When Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon announced the dissolution of their 17-year marriage in 2011, a pillar of the utopian-punk counter culture that they’d represented collapsed. This album, Moore’s first since then, is what that collapse sounded like. Abrasive, occasionally vulgar, and semi-coherent at worst, it’s enough to give acolytes of such stuff pause. Perhaps not coincidentally, the song called “Burroughs” is about William S., whose infamous shooting of his wife may or may not have been an accident.
Not counting “Guilt,” an indictment of TV evangelist-driven scrupulosity that feels—and is—dated, the apparently tossed-off simplicity of this second installment in the collaboration of Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins belies depths worth plumbing. The insolubility of the sacramental love celebrated in “Up Against the Wall” evokes reality at its most intimate. And the capacity of the hooky refrain that goes “You can have Los Angeles / Just give me back my girl” to resonate with the Californication generation should not be underestimated.
Had this 50-year-old blue-eyed-soul (and all-other-things-R&B) singer been born one generation before he was, he might now enjoy an acclaim commensurate to that enjoyed by Van Morrison, whose inclusion of Hunter as guest vocalist on one of his mid-’90s albums and tours speaks volumes. Too bad that, unlike Morrison’s at a similar age, Hunter’s voice has begun fraying around the edges, thus doing a disservice to the vintage sounds for which he otherwise still has an obvious affinity.
Brickell is Mrs. Paul Simon and the former New Bohemian whose one hit turns 25 this year. Martin is the comedian-actor-author whose one hit turned 25 10 years ago. And neither of their pasts matters a whit on this striking collection of 13 Brickell-Martin compositions for banjo and dulcet alto voice. Let’s just say that Alison Krauss and Union Station have competition—and that the only shame is that “When You Get to Asheville” doesn’t include “Say ‘Hi’ to WORLD” on its to-do list.
Because of his 1972 rendition of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” Al Green usually gets credited with discovering the soul potential of Bee Gees ballads. But Jerry Williams—a.k.a. Swamp Dogg—actually discovered it first when he wrapped his voice around “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” on his 1971 album, Rat On!, which along with two other early-Swamp Dogg longplayers, Total Destruction to Your Mind (1970), and Gag a Maggot (1973), has just been reissued by Alive Records.
Part of what has made Williams an underground legend is his capacity for explosively soulful unpredictability. Part big-voiced belter, part Fred Sanford, he exemplifies what “diversity” meant (or at least sounded like) before it became a humorless, oxymoronic talisman of the left. And although not every Swamp Dogg out-of-the-box lyric qualifies as wisdom (Williams wouldn’t inveigh against “killing babies in the womb” until 1981), his “total destruction to” the box itself just might.