It's no secret that a lot of rock and rollers lose their edge as they get older, and it's no wonder, says VH1 executive producer Bill Flanagan. Great rock and roll demands a strange combination of canniness and — how can I put this — willful ignorance.
It demands that you play a big dumb riff like it's the most majestic thing in the world and — here's the really tough part if you're grown up — like no one's ever thought of it before.
The problem a lot of mature rock musicians face is that they just know too much to keep throwing themselves into those same three or four chords with the belief and bravado of a 15-year-old.
Which makes David Bowie even more impressive. Bowie has been writing prolific songs and making records since the 1960s. He is one of the most sophisticated individuals ever to stand in front of an amplifier. He paints, he acts and he publishes an art magazine. This is a man of intimidating intelligence.
Yet on his new album, Reality, he rocks out with the beautiful abandon of a teenager with his first Stratocaster. Bowie has a gift for adding little harmonic twists to his tunes to keep them from being lowbrow, and his lyrics are always smart.
There are some meditations on life in New York in the age of terror and other big subjects. But the reason people will love "Reality" is because even if you ignore all the subtleties, you can enjoy the record for it's sheer chest-thumping, fist-pumping energy.
That's not easy to do, and it's nothing to take for granted.
Another upcoming CD that really knocks me out is called Evening of my Best Day, by Rickie Lee Jones. Now, that shouldn't be a surprise. Jones is a great artist, but as an artist — as a real musician — she has had less to do with what's become of the music industry. She had not released an album of new songs in years. I figured she'd probably lost interest. So what an unexpected pleasure to hear a new Rickie Lee Jones CD that is as strong as the very best work she did 20 years ago.
She's never been more sure of her special gift for combining easy soul grooves with jazz chords and Beatles harmonies in a way that makes it all feel inevitable. It's as if she has X-ray ears.
She looks right down to the blues roots of all different kinds of American music and says, "There's no reason this kind of melody can't sit on top of this kind of rhythm with that kind of harmony." It's a gift she has in common with Steely Dan, and there are a couple of funny Steely Dan references on the record.
There's also some subtle social commentary that never feels preachy. It feels like a long-lost friend calling you late at night to tell you where she's been and what's been on her mind. "Evening of my Best Day," is a great album. Reserve your copy now.
Speaking of unexpected returns, Edie Brickell has not put out an album in 10 years. Her new one is called Volcano and it's the best thing she's ever done.
Edie made a big splash with her first record, "What I Am." Around that time she met Paul Simon. They eventually got married and they had three kids. Edie dropped out of the record business to become a full-time mom.
But, she must have been playing, practicing and writing the whole time she was out of the spotlight because her new album shows tremendous growth on every front. The songs are like perfectly built short stories. They deal with women at various ages in all kinds of circumstances and relationships — mothers, wives, daughters — who see a lot more than they say.
The last song on the album is a whole life story in three verses with the refrain, "What would you do if you were me? When it's suicide to stay and murder to leave." You can feel the breathing of the characters in these songs. You hear the distance between their inner lives and their outer lives.
Edie Brickell has made a record that sounds like the wind and sunlight between those cracks.
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