Van Lear Rose
This is what happens when you put a 69-year-old honky-tonk legend in the studio with one of contemporary rock ’n’ roll’s rowdiest raw talents. Loretta Lynn was born to a family of coal miners in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, and had four kids by the time she was 18. She’s the real deal. And who better to channel her grit than Jack White of The White Stripes, newly (and rightly) rich and famous for eviscerating the soul of rock ’n’ roll? Turns out White’s been a fan for a while, and he even dedicated his first album to Lynn.
But for as much as Van Lear Rose presented a golden opportunity for White to pay homage to Lynn’s honest down-home sound, it’s also a country album, and White respectfully allows Lynn room to tell her story. This is her first album of entirely original songs, and most of them are at least partly autobiographical. White performs a duet with Lynn on “Portland, Oregon,” but otherwise his influence is limited to the uniquely raunchy sound of his vintage equipment and single-take approach.
Even if you think yourself incapable of enjoying a country record, you won’t be able to keep from stomping your feet to the romping “High on a Mountain” or melting to Lynn’s sultry, salty wailing on “Have Mercy on Me.” Have mercy, indeed! (Yogesh Simpson)
This band looks, from the promo photo, like a bunch of desperate recruits in a cover band that will try anything once miserably, a frat-party favorite that has gotten inexplicably big in its hometown and taken the ill-advised step of hitting the road. Look, I’m not saying that press photo extrapolation is an especially exacting discipline. But I see a lot of them, and leaping to conclusions keeps things spicy.
And The Foxx—old friends from other bands recently reunited in their hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico—at first listen seem practically incompetent. It sounds like the drummer isn’t even going to make it through one bar of the most basic 4/4 beat. Then you realize that a certain feigned incompetence is a big part of the appeal. By the end of “Bands (Don’t Want Me to Dance),” the third song on this eponymous debut, The Foxx is downright irresistible, having shoplifted enough Stones, Sweet, Go-Gos and Cheap Trick memorabilia for two glam tribute bands and a New Wave side project. And hosannas to this lyrical distillation of sweaty-palmed teendom, which in a perfect world would have been audible on the soundtrack during the school dance in Sixteen Candles: “I wanna hold you as we’re moving our feet/I wanna kiss you in a teenage heat/I want my heart left at the scene of the beat, oh yeah/I want confusion.” This rules. (Andy Smetanka)
The Foxx plays Area 5 on Monday, July 26.
The Slow Wonder
A.C. “Carl” Newman wears the pants in the New Pornographers family, and there’s no better proof of his genius for arranging than what you can find on his first solo outing. While it lacks the electric headrush of the last New Pornographers (and the almost literally phoned-in vocals of Neko Case), it’s cut from essentially the same cloth. Think of it maybe as a lowercase New Pornographers, an understudy New Pornographers, a totally different band (which it is) handed a clear set of operating instructions (from two stellar New Pornographers albums) by a songwriter who knows what he wants. Newman’s beta band knows exactly what the part calls for and what they need to wear.
Anyway, big things come in small packages. The Slow Wonder packs some big, intricate arrangements compactly into 11 slim little songs stuffed with pop detail and gracile filigree. Dig those subtle handclaps on “Drink to Me, Babe, Then.” Dig that whistling! Man, I love pop songs with whistling. There may never be another Elmo Tanner, but even the most distracted attempt to keep the art alive pretty much has me at hello. (Andy Smetanka)
If the tranquil cover art and title of this record don’t immediately soothe you, Hayden Desser’s plaintive, mumbling ballads will go down like a warm glass of whiskey. The simple Neil Young-like melodies, short tracks, and unpolished vocals lend themselves easily to the illusion of an unrehearsed lake-side porch session. What saves Desser’s Elk-Lake Serenade from slipping into a self-indulgent stupor are clever turns of phrase and an impressive stable of accompanists.
The two liveliest numbers, “Hollywood Ending” and “My Wife,” are animated by horns and psychedelic keyboards, respectively, and the down-tempo tracks like “Wide Eyes” and “Home by Saturday” are textured by somber strings and pedal steel guitar. Love is either lost, found, almost lost or almost found in one form or another on nearly every track—on “Killbear,” Dessen’s love is literally eaten by a grizzly bear. Instead of self-pity, Hayden’s laments are steeped in a kind of reluctant acceptance narrated by specific stories with darkly comic undertones: “If I’d been there . . . I would’ve yelled and banged pots.” With Elk-Lake, Hayden has elbowed his way into the quiet, unassuming company of singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist contemporaries like Iron and Wine and the late Elliot Smith. (Yogesh Simpson)