As a send-up of the Sammy Hagar–style hard rock that Gary Cherone was once hired by Van Halen to simulate, “Rock and Roll Cliché” succeeds all too well—illustrating absurdity by being absurd is one thing, but illustrating profanity by being profane?
The big-government send-up “Big Government,” however, scores on every front, right down to its recitation of the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence. Elsewhere, there are pretty songs, Elvis Costello done Van Halen style, and more rock ’n’ roll clichés.
The shaggily Southern intensity to which Bear Rinehart is prone doesn’t always feel earned, but he has come far enough as a singer to justify the risks that he takes as a songwriter. Whether dispensing aphoristic advice (“More Heart, Less Attack”), getting in touch with his inner worship leader (“Multiplied”), coming on satirical (“Difference Maker”), eschewing filthy lucre (“Where the Money Is”), or besting Dallas Holm (“Rise Again”), he’s equal to his various vocal tasks. And the band sounds comfortable whether calming or rollicking up a storm.
Five of these seven Grand Ole Opry inductees play the banjo, six if you count Kevin Hayes and his “gitjo.” One is named Ketch, another Critter. They’ve gotten the blessings of Doc Watson, Marty Stuart, Garrison Keillor, and Bob Dylan. Marcus Mumford says they inspired him. They traffic in Americana archetypes like jail, drunkenness, rivers, and creeks. They also often play and sing really fast, almost as if by doing so no one will notice that they’re really just a novelty band. A good novelty band, but still …
Yankovic once described his live show as fit for anyone who “wouldn’t be traumatized by, say, an issue of MAD Magazine or an episode of The Simpsons.” The same goes for his albums, which also have the advantage of being easily replayable. The question is whether future archeologists will know, should they use these songs to draw conclusions, that Weird Al was just joking? Or is he? “I would live-Tweet a funeral, take selfies with the deceased” goes the “Happy” parody. It sounds like tomorrow’s Drudge headline.
The great jazz bassist Charlie Haden passed away on July 11 at 76. Although complications from post-polio syndrome had rendered him unable to perform in recent years, his latest album—a collaboration with the pianist Keith Jarrett titled all too fittingly Last Dance (ECM)—had been released just one month earlier, placing him atop Billboard’s jazz chart for only the second time in his illustrious career.
Culled from the same 2007 sessions that resulted in the 2010 album Jasmine, Last Dance finds Haden and Jarrett at their most elegantly gentle, nudging each other to an exquisite expressiveness on compositions from both the Great American Songbook (Tom Adair and Matt Dennis’s “Everything Happens to Me,” Hammerstein and Rodgers’ “It Might As Well Be Spring”) and the bebop canon (Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels,” Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight”). It’s by ending with Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye,” however, that the disc achieves perfect closure.