Recordings | November 2015

Three albums we're listening to this month

By Cait Brennan, November 2015 Issue.


MUSIC_introducing-darlene-loveDarlene Love

Introducing Darlene Love
Columbia Records | 4halfstars

For too long – decades, even – Darlene Love’s name was known mostly to rock and roll insiders, who regarded her as a legend of the first order. In 1962 she and her group the Blossoms had a number one hit with “He’s A Rebel” – only producer Phil Spector took their name off the record and credited it to an entirely different band called “The Crystals.” Classy guy from the outset, Phil. She sang on “Be My Baby” with Ronnie Spector and on “That’s Life” with Frank Sinatra. Sam Cooke, Elvis, the Beach Boys and countless others all brought her in to sing on their hits.


Photo courtesy of facebook.com/darleneloveworld.

Finally things began to change. David Letterman invited Love to sing her holiday classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on his show every year. U2 covered the tune (she sang background on that, too). She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011, featured in the movie 20 Feet From Stardom in 2013, and now, she’s finally getting the quality “debut” album she deserves. 50 years in, Introducing Darlene Love is not even a tongue in cheek title: it’s time to get to know this extraordinary woman.

For an old-school singer, Introducing sounds effortlessly modern; it’s less retro, and less self-consciously so, than the countless retro-soul imitators working the circuit these days. It’s powered by a voice that has not dimmed a bit in decades, and it has another strength going for it, too: the songs.

Love has excellent taste and high-wattage fans like Linda Perry, Joan Jett, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Webb, Bruce Springsteen and Spingsteen’s longtime compatriot Little Steven Van Zandt, all of whom made songwriting contributions to the album. Perry’s “Love Kept Us Foolin’ Around” swings with ‘60s cool (imagine a more world-wise Meghan Trainor for the effect, kids); Costello’s “Still Too Soon To Know” is a smart, bittersweet ballad recalling Roy Orbison; The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley turns in a fine, gritty duet performance (confidentially, Love didn’t need the help, but it’s nice to hear Medley on a record regardless.)

Love turns in sparkling performances on all 14 tracks, but she really shines on the Springsteen songs, especially the electric “Night Closing In.” With power, drama, majesty, and effortless elegance, Love out-bosses the Boss and proves that in a just world, she would have been a massive rock star 40 years ago. Introducing Darlene Love may go a long way towards correcting that injustice.

MUSIC_Muffs---debutThe Muffs

The Muffs
Omnivore Recordings | 4halfstars

Who gets the credit for starting Riot Grrl? Oh no, you’re not drawing me into that pandora’s box of a conversation. But your staggeringly great women-in-punk Pee Chee folder had better name check the Pandoras, LA’s take-no-prisoners garage-punk legends, who strode the earth from 1983-1990 before it all went kerblooey. Ex-Pandora Kim Shattuck formed the Muffs in 1991, and in 1993 they released their debut LP on Warner Brothers. They enjoyed some mainstream success (you’ll remember their cover of Kids In America from Clueless, surely!) but in the sludgy Soundgarden era, their hyperkinetic, hooky power-punk might have been a little too ahead of its time.

Well, it’s time: the sheer enthusiasm and banshee blast of The Muffs is one of the greatest rock debut albums of the past 20 years and thanks to a deluxe reissue (with 18 songs from the original release plus a ton of bonus track goodness) it sounds better than ever. You should probably get one.

“Lucky Guy” comes blazing out of the gate with Shattuck’s inimitable growl, a hilarious and hummable tune about how – quoting Shattuck herself – the “unambitious and chronically lazy Ronnie (Barnett, bass/vocals) always fell into these amazing situations with little or no effort.”

It’s great song after great song from there, from the crackling “Saying Goodbye” to the ferocious pop roar of “Big Mouth” to “Everywhere I Go.” The CD and cassette versions of “Everywhere I Go” were different; both are included here, as well as eight 4-track demos of the album’s material, a radio mix of “Lucky Guy.”

They’re no nostalgia act; The Muffs’ most recent album came out only last year, and hopefully there’ll be more to come. They’re a national treasure, these guys. It all started right here, and The Muffs hasn’t aged a day.


Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends)
Omnivore Recordings | 4halfstars

Ireland’s Pugwash has been one of music’s best-kept secrets. Fronted by singer-songwriter Thomas Walsh, the band specializes in the kind of moving, irresistible singalong indie pop that few artists dare to write these days. Despite having fans across the globe, their music was difficult if not impossible to find here.

The good people at Omnivore have corrected this oversight, first with a compilation sampler called A Rose In A Garden of Weeds and now with their very first new album released in the U.S. Drenched in gorgeous harmonies and fearlessly romantic, it’s one of the finest albums of the year.

Walsh wears his heart, and his influences, on his sleeve, with nods to British pop legends XTC and global phenom Jeff Lynne, the founder of ELO. Leadoff single “Hung Myself Out To Dry” is lively, funny and heartfelt, with a hint of Beatles magic and a dynamite arrangement. “The Fool I Had Become” is a wry, off-kilter midtempo ballad filled with regret – but wow, he makes it sounds so sweet. “Silly Love” takes it a step deeper, with an almost-zen approach to the good and bad of love. Ray Davies of the Kinks guests on background vocals.

“Oh Happy Days” is lovely and weird, with a rollicking rhythm, a maddeningly tasty guitar riff and some orchestral touches. “Pinch me, I need reality – how could this happen to me?” Walsh sings on the perfect “Lucky In Every Way,” embracing the kind of romantic good fortune we’d all love to share.

It’s a can’t-miss album that’s perfect for the fall and winter ahead; Pugwash’s sunny melodies could bring cheer to the greyest of days.