Previewing albums from Starsailor, Hank Williams Jr., the "I Am Sam" soundtrack, and more.
'Love' For Sale
In the grand tradition of such recent U.K. exports as Oasis, the Verve, Travis, and Coldplay, Starsailor's Capitol debut, "Love Is Here," arrives in North America this week accompanied by the kind of hype that only the U.K. music press can provide. The set debuted at No. 2 in the U.K. in October and includes the top-20 U.K. singles "Good Souls" and "Fever," as well as the No. 10 hit "Alcoholic."
To frontman James Walsh, the comparisons to the aforementioned acts are flattering. "We don't try to sound like anyone," he says. "But if it turns out that way, it's helpful because it turns people on to our music." Ultimately, the goal is to be "remembered as an artist 10 to 20 years down the line on whatever scale, really. I think the ideals [for us] are the pedestal ones like Neil Young or -- the real pie in the sky -- Bob Dylan. If you aim for something that seems totally ludicrous, even if you can only get halfway there, then you're laughing."
Starsailor set off on its maiden U.S. tour last month and will be supporting U.K. veteran rock act the Charlatans beginning Jan. 15 in San Francisco. A headlining tour is in the works for this spring.
The 'Club' Is Open
Hank Williams Jr.'s "Almeria Club" (Curb) is a rootsy, diverse project that examines the artist's musical loves, with a reverent nod to his legendary father. "I've made a lot of albums in my life and won a few awards, and I wanted to do something that had some substance to it this time around," Williams says. "The time was right."
The bulk of the project was recorded at the Almeria Club, a 100-year-old schoolhouse-turned-social-club in South Alabama that, in the mid-'40s, hosted performances by Hank and Audrey Williams, Hank Jr.'s parents. Guest musicians include Jimmy Hall, "Cowboy" Eddie Long, Nickel Creek, and Kid Rock, whom Williams describes as his "rebel son."
The result is an exuberant, live-sounding album that owes nearly as much to blues as to country. Williams is quick to acknowledge his love for blues music, apparent on such raucous cuts as "Last Pork Chop." The set also touches on rockabilly ("Go Girl Go"), swing ("If the Good Lord's Willin'," "X-treme Country"), acoustic folk/blues ("Tee Tot Song"), and stone country ("The Cheatin' Hotel," "The 'F' Word").
'Sam' I Am
Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, the Black Crowes, Sarah McLachlan, the Wallflowers, Ben Harper, and Nick Cave are among the artists who have recorded Beatles covers for the V2 soundtrack to "I Am Sam," starring Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer. The album, due this week, also features Beatles covers by Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, Sheryl Crow, Ben Folds, Paul Westerberg, Grandaddy, Stereophonics, Heather Nova, the Vines, Howie Day, Chocolate Genius, and Rufus Wainwright and Sean Lennon.
The film centers around the struggles of the mentally challenged Sam Diamond (Penn), who is trying to retain custody of his young daughter just as her burgeoning mental capacity threatens to overshadow his own. Penn's character is obsessed with Beatles minutiae, from the John Lennon posters that adorn his apartment to the naming of his daughter Lucy as an homage to the song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," covered on the soundtrack by the Black Crowes.
And while listeners have gotten used to soundtracks loaded with songs that have no bearing on the movie itself, "I Am Sam" producer Rick Solomon of Bedford Falls Company says, "these songs and these usages have existed in every single draft" of the five-year-old script. "Getting Eddie [Vedder] was the lynchpin to everything," Solomon adds. "He's friends with Sean [Penn]. He gives you such unbelievable artistic credibility. We were then able to get these other wonderful people, and it seems like they're all very much of a piece with one another."
'Webb' Of Admirers
Nearly 11 years after his death, Webb Pierce is finally getting the accolades he deserves. In October he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and this week, Audium Records will release the tribute album "Caught in the Webb: A Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce." The project was conceived and produced by Gail Davies, a hitmaking artist in the '70s and '80s who barely knew Pierce but was a longtime fan of his music. Her first hit, "No Love Have I," was a Pierce song.
The flamboyant Pierce charted an amazing 96 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart between 1952 -- when he hit with his first No. 1 record, "Wondering" -- and 1982, when he reprised his 1955 hit "In the Jailhouse Now" as a duet with Willie Nelson. All 13 of Pierce's No. 1 records are included on the 21-song "Caught in the Webb." They include "There Stands the Glass," a 12-week No. 1 for Pierce performed here by BR549, Emmylou Harris' "Wondering," Allison Moorer's "Back Street Affair," and Mandy Barnett's "Slowly," a 17-week No. 1 for Pierce. Guy Clark performs "Honky Tonk Song" backed by the Jordanaires, who sing on four of the album's tracks.
Other performers on the album are Charley Pride, Rosie Flores, George Jones, Robbie Fulks and Joy Lynn White, Matt King, Crystal Gayle, the Del McCoury Band, Lionel Cartwright, Willie Nelson, Billy Walker with the Grand Ole Opry's Carol Lee Singers, and Trent Summar. Kevin Welch duets with Pierce's daughter, Deborah, on "Why Baby Why," and Pam Tillis performs "No Love Have I," one of many Pierce hits written by her father, Mel Tillis.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- "Live and Unreleased from Farmclub.com" (UTV), featuring performances from the defunct TV show "Jimmy & Doug's Farmclub" by Staind, Eminem, DMX, and Ja Rule, among others
-- blues veteran Mose Allison's "The Mose Chronicles -- Live in London, Volume Two" (Blue Note)
-- singer/songwriter Rory Block's "I'm Every Woman" (Rounder)
-- new albums from slack key guitarists Keola Beamer ("Kaleo O Loko (Soliloquy)") and Ozzie Kotani ("To Honor a Queen") (Dancing Cat)
-- the Alison Brown Quartet's live album, "Replay" (Compass)
-- a new EP from female a cappella quintet Zap Mama, "Push It to the Max" (Luaka Bop)
-- electronic act Lunatic Calm's long-delayed "Breaking Point" (City of Angels/V2)
-- reissues of the Nanci Griffith albums "Once in a Very Blue Moon," "Poet in My Window," and "There's a Light Beyond These Woods" (Philo/Rounder)
-- reissues of the Frank Sinatra albums "Close to You and More," "Come Swing With Me," "Conducts Tone Poems of Color," "Nice 'N' Easy," "No One Cares," "Point of No Return," and "Where Are You" (Capitol)