CD reviews: Kylie, Fagen, Neil Young resurrected

Posted at 12/09/12 6:44 PM

Kylie Minogue
"The Abbey Road Sessions"

It’s an artist’s ultimate challenge: remake era-defined hits into timeless classics. Dance diva Kylie Minogue makes the right moves— scale down the bpm, take an orchestra along for the joyride and remember how it feels to be young and carefree. It helps jamming in a venerable home of classic recordings, The Abbey Road Studios.

In such rarefied surroundings, Minogue sings her heart out, giving due emotional weight to bluesy songs and pop ballads. Listen to her transform “I Should Be So Lucky” from a dance floor attraction to a jazzy number in the mode as Linda Ronstadt on “Someone To Watch Over Me” with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

“Come Into My World” bristles with teen-age seduction given Kylie’s girl-group vocal treatment. Her duet with Nick Cave, “Where The Wild Roses Grow,” teeters between a swampy ballad and a romantic pledge of love. The twang of country in “Hold Your Heart” sees the forty-something diva testing the waters in another musical territory.

In the age of karaoke carnage, anybody can do any song in his own image. Only a few can give new light to the popular songs they touch. Count Kylie among the lucky few.

Donald Fagen

"Sunken Condos"

The vocalist of ‘70s jazz-rock obsessives Steely Dan is back in harness. In sound and attitude, Donald Fagen in 2012 affects the same bohemian cool, otherwise interpreted as suave aloofness, that has been his stock-in-trade with Steely Dan and his solo career that began in the late ‘80s.

Meaning, Fagen’s ain’t fixin’ what’s ain’t broke. He’s been around recording and touring long enough to acknowledge that there will always be an audience for a fresh mix of sophisticated jazz, rock dynamics and tuneful songwriting.

It’s a winning combination that will attract old heads back to the fold. New fans may come from those who’ve grown tired of wimpy lounge and easy rock.

As expected, Fagen surrounds himself with studio pros to flesh out his music. Interestingly, he seeks out the more accessible jazz fusion and urban funk behind albums
"Gaucho" and "The Nightfly."

“I’m Not The Name Without You” resounds with the riffs of “Glamour Profession,” while “Miss M” sends a soulful undercurrent to the cool jazz of the earlier “I. G. Y.” then re-contextualizes the environment concerns of “I. G. Y.” to the psyche of love.

In “Weather in My Head,” Fagen thinks some inner turmoil needs fixing. If his music today is any indication, the fix can wait. He’s s still good to go for another decade of great music-making.

Neil Young with Crazy Horse

"Psychedelic Pill"

The good times are rolling again. Neil Young, godfather of grunge, architect of shoegaze, punk forefather with Lou Reed, has just released the loudest record of the last five years of a haphazardly unpredictable musical trajectory.
The good times are embodied by the crash and burn of Young’s most recent recording “Psychedelic Pill” which follow the comparatively subdued Americana earlier this year. Pill is “Rust Never Sleeps” to Americana’s “Comes A Time” vibe.

Of the nine tracks in the two-CD "Psychedelic Pill," only the hymnal “For The Love Of Man” is without a slashing tango with Big Guitars and Neanderthal Backbeat.

Actually, the album starts deceptively with acoustic guitars in “Driftin’ Back” but after three minutes of quiet chords, the song picks up and ends in a whirlwind of noisy guitars and thundering drums. The biggest guns are the tightly wound title track, the boss stomp of “Walk Like A Giant” and the infectiously melodic “She’s Always Dancing” which revisits triumphantly the proto-shoegaze of “Like A Hurricane” circa 1976.

Quite simply, Young and Crazy Horse continue to burn with the fire of the power trio. It should be a cinch that “Psychedelic Pill” is the killer rock album of the year.