Rob Crow, He Thinks He’s People
The solo career of Rob Crow, founder of Pinback—as well as a number of other non-trivial indie-music assemblages—has been similar to that of Swervedriver’s Adam Franklin: Both artists’ solo work has been all about songcrafting. Compared to the relative complacency of Crow’s 2007 release, Living Well, he returns with a set of songs that is musically diverse and covers a lot of ground. Yet it’s all unmistakably his, with carefully measured rhythms and riffs that still pack a precise punch. Of all his musical personae over the years, from the math rock of Heavy Vegetable to the heavy metal of Goblin Cock, the music released under his own name is the most personal, though it partakes of his other musical identities, as well.
The calm at the center of a slowly roiling storm, his voice isn’t soporific, cynical or ironically detached, but is at just the right distance. Often, the He Thinks He’s People songs skewer timely social targets. “Locking Seth Putnam in a Hot Topic” pairs its lyrics with a mock disco rhythm that’s seemingly vapid but adds another layer of cultural significance. Crow is able to construct musical edifices that are stately without being mannered, subtle yet decisive, sensitive without lacking bite. A lot of current indie songwriters could take a lesson here. Temporary Residence Ltd. (Brian Staker)
Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire
Ryan Adams’ catalogue includes 14 full-length recordings spanning more than 10 years and has earned him considerable notoriety. And, with each new release, Adams evolves his sound, whether it’s a solo folk album, an alt-country record or straight-ahead rock with his band The Cardinals. The finished product is always worth a spin, at least. Adams’ allure is both unpredictable and unique—an essential quality for any singer-songwriter.
That said, his flair for exciting ingenuity may have lost its flame on Ashes & Fire. The album sticks to the most tried-and-true move in his playbook—the ballad—rarely venturing into upbeat territory, to the detriment of the album.
The first track, “Dirty Rain,” is promising, with heartfelt lyrics and genuine alt-country backing. But the album’s musical intensity and lyrical optimism drop off after the second track, and what follows is a long, flat tribute to heartache. “Do I Wait?” provides a lift midway through, with organ backing and electric guitar solos, but it isn’t enough to carry the collection. If you can listen until the second-to-last track, “Lucky Now,” its rooted country sound is welcoming and enjoyable. Despite the merits of that song, the ambling pace of the album as a whole makes it too long and tired to be a satisfying listen, except as an album to put on during those first cold, lonely post-breakup nights. PAX-AM/Capitol Records (Jordan Wallis)