"Live in Las Vegas"
Available at All That Jazz for $19.98
Live albums should be listened to with a measure of gratitude. For years, I refused to listen to recorded music. Live music was music, I said, and studio music was something completely different. It was orchestrated and layered. It was engineered and pieced together in takes. It was a musical sculpture, a soundboard Frankenstein more than a heartfelt performance.
Although my car and home are spilling over with CDs and vinyl, there's still a piece of me that is suspicious of music handed to me in 12 neat tracks.
No matter the failings of this album -- the mix is a bit muffled -- it's the real thing. As you listen to Macy Gray on stage at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, you hear her voice falter a bit at the beginning of the show as she warms up. She sounds like a lifelong smoker who needs to clear her lungs. But that's where the gratitude comes in. Thanks for leaving that in. Gray has that "I'm a sexy, beautiful woman with a big voice whose about to fall apart right here on stage" Billie Holiday quality. And I think that's why people like her.
These days, when the music industry and its characters remind me of Disneyland, it's nice to sense a human in the middle of it all.
Macy Gray's "Live in Las Vegas" music brings the listener back to the era of Tina Turner and Marvin Gaye.
One of the best tracks on this album is "Caligula," which features the farfiza organ, the most eccentric keyboard of them all.
Rated: Macy Gray/Marvin Gaye. It rhymes.
"A Bigger Bang"
On sale at All That Jazz for $15.98
Although I've been assured that my view of the world is simplistic, I believe there are two kinds of people in the world -- people who like The Beatles and people who like the Rolling Stones. Those two bands are the trunks of the two musical trees from which all other bands have sprung.
The difference in their approach to life and their pursuit of music could be dissected into a graduate thesis or into a late-night party conversation.
For the purpose of this piece, the main difference is that The Beatles stormed out of the studio years ago. With decades between us and the way they were, it's easy to venerate the fab four. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, are still at it. Somehow. They defy everything my mother told me about the dangers of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle (Unless you try to understand anything Keith Richards says).
By continuing to tour and record, the Rolling Stones risk being removed from the pedestal we put them upon so many years ago. They risk revealing themselves as washed up old men with one too many albums. Fortunately for the half of the population that is "Rolling Stones people," this is not that album.
"A Bigger Bang" is full of the classic, guitar-driven rock songs that for decades have made girls in the front row rip off their shirts.
Rated: If you didn't know (how old they were), you wouldn't know.
The New Pornographers
Available at All That Jazz for $15.98
I've had this album in my car stereo for a week. It's makes me drive way too fast. It makes me way too friendly. It helps the landscape roll past smoothly.
It doesn't make you think too much. It doesn't make you sad.
I declare it the perfect alone-in-your-car album of September 2005.
The bouncing guitars lead me in and out of daydreams as I follow the curves of Routt County Road 131. They lull me away from chewing my nails as the gas gauge slides to empty and gas prices slide toward $4 a gallon.
This is an "everything's going to be alright" album.
On paper, this album contains all the things that usually make me wash my ears out. It's poppy. It's melodic. It has a piano. And I love it.
It's smart enough without being too introspective. It's that person you were in your freshman year of college, before you became the slit-eyed cynic you are today.
Rated: Full of Age of Aquar--ius/Up with People optimism.
-- Autumn Phillips