Music Review: Southeastern...

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     Chapter 5 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous tells the reader that, for the true alcoholics, “half measures availed us nothing,” which is appropriate, both when considering the creative context of Jason Isbell’s fourth solo record Southeastern, and considering Isbell’s career in general. The babyfaced Alabamian made his bones in his 20’s, burning to shine in the Drive-By Truckers, and it’s not even arguable that he anchored the three albums of theirs to which he contributed; “Danko/Manual” and “Decoration Day” alone would ensure that, let alone every other stellar cut, with that unmistakeable voice cutting through the smoke. But Isbell left that group before I was lucky enough to see them, and on Isbell’s subsequent three records I only paid passing attention to song here, a song there; I was a Truckers...

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Music Review: Born Sinner...

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     If you listen to “Forbidden Fruit” by Fayetteville NC’s J. Cole, you might get furious. The beat for it is built off a slick instrumental from Ronnie Foster’s first record, but you perhaps know it as the backbone for “Electric Relaxation” by A Tribe Called Quest. This is indisputably a classic song. Your aforementioned fury should begin once the lyrics kick in. But the sample is not the issue; hell, anyone with cash enough to pay for a license can sample any song, release it on a major label, and appropriately divide profit. What will really get to you is how much Cole squanders it, like vintage rare-barrel scotch mixed with Diet Coke. Again, this is perfectly normal. Don’t worry.      The problem with J. Cole, the single root problem flowering on lavish...

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Music Review: Regions of Light and Sound of God...

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     It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a solo record can say more about the musician’s band than the musician him or herself. If that solo record is an unexpected collection of musical ideas you never heard him or her toy with when he or she was jamming with his/her buddies, then it says that band’s a straight-ahead unit, with a particular kind of combined sound that edges out the weirder influences that its separate components might bring to the studio. If the solo record’s bad or tired but the band’s good, that band is a greater-than-its’-parts-sum unit. And if the solo record is so goddamned brilliant that you can’t conceive of it, well, you may want to revisit the band’s back catalog and see if you missed something.      Regions of Light and...

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Music Review: RED

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     RED is big. Bigger and more overwhelming than its predecessor Speak Now. It’s similarly overstuffed and sagging in places, but it’s carrying a bigger vision along with it.      Then again, calling it a “vision” might be a little misleading. Lyrically, Swift’s on the home field. She hasn’t exactly vanished in a puff of pink smoke and emerged as the millenials’ Joni Mitchell; her songs are still deeply hardwired into, and draw their lion’s share of power out of, pop’s chief supply of fossil fuel, i.e. love lost and found. And her torch songs and kiss-offs and steadily shrinking country sound (basically absent here) are back in full force. But the main difference between Speak Now and RED can be found in the credits; whereas Swift held sole writing credit on every track of the...

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Music Review: The Sound of the Life of the Mind...

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     I’m going to warn you that writing about Ben Folds Five, at this point, has become a challenge.      Since I was 14, I’ve cleared a space for them in the ever-swelling digital rucksack of music I’ve been dragging from computer to computer and apartment to apartment. Like a lot of bands you discover and latch onto in your awkward early teen years (unless you weren’t an awkward teen, in which case watch out someone doesn’t tranq and tag you so they can study such a rare breed), Chapel Hill’s Ben Folds Five were the exact right music at the exact right time, fitting into the crooked and uncertain geography of freshman year with their winning combination of showy, almost corny instrumentation, and silliness tempered with pathos. (Probably the same reason They Might Be Giants...

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