Working On A Dream
Ignore the generic title and off-the-peg song names (‘Lucky Day’, ‘What Love Can Do’, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’), this is Springsteen’s best LP – rollicking Seeger sessions aside – since Born In The USA. And this from an artist who has never suffered the lows of long-serving contemporaries such as Dylan, Bowie or Young. Indeed, every E-Street album since 2002’s The Rising has had fine songs, but been hampered by the ponderous production of the inexplicable Brendan O’Brien.
This time, finally, O’Brien gets it bang on the nail: back to basics with the proud, pristine sound of Springsteen of old, the unashamed bombast and polished pizzazz that make his live performances so cherished and his early albums so arms-aloft intoxicating. Songs were recorded in just a couple of takes, straight off the Magic tour, and the vitality, the urgency, is tangible in a dazzling first half – Springsteen, a notorious perfectionist, is finally trusting his instincts rather than his judgement.
You could call it Springsteen’s Obama album – the title track would have made a fine inauguration anthem – and that’s a meme we could be hearing a lot about in the next few months as singers are released from the self-imposed liberal-guilt handcuffs they wore during the Bush years. Mood is set by opener ‘Outlaw Pete’, a tongue-in-cheek ballad (‘at six months old he’d done three months in jail, he robbed a bank in his diapers and little bare baby feet’) and western epic that’s more Howard Hawks than Clint Eastwood and all the better for it. Otherwise, songs are tight, Springsteen forgoing length for impact, and the hits roll: the touching ‘Queen Of The Supermarket’, the raucous swamp-blues ‘Good Eye’, the Macca-tastic ‘Surprise, Surprise’ and the beautiful, brooding ‘The Last Carnival’. Outstanding.
Peter Watts. Available at www.7digital.com
Joshua Redman’s Compass finds the saxophonist a long way from the Eddie Harris-influenced jazz-funk of his Elastic Band. You may recall Redman writing tunes like ‘Sweet Nasty’ and ‘Greasy G’, jamming with Flea and ?uestlove, and blowing tweaked saxophone over synth-basslines. He reclaimed acoustic jazz in 2007 with the extraordinary Back East, which he dedicated to his father, the idiosyncratic tenor icon Dewey Redman, who appeared on two tracks recorded only months before his death. Compass is similar in mood but adds the complicating twist of two bassists (Reuben Rogers, Larry Grenadier) and two drummers (Gregory Hutchinson, Brian Blade). Unorthodox models like these bring to mind the post-postbop headspace of Ornette Coleman and his successors – Dewey Redman among them.
Playing tenor and soprano sax, the younger Redman spars with his rotating cast in combos ranging from straight trio to full band. Amid elements of abstraction we get strong melody, involved yet visceral rhythm and a perpetually shifting sound mass. Doubling instruments doesn’t mean louder music; Redman’s subtler than that. At times there’s a mirage effect, where one drummer can sound like two and vice versa. You’ve got to listen closely.
Compass is a brave, unusual effort – not as intense and multihued as Back East, yet treading provocative ground with the call-and-response themes of ‘Identity Thief’, the charged swing of ‘Round Reuben’ and the brisk, asymmetric meter of ‘Un Peu Fou’. But the studio can only capture so much: onstage is where Redman and crew could really catch fire.
David R Adler. Available at www.7digital.com