Give Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney credit for trying to maintain their precarious place atop the rock ’n’ roll heap. Not only have they retained Danger Mouse, the producer who helmed 2011’s El Camino and proved that their garage-rock minimalism could withstand modernization, but they’re forging ahead too. Their problem is that they still have nothing to say worth quoting in love letters or scrawling on restroom walls (tell-tale title: “Waiting on Words”). And thus they fail the ultimate garage-rock—modernized or otherwise—test.
Hall & Oates really were special as hit machines go. And although their previous four-disc box is only five years old and has 30 more songs, this economy-priced, 44-track, no-frills package has its uses. First, it spans only 1975-1990, leaving the obscurities to the duo’s possession obsessives. Second, the “deep album cuts” restore long (and unjustly) overlooked catchy tunes to the canon (best: “The Last Time,” “Give It Up”). Third, every sparkling pop-soul hit (assuming that the live “She’s Gone” counts) is included.
Unlike the earnest Everyman folk-rock that she helps her husband make in Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Ellie Holcomb’s solo soft-pop glows around a poetic core of explicit Christian faith. Plainspoken prayers and confessions link language from hymns and Scripture while piano-centric instrumentation rides subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) beautiful melodies to the most flattering effect that the producers Ben Shive and Holcomb’s father Brown Bannister can muster. And galvanizing the parts into a whole is Holcomb’s voice, which arrests from beginning to end.
The skinny: eight tracks partially recorded between 1983 and 2002, finally completed by contemporary, clout-wielding producers. Expect a ghoulish mishmash and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Expect a Great Lost Album and you’ll be disappointed. Figure eight tracks coming in at 34 minutes to be too little too late and you’ll understand why all eight are reprised in their “original versions” and why “Love Never Felt So Good” appears thrice. Listen to “Do You Know Where Your Children Are” and you’ll wonder why this album wasn’t called Clueless.
Not dead a year and already the New York rock-poet Lou Reed is inspiring tributes. Well, they were bound to happen, and Joseph Arthur, the singer-songwriter behind Lou (Vanguard), would seem just the guy to do one right. That he hasn’t (quite) stems in part from his relying on overfamiliar Reed songs and in part from his taking an unplugged approach at odds with Reed’s aesthetics. He does all right, however, by “Sword of Damocles” and “Magic and Loss,” elegies that, ironically, Reed wrote for others.
More in keeping with Reed’s grittily decadent melodramatics is Luke Haines’ New York in the ’70s (Cherry Red). The cover art pays homage to Reed’s 1975 album Live, and the tracks include a ditty called “Lou Reed Lou Reed.” But mostly Haines provides context. Pop-noir vignettes about Jim Carroll, William S. Burroughs, the New York Dolls, and Suicide vividly evoke the scene in which Reed’s fleurs du mal took deep root.