The Listening Post: December 2010

A little late, and all those Christmas carols cut into my listening time.

  • Long Live The Duke & The KingThe Duke & The King. The thing that stands out the most about this album is that is sounds simply beautiful. It’s recorded, mixed, and mastered perfectly, giving the album the warm intimacy of a small live show. The plaintive lead vocals and gorgeous harmonies sound like they could be coming from right in front of you. Great production will only get you so far, and Long Live The Duke & The King has no shortage of quality songs. These songs are a study in contrasts. The music is pure summertime, all warmth. The lyrics, however, are often dark. “Shaky” tells a harrowing tale of drugs and post-traumatic stress and sets it to music that would sound great coming out of a convertible on a warm summer day. Another standout, “Hudson River” is marked by the plea “don’t you take your love away.” Simi Stone sings “No Easy Way Out” which swings with a sunshine-y groove while the lyrics are about despair and loss. The band is named after the con artists in Huckleberry Finn, and the sound matches that image: pastoral, lazy days, and sunshine mixed with danger, loneliness, and a sense of dread. Despite a stellar beginning, the end of the album collapses under the weight of its own pretenses. “You and I” has some of the silliest lyrics since Edie Brickell told us the definition of religion and philosophy, and features a leaden chorus that sits like a bag of rocks in the middle of the song. “Children Of The Sun” strives for some deep message, but never connects. Worst of all is the closing track “Don’t Take That” which appears to be about warning someone not to get on a plane. It’s nearly seven minutes of awful, and the biggest strength of the band (those great harmony vocals) fails miserably…the backing vocals are awkward, tuneless, and out of place. It’s a genuinely depressing end to the album and should have been left on the cutting room floor. With the exception of “Don’t Take That,” even the songs that are undermined by their lyrics still sound beautiful on a casual listening. But in the end it’s the impression that lyricist Simone Felice feels he has something important to say that holds the album back from being a stone cold soul-funk-folk classic.
    Grade: B
  • ****The Greenhornes. On the other hand, The Greenhornes are back with a vengeance. Jack White’s favorite rhythm section and guitarist Craig Fox are back with their first new album in eight years, and they’ve barely skipped a beat. The vibe of **** is a little heavier on old soul music than it is on garage rock, but it still works like a charm. Craig Fox is a fine guitarist and excellent singer, and bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler are Jack White’s favorites for a very good reason: they snap into a pocket like nobody since Duck Dunn and Al Jackson. The Greenhornes are completely enamored with 1960s era rock, but the suit fits. Unlike other 60s rock revivalists like The Grip Weeds, that 60s vibe seems completely natural coming from the Greenhornes. “Jacob’s Ladder” begins like Cream’s “White Room” before turning into the best Face To Face-era song the Kinks never did, and yet it doesn’t sound like they are imitating either Cream or The Kinks. The Greenhornes succeed as garage rock revivalists precisely because their influences are not worn on their sleeves; their influences are hardwired into their DNA. They sweat this stuff out, and in the process it ceases to be the work of 60s garage rock fanboys. It becomes something as real and vital as the best work of the bands that inspired them.
    Grade: A

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