Summer is back — you know it had to happen eventually. Music always sounds better with the top down so let's load up the CD player and hit the road.
The hot new rock band this summer is Arcade Fire, a musical collective from Montreal who combine the urgent, this-is-all-too-much-for-me vocals of the Talking Heads with big anthemic rock in the Springsteen/U2 tradition. You would think those two things would not go together, but they do. Singer Win Butler rides those grand tunes like a little guy full of big ideas. Arcade Fire prove that even intellectuals like to get roused once in a while.
I suspect that the album I will play the most this summer is "Sky Blue Sky" by Wilco. This is wide-open folk-rock with echoes of The Band, Neil Young and all the other music I reach for when I get out of the city and up to the woods. "Sky Blue Sky" sounds like how I hope the Summer of 2007 will be: Joyful, easy-going and serene.
Amy Winehouse is a soul singer from England who combines the big hair and bad girl attitude of the Ronettes with a vintage R&B vocabulary that might remind you of Martha and the Vandellas. You've probably already heard her hit, "Rehab" ("They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, 'No, No, No'"). That's what I call bad girl attitude: Amy Winehouse songs to be played loud while driving slowly through the parking lot of the burger joint.
Speaking of soul, Alice Smith is a name you should write down. She's clearly a child of the 21st century, but her voice will remind you of the great seventies R&B singers, and her arrangements veer between Isaac Hayes and the Beatles. She's got a song about getting out of New York City and heading up to Woodstock that will make you believe that she's equally at home in the city with the hip-hoppers or in the country with the hippies.
Now, some of you don't want to hear about rock bands, soul singers or cruising the burger joint. Some of you want to spend the summer sipping wine and reading poetry on the deck of a villa overlooking the ocean. Do I have some music for you?
I do, and some of it's even in French!
"Welcome To The Voice" is a new classical piece — oh, I might as well admit it, it's an opera with a libretto by the French writer Muriel Teodori and music by Steve Nieve, best known to the hoi polloi as the brilliant pianist in Elvis Costello & the Attractions. It's a piece about the clash between high culture and low, the upper class and the workers, and Nieve has very cleverly cast legit opera singers such as Barbara Bonney and Amanda Roocroft as the Sacred Voices, and rock singers like Costello and Sting as the Profane Voices. It's a conceit worthy of Bertold Brecht and it really works. Whether you come in through the front door of serious music or the servant's entrance of pop, "Welcome To The Voice" will make you feel welcome at the party.
Finally, I want to tell you about a new country singer named Elizabeth Cook who has Tammy Wynette's eye for domestic detail in her lyrics and Dolly Parton's high mountain breeze in her voice. Her new album is a real breath of fresh air but there has been some argument here about whether I can say the record's name on Sunday Morning.
Here's a clue: This summer I'll be watching the Red Sox play base____. Cinderella lost her shoe at the ____.
You get the idea.
Elizabeth Cook's new album title is the plural form of a word that means a sphere. She says that's what it takes to be a woman. Tammy would have just spelled it out.
Here's wishing you no flat tires in heavy traffic, that everybody remembers to use sun screen, and that nothing flies off the roof of the car on the way up to the cabin.