BRIGHT EYES’S “THE PEOPLE’S KEY” (Saddle Creek)

√ Bob Certified
    Conor Oberst demonstrated in 2002’s “Lifted or the Story Is in the  Soil, Keep Your Ears to the Ground” that he was one of the most gifted singer-songwriters in years—and he delivered his masterpiece three years later in “I’m Wide Awake, It Must Be Morning.” In that album, the Omaha native, who records under the group name Bright Eyes, looked at the world with such intimacy and penetrating observation that you couldn’t help but think of another Midwesterner who arrived in the early 1960s. Like that Minnesota native before him, Oberst felt uncomfortable with all the media acclaim and commentary, especially the part about being the voice of a new generation. So, he seemed to take a few side steps in his subsequent albums—as if trying to catch his breath and figure out his goals as a musician. With “The People’s Key,” Oberst steps out of the confusion with his most focused and revealing set of songs since “Wide Awake”—and he has some fresh musical textures to match. He continues to be angry at the hypocrisy of the political arena, but he also seems more humble. The answers aren’t as definite and the world doesn’t swirl as around him as much. Still, he continues to value concepts of honor and sacrifice with an almost spiritual fervor, stressing the importance of community and brotherhood. This CD doesn’t exhibit the consistency of “I’m Wide Awake,” but it asserts a similar excellence in the best moments, including “Beginner’s Mind,” “Ladder Song” and, especially, “One for You, One for Me.” In the latter, he sings: One for the breadlines / One for the billionaires / One for the missing / One for the barely there / One for the certain / One for the real confused / One for me, okay, now One for you.” 

ANNA CALVI’s “ANNA CALVI” (Domino)
√ Bob Certified
    This debut album opens with a daring instrumental track, “Rider to the Sea,” which is built around a Gypsy-styled guitar run. It feels like it is going to be a dramatic introduction to an ambitious new artist (something along the lines of what the very theatrical David Bowie might have done in the 1970s). You keep waiting for the vocal, not realizing the opening track is, indeed, the introduction to this English artist. It’s Calvi playing guitar and the mood of the track is entirely in keeping with the sense of passion, mystery and lust that also colors her vocals and songs. Though there are other influences at work, Calvi’s music ultimately falls into the tradition of P.J. Harvey. Even the song titles—“Desire,” “The Devil,” “Blackout”—convey the edgy, earthiness and force of Harvey’s music. But Calvi is no clone. She’s just mining a similarly soulful, sultry musical vein. “Anna Calvi” will be releasedMarch 1. Highly recommended.    

“THE MECHANIC” and “JUST GO FOR IT”

Save your time and money
    There was a period a few years ago when I would routinely walk out of movies if I was bored, but I thought I was getting more patient. It was a good two years since I bailed on a film—until last week when I did it twice. Even if you, too, are generally a fan of Jason Statham and Adam Sandler (who star in these films respectively), you’ll be hard pressed to find anything in either film to care about. There’s rarely a strong plot in Statham’s films, but he’s a charismatic guy and the directors normally know how to keep the action flowing. But the action is as lackluster as the plot in “The Mechanic.” Part of Sandler’s appeal is he comes across as a likeable guy, but charm can only take you so far. Even he looks bored much of the time in “Just Go for It.”

 


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