Sirens of the Ditch
The Drive-By Truckers have spent the past decade destroying stereotypes with Skynyrd-inspired songs that thoughtfully detail what it means to be raised in the Dirty South. A member of the Truckers for the past six years — but never the star of the show (that honor goes to Patterson Hood) — Jason Isbell's solo debut proves less gritty but every bit as satisfying as his old band's output. Veering away from the Skynyrd template, Sirens of the Ditch is a successful blend of power pop and Southern soul.
The lyrics mostly eschew Truckers-style narratives in favor of confessional fare. There are no legend-of-rock-'n'-roll tales here à la "Ronnie and Neil" or "Carl Perkins' Cadillac." Instead, Isbell engages the listener with emotive numbers like "Try," a plaintive tune about the struggle to maintain a long-distance relationship. It features candid lines like: "You can't give her loving on the phone/ You can't make her stay her ass at home."
Isbell might have left the Truckers to pursue a slightly different direction, but it surely wasn't without their blessing. He makes that clear on the scorching opener "Brand New Kind of Actress." The track features his wife, Truckers bassist Shonna Tucker, and piano courtesy of Patterson Hood. Also appearing on the album are keyboardist Spooner Oldham and bassist David Hood (Patterson's dad), two legendary session men from the glory days of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. It's the same studio where Isbell chose to make Sirens, a soulful album well-suited for listeners raised on the many subgenres that once fell under the simple name rock 'n' roll. (Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit perform Aug. 18 at Crowbar, Ybor City) 4 stars —Wade Tatangelo
Thirty-five original full-length albums in a 30-year recording career. That's prolific, folks. But maybe it's time Prince slowed down — take a cue from some other veteran pop stars (but not Axl Rose), and let the batteries recharge a bit. Planet Earth is the third album Prince has released since ending his major-label exile, signing with Sony and unveiling the vibrant Musicology in 2004. Three years and three albums later, Planet Earth captures the sound of an extremely talented artist at a low creative ebb — not tapped out, exactly, but fatigued. This one shies away from heavy funk in favor of an airier pop-rock sound with liberal doses of guitar. But for every spunky rocker like "The One U Wanna C" or "Guitar," there's a flaccid, cliché-ridden ballad like "Somewhere Here on Earth" or "Future Baby Mama." The album is bookended by two topical songs: the opening title track, an environmental screed, and the breezy, antiwar "Revelation," which closes the disc in fine fashion. In between, it's the usual Prince stuff — ruminations on love, seduction and how to treat a lady. Suffice to say, nothing new. 2.5 stars —Eric Snider
Monterey International Pop Festival
(Razor & Tie)
That Monterey Pop was a watershed moment in rock 'n' roll history is without question. That a two-disc retrospective of the event is a must-have document is quite questionable indeed. Guess you had to be there — because if you weren't and you're listening 30 years later, many of the performances sound sloppy and poorly recorded. The Who's "Summertime Blues" and "My Generation" manage to be at once tinny and sludgy. Jimi Hendrix fares better: His singing is mellifluous on "The Wind Cries Mary," jaunty on "Like a Rolling Stone" — but, neither song contains much in the way of guitar solos. The Mamas & the Papas vaunted vocal harmonies come off as just slightly north of wretched.
Monterey Pop does have its highlights, of course, led by Otis Redding's pumping "Shake" and the simmering ballad "I've Been Loving You (Too Long)." Booker T. & the MG's play some sultry, organ-fronted R&B on "Booker-Loo." The Electric Flag, led by guitarist Mike Bloomfield, serves up a fervent slice of boogie blues called "Wine." Simon & Garfunkel (on the previously unreleased "Homeward Bound" and "Sounds of Silence") prove that their harmonizing never broke down, no matter what the circumstances. If, in the end, you simply must have Monterey Pop, get it for its historical value, not for the quality of the performances. 2.5 stars —ES