Previewing new releases from Maxwell, Nathan Larson, Tom McRae, Bill Janovitz, Robbie Fulks, and more.
'Now' Or Never
Maxwell is living in the moment. The self-described "perfectionist" reveals that he is learning to stop worrying about the future and trying to enjoy more of the present. That attitude is reflected in the songs and title of his third studio album, "Now," due this week from Columbia. A North American tour runs through Oct. 22.
"With my first album [1996's "Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite"], my thoughts about love were idealistic," the artist says. "A lot of what's happened to me since then has taught me that things can't be perfect. With my second album [1998's "Embrya"], which got a mixed reaction, I saw how much people cared, and I learned who my friends really were. I had people who let me see my vision and accepted it. That was meaningful to me and helped make doing ["Now"] a lot easier."
The romantic, sensual "Now" has plenty of ballads that should help solidify Maxwell's position as one of today's leading R&B crooners. These cuts include "Lifetime," the project's second single, and a heartfelt rendition of "This Woman's Work," a Kate Bush tune that Maxwell recorded live for his 1997 "MTV Unplugged EP." The song "Fortunate," which Maxwell contributed to the soundtrack of the movie "Life," was the No. 1 Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop single of 1999 and is a hidden bonus track on the new set.
It's the rare young musician who has the talent and temperament to embark on two artistic career paths, let alone three. Nathan Larson is one such musician. The former guitarist for challenging art-rock quartet Shudder to Think, Larson moved into the film-scoring realm after the 1999 breakup of his band, becoming a hot item in short order. Now, he is aiming to make his mark as a pop singer/songwriter with his Artemis solo debut, "Jealous God."
The album will surprise those who know Larson from the metallic glam of Shudder to Think's two Epic sets or from his 1996 all-star prog-rock side project, Mind Science of the Mind. A fan of such gospel/soul artists as Al Green and Aretha Franklin, Larson began writing songs influenced by their "organic, straight-from-the-heart" balladry as a reaction to the dense Shudder/Mind Science punk-prog din. He explains, "After all that loud math, I wanted to see if I could write quieter, relaxed songs that were compelling with just four major chords -- it was a real challenge."
Larson rose to the challenge with grace on "Jealous God," the heart of which is in the twilight balladry of "I Must Learn to Live Alone," "Hello, Flame," and "We Don't Need Anybody (To Tell Us Our Game)," as well as in the gospel-accented lyricism of the title track, "What If I Fade," and "We Will Know Thee by Thy Bloody Rings." Look for the artist on tour in North America this fall.
Song Of Songs
It's another busy week in the world of singer/songwriters, led by highly touted U.K. newcomer Tom McRae's self-titled db/Arista debut. Since its international release last year, the album has been lauded for its disarming honesty, making several critics' best-of 2000 lists and recently being nominated for the U.K.'s sought-after Mercury Music Prize. "My music might be sad, but it's also hopeful -- I mean, the reason I write is to get from sad to hopeful," he says.
Buffalo Tom frontman Bill Janovitz's "Up Here" (spinART) is a little more sweet, with such tracks as "Light in December," a tribute to his two-year-old daughter. "It's almost like if I heard myself saying these words 10 years ago, I would have been like, 'Oh, no. Don't ever become that guy. You've got to stay edgy and cynical,' " the 35-year-old Janovitz says, laughing. "But that [vow] just went out the window two months after I had a kid. You're just sitting there with a guitar, and the words that come out are the words that you're living."
Then again, alt-country artist Robbie Fulks has had his fun. He wrote his share of novelty-tagged tunes, explicitly ridiculed the Nashville country establishment, and mocked the genre's reliance on faith on his 1998 major-label debut for DreamWorks. But Fulks will have none of that now. To prove it, he has a new album, "Couples in Trouble," due this week from his own Boondoggle imprint.
"A song has to have some sort of earnestness and purpose behind it," Fulks says. "While I still think that some of my funny songs are defensible on those grounds, there needs to be a seriousness behind the craft. This is my first record that is entirely made up of utterly straight-faced earnestness, which will probably kill what little career I have."
Elvis Costello's Columbia and Warner Bros. catalog gets a full overhaul beginning this week with the re-releases of his 1977 debut, "My Aim Is True"; his Warner Bros. bow, "Spike" (1989); and his final Warner studio set, "All This Useless Beauty" (1996). Rhino will issue a new set of Costello albums every three months through early 2003.
Of the bonus material, Costello says, "[For] 'My Aim Is True,' there isn't an awful lot of additional material, apart from what came out on the original reissue. A couple of tracks that were missing then have come to light, gladly [including] a killer version of 'No Action' that was cut at the same session as 'Watching the Detectives.'"
A wealth of extra material intended for "All This Useless Beauty" exists, "including some alternate versions of some songs that have totally different arrangements, ranging from acoustic-guitar demos done in proper studios to very funky-sounding 4-track demos done at home on a cheap 4-track recorder," Costello says.
Meanwhile, five Simon & Garfunkel's Columbia studio albums -- "Bookends," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Sounds of Silence," "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.," and "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme" -- will be reissued this week, each with a host of bonus tracks, new liner notes, and photos. Those discs will also be combined into a separate box set, "The Columbia Studio Recordings: 1964-1970," also due this week. Because the albums will be housed in cardboard sleeves within this special packaging, the liner notes and photos have been bound into a special book for the box set.
Back From The 'Grave'
Sometimes it takes 25 years for a band to get its due respect. While the Sex Pistols and the Clash are usually credited as the seminal English punk bands, it was actually the Damned who put out Britain's first official punk single when they released "New Rose" in October 1976. Some 25 years later, the group is back with the new album "Grave Disorder," due this week on Nitro.
The set marks the first collaboration in more than 20 years between frontman Dave Vanian and original guitarist/showman extraordinaire Captain Sensible. It also marks the departure of founding drummer Rat Scabies, who has been replaced by Pinch (ex-English Dogs; ex-Janus Stark). The new, 13-track set deftly showcases his skills, as well as the funky, sexy bass prowess of Patricia Morrison (ex-Sisters of Mercy; ex-Gun Club), and the moody, often spooky, keyboard playing of Monty Oxy Moron. Sensible's always searing, melody-driven guitar leads and Vanian's sensuous, Iggy Pop-meets-Jim Morrison croon.
Vanian indulges his romantic side on "She," a raunchy valentine to Morrison, who happens to be his wife. "In lots of ways it's purely Patricia's pushing that got this whole thing off in the first place," Vanian admits. "She really worked hard on building the band up." The Damned will be on tour in North America through Nov. 3.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include rapper Juvenile's "Project English" (Universal); rappers the Ultramagnetic MCs' "Four Horsemen" (Jcor/Interscope); the Rollins Band's "Nice" (Sanctuary); the various artists soundtrack to the film "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (Universal); U.K. rock veterans the Waterboys' "A Rock in the Weary Land" (Razor & Tie); a collaboration between Guided by Voices principals Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout under the name Airport 5, "Tower in the Fountain of Sparks" (Fading Captain Series); beloved indie duo Quasi's "The Sword of God" (Touch & Go); and ever-experimental artist Laurie Anderson's "Life on a String" (Nonesuch).
Also out this week is all-star indie rock outfit Pullman's "Viewfinder" (Thrill Jockey); U.K. rock act Toploader's "Onka's Big Moka" (Epic); the debut album from the U.K.'s Lupine Howl, featuring ex-members of Spiritualized, "Carnivorous Lunar Adventures of..." (Beggars Banquet); modern rock group Half Cocked's "The Last Star" (DreamWorks); singer/songwriter Catie Curtis; "My Shirt Looks Good on You" (Rykodisc); edgy indie rock combo the Faint's "Danse Macabre" (Saddle Creek); the latest album from oft-rotating Warn Defever's His Name Is Alive project, "Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth" (4AD/Beggars Banquet); a reissue of pianist George Winston's landmark 1980 debut album, "Autumn" (Windham Hill); and vocalist Dante Thomas' "Fly" (Elektra).