Review: 3 2 stars (Out of 4)
For its first album in nearly eight years, legendary Australian hard rock outfit AC/DC didn't mess with the formula, didn't attempt to do a single thing differently than it has been doing for more than 30 years, didn't even entertain the notion of trying to break new ground. For most bands and artists, this would be a recipe for ennui, late-career stasis, torpor born of laziness. In this instance, however, it's undeniably the proper course. Repeating yourself ad infinitum when you're doing something so primal, vital and timeless is far from a character flaw.
The worst thing you can say about "Black Ice" is that the band struck a deal with Wal-Mart that gave the corporate giant exclusive selling rights to the record for its initial run, to the exclusion of independent record stores and smaller music retailers. The best thing you can say about it is that it's crammed to the brim with indelible meat-headed riffs, caveman lyrics -- "Me man, you woman, come here"-type stuff -- and the punky irreverence and joyful rebellion of adolescence.
True inheritors of the Rolling Stones' white-boy boogie, Angus and Malcolm Young are also musical descendants of Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Lee Hooker and Little Richard. All of these influences, run through the sonic meat-grinder of banks of Marshall amps cranked to 11, are in ample evidence throughout "Black Ice," the group's finest studio album since 1983's "Flick of the Switch."
This is not to say that the albums between have been duds, by any means. Each had its moments of primal perfection. But "Black Ice" is comprised solely of these moments, from the opening rhythm guitar salvos of "Rock 'n' Roll Train," through the last larynx-shredding yelp of the album-closing title tune. Deceptively simple guitar riffs and, believe it or not, subtle interplay between the guitars of the Young brothers sit at the center of the action, while the primordial wallop of drummer Phil Rudd holds everything in a swanky, strutting mid-tempo, and singer Brian Johnson howls like an old bluesman whose pants just happen to be on fire. It's great, just like it was when Johnson debuted with the band on the career-defining "Back in Black" album. It's nice to know that some things can always be relied upon.
All of this adds up to an hour of pure, primitive, dumb joy. Who doesn't need some of that every now and again?
-- Jeff Miers
Road Shows Vol. 1
Review: 4 stars
Sonny in Vienne
Review: 3 1/2 stars
It's one of the articles of jazz faith in our era: You have GOT to catch Sonny Rollins live.
Not only will Rollins himself freely admit to interviewers that he's not especially fond of recording studios and their protocols (despite five decades of majestic, legendary work in them), but members of his audiences are likely to spend the rest of their lives telling fellow jazz people "you should have heard Sonny (fill in the blank with the time and place of their choice)."
His live recordings have often been transcendent ("G-Man," to name one), and his live performances are certainly among the most treasured booty in bootleggers' parasitic art.
So worshipped are live Sonny Rollins performances by jazz cognoscenti that Sonny himself, at age 76 and with his own label these days, has finally decided to take charge himself of issuing some literally fabulous (as in the stuff of fable) live performances that have attended his career in the last 28 years.
The earliest music on "Road Shows Vol. 1" gives you Sonny on a 1980 European tour from Sweden (the obscure Rollins tune "Blossom," sensational, despite a bad piano) and Poland ("Easy Living"). The latest is the disc's finale recorded at a celebration of his 50th anniversary at Carnegie Hall with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Roy Haynes ("Some Enchanted Evening," which Sonny hadn't originally intended to release but was convinced to by audience members).
He is glorious all through the rest, whether he's playing in Tokyo in 1986 or in Toulouse, France, in 2006 (where his power, invention and conviction in his mid-70s are virtually identical to those of the mature master he was at 50). As Gary Giddins -- a lifetime propounder of the Rollins gospel -- says in his notes "in the regal tradition of Louis Armstrong" his concerts set as their goal "pure pleasure and emotional catharsis."
The band on the DVD "Sonny Rollins Live in Vienne" is virtually the same one we heard at the 1995 Artpark Jazz Festival, and it's extraordinary.
If you can, though, by all means search out the DVD of Sonny Rollins in Denmark recently released in Naxos' amazing "Jazz Icons" series. There are two performances on it: one faintly dispiriting 1968 quartet performance from Danish television and an hour of some of the greatest Rollins (and jazz) ever recorded as he plays a 1965 Copenhagen Jazz Festival with drummer Alan Dawson and bassist Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen.
What an era for recorded Sonny Rollins we're living in.
-- Jeff Simon
That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy
Review: 3 stars
Toby Keith's meat-and-potatoes country-rock is a sturdy, steady thing. Keith consistently comes across as a no-nonsense, down-to-earth, "guy next door" type, the dude you'll hear slamming his truck door at 4 a.m. after a long night at the bar on Saturday, and again as he gets in it early Sunday morning on his way to church. You know -- a "normal American guy."
Whether this is genuine or an artificial marketing construct is almost beside the point; it seems real enough, and that's what the people who like Keith are after.
That persona is in full-on good ol' boy mode throughout the new "That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy," an album sure to please fans of Keith's sweaty, gritty and consistent blend of country, rock and pop balladry.
The rockers -- the title tune, the swanky "Creole Woman," the Dwight Yoakam-like Bakersfield strut "Time That it Would Take" -- are what Keith and his capable band are best at. "That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy" runs out of steam, temporarily, at its midpoint, where three ballads in a row -- the maudlin "Lost You Anyway," the slow Texas waltz "Missing Me Some You" and the straight country-pop weeper "Hurt a Lot Worse When You Go" -- slow things down a bit too much. Keith doesn't do the introspective, sensitive type as well as he does the devil-may-care roughneck.
Ill-conceived song sequencing aside, "That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy" is a strong effort that's sure to please the Keith base.
She's Sweetest When She's Naked
Alison Melville, Baroque flute and recorder
Review: 3 1/2 stars
If this isn't the grabber title of the year! Well, whatever works to make people give it a try, because this flute music from 18th century Scotland is tremendously engaging stuff. The baroque flute has a thin, sweet sound, reminding me of the Irish pan pipe you hear in "My Heart Will Go On." The accompanying period instruments include harp, guitar, harpsichords, a 1790 Italian cello and drums. And the melodies are the real delight. The reels, folk songs and sonatas -- by composers named James Oswald, Charles Macklean, Alexander Munro and Nicola Matteis, with a few anonymous composers thrown in -- easily grab your attention.
I wouldn't have minded vocals here and there, especially as the CD gets its name from one of the songs Melville plays. But the disc is a terrific romp. If you like Celtic music, try this for a twist.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman