Cat PowerJukebox(Matador) 7.1
Goes well with: Beth Orton, Elliot Smith, wine and cigarettes
Cat Power is one of The Greatest. Why? Because she can release an album of cover songs and make me forget that it's an album of cover songs. On Jukebox, Chan Marshall takes on (among others) Sinatra's “New York, New York,” George Jackson's “Aretha, Sing One for Me” and Dylan's “I Believe in You.” And, as was reported on various blogs prior to the album's release, Marshall even covers herself with “Metal Heart” from her album Moon Pix—the one she wrote after having a nightmare (this version is slightly more upbeat with a piano-based rhythm). The appropriate title speaks to the idea that this is two albums, the one you hear and the one that is a mix-tape in Marshall's mind. Do yourself a favor and look up artists like Jessie Mae Hemphill. And, like the fine wine I guzzle when I listen to Cat, this album only gets better with age.
Drive-By TruckersBrighter Than Creation's Dark(New West Records)8.5
Goes well with: Lucero, Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo, Jack Daniels
As always, the Truckers can be depended upon to give us songs about violence, drinking and Southern wisdom. All with the three-axe attack the band is known for while also offering up two new elements: more twang in their swagger and the vocal/writing talent of bassist Shonna Tucker. Now the third writer for the band, Tucker brings a much-needed female perspective to the Drive-Bys, with the longing emotion of “I'm Sorry Houston” and the anthemic “Home Field Advantage.” As for the twang, the Truckers bring it out in “Bob,” a song that seems to be saying the ordinary is becoming original, and on “Lisa's Birthday,” a track that would be at home in any Nashville jukebox. But while there is a lot here for fans to devour (and they are a hungry bunch), there also isn't much to convert those in society who somehow get through life without the raw sound of the Truckers. moe
Sticks and Stones(Fatboy Records)7.5
Goes well with: Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Grateful Dead, patchouli
For once, you don't have to run to a concert or scour the Internet to hear a new moe song. It's on an album. In a revolutionary idea in jam-band land, the Buffalo group releases a new album with (wait for it) eight songs that have never been played live, along with two songs that were previously unreleased (moe fans, your pants should be soiled). In promo materials, the band has called the album “raw” and said it's made up of “first instincts,” which translates into something concise, clear and stripped of any semblance of a jam-band sound. This is especially true on the slow alt-country of “Conviction Song” and the drinking anthem “Raise a Glass,” which was no doubt inspired by hoisting numerous pints of Guinness at Irish pubs around the world. But the band doesn't completely abandon its traditions as they slip the jam back into the middle of the album with “Z02,” “Deep This Time” and “All Roads Lead to Home.” And if hardcore fans aren't pleased, don't worry. Knowing moe, these songs will probably sound completely different live.