Previewing new albums from George Jones, Herbie Hancock, Allure, Ryan Adams, and more.'Rock' Solid
He has been called everything from "Possum" and "No-Show" to country's greatest singer. Now George Jones can add "label partner" to the list. The enduring performer is a partner with former Asylum Records head Evelyn Shriver in Bandit Records, which will release Jones' new album, "The Rock: Stone Cold Country 2001," this week, through a partnership with RCA Label Group (RLG) and its imprint BNA Records.
Produced primarily by Emory Gordy Jr., with four cuts produced by Keith Stegall, "The Rock" is a solid collection of lively uptempo cuts and the kind of sturdy, heartfelt ballads that have long been Jones' stock in trade. Among the highlights is "Tramp on Your Street," a Billy Joe Shaver ballad about Hank Williams that fits the 70-year-old Jones -- whose admiration for Williams is well-documented -- like a glove.
As for the state of new country music, Jones says, it's "like putting a bunch of corn meal and milk together and frying it up -- it's mush. I can't tell what half of it is." It's a cause Jones won't drop: "I'm gonna stay in their front yard as long as possible and raise all the hell I can. I'm gonna stay in this business and haunt them until we get it back."
Back To The 'Future'
After four decades at the keyboard, Herbie Hancock still needs to be on the cutting edge. "It's part of my nature," he insists. "I get excited when trying out new stuff, whether it be an idea or equipment. It stimulates my juices." With the release this week of his new album "Future2Future" on his co-founded Transparent Music, Hancock continues to keep the musical borders open, with a landscape that intertwines live jazz instrumentation with electronic wizardry while traversing drum'n'bass, hip-hop, left-field, and house styles.
Hancock co-produced "Future2Future" with producer/bassist/remix guru Bill Laswell -- the keyboardist's partner for the massively influential 1983 Columbia album "Future Shock" and its international hit single, "Rock It." Also contributing to the collaboration are such club-rooted DJs/producers as Rob Swift ("This Is Rob Swift"), A Guy Called Gerald ("Black Gravity"), and Carl Craig ("Kebero Part 1").
According to Hancock, a practicing Buddhist, he had one requirement for the recording of "Future2Future": "It all had to come from the immediate, spontaneous part of the brain, not the analytical part. It had to come from the heart, with feelings, emotions. And in the end, the album accomplished even more than I set out to achieve."
Here Comes The 'Sun'
Four years ago, Allure thought it had finally arrived. As the first act signed to Mariah Carey's now-defunct Crave imprint through Epic, the New York City-based quartet enjoyed massive crossover success with its rendition of Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam's 1986 No. 3 R&B hit "All Cried Out" -- recording it as a duet with Bad Boy act 112.
Although big things were expected of Allure's sophomore disc, the group disappeared without a trace before that album's release. Now the foursome -- Alia Davis, Akissa Mendez, Lalisha McLean, and Linn Belcher -- is back with Sunny Days, due this week on new label MCA, and it's ready to prove there is more to the group than just one hit. Lead single "Enjoy Yourself," serviced to radio in mid-June, currently stands at No. 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Sales chart.
"We're a lot more aware of what's happening in our careers than before," Davis says. "Back then, we just did what everyone said. If they wanted us to water down our vocals, that's what we did. This album really represents us well. There are real vocals on songs that we really identify with."
Mining For 'Gold'
For those familiar with the brand of barroom rock and misty-eyed balladry Ryan Adams has purveyed with Whiskeytown and as a solo act, it may come as a surprise that "Gold," due this week from Lost Highway, is his most mainstream-leaning, least alt-country, and most uptempo set yet.
Produced by Ethan Johns, who was also at the controls for Whiskeytown's "Pneumonia" and Adams' 2000 solo set "Heartbreaker," the new album "isn't about beating myself up over things or feelings," Adams says. "I think some of the awkwardness is gone. And some of the questions I had to ask are a little bit gone."
The set begins with first single "New York, New York" -- a reflective if rollicking rocker in which Adams bids farewell to "the city and the love of my life" -- and ends with the melancholy "Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard." On the soulful, piano-laden "Rescue Blues," Adams helps a loved one out of an emotional slump only to have the gesture backfire. He dreams of meeting his own little dark poetess on "Sylvia Plath." Adams wrote "When the Stars Go Blue," the album's most gorgeous ballad, in just a few minutes.
Look for Adams on tour in North America and Europe this fall.
'Mountain' Of A Heart
A half-century deep into a career that keeps gaining momentum, mountain-music legend Ralph Stanley offers up another all-star collaboration this week, with his new Rebel Records set, "Clinch Mountain Sweethearts." The set pairs Stanley on duets with a diverse group of female vocalists from the pop, gospel, folk, bluegrass, and traditional/contemporary country worlds, including Joan Baez, Pam Tillis, Gillian Welch, Iris DeMent, Dolly Parton, Maria Muldaur, Sara Evans, and Lucinda Williams
Stanley, 74, says he personally chose most of his duet partners, largely based on whether they could handle "my style of music and the way I play and sing. I wanted to keep as much of the Stanley sound as I could."
The new record boasts numerous highlights, including a rambunctious "Ridin' That Midnight Train" with DeMent; a chilling "Oh Death" with Welch; a delicate, melodic rendering of "Loving You Too Well" with Parton; and the soaring honky-tonker "The Memory of Your Smile" with Muldaur. Seely and Stanley take a gospel stance on "I'm Ready to Go," Tillis and Stanley offer a subtle take on "Will You Miss Me," and Williams sounds Appalachia-authentic on the backwoods wake-up call "Further Along."
Additional titles hitting stores this week include pianist/songwriter Jim Brickman's "Simple Things" (Windham Hill); modern rock act the Verve Pipe's third major-label album, "Underneath" (RCA); comedy rock duo Tenacious D's self-titled debut (Epic); singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega's "Songs in Red and Gray" (A&M); soul vocalist Kenny Lattimore's "Weekend" (Arista); actor Billy Bob Thornton's "Private Radio" (Lost Highway); U.K. rock outfit Spiritualized's "Let It Come Down" (Arista); modern rock act Transmatic's self-titled debut (Immortal/Virgin); a self-titled album from modern rock group Days of the New (Outpost); vocalist Joy Enriquez's self-titled set (Arista); singer/songwriter Carole King's "Love Makes the World" (Rockingdale); ex-Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar's "Sebastopol" (Fellow Guard/Artemis); rapper Que Bo Gold's "Red Clay" (Universal); hip-hop act L.A. Symphony's, "Call It What You Want" (Squint); newcomer Kenna's "New Sacred Cow" (Flawless/Interscope); and a Hank Williams Sr. tribute album, "Timeless," featuring tracks by Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, and Johnny Cash (Lost Highway).
Also out this week is singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright III's "Last Man on Earth" (Red House); former Split Enz/Crowded house principal Tim Finn's "feeding the gods" (W.A.R.?); guitarist Charlie Hunter's "Songs from the Analog Playground" (Blue Note); an album of previously unreleased material from ethereal pop outfit Innocence Mission, "Small Planes" (W.A.R.?); hard rock act King's X's "Manic Moonlight" (Metal Blade); eclectic rock act Los Straitjackets' "Sing Along with" (Yep Roc); modern rock group Sense Field's "Tonight and Forever" (Nettwerk); punk veterans the Suicide Machines' "Steal This Record" (Hollywood); the soundtrack to the film "Serendipity" (Columbia); and live albums from singer/songwriter Dar Williams ("Out There Live," Razor & Tie) and progressive rock mainstays Queensryche ("Evolution Live," Sanctuary).