New sounds: music reviews
"Spring and Fall"
Gawd Aggie Records
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The release of any Paul Kelly record is cause for something of a celebration (even a quiet, personal one), but "Spring and Fall" marks the Aussie singer/songwriter's first collection of new material in five years. If you're a newcomer to Kelly's oeuvre, a little background is in order: Kelly is perhaps Australia's best-loved artist, and he's done it all -- from full band work with The Messengers and electric and acoustic solo releases to writing a book, scoring films and producing and championing other compatriots. Most of all, it's the joyously high quality of everything he puts his name on that makes Kelly an international treasure.
From the opening pair of songs, "New Found Year" and "When a Woman Loves a Man," the music is spacious and beautiful. "Something New" is an honest and loving (no kidding) take on "stepping out." "Time and Tide" offers life lessons that are worth noting, and "I'm on Your Side" is a Dylan-quality love song. In addition to his songwriting, Kelly makes some of the best-sounding records you'll ever hear.
Finally, a large tip 'o the hat to Dan Kelly who, on guitar, matches his uncle's impeccable taste. (Check out "Cold as Canada.")
The Jigsaw Seen
Since the late '80s, Los Angeles's The Jigsaw Seen have been a staple of the indie pop/rock scene, recording numerous singles and EPs as well as contributing to tribute CDs for The Hollies, The Left Banke, The Bee Gees and Henry Mancini (including a much-played cover of "Baby Elephant Walk").
The follow-up to 2011's "Winterland," "Gifted" has a bit of holiday (or anti-holiday) theme with songs like "Christmas Ain't For Christians (Anymore)," "Myth of the Season" and "Pretend it's Christmas." But just as enjoyable as those easy-pop numbers are the instrumental "Couples Skate," which recalls -- with just enough kitsch and embellishment -- the music you might have heard in the '60s at an outdoor skating rink and the hypnotic drone of "Rise of the Snowflake Children." The acoustic guitar-based "Hag of the Barren Trees" brings to mind Traffic's modal "John Barleycorn" days.
The band gets extra credit for spiffy holiday packaging -- and recruiting Joe Berardi to play hurdy gurdy.
"Ultimate Creedence Clearwater Revival: Greatest Hits & All-Time Classics"
Creedence Clearwater Revival
As I get older, I take a bit of solace in the adage that "things get better with age." As music evolves (or devolves, depending on your opinion), the beautiful, gritty rock 'n' roll simplicity of Creedence Clearwater Revival's music has never sounded better.
It is, to borrow a cliche, the perfect storm: John Fogerty drives the truck with incredible songs, deceptively simple sounding guitar work and a voice that, for pure urgency, has never been equaled. Brother Tom's rhythm playing is as Zen as it gets while the rhythm section of Stu Cook and Doug Clifford never stops "chooglin'."
Oh, and the harmonies. Listen to their version of "Cotton Fields." Now that's Americana. You want hoodoo? Look no further than "Run Through the Jungle." And one could certainly make the case that CCR covered blues tunes as well as any British band (and yes, that includes the Stones). That these guys were from the Bay Area is still confounding.
Glancing through the 40-studio tracks, you'll be amazed at how many CCR songs charted in the Top 100 (and perhaps that the lead cut, "Proud Mary," only made it as far as No. 2). The icing on this three-disc set is disc 3, which compiles live tracks recorded in 1970 and 1971. They are "electric" in ways that live cuts rarely are these days. The closer, "Keep on Chooglin,'" is nine minutes and 12 seconds of what makes rock 'n' roll great.