U2 and Coldplay aren't the only ones to claim an anthemic stance. When it comes to rousing the masses, they don't have anything on Great Big Sea, a band from the shores of Newfoundland, Canada. Taking the traditions of their hearty environs, they retrace its musical revelry and convert it into a beckoning call for a faithful following. Make no mistake, Fortune's Favour is an album of articulate and stirring rock 'n' roll, but there's also some folk finesse, with fiddles, banjo, accordion, whistles, and bodhran making appearances. Compelling choruses and stirring sentiments may not inspire you to bash Bono, but you'll know he's not the only one capable of stirring the masses.
A covers album can be a precipitous proposition. For starters, it often reflects an artist at a career crossroads. It also poses another dilemma — how to redefine a song to make it different while reworking it so it still compares favorably with the original. Johnston treads this fine line adeptly; a fine pop practitioner in his own right, he puts a breezy spin on familiar fare, veering from rock lite — McCartney, Petty, the Hollies, the Eagles — to well-aged standards courtesy of Cole Porter and Burt Bacharach. Its title aside, My Favorite Waste of Time is time well spent.
As the Stones once intoned, sometimes it's the singer, not the song. On the other hand, it's often the other way around. And it's really something special when both click and the material and interpretation gel flawlessly. Austin-based Jenny Reynolds finds that perfect combination on Next to You, an album that mingles scrappy, no-nonsense anthems of affirmation with bittersweet ballads fraught with longing and desire. Reynolds' originals resonate on first encounter, but her supple remake of the Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You" demonstrates her ability to breathe passion into each and every offering.
Shearer, who played befuddled bassist Derek Smalls in This Is Spinal Tap, is a superb satirist, actor, and musician, and in what may be the final word on Bush bashing — or maybe the secret soundtrack to W. — he takes a swipe at the equally inept members of the current administration. The spoofing turns brutal from the opening track on, as Shearer rips Cheney, Condie, Rummy, and their henchmen via a soundtrack that shifts from cocktail jazz to Tex Mex to a Who redo. Pray the next prez doesn't inspire a sequel.
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