Rant ‘N’ Roll: Norah Jones, Blue Oyster Cult, Clannad, And More!

Gotta be quick or I’ll positively drown in this pile of sound.

Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones (Blue Note) is easily her best. From the whispered innuendo of opener “Good Morning” to each and every break-up song, these 12 little nuggets of bitterness harbor a dark interior. “Don’t you miss the good old days when I let you misbehave,” she sings on “Say Goodbye.” She’s obviously been burnt and it took producer Danger Mouse to bring her desire for retribution to the fore. The two worked well together on his 2008 Rome album. Here, he puts her voice in a variety of settings totally different to all her other albums. Add her acerbic love-sucks lyrics and you’ve got a masterpiece. “She’s 22” is ugly-sick lyrically yet pretty on a sonic level—delicious irony. Her soft, sly sensuality comes through on every song of despair, heartbreak and loss. Danger Mouse is a pro at achieving a dreamscape ambiance, the perfect environment for her delicate high-wire act. This is exquisite pain of universal stature—like a cuckold husband forced to watch his wife kiss her lover. Oh, the inhumanity! To hear Norah turn herself inside-out to reveal such a deep well of hurt and remorse makes all the rest of us feel better somehow. Go head on, girl, go hurt for all of us. It makes for great art.

The Essential Blue Oyster Cult (Legacy) is 31 tracks on two discs in two and half hours. The bar-band versions of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” or Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” are awful. Besides the great “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love,” “Godzilla,” “Joan Crawford” and “Burnin’ For You,” when you get right down to it, Blue Oyster Cult is really just REO Speedwagon with a better publicist.

The Essential Clannad (Legacy) is 30 tracks on two discs spanning a 40-year career. Here I thought I’d be reelin’ with the feelin’ to jigs and shanties but the haunting atmospherics of this Irish family band is a revelation: soft, sweet, gentle folk-music rhapsodies of the highest order made for contemplation or as a soundtrack to one’s own movie. It’s ghostly, precious music—music like cigarette smoke drifting into the air—that’s so excessively delicate and refined, it goes away by itself if you don’t concentrate on it.

Chapters by Adestria (Artery/Razor & Tie) kicked my ass and reminded me of how much I miss being editor of Metal Maniacs and working with all the good people there. Sometimes you don’t realize how good you have it until it’s over. Consider that my lesson of the week.

Sweeten The Distance by Neal Casal (The Royal Potato Family) is substantial singer-songwriter stuff. Dude’s got a lot to say, says it beautifully and deserves frontman status after stints with Ryan Adams and Chris Robinson. He’s been composing for 20 years. Somebody should really pay some attention to this poet.

United We Stand by Brad (Razor & Tie) is album number five for these Seattle rockers. Guitarist Stone Gossard also happens to be in Pearl Jam but I gotta tell ya, I prefer Brad. That’s how good they are. Check ‘em out.

Beauty Will Come by Red June (self-released, redjunemusic.com) just may be the most stunningly gorgeous country album in years. Everything about it: from the exquisite three-part harmonies and acoustic loveliness of the mandolin, fiddle, guitar and upright bass (no drums!) to the compositional prowess extolling home and hearth, family and true love ways. It’s natural, organic fresh air cool mountain stream music that strikes the right chord. It’s music meant to be played on the back porch at sundown while the coffee’s a ‘brewin’ and the soup is heatin’ up. This is the epitome of Americana and you probably won’t hear it on stupid “country” radio.

Don’t tell my wife but I have a new girlfriend. Life In Full Colour by Callaghan (self-released, callaghansongs.com) proves that this Brit has been listening to her Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow records. Add her impertinent impish sexiness, and a hint of her adorable British accent and I’m smitten, man. Girl can write. Girl can sing. Girl can play piano. Girl has captured my heart. Callaghan, oh Callaghan, sing me back home.