CD Reviews: June 2012

Chimes of Freedom
The Songs of Bob Dylan
Amnesty International/Fontana; 2012

We all know Bob Dylan has influenced nearly everybody directly or indirectly with his 50 years’ worth of recordings. But did the well-intentioned people at Amnesty International have to try and cram them all into one collection? This is a four-CD set — close to five hours of Dylan as interpreted by artists as varied as Queens of the Stone Age and Diana Krall. Rather than providing the listeners with, let’s say, just two discerningly edited and produced discs, we’re given a clean-the-basement and throw-in-the-kitchen-sink treatment of mixed quality. Some of the misfires include Pete Townshend’s tepid version of “Corrina, Corrina,” which is wholly unremarkable. Carly Simon channels her inner lounge lizard by giving a severely melodramatic overplaying of “Just Like a Woman,” and Bad Religion positively murder “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” There are, fortunately, more than a few pleasant surprises. The Airborne Toxic Event treats “Boots of Spanish Leather” with an unexpected tenderness, and Joe Perry’s take on “Man of Peace” is greasy, dirty, and slightly dangerous. Flogging Molly steals the show, however, with their over-the-top cover of “The Times They Are A’ Changin’.” Elsewhere, Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall does an impression of ’71-era Dylan that’s eerily accurate, but there’s too much tripe here for the collection to be as wonderful as it wants to be. As a document, it’s a fascinating look at the far- reaching influence of a truly enigmatic artist. But I’d either download the tracks you like or find it used. – M.A. Rivera

Van Halen
A Different Kind of Truth
Interscope; 2012

Expectations are running high for this first full-length album from the original David Lee Roth-led Van Halen lineup since 1984. Aside from the flat and uninspired opening number, “Tattoo,” the band deliver a vintage Van Halen recording, and even then with some notable exceptions. Diamond Dave’s seven-and-a-half-note vocal range is now severely limited to a mere four; gone are the yelps and squonks which marked much of the band’s prime material. There’s also a feeling that they’re imitating themselves rather than reaching deep for new inspiration. But Eddie Van Halen’s fretboard histrionics are in fine form; time has only improved his skills, judging by the ease with which he churns out one brilliant solo after another. The solos are as intricate as spider webs, and he outdoes himself every chance he gets. Standout tracks include “Chinatown,” “You and Your Blues,” and the over-the-top “Blood and Fire.” With more full-speed-ahead rockers than on previous VH releases this should be an instant classic, but it falls short in the hooks department. As good as the performances are throughout the album, nothing stuck in my head once it ended. There’s no “Jump,” “Runnin’ with the Devil,” or “Unchained” to burrow its way into your noodle at first pass. Still, this is better than most reunion act releases of late. – M.A. Rivera

The Cult
Choice of Weapon
Cooking Vinyl; 2012

Original frontman Ian Astbury and founding guitarist Billy Duffy are back together to lead this latest version of The Cult, and this new release is chock-full of fist-pumping, bang-your-head songs. From the opening track, “Honey From a Knife,” they’re up and running with a punkish beat and Duffy’s driving guitar. The band play with a renewed sense of urgency, as if to prove that they can still rock as hard as they used to — and that there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank. “A Pale Horse” shows off Astbury’s impressive vocals as he threatens, “I’m gonna crush you right where you stand,” and it’s got a nice call-and-response chorus that’s sure to make it a live favorite. On the other hand, “Life/Death” finds him more solemn and contemplative as he wrestles with the meaning of existence. The album closes out with “Siberia,” a rocker with a staggered beat that’s reminiscent of early Slade. It’s an unexpected track and out of step with the rest of the material and it takes a moment to fall into the groove. But it’s also a pleasant way to close out the collection: with the sort of song that probably inspired them to pick up instruments in the first place. Muscular and at times deceptively subtle, Choice of Weapon should surprise die-hard Cult fans with its energy and enthusiasm. – M.A. Rivera

Surf Zombies
Lust for Rust
Deep Eddy Records; 2012

This third album from the Cedar Rapids-based Surf Zombies is filled with all the surf rock goodness we’ve come to expect from the band — and Lust for Rust is packed with swirling riffs that sound like a tube closing in around you. There are plenty of searing leads and the band boasts a propulsive rhythm section that shows admirable restraint; not once do they give in to the temptation of overplaying. “Torque Fest” kicks off the album with a reverb-filled attack that’s as smooth as an oil slick. At times it sounds like a cat that’s been cornered and is determined not to go down without a fight. “Rat Tech” stomps and kicks with purpose and nerve, just begging you to do something worthy of a citation the more you listen. Elsewhere, “Stingray Dream” finds traffic slowing to watch the best-looking ride drive by. Throughout, the songwriting is fresh and crisp. Often, the songs seem too big for the speakers, and the players bring enough swagger and attitude — especially on tracks like “Boss 302″ and “Never Kill an Ape” — to take on any comers.  Lust for Rust would also make the perfect soundtrack for the next breakout indie film. It closes out with the dreamy, crystalline tones of “Rust-Colored Leisure Suit.” And it’s a great breath-catcher, because if you have any sense at all, you’ll want to start the album over again from the beginning. – M.A. Rivera

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