Thumbs Up CDs: Aretha Franklin, Les Savy Fav, Keith Murray
How wonderful is that new Radiohead album? There's not much I can say about In Rainbowsthat hasn't already been covered, except that if, like me, you'd become a little disillusioned with Radiohead over the years, give them another chance on this one. It's such a warmer record than its predecessors—and it's filled with such gorgeous, vulnerable songs—that you won't be disappointed (and if nothing else, the price is right).
The Radiohead album has put me in a good mood, so I might as well spread some of that love around and dole out some belated thumbs ups to a couple of other CDs sitting on my desk:
Aretha Franklin – Rare & Unreleased Records From the Golden Reign of The Queen of Soul: The title of this one just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Still, it's a Rhino compilation, so you know you're in for a treat. This two-disc set collects demos and outtakes from Aretha's most fruitful period, her late-'60s, early-'70s stint on Atlantic, and its stripped-down sessions should be particularly please the younger audiences snapping up vintage soul these days, who tend to like their soul be as raw as possible. Most of these tracks are outtakes and demos, so there are few production flourishes. The first three tracks feature just Aretha, her piano and a nameless drummer and bassist, both of which are about as low in the mix as the tape hiss.
Les Savy Fav – Let's Stay Friends: After a six-year hiatus between albums, rumors of a break-up and scrapped plans for an all-instrumental album, we knew to expect at least some change from this spazzy art-punk band, but Let's Stay Friends is still a surprise. When we last left the group, their hairy frontman Tim Harrington was still playing the role of the wild aggressor, but now he's reinvented himself as the sympathetic protagonist, no longer the conductor of chaos but the victim of it. The band, of course, still works up plenty of frantic, weird and often party-friendly punk songs, but several quieter pieces showcase Harrington's tender side. I never thought I could say this without it being vulgar, but I think I've just been touched by a Les Savy Fav album.
Keith Murray – Rap-Murr-Phobia (Fear of Real Hip-Hop): This one actually came out this summer. It didn't get too much attention, which is a shame since it would have been a great soundtrack for plenty of lazy afternoons lounging on the porch. Murray, whose career has been on a steady decline since his early rise, fires off some passionate, legacy-defending verses here. He's a man intent on proving himself, but producer Erick Sermon, in contrast, is in a laidback mood, and he contributes some breezy, soulful beats for Murray to rage over. Rap-Murr-Phobia is by no means a masterpiece—it's certainly nowhere near as essential as Murray's output with Def Squad—but a couple of tracks here, most notably "Do" and "Nobody Do It Better," are career bests for Murray, and if nothing else the disc is a spirited throwback to the grimy raps and punchy beats of the mid-'90s.