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Eight That Ain’t So Great…

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Perhaps even more disappointing than an outright bad album is one that fails to live up to your expectations… here are a few CD releases that let me down in 2005…

8. Merle Haggard: Chicago Wind His voice sounds great… the band is solid… but it’s just too soft around the edges and the songwriting is too weak… Yes, Merle throws in a few mild political slogans here and there (“Let’s get out of Iraq and get back on track, let’s rebuild America first.”) But it sounds so produced and slick that it has no… edge… especially after remembering Hag’s live show opening for (and overshadowing, in my opinion) Bob Dylan in Chicago (ironically) a while ago. Something just seems to be missing in the studio. This is still a cut above the anemic Unforgettable but nowhere near the promise of his “comeback” albums If I Could Only Fly and Roots Vol. 1 (hey, where’s Vol. 2?) Personally, I think a live album would be a good next move for Hag… please?

7. The Residents: Animal Lover Ahh, the wonderfully weird Residents. First of all, I couldn’t be happier that this group continues to anonymously weave their tangled web of sonic strangeness… but let’s be honest, most of their material from the past 10 years is awfully unmemorable… Take the lavishly packaged Animal Lover — lots of odd, bleak synthesizers and strange voices… a pointless “remix disc” (I guess?) with more of the same… very disturbing (and not in a good way) computer generated artwork in the booklet… It’s sadly starting to seem like God in Three Persons from 1988 will stand as the last Residents masterwork… I sincerely hope not, though… maybe they should lose the computers and samplers and try an acoustic album next for a change of pace… I’d love to re-Meet The Residents I once knew and loved so long ago…

6. Steve Reich: You Are (Variations) Another in a long string of handsomely packaged Nonesuch releases of entirely adequate, workmanlike recent compositions by Steve Reich that leave me completely cold. You Are mainly sounds like a re-hash of ideas from Tehillim and Sextet, while Cello Counterpoint saws away with aimless dissonance just like Triple Quartet did. I always have such high hopes for a new Steve Reich release, remembering the excitement of discovering modern masterpieces such as Music for 18 Musicians, Octet, and Different Trains. I really hope he wows us all again one of these days… meanwhile, like The Cave, City Life, and Three Tales, this CD will just collect dust on the shelf… bah…

5. Jane Monheit: The Season Once hailed as a promising, fresh young voice in jazz, Jane Monheit has released a holiday album so middle of the road that it’s destined to disappoint almost everyone. Jazz-heads will cringe at the contemporary pop production touches, while Mariah Carey fans will want more melisma for their diva dollar. And the DVD “music video” side of the DualDisc version is one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever seen produced by a major record label. I’m sure Jane Monheit has a fun, festive, classy Christmas album in her… this is definitely not it… a lump of coal in her stocking! (See my Battle of the Christmas Jazz Divas review for more on this…)

4. Z-Trip: Shifting Gears Downshifting, unfortunately… This great underground master DJ deservedly gets a release on a major record label… but there are too many rappers, not enough personality in the production, and obvious restraint in the sampling (surely the result of copyright clearance issues.) Compared to Z-Trip’s amazing and audacious Uneasy Listening with DJ-P and Live at the Future Primitive with Radar, this is just a bore… yawn…

3. Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked You’d think I would have learned my lesson after three grueling volumes of Verve Remixed. But no, I keep thinking somehow there will be a great Jazz/Electronica remix album. With originals by Mingus, Gillespie, Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef, etc. how could anyone go wrong? Unfortunately most of these tracks turn out to be the usual monotonous drum-machine driven loops that outstay their welcome very quickly… and what was Ravi thinking with the awkward Coltrane poetry reading track at the end? If you’re curious about the classic “revolutionary jazz” on the Impulse label, save yourself about ten bucks and pick up Impulsive! Unmixed instead… sigh…

2. Glasscuts: Philip Glass RemixedYeah, it’s fun and easy to beat up on remix albums since there are so many mediocre and terrible ones out there… but, wait: here’s a great idea… let’s give the pioneering, repetitive, trance-like minimalist music of Philip Glass the remix treatment… after all, Reich: Remixed was fabulous… surely the same kind of creativity can be unleashed in this project… But alas, something went terribly wrong here… these are mostly unbearably monotonous, grating, overlong, amateurish productions by remixers who don’t seem to even GET (or enjoy?) Glass’ music. A real missed opportunity and a huge letdown… ick…

1. Frank Sinatra: Duets I & II (90th Birthday Collector’s Edition) I’m actually shocked and disappointed that this even exists… Why, why, WHY are these substandard phony Sinatra “duets” being re-reissued for the third time? About 7 years ago, Capitol also rereleased Duets I & II as a “Limited Edition Box Set” including a disposable “bonus disc” of canned “radio interviews” with Sinatra’s phoned-in duet partners. Now the temptation to re-buy these albums yet again is a previously unreleased “Sinatra duet” of “My Way” with Willie Nelson… thanks, but no thanks… The Man must be turning in his grave… Once upon a time there was a black-market CD of Sinatra’s vocals from these sessions without the overdubbed duets (titled Solos). Too bad Capitol hasn’t released those tracks as a “Limited Edition” instead of this… or how about a DVD box set of Sinatra’s TV specials (like Babs Streisand just got)… or the still un(officially)released Perfectly Frank radio broadcasts from the mid-50s… or the 1971 Retirement concert… or… the list goes on and on… This is a cynical and unnecessary release if there ever was one, and calling it a “Sinatra 90th Birthday Collector’s Edition” is almost obscene…! argh!

See also: fifteen favorite CDs of 2005.

From serenade in green].

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  • George Dionne

    Don’t you hate it when things get reissued over and over again with paltry little extras? What erks me the most is when they reissue an album that came out a year earlier.

  • Sean

    Dead right about the Sinatra. Of all the stuff that could have been released, they had to reheat and reserve that crap

  • Vern Halen

    How about reissuing high quality yet reasonably priced copies of Sinatra’s Capitol output?

  • godoggo

    Regarding the divas, I just wanted to plug
    Terence Blanchard’s “Let’s Get Lost: The Songs Of Jimmy McHugh” which features appearances by Diana Krall, Jane Monheit, Dianne Reeves and Cassandra Wilson in more swinging setings than they normally get on their own releases (excepting Reeves, who incidentally blows away the competition, as expected).

    I was pleasantly surprised by Monheit when I saw her a few years ago. Despite the sometimes slightly corny settings, she showed herself to be a beautifully melodic improviser, especially on the bossa tunes.