Badly Drawn Boy “It’s What I’m Thinking, Pt. 1: Photographing Snowflakes” (The End)
Remember one of those times in your life when you felt absolutely lost and getting back on track took some time? After a four year break, indie-pop dynamo Badly Drawn Boy (a.k.a. Damon Gough) has found his way back with his seventh studio album and has chosen a softer, mellower path for the first installment, “It’s What I’m Thinking, Pt. 1: Photographing Snowflakes.” Even though this record is not a complete return to form, it serves as a starting point for Gough with respect to once again writing new music.
The album offers thought-provoking, introspective lyrics and heavy string arrangements paired with an acoustic guitar (Gough’s trademarks), but lacks the true poppy punch of his past records. The uniqueness of Gough’s past work relied heavily upon his ability to pair melancholy yet minimally hopeful lyrics with faster paced instrumentals. Without the quicker tracks, “What I’m Thinking” lacks balance and feels bloated. Tracks like “Too Many Miracles” and “This Electric” differentiate themselves by coming out of the gate fast but give way quickly to slower melodies, much like a mirage, and leaves the listener wanting more.
Gough perfectly captures the serenity and frustration one deals with when attempting to photograph snowflakes but hopefully his next installments will offer a little more sunshine. As with anything else in life, getting back up to speed musically may take Gough a couple of albums. –Greg Stieber
Phil Collins “Going Back” (Atlantic)
Phil Collins has painstakingly re-created the Motown sound, building it brick by brick with the geekish fandom the British are known for, even having several Funk Brothers back him up on songs like “Going to a Go-Go,” “Heatwave,” etc.
Unlike Michael McDonald, he built the songs on a foundation of real drums, showing he understands the primal importance of the beat Benny Benjamin, Pistol Allen and Uriel Jones laid down. He’s cracked the code on Motown arrangements, particularly the lovely Holland-Dozier-Holland song “In My Lonely Room,” and the stellar Norman Whitfield/Eddie Holland Tempts song “Girl Why You Wanna Make Me Blue.” It helps that he’s got the original bassist, Bob Babbitt, re-creating his “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” bass line. It takes guts for a guy with a reedy, English voice to follow vocalists like David Ruffin, Dennis Edwards and Smokey, but low expectations lead to pleasant surprise (there’s still suppleness in his upper range and a working falsetto). A few attempts at modern arrangements falter, but he loves the material — and the musicians — so much, Collins’ enthusiasm is hard to resist. –Susan Whitall, Detroit News
Rockin’ Jason D. Williams, “Killer Instincts” (Rockabilly Records)
Even on ballads, Jason D. Williams lives up to his reputation as a rockabilly wild man. The first slow song on “Killer Instincts” references life in prison, the JFK assassination, marijuana and Christmas. The title is “If You Ever Saw a Baby …” and when the tune ends, Williams confesses he wrote it.
Not everyone would make such an admission, but Williams is quite comfortable in the role of a slightly crazed piano-playing singer. The Arkansan has long drawn comparisons to Jerry Lee Lewis and does a fair share of Killer impersonations here. With encouragement from producer Todd Snider, Williams also gave songwriting a try, and the titles hint at the resulting fun: “To Hell With You,” “White Trash” and “You Look Like I Could Use a Drink.” Even when Snider flavors the arrangements with horns, there’s an informality appropriate for the material, and the whole thing comes off like the third set of the night at the neighborhood roadhouse. Williams pounds the bejabbers out of the piano, whether he’s playing honky-tonk, a Yiddish instrumental solo or Lewis’ “Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee.” Pass that bottle. Steven Wine, Associated Press
Greg Stieber is a Denver freelance writer and regular contributor to Reverb.