By Cait Brennan, Oct. 23, 2014.
Joe Stevens | Last Man Standing | Self-released |
“This winding road will take me there, I’m sure as I could be,” sings Joe Stevens on “Maggie’s Chair,” the album’s opening track. “My trials will be fair, as long as I’m aware, and I will end up where I’m meant to be.” The 32-year old singer-songwriter is best known as one third of acclaimed Seattle roots-Americana trio Coyote Grace, and while the group has not split up, Last Man Standing is a brilliant solo debut that showcases his gift for storytelling and musicianship.
Stevens packs each song with movement and poetry, like in the brooding, evocative “Buenaventura”, which finds Stevens’ protagonist lost in the desert, “starting to fear the cold kiss of sweet fate.” The gorgeous fingerpicking guitar and the rich, earthy vocals set the tone and the desperation builds.
That desperation is palpable in the bluesy, aching “Can’t See The Train.” But beauty and love practically overflow on “Eight Ball, Corner Pocket.” And, “Bad” is a rollicking good time, while the tender “Waiting For Spring” is a prayer for rebirth, with subtle but powerful strings and harmonies.
His website (joestevensmusic.com) describes his music as “roots music for the rootless,” and that sense of wandering is at the core of Last Man Standing. “How this road became my own … I don’t get it, it’s beyond me,” he sings. However it happened, we’re all the better for it.
For fans of: Mary Gauthier, Townes Van Zandt and Namoli Brennet
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga | Cheek To Cheek | Streamline/Interscope/Columbia |
The media paints them as an odd couple, but Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett were made for each other. Bennett was the first of the classic jazz vocalists to reinvent himself by embracing MTV in the ’90s. For all her media outrageousness, Gaga is basically a classically trained vocalist and pianist. Cheek To Cheek proves nothing, not even a 60-year age difference, can keep these two crazy kids apart.
From the start, it’s Gaga who seems most eager to adjust to the jazz format. She does an ace job on the classic “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” with warm and powerful vocals that are strong but not too overpowering. While the years are finally beginning to catch up to Bennett’s golden pipes, he still has the strength to match Gaga’s formidable delivery.
The moody and mysterious “Nature Boy” is a perfect fit for them both, as Gaga gives a nuanced, vulnerable take on the standard, while Bennett tells his part of the tale with a voice rich with the wisdom of years well lived.
Gaga goes solo on Billy Strayhorn’s golden “Lush Life,” and Tony steps out on a beautiful, back-to-basics version of Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” The title track and “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” are among the other highlights. It’s a fun novelty that shows both Bennett and Gaga have the chops to take chances.
For fans of: Diana Krall, Michael Bublé and Mel Tormé
Gerard Way | Hesitant Alien | Warner Bros |
It’s got to be tough being Gerard Way. My Chemical Romance broke up abruptly in 2013, and that band never really got any respect despite having penned some truly great songs. Now the former frontman is out on his own, reinventing himself with a pretty great solo album, Hesitant Alien.
The artwork — the skinny tie, the shiny jacket — says we’re in postpunk/glam territory, and “The Bureau” kicks it off with a swirl of chunky guitars, giving way to the tasty single “Action Cat,” one of the best things Way’s ever written.
It’s also a departure from typical MCR stuff, retaining the hooks but losing the pasty-faced doom. Pop hooks are the order of the day, with potential hits like “No Shows” and “Millions” and chock full of sing-alongs, handclaps and stomping beats.
That’s not to say he forgot the ballads. “Drugstore Perfume” is full of melancholy and madness and enough wall-of-sound reverb to give Phil Spector nightmares. “Maya The Psychic” ends things on a frantic ’80s New Wave note — all crazy synths swirling on overdrive may make your teeth hurt.
Hesitant Alien may be the sound of a man trying a bit too hard for a shot at big time solo success, but its singles are too choice to resist.
For fans of: My Chemical Romance, The Used and David Bowie