Cutting to the Quick
Fast Takes on Three Records

I know, I promised to review Andrea Dawn’s Doll this week, but I’m still working on that. While I do, though, new music keeps piling up. So I thought I’d get through a few records this week, without spending a lot of time on any of them. (I know, I’m really enticing you to read this, aren’t I?)

I buy a lot of music, and I can’t possibly care deeply about all of it. It takes time to truly know a record, and I only have so much of that. Of the torrent of records that cross my desk every year, I feel like I really get to know and understand only about a third. I try to hear everything I can, multiple times if possible, but I can only lavish attention on a select few of them. So I’m looking out for those, for the records that will take over my life and inspire me to keep listening.

None of the ones on tap this week inspired me in that way. These are all albums I’ve heard at least once, and for whatever reason I’m not feeling like we’re going to be great friends. I don’t hate any of these – that would require a full review to examine those feelings. But I don’t love any of them either, and I probably won’t take the time needed to get more in touch with them. I may regret this. It’s possible that someday in the future, I’ll pull one of these discs down, pop it in and realize that I’ve overlooked a masterpiece. But for now, this is what they get.

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Mark Everett has made a lot of albums, mainly under the name Eels.

In fact, he’s made 11 studio records, along with a slew of live records and rarities collections. And at this point, his patterns are becoming pretty clear. I generally like Everett’s work, but even I can see that Eels albums break down into three types: the happy, life-is-good ones; the loud, uncomfortable ones; and the sad heartbreak ones.

So when I say that the latest, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, is a sad heartbreak one, fans will know what I mean. It starts with a slow instrumental with horns, half the songs are simple acoustic numbers over which Everett laments a lost love, and it concludes with a couple pick-yourself-up rays of hope. It wallows in misery for about three quarters of its running time, and by the end, Everett says he’s learned something, and he’s getting on with his life.

How many more times do you think he’ll make this record? He already perfected it with Electro-Shock Blues back in 1998, and if he hadn’t, he would have with the mammoth Blinking Lights and Other Revelations in 2005. I don’t want to suggest that Cautionary Tales is bad – some of these songs, like “Kindred Spirit” and “A Swallow in the Sun,” are quite nice, and he’s never done anything quite like “Dead Reckoning” before – but it is old hat at this point.

I may be selling it short, and I would like to sink back into this one, reportedly Everett’s most autobiographical in some time. I do like that it begins with “Where I’m At” and ends with “Where I’m Going,” and the two songs share a melody. But I feel like I’ve heard this all before. Everett needs to break out of this rut before he goes through something similar and writes another one exactly like Cautionary Tales. Speaking as an Eels fan, I’ve bought this record a few times, and I don’t really want to buy it again.

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Who here is sick of the Black Keys?

I am. Put more accurately, I’m tired of the whole hipster blues thing, which doesn’t bode well for Jack White’s new album, for example, or for the Keys themselves, who return in a couple weeks. It’s to the point now where if I see Dan Auerbach’s name connected with a project, my heart sinks.

Which brings us to the new Ray LaMontagne album, Supernova. LaMontagne is one of our most singular singers, and over four previous records, he established himself as a rootsy, powerful voice. My favorite LaMontagne stuff is the starkest and simplest, like the acoustic numbers on Gossip in the Grain, or the glorious “Be Here Now” from Til the Sun Turns Black. These songs focus on that raspy, syrupy, commanding, one-of-a-kind voice.

So of course, Supernova tosses all that aside in favor of a tour through pop-blues and ‘60s pop. It sounds exactly like you’d expect an album produced by Auerbach would. While these songs are sometimes interesting, particularly “Airwaves” and “Smashing,” this album commits a pretty severe crime: it buries LaMontagne’s voice beneath layers of sound, and processes it beyond recognition. It could be anyone singing these tunes, and that’s a shame.

The fact that half these songs are pretty boring, like the Keys-ish “She’s the One” and the shuffling title track, doesn’t make things any better. I’m not sure what possessed LaMontagne to make this album, but I hope it wasn’t money. Auerbach’s making his name as a hit producer to the stars, and this teamup hasn’t delivered the artistic goods, so I hope it does well. Nothing sucks worse than making a move like this and watching it fail on all fronts. As for LaMontagne, the sooner he gets back to making beautiful music, the better.

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I’ve said a few times that The Gaslight Anthem needs to shake things up.

Three albums ago, they adopted a style that sounds like The Alarm playing Bruce Springsteen songs. They’re similar to The Hold Steady in that way, but they’ve never made an awful record, the way Craig Finn’s bunch did with Heaven is Whenever. Still, they’ve run their sound into the ground, and I’m not sure I want to hear another record in the same vein.

That’s why their B-sides collection, inventively titled The B-Sides, is such a treat. It’s an odds-and-sods thing, but it’s different in all the right ways, and its uneven nature makes for a nice break from their more polished efforts. You get acoustic readings of five songs, and five fascinating covers, including the Rolling Stones’ “Tumblin’ Dice” and Robert Bradley’s “Once Upon a Time.” You get one true b-side, too, the swell “She Loves You.”

All of this tumbles up next to each other with a ragged imperfection that suits this band. I’m not sure where they’re going next, but I enjoyed this glimpse at another side of them. I’ve always kind of liked them, and The B-Sides reminds me why. It’s exactly the kind of new perspective on this band I’ve been looking for.

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Next week, Doll. I promise. Leave a comment on my blog at Follow me on Facebook at, and Twitter at

See you in line Tuesday morning.