo songs to the jazzy sway of his sizable orchestra. Twice he forgoes singing altogether, a rather startling move for a vocalist.
The effect is to render ghostly songs that formerly embodied the art-rock and pop-rock aesthetics at their most sophisticated. Ferry’s suave croon has become diaphanously whispery, and the banjo, brass, and strings replacing the originals’ guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the RMS Titanic. Most telling, many of the song lengths have shrunk significantly, suggesting a distillation without which Ferry, now 73, wouldn’t consider his life’s work complete. —A.O.