Usually this time of year there are at least 8-10 new releases I look forward to. Not so this year....for some reason there isn't a ton of new stuff on the horizon I find interesting. (I love the Beatles but am not thrilled about forking over money to buy the new cd's to replace the sort-of crappy ones I bought in the late 80's). Some good archive releases (Stephen Stills/Manassas, live Rick Danko - solo and with Richard Manuel) and a few new ones (Gov't Mule, Zero 7) that's it. Not really thrilled at the prospect of another David Gray cd, or another Hall & Oates collection.
There have been 2 recent releases I've been listening to and really enjoying - "...Before The Frost" by The Black Crowes, and "Joy" by Phish. I used to think of the Crowes as little more than a competent covers band that rips off The Faces and The Stones. But as their career has progressed (in stops and starts) they've grown on me. I really don't think any of their albums are outstanding (Southern Harmony being the best), but each one has at least 2 or 3 excellent tunes. Add it up and it would make for a great double-cd (the current one doesn't include anything from their last 2 discs). That trend continues with their latest disc (recorded live at Levon Helm's studio in Woodstock) but this time the not-so-good tunes aren't terrible. They mine a more folky/acoustic vein for much of this disc, and the 2nd disc "Until The Freeze" (available as a download when purchasing Before The Frost) has a bit too many mid-tempo songs that start to all sound the same. The opening track on the 1st disc is a great song - "Morning Captain", and "Appaloosa" is an excellent ballad. Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All-Stars) is now a part of the band, and adds some great guitar as a complement to Rich Robinson. It's actually refreshing to hear new classic rock being made. Here's a video from their Letterman appearance:
The new Phish disc is excellent. It's getting compared to "Billy Breathes" because both were produced by Steve Lillywhite. I think it's similar in that both have more pop oriented songs than the rest of the Phish catalog, with a big exception for "Farmhouse". This disc has some songs that smoke in concert - Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Backwards Down The Number Line, and Joy (BDTNL is a great single) are imho among the best Phish have written. The lyrics for the most part actually make some sense, which was a big knock I had on these guys. (Gotta Jiboo? Makisupa Policeman? Please.) The disc is strong from start to finish, with the exception of "Time Turns Elastic" which goes a bit too prog for me and doesn't really lead anywhere. I heard that the song live is far better, with a strong finish. The Mike Gordon tune (Sugar Shack) is ok, and it's as funky as Phish gets on the disc (which means that for a bunch of middle aged white guys it's relatively funky). Here's some recent Phish video, performing a song from the new disc.