Glee album full of polished uplift
GLEE: THE MUSIC, THE GRADUATION ALBUM
Even more than usual, the latest Glee cast album is all about uplift. It’s senior year and the singing students at McKinley High School are graduating with high notes. The songs mix classic rock and pop with some more recent hits, including Fun’s still in the charts “We Are Young.”
As always, the vocal and instrumental arrangements are polished and full. Queen’s “We Are the Champions” gets accurately replicated, for instance, including the classic-rock group’s signature vocal harmonies. Four co-ed voices march forth in Lady Gaga’s likewise made-to-inspire “Edge of Glory.” Lea Michele, aka Rachel, sings passionately in her nicely ascending rendition of Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up.” And The Graduation Album’s production of the New Radicals’ hit from the late ’90s, “You Get What You Give,” is another example of the Glee singers, their producers and musicians being the world’s greatest cover band.
But a few underachievers get promoted in The Graduation Album, including Chris Colfer’s tepid performance of Madonna’s “I’ll Remember” and Mark Salling’s “School’s Out,” which is nowhere near as rocking and dangerous as the Alice Cooper original. Other songs, such as Bruce Springsteen’s nostalgic “Glory Days” and Bob Dylan’s normally poignant “Forever Young,” may simply be beyond the young singers’ experience.
Even though 79-year-old Willie Nelson gets a lot of help from friends and relatives for his latest album, Heroes is his baby. At this stage in his career, Nelson can still make a great Willie Nelson album.
Heroes features new compositions by Nelson, including the title track, a warm character song sung to a waltz tempo and featuring guests Jamey Johnson and Billy Joe Shaver. In a lighter mode, no tears are shed in the upbeat “Roll Me Up,” another new Nelson song, this one featuring Johnson, Kris Kristofferson and, a rap star with whom Nelson shares a fondness for marijuana, Snoop Dogg.
Heroes frequently features Nelson’s 23-year-old son Lukas as vocal partner and songwriter. While it’s no surprise that father and son’s voices are very similar, Lukas turns out to be, like the elder Nelson, a talented tunesmith whose songs suit his old daddy. The two of them show obviously deep personal and musical connections, too, in their transcendent take on Eddie Vedder’s “Just Breathe.”
Nelson’s other guests in Heroes, which is beautifully produced, include Merle Haggard, Sheryl Crow, fellow Texans Billy Joe Shaver and Ray Price and another son, Micah.
An eclectic collection of new Nelson recordings featuring a roomful of talent that works start to finish, even through the final track, a remake of contemporary British rock band Coldplay’s “The Scientist.”
RIZE OF THE FENIX
Jack Black and Kyle Gass, aka Tenacious D, render their mock prog-rock with affection and real skill. Black and Gass plus drummer Dave Grohl, guitarist John Konesky and bass, piano and organ player John Spiker weave funny, mad, genuinely rocking homage to such classic prog- and hard-rock acts as Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Deep Purple and Grand Funk. There’s a bit of Southern prog-rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker in this third Tenacious D opus, too. Black and Gass humbly describe their new album as “rough and yet ... a masterpiece.”
Black’s intentionally affected but nearly legit vocals generate chuckles throughout the profanity-filled Rize of the Fenix. Like prog-rock of old, the songs can have multiple, contrasting sections and much bombast. “Roadie” is a standout. Singing in first-person, the serious Black reveals the tragic backstage life of an unappreciated roadie, the “lonesome warrior,” as he says, “standing at the threshold of your dreams.” And Black must be doing his Tom Waits impression in “39,” a song about a 49-year-old man who, swearing off the 19-year-olds he’d previously favored, proclaims that a 39-year-old female companion is all he really needs.
EARLY TAKES: VOLUME 1
Released simultaneously with the DVD and Blu-ray editions of Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Early Takes: Volume 1 gives a pre-production glimpse of Harrison after the Beatles.
As Warren Zanes writes in the 10-song album’s liner notes, these intimate demos and early takes really place the listener in the room with the quiet Beatle. In the recordings’ simple, unadorned way, they’re as beautiful and engaging as any of Harrison’s properly finished studio productions, if not more so.
Rather than sound raw, tentative or experimental, the Early Take: Volume I songs and performances, including a lovely “Run of the Mill” and, co-written by Harrison pal and fellow Traveling Wilbury, Bob Dylan, “I’d Have You Anytime,” often are essentially complete. Singers, songwriters and guitarists likely will especially enjoy the informative clarity of these recordings-in-progress.