Previewing albums from Aerosmith, Eve, Delbert McClinton, Pam Tillis, Blake Babies, Amy Ray.
Aerosmith's "Just Push Play" (Columbia) is the first self-produced album of the band's career. And if the success of first single "Jaded" (in its 5th week at No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart) is any indication, the decision to do it themselves was a smart one. While it eschewed a big-name producer, the band did enlist outside songwriting collaborators Mark Hudson and Marti Frederiksen for the set, which was recorded at guitarist Joe Perry's Boneyard studio outside of Boston.
Aerosmith originally went in the studio with Matt Serletic, who produced the group's No. 1 smash "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" from the soundtrack to the 1998 film "Armageddon." But the sessions "didn't ever get out of pre-production," according to the band's A&R executive, John Kalodner.
Perry thinks the switch has made all the difference. "We didn't want to do a color-by-numbers with a big name producer," he said. "My stomach would get in a knot when we were considering other producers. Now it feels more organic. We didn't have to reproduce our energy, which is what usually happens when you work with a big outside producer. We just let go and the sparks flew."
Stung By Eve
"You are so overwhelmed when you go from your regular life of chillin' on the block to being around a million people," Eve says of the success of her 1999 Ruff Ryders/Interscope debut "Let There Be . . . Eve-Ruff Ryders' First Lady." The artist returns this week with "Scorpion," led by first single "Who's That Girl?," which is No. 16 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.
The 13-song set includes another strong single contender, "Livin' Life Is So Hard." It was produced by Shok and features veteran songstress Teena Marie. "That song is like 'Heaven Only Knows' from my last album," Eve says. "'Heaven' was my transition: growing up to the point where I was at that time."
Among the guests on "Scorpion" are DMX on "Eve & X," as well as producer Swizz Beatz, who contributes four cuts. Dr. Dre, who signed Eve to her first contract but did not release any of her music, appears on two tracks.
Tillis' Sweet 'Rose'
For Pam Tillis, the songs on her first Arista/Nashville album in two years, "Thunder & Roses," are like conversations. And with the release of the disc's initial single, "Please," the gifted singer/songwriter resumes a long-running dialogue with both country radio and her fans.."There have been a few songs in my life that the first time I heard them I cried, and that was one of them," she says of the track, which is No. 26 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
Tillis, who won the Country Music Assocation female vocalist of the year honor in 1994, says all the cuts on "Thunder & Roses" are intensely personal. "To me, the common thread is that they all seem like conversations that I've had," she says. "Either I've been the talker or the listener, [sometimes] with my friends [talking about] stuff they are going through in their lives and what they are dealing with."
One of the songs on "Thunder & Roses" that is likely to generate the most attention is "Waiting On The Wind," which finds Tillis linking up with another voice of experience -- that of her father, legendary country vocalist Mel Tillis.
A 'Blessed' Return
Blake Babies drummer Freda Love says it was "laughably comfortable" recording "God Bless The Blake Babies," the trio's first album in a decade. "It cracked us up a couple of times that it felt like no time had passed. It felt exactly same." Love, along with bassist Juliana Hatfield and guitarist John Strohm, formed the Babies in Boston in 1986 and grew to great acclaim on the college rock circuit.
The group parted company in 1991 to pursue other projects; Love (with Strohm) in Antenna and later with her husband Jake Smith in Mysteries Of Life, Hatfield a solo career, and Strohm in Velo-Deluxe and Hello Strangers. But the trio reconvened in December 1999, and wound up putting 12 songs to tape with producer Paul Mahern at Echo Park Studios in Bloomington, Ind.
Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando guests on the track "Brain Damage," which was co-written with Australian singer/songwriter Ben Lee. "We always considered him an original member," Love said of Dando, who played bass on the Blake Babies' 1989 album, "Earwig." A short tour in support of the new set is underway now.
McClinton's Getting 'Personal'
Delbert McClinton's "Nothing Personal" (New West) marks a career milestone for the venerable Texas roots-rocker. "It's the first record I own," says McClinton, who had finished product in hand before securing a deal with the Austin, Texas-based indie.
"I made the record for me and nobody else, with songs that aren't necessarily what people are used to hearing me do," he explains. "Every other time I made a record, they set me up with a producer and a budget and gave me five days to get it done, but I did this one over 10 months. Half of it was done in California with a lot of players who used to be in Bonnie Raitt's band. The other half was in Nashville with my band."
Among the standout cuts is "Birmingham Tonight," which features a duet with Iris DeMent. "She has the most unique female voice I've heard," says McClinton, who previously sang on DeMent's "Trouble," a track from her 1996 album "The Way I Should."
Ray Goes 'Stag'
Indigo Girl Amy Ray will make her solo debut this week with "Stag." The set will be released on the artist's 11-year-old, not-for-profit independent label, Daemon Records. The solo effort reflects Ray's Southern punk and indie-rock loyalties and is a departure from her work with the multi-platinum Indigo Girls.
According to Ray, "'Stag' is heavily influenced by the musicians who helped create it. The music of bands like the Butchies, the Rock*A*Teens, and Danielle Howle is what truly inspired me to make this record."
Durham, N.C., indie punk group the Butchies are Ray's backing band on half the album, and those five tracks were recorded by Chris Stamey (the dB's). Southern gothic punkers the Rock*A*Teens, who have recorded on Daemon and Merge, also provide backup on the record. Country/folk/metal heroine Howle adds her distinctive vocals to a couple of tracks.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include R&B quartet 112's "Part III" (Bad Boy/Arista); pop/rock outfit Semisonic's "All About Chemistry" (MCA); country artist Neil Coty's "Legacy" (Mercury); hip-hop group Beatnuts' "Take It Or Squeeze It" (Loud); R&B duo Koffee Brown's debut album "Mars/Venus" (Arista); hard rock act Alien Ant Farm's debut album "ANThology" (New Noize/DreamWorks); producer/multi-instrumentalist Steve Fisk's "999 Levels Of Undo" (Sub Pop); modern rock act Oleander's "Unwind" (Universal); eclectic rockers Rocket From The Crypt's "Group Sounds" (Vagrant); electronic act Kings Of Convenience's "Quiet Is The New Loud" (Source/Astralwerks); indie rock combo Lenola's "Treat Me To Some Life" (File 13); and rock favorites Love Tractor's first album in 12 years, "The Sky At Night" (Razor & Tie).
Also out this week is jazz veteran Bradford Marsalis' "Creation" (Sony Classical); vocalist Mikaila's self-titled debut (Island); hard rock veterans Napalm Death's "Enemy Of The Record" (Spitfire); a cappella group Rockapella's "In Concert" (J-Bird); an album from electronic artist Scanner under the name ScannerFunk, "Wave Of Light By Wave Of Light" (Beggars Banquet); greatest hits sets from celebrated songwriter Burt Bacharach and rapper Big Daddy Kane (Rhino); and a compilation from Brit rock luminaries the Kinks, "BBC Sessions 1964-1994" (CMC Intl).