Iggy Pop’s Apres may represent the most engagingly absurd left-turn of his career, but the Kris Kristofferson impression he unleashes here on “Sweet Betsy From Pike” runs it a pretty close second. The concept of the album is a bit vague: it’s mostly sort-of Americana, which you might expect of music tied in with the (presumed) snoozefest that Depp and Disney have unleashed: Dave Alvin’s “Lonesome Whistle” has a nice cowboy swing to it, and Gomez’ “Butch’s Ballad” more or less ties into the movie, but then you also get dashes of reggae, some straight-ahead pop, and a Julie London cover, from folks like Lucinda Williams, Sam Beam, and Sara Watkins. High point is probably Grace Potter’s frantic blues shuffle “Devil’s Train”; and while I wouldn’t call it a low point, exactly, and while I’m certainly glad that Shane MacGowan’s still alive and kicking, I wish he hadn’t chosen to redo “Poor Paddy On The Railway”: the comparison of the slurred and creaking vocal here, to his firm and furious take on Red Roses For Me, leaves you melancholy in all the wrong ways.
John Scofield is one of those guys who seems happiest when he’s juggling different bands with different sounds, and this sequel to 2002’s Uberjam could hardly be more different than his most recent outing, 2011’s A Moments Peace. This time, Scofield and keyboardist John Medeski up the funk quotient, adding lashes of house, reggae, and anything they could find in the Afrobeat bucket, with Scofield’s soloing anchored by rock-solid rhythm guitar from Avi Bortnick, supple bass from ex-Black Crowe Andy Hess, and two drummers with inescapable groove: original Uberjam stickman Adam Deitch, and up and coming wunderkind Louis Cato. There are tributes to Scofield’s heroes, as “Curtis Knew” conjures up the Pusherman and the ghost of Freddie, while “Al Green Song” is classic Hi Records strut. “Snake Dance” is probably the best white man’s Afrobeat since Remain in Light, and “Endless Summer” finds Scofield stretching out in his distinctive style: always fluid, but with enough edge never to get too sleepy. Not the most adventurous album of Scofield’s career, but if he doesn’t get you up and dancing by track 2, “Boogie Stupid,” check your pulse.
Fragments of musical inspiration can be fun sometimes; I mean, there’s more actual music on this album than I’ve ever written, and you can find plenty of bits and pieces to catch the ear for a moment or two. On the other hand, I’m not a legendarily cranky eskibeat specialist, so no one’s going to be disappointed if I toss out a bunch of ideas, beats, and FX without much regard to form, structure, or direction. Your mileage will certainly vary on this sort of thing, but the effect of this album is rather like sitting next to someone whose idea of channel surfing is to pick the exact moment that something begins to interest you before moving on– even something as danceable as “Isis” is over almost before it begins. The more “contemplative” stuff on disk 2 works a little better, from the gamelan intro of “Black Rose” to the prickly counterpoint of “I Saw Golden Light,” and there’s not a single track of the 33 that is anything like unpleasant, but it’d be nicer if so many of them didn’t sound like readymades for an episode of White Collar.
Other Notable 7/2 Releases
Cat Squirrel Blues, Mick Abrahams
Color Map of the Sun, Pretty Lights
Comfort, Maya Jane Coles
Complete Deity Recordings, The Masked Marauders,
Crystal Skull, Big Hoodoo
Doubleback Evolution of R&B, Joe
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright: Singles 67-76, Bobby Womack
Evolution, Slum Village
Glorious Ruins, Hillsong
Headless Ritual, Autopsy
Live At The Fillmore ’68, It’s A Beautiful Day
Mud Digger 4, Mud Digger
Raise The Curtain, Oliva
Sistrionix, Deap Vally
Sophisticated Boom Boom: The Shadow Morton Story, Various Artists
St. Cecilia: the Elektra Recordings, Stalk-Forrest Group
Starbound Beast, Huntress
Think Bigg, Bigg Robb
Warrior On The Edge Of Time Box Set, Hawkwind