Los Lonely Boys rode the surprise crossover success of their soul-pop single “Heaven” to multiplatinum sales and a Grammy award. This time out, expectations are running considerably higher, and the band delivers on its promise with an LP of sweet, rootsy bonhomie that should keep the commercial momentum going. Like previous efforts, the 13-track Sacred draws on a tried-and-true formula of Texas blues guitar riffs, Latin rhythms, and swooning genetic harmonies. Musically, the group breaks little new ground, and its lyrics often veer into cliché, yet it’s still hard to deny the ample charms of radio-ready fare like the Allman Brothers–flavored first single “Diamonds,” the spiritual funk groover “Orale,” and the Hammond organ-fueled rush of “Roses.” The band does throw a couple new wrinkles in, adding bits of brass and even indulging in the odd genre exercise like the Brit-pop-flavored “My Loneliness.” Still, they seem most comfortable delivering a familiar mix of airy romantic ballads like “I Never Met a Woman” and beefed-up rockers like “Outlaws.” Deriding the band for its lack of invention or edge seems almost churlish, given their obvious enthusiasm for the songs. Rarely has the middle of the road sounded this good.
— Bob Bozorgmehr
Where many of their peers went to great lengths to prove their blues-rock bona fides (or worse), these amiable English guys responsible for stomping arena-pop classics such as “Photograph” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” charged ahead with the real work of a rock band: creating stomping arena-pop classics such as “Photograph” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” That low-pretense work ethic is why the band’s new collection of cover songs — often a glum stopgap for an aging band — is such a joy. On Yeah! Def Leppard doesn’t attempt to demonstrate how refined their tastes are by playing unknown B-sides by obscure German art-rock bands; instead, they pay loving tribute to the late ’60s- and ’70s-era bubblegum they first chewed: T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy,” Badfinger’s “No Matter What,” Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone.” The key to the project is the band’s palpable love for the material, whether as sophisticated as the Electric Light Orchestra’s “10538 Overture” or as brainless as “Rock On” by singer-actor David Essex. Yeah! suggests that sophisticated and brainless might not be mutually exclusive properties.
Though the epic turmoil of 9/11 moved him to make 2002’s The Rising, a reassuring blast of his patented arena-rock comfort food, Bruce Springsteen has spent the last decade tending mostly to the quieter side of his artistic persona, the scratchy-voiced documentarian most listeners know from 1982’s Nebraska, his famously stripped-down meditation on American troublemaking. We Shall Overcome, a collection of interpretations of tunes popularized by the legendary folk rabble-rouser Pete Seeger, seems at first glance like another installment in this ongoing project: These are songs about eternal truths, built from universal themes and arranged for a 17-piece roots-music ensemble, not a 17-piece bar band. That said, it’s doubtful that a 17-piece roots-music ensemble has ever rocked this hard. Throughout Overcome, Springsteen and his enablers (including some E Street Band regulars as well as rookies like Marc Anthony Thompson, a soul-rock maverick who records as Chocolate Genius) tap into the same desperate charge Seeger once heard in hardscrabble selections like the Irish war ballad “Mrs. McGrath” and “Pay Me My Money Down,” a rollicking worker’s protest song. In the Boss’s callused hands, this antique material resists museum-piece sterility; instead, it throbs with loud, new life.
This much-needed and long-delayed overhaul of Columbia’s early-’90s Byrds box set comes some 40 years after the familiar 12-string Rickenbacker intro to “Mr. Tambourine Man” first rang across American airwaves. Despite unearthing a trove of unreleased and alternate tracks, the original box was a hurried, sloppy affair meant to capitalize on the group’s 1991 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the years since, Columbia has taken greater time and care with the group’s catalog, releasing expanded, remastered versions of all its LPs and further mining the vaults for material like the historic concert set Live at the Fillmore: February 1969. Although Season doesn’t boast a wealth of new rarities — there are just a handful of previously unheard live cuts from the early ’70s — the 99 tracks here trace the group’s history in exhaustive fashion: from its earliest incarnations as the Beefeaters and the Jet Set, to their mid-’60s chart peaks, through the various permutations (the Gram Parsons period, the Clarence White era) and reunions that followed. The four chronologically organized discs paint a vivid portrait of an ambitious and dynamic group that was always several steps ahead of the rest of the musical world. Whether inventing folk-rock and making Dylan acceptable to the pop masses, pioneering psychedelia, or redefining country and roots, the band’s journey always seemed to be underpinned by a powerful sense of purpose — what Rolling Stone writer David Fricke accurately describes in his liner notes as a “quest for transcendence in every note.” As a bonus, the set comes packaged with a 10-song DVD corralling clips from a variety of vintage TV appearances on programs like Hullabaloo and Hollywood a Go-Go. Sadly, most of the performances are lip-synched affairs that don’t offer much musically — although watching the group pick and grin their way through “Mr. Spaceman” aboard a UFO during a 1967 Smothers Brothers segment is certainly a nostalgic treat. While the band’s work has been anthologized and collected many times over, Season truly offers the definitive statement on the Byrds’ high-flying legacy.