Short Takes: Jeff Bridges, Eric Clapton/Wynton Marsalis, Mat Kearney and More
The washed out photos of The Wandas on the cover of their debut, dressed as they might have been in the ’60s and ’70s, perfectly reflects the band’s retro but not necessarily dated approach. The Boston based quartet’s dreamy pop-rock locks in on a mid-tempo groove and the organic sound captures the effortless strummy melodies and vocal harmonies that recall the days before slick production and too many overdubs robbed music of its magic.
The dude abides some sleepy, rootsy production by T-Bone Burnett to capitalize on his star turn as country washout Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. Kudos for covering songs from Steven Bruton and Greg Brown, but the world already has one Kris Kristofferson. Bridges’ rough baritone talk/sung voice just doesn’t connect with songs and production that seem lazy, if somewhat less self-indulgent than other successful actors who try to make their mark as singers.
Kearney’s affable voice and likeable, lightly introspective tunes are glossed over with a Pro-Tools slickness that whiffs of commercial potential but robs them of their natural charm. Ditto for the drum loops and the singer’s hip-hop approximations, none of which are embarrassing but don’t do the melodies any favors. It’s all pleasant and inoffensive but with production that sounds phoned in based on market research, little is memorable. That leaves Kearney as another promising singer/songwriter derailed by trying too hard to be everything to everybody.
Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton
Play the Blues:Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center
The “blues” referenced in the title to this primarily acoustic live recording is of the pre-war variety and since trumpeter/jazz historian Marsalis gets co-billing, there’s plenty of authentic New Orleans/Louis Armstrong/W.C.Handy rooty-toot-tooting horns playing jumpy Dixieland to go around. Transforming Clapton’s hoary classic “Layla” into a traditional dirge is the album’s most daring and successful stretch, but everyone seems to be having a blast and the energy generated by the concert setting is contagious even if this old-timey music isn’t the blues as most listeners have come to know it. Hal Horowitz
Laughing Down Crying
The “Live from Daryl’s Place” monthly webcast hasn’t just kept Hall’s name from falling into the purgatory of other where-are-they-now? ’80s stars, but the exposure to younger artists has sharpened his songwriting chops and approach. That makes his first solo album in over a decade such a refreshing reminder of his immense talents with 10 crisply produced, terrific tunes that slot into his patented rock-pop-soul sweetspot without sounding dated, stilted or worse a desperate attempt to relive past glories. This sounds like a great lost Hall & Oates album without the schlocky sound that makes some of the 80s songs sound passé. It has taken a while to get here, but this is worth the wait.