Pistol Annies, Annie Up (RCA Nashville)
It’s slightly worrisome that three combined talents can’t match one member’s solo effort, although maybe that says as much about the perils of collectivism as it does Ashley Monroe’s pop gifts. Still, there’s only one out-and-out dud among these dozen portraits of imperfection and feisty pride (a trite “Loved By A Workin’ Man”), and most numbers claim an admirable devotion to detailing the downsides of lives lived roughly - rehab stints, dinner-table propaganda, alcoholism as family tradition, depression entrenched beyond self-medication’s relief, agony over an abusive relationship’s end because a child means it might never be over, the ugliness inherent in a fashion industry selling beauty as unobtainable ideal. So credit the meaty guitars, lithe mandolins, and Lambert, Presley, and Monroe’s songwriting gifts and broadly-accented vocals for keeping such dark affairs moving briskly along, all before going out on a warm farewell that pines for the storybook romance they’ve spent the previous forty minutes dismantling. They’re so disarmingly savvy it’s worth asking if there’s more to that working man song than first seems apparent. After all, in this economy, there’s hardly enough work going around. Wouldn’t be the first time a working man was being propped up by a woman offering both financial and emotional support.
Chance The Rapper, Acid Rap (self-released)
Lil B take note. This young Chicagoan just bested you on the based front, sampling Willie Hutch’s “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” as if nobody thought to do so before and dropping a “hidden track” in the midst of song number two, complete with twenty seconds of silence separating “Pusha Man” from “Paranoia”. Drenched in the pleasures afforded by recreational drug use-not-abuse, he’s at times more callow than boosters admit - “slap happy faggot slapper” (ugh), “hope your pussy gets herpes” (ugh), rhyming “Trayvon” with “shoppin’ like I got a coupon” (ugh). Then again, he’s awfully young, and when he wants to get deep, he’s impressive. Few hip-hop albums not by Common go out with the rapper’s father expressing pride in their son’s accomplishments; few mama tributes are as nicely detailed as the sorry-my-clothes-stink-like-tobacco-ma number “Cocoa Butter Kisses”; few songs in any genre have so sweetly asked a substance-addled love interest to screw as “Lost”. And when he considers the heartbreak that is his beloved Chi-town, he stares hard, praying to God for a little more spring because he knows warm weather elevates murder rates, excoriating Matt Lauer and Katie Couric for ignoring homeland catastrophes in favor of far-flung crisis points, asking those living their lives safely outside Cabrini Green never to ignore “funerals for little girls”. You’ll hope that boast about his 9 mm having the shits is just evidence of a self-proclaimed “literary knack,” because he’s no gangsta, not him: “lotta niggas wanna go out with a bang / but I ain’t tryna go out at all”.
Dur-Dur Band, Volume 5 (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Continuing to do yeoman’s work for those committed to such things, blog/record label Awesome Tapes From Africa restores to circulation what little remains of Mogadishu’s premier party band, those uptempo pop ensembles flourishing during the Somali capital’s brief 1980s heyday. Transferred directly from cassette, the fidelity will annoy certain listeners, although bass notes perfectly signify. Some sources list twelve active members, others fifteen, brandishing guitars, horns, hammond organ, dinky keyboards once in a while, drums. All sources agree on four lead singers trading off songs and verses, three men and one woman. Horn of Africa funk that stays true to the region’s rich and melancholic melody bank, with periodic detours into what sounds like reggae crawl (“Fagfaglay” and “Dholey,” the latter claiming an utterly idiosyncratic blend of Kingston horn lilt and shit casio) and psychedelic guitar improv, Dur-Dur Band would seem to have felt little compunction lifting from whatever source intrigued them at the moment. Since the moment was 1987, you can guess at the fun to be had for those willing to look past intermittent tape hiss.
Fall Out Boy, Save Rock And Roll (Island)
From the title itself to the enlistment of Sir Elton as hammy safeguard against criticism, this expert nonsense claims the kind of bold emotions and genre blurs one either laughs along with or laughs at. You sort of want to laugh along - these pros are so sincerely insincere, it’s tempting to forgive every clenched note and over-enunciated turn-of-phrase. Only then you notice Courtney Love’s brief cameo and how she could teach these perfectionists a thing or two about winging a performance. Really, do people have the gall to highlight Ms. Love’s one-two minutes of funny fury as this sprawling album’s biggest misstep? Nobody comes to this band for lyrics (or “ideas”), but holy gawd, is this inane. From empty imagery (“we are the jack o’ lanterns in July”) to maudlin grandiosity (“the person that you’d take a bullet for / is behind the trigger”), from the banal (“we could stay young forever”) through the self-pitying (“my heart is like a stallion / they load it more when it is broken”) and the idiotic (“change you like a remix / raise you like a phoenix”), Pete Wentz has never come across a sophomoric scribble too dopey for Patrick Stump to inflate. Question: How young does Wentz the geologic-time expert think “Young Volcanoes” really are? Maybe just ponder this scrap of verse: “you are what you love / not who loves you / in a world full of the word ‘yes’ / I’m here to scream…………/ NO!”