Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
When she's home in New York City, Patti Smith wakes up in the morning and heads straight for her favorite coffee shop, where, according to postings on her Web site, she reads, scribbles poetry on napkins, or stares contemplatively into space. She also listens to the music playing in the shop. One morning, she heard the Tears for Fears tune "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and, though she was unfamiliar with the '80s nugget, immediately related to the melody and the lyric it supported. Later, she'd hear Paul Simon's "Boy in the Bubble" and be similarly struck.
Happily, Smith and her wonderful band have turned these caffeinated, barely post-dawn ruminations into the impetus for a stirring album of "cover tunes," out this week. "Twelve" boasts interpretations of both "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Boy in the Bubble," as well as a virtual tour through some of the most significant rock music of Smith's era. The irreverent attitude that has informed Smith's work since she first emerged in early '70s New York City serves her well here -- none of these songs is treated with kid gloves, and as a result, all add something to their continued life.
Smith ain't messin' around, unsurprisingly. She goes straight to the head of the rock class, grabbing tunes from Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan and the Doors, even turning her now gorgeously seasoned and deeply emotive voice to Nirvana's era-defining breakthrough "Smells Like Teen Spirit." This takes daring, something Smith has in abundance. It also takes serious skill, and in guitarist Lenny Kaye, bassist/keyboardist Tony Shanahan and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty -- as well as guests Tom Verlaine, Rich Robinson, Smith's son Jackson and cellist Giovanni Sollima -- Smith has assembled a troupe of musicians worthy of these songs.
It's hard to believe that any artist could make a cover of Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" worthy of our attention, but Smith manages to do so, precisely because the song's poetic sensibilities are quite in tune with her own. Smith does Dylan quite well, and her "Changing of the Guard" is easy-going and natural, its cryptic collision of images rolling off her tongue with conviction.
"Boy in the Bubble," though, is African pop music married to American folk, and Paul Simon would seem to be a musician as far removed from the notion of the "punk" Smith will forever be associated with as one could get. And yet, she and the band nail it, dead-on, and though they don't steal the song from Simon, they brand it with their own tattoo.
This is a wonderful record, and very few "covers" records can claim to be such.
-- Jeff Miers
EB3 -- Live Vol. 1
Review: 3 stars
As Is ... Live at the Blue Note
Review: 3 stars
If the only jazz records you ever know are those recorded in a studio, you're only getting half the point of recorded jazz. More than any other kind of music, it HAS to be recorded live sometimes. Otherwise, you don't get the point of what happens when musicians and/or audiences suddenly ignite together. And whether it was Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall, Duke Ellington at Newport, Errol Garner by the sea or posthumous Pulitzer winner John Coltrane playing "Chasin' the Trane" at the Village Vanguard, the discs that convey the electric jolt of great jazz are often hugely popular.
Robin Eubanks -- the trombone-playing brother of "The Tonight Show's" Kevin and a nephew of Ray Bryant -- is, like so many trombonists, a musical extrovert. On "EB3" (to be released in May) for Ravi Coltrane's label, his trio with keyboardist Orrin Evans and drummer Kenwood Dennard (the bass lines are provided electronically) plays with all kinds of souped-up electronics and overdubbing, with the result that the disc is a lavish sonic smorgasbord. If one dish leaves you cold, just amble on to the next. Some of it is galvanizing -- tributes to Eddie Palmieri and Chucho Valdes and Jimi Hendrix in particular -- but the most interesting thing about all this new era techno-play is how much the best of Eubanks accompanying himself in overdub resembles those jazz favorites of the '50s: J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding.
Bassist Avishai Cohen is probably the best known -- and best -- of the sudden squadron of Israeli jazz transplants to get attention in the past decade. He's best known for bringing juicy tone and crucial imagination to various groups of Chick Corea. His own band recorded live in Manhattan turns out to be a conventional jazz quintet (saxophone, trumpet, rhythm section) that has its own reliance on fusion amps and rhythms (on electric bass, he admits he's a Jaco-man all the way). But, like Eubanks, he's capable of impressive jazz when the party heats up and the playing gets really good. His saxophonist, Jimmy Greene, is fine no matter what he's doing, even partaking of Cohen's "punk rock" version of "Caravan." Here too, is a fiesta worth seeing on DVD, too.
-- Jeff Simon
The Best Damn Thing
Review: 1 star
"Like, ohmigod, Avril Lavigne is so five minutes ago! I'm, like, so 'Whatever!' when I hear her new album."
Yes, the above is an imagined quote, not an authentic one, but Avril Lavigne has taken a long time to release "The Best Damn Thing," and it's possible her target market has moved on. Several Disney kids have made the (short) leap to the recording studio since Lavigne last haunted the charts, and let's face it, the pop-punk Avril first scored so big with has become de rigueur, expected and far from shocking. It has also become incredibly annoying and unimaginative.
This is the new Lavigne, the grown-up model, which means little more than a tarted-up appearance, a slightly more sexually explicit lyrical bent, and a shameless layering on of the recording studio schlock. "The Best Damn Thing" gives new meaning to the term "overproduced" -- four producers, several songwriting collaborators and four mixers are credited with "Best Damn Thing's" Frankenstein-like creation. The result is an album that lacks both personality and songs. It's all icing, no cake.
"I Can Do Better" is pop/punk-by-numbers, Lavigne coming across like a spoiled brat you wish would either cease and desist, or borrow dad's car and clear out for the nearest shopping mall. "Girlfriend" is saccharine, and features an "Oh Mikki, you're so fine/You're so fine you blow my mind" breakdown at its midpoint. This is simply unforgivable. "Hot" isn't. "I Don't Have to Try" proves Lavigne might want to think about trying a little bit harder; it's Gwen Stefani-like rap that's cringe-worthy and, frankly, embarrassing.
It would be nice if this album tanked, because commercial success might encourage those responsible for this dreck to record more of it. Next!