"Illinoise"Available at All That Jazz for $15.98
If you already bought a copy of this album weeks ago, note the subtle difference between the cover of your copy and the one on this page. That's a little Photoshop removal of America's favorite superhero, thanks to a copyright lawsuit.
If you have a copy of the "Illinoise" album with Superman on the cover, hang onto that bad boy. Unless Stevens fades into obscurity -- which doesn't appear likely -- it could become a collector's item. Hint: All That Jazz still has a couple of copies with the original cover art.
But those are music-nerd trivialities. The real reason you should buy this album is for the music. Oh. And to support a little-known recording studio in Lander, Wyo., Asthmatic Kitty, where this album was recorded. Yet another triviality.
Those things fall away when you put on the headphones.
On "Illinoise," Stevens' shy-boy singer songwriting style is backed up by a partial orchestra sound that echoes the days when bandleaders ruled the nightclub circuit. Yet Stevens is not a white-suited crooner singing "The Girl from Ipanema."
He strings his odd but thoughtful political message through the big noise of an epic rock opera/symphony.
Stevens' material covers all subject matter from track 2, "The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I have fought the Big Knives and will continue to fight them until they are off our lands!'" to track 6, "A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, who went Insane but for Very Good Reasons."
With 22 tracks, "Illinoise" is a tome. The music is heady and complex even if it does, at times, make Stevens seem very, very small.
Rated: "Let's hear that string part again..."
"Body of Song"Available at All That Jazz for $16.98
Bob Mould means something different for everyone, depending on which decade you were introduced to him as a musician or as a writer. For me, he always will be the guy from HÃ¼sker DÃ¼. Even though he probably would punch me in the face if he knew I was measuring him by music he made almost two decades ago, that was the way my ears were pointed as I unwrapped his latest album and waited for the first track to begin.
Mould's new sound, or his current sound I should say, sounds like the nights he's been spending in D.C. nightclubs. Songs begin by laying down a beat so people can get themselves into position on the dance floor. After the clubbers are comfortable, the rest of the music comes in with the signature rockin' electric guitars.
Listening to Mould, if you're attached to his earlier bands, is a lot like hanging out with a friend you haven't seen since high school. You get a little disoriented by all the references to places you have never been, coming from the distortion pedals of a person you realize you don't even know anymore.
These are well-built songs, though Bob Mould isn't the most inspired lyricist in the world. This CD is also a chance to hear Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty in a new environment.
Rated: Not for those who are guided by voices from the past.
"Trouble"Available at All That Jazz for $14.98
When I interview musicians, I always ask them to recommend a few albums to the readers of this newspaper. Since Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble" came out last year, almost every musician who played in this town has recommended it. That kind of endorsement can't be ignored.
The radio version of the title track "Trouble" has received considerable airplay in Steamboat Springs. I haven't seen the numbers, but I imagine this album is shaping up to be one of the best-selling CDs of the year.
"Trouble" has the slow guitars and ponderous atmosphere of a Ben Harper album, mixed with the intensity of the old Southern spirituals.
The production is clean and even if the soft, sweet and sad aren't your style, there isn't much you can say against this record.
Rated: Everyone else is buying it.
-- Autumn Phillips