ARTIST: BOB DYLAN
ALBUM: TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Bob Dylan’s recent trifecta of “Time Out of Mind,” “Love and Theft” and “Modern Times” represents the kind of late-career renaissance so many stars shoot for and nobody achieves.
Those albums were based in an often near-apocalyptic darkness. “Together Through Life” -- which debuted at the top of the U.S. album chart -- hangs loosely on the concept of the highs and horrors of actual, carbon-based love. Dylan wastes no time, dealing out both a consuming love and a bruising void in the opener, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’.” It’s pretty close to the archetypal new, froggy-voiced Dylan -- odd, as lyric co-writing credit goes to Robert Hunter on eight of 10 songs, which tamps things down noticeably. There are clunkers, like the half-there torch song “Life Is Hard.” But the great thing about 67-year-old Dylan is that even when it’s not working, it’s working. His band, anchored by Heartbreaker Mike Campbell’s guitar and David Hidalgo’s blissful border-town accordion, creates a sublime atmosphere from scraps of 100 years of American music: porch blues, but also Cajun swing, ragged folk, saloon boogie, the circus and a cast of dusty characters who drift into towns and wander. And there are plenty of peak moments, including “I Feel a Change Comin’ On” and “It’s All Good,” a sharp-tongued send-off about failure and shackled-up hope. (He’s being sarcastic with the title.) Lacking a fireworks moment or a big revelation, “Together Through Life” might not be on par with Dylan’s newest holy trinity, but as a continuation of the inscrutable, impenetrable Dylan story, it’s all good.
ARTIST: TONY BENNETT AND BILL EVANS
ALBUM: THE COMPLETE TONY BENNETT/BILL EVANS RECORDINGS (Fantasy Records)
The phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” has never been more appropriate than in the case of this meeting of musical giants, which dates back to the mid-‘70s. Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, each an iconic artist in his own right, join forces on these newly reissued, remastered and, in some cases, rediscovered recordings, for what amounts to a master class in the art of musical conversation. The sessions brim with intuitive interplay -- from an adventurous reading of the Horwitt/Hague standard “Young and Foolish” (with Evans’ harmonic extensions adding gravitas) to a gutsy, growling romp through the humorous Coleman/Leigh tune “When in Rome.” Bennett and Evans both sound inspired, pushing each other into places neither had fully traveled in their respective solo careers. The newly discovered alternate takes shed even more light on this dexterous duo and the legendary recordings they created.
ALBUM: I FEEL CREAM (XL Recordings)
Peaches has been away for a little while -- her last full-length release, “Impeach My Bush,” came out in 2006 -- and that’s given the Berlin-based electroclash veteran ample time to assemble a fresh store of novel sexual tips. In “Trick or Treat,” for example, she advises, “Never go to bed without a piece of raw meat,” which sounds sensible enough. With production input from such indie-electro heavyweights as Simian Mobile Disco, Soulwax and Digitalism, “I Feel Cream” has less of a live-band feel than Peaches’ previous efforts; it’s almost as if the death of electroclash’s commercial potential freed her to re-embrace the style’s robot-pop roots. Whatever their inspiration, new cuts like the oddly pretty “Lose You” and “Billionaire,” the latter of which features a fiery cameo from Shunda K of Yo Majesty, throb with unexpected vitality.
ARTIST: MELODY GARDOT
ALBUM: MY ONE AND ONLY THRILL (Verve)
The distinctive talent that Melody Gardot displays on her remarkable sophomore jazz/pop outing, “My One and Only Thrill,” is a rarity. Her hushed, velvet-smooth vocals evoke a noir yearning and forlornness, her slow-burn delivery enraptures with a torch sentimentality, and her support team shines: her simpatico touring band, arranger Vince Mendoza’s organic orchestration on some of the tunes and producer Larry Klein’s knack for enticing heartfelt soul from a singer. But foremost is Gardot’s songsmithery, which ranges from bossa-tinged to low-lights balladry. Highlights include the lushly skipping opener, “Baby I’m a Fool,” the finger-snapping jazzy blues “Who Will Comfort Me,” the gently swinging chanson “Les Etoiles” and the softly stormy “The Rain.” Her only cover is a dangerous choice: “Over the Rainbow.” But Gardot completely re-envisions it with a Latin tinge.