Learning lessons about themselves.
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread (Blue Note / Universal)
Don’t buy the hype of her thirteenth album somehow being her closest to home. Apparently referencing your father’s Arkansas birthplace and namedropping the city of Memphis equates to a genealogy survey. What does it mean when she plugs her not-so-southern retreats in Paris and Barcelona, she’s privileged? Like most songwriters from her generation, she’s a capable lyricist who too often succumbs to her own corniness and mistakes vagueness for wit. Think Bonnie Raitt without the playfulness. All snark aside, she’s too seasoned and slick a professional to record a turkey. Six of the 11 songs work to varying degrees of success for various reasons: A hook here, a worthy couplet there or a deceptive melodic turn you can’t stop humming. Though the whole thing leans monotone by the end, she wears her brevity well – a trait she inherited from Johnny, I’m sure. GRADE: B+
Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble Music)
Tom Gabel’s first album as Laura Jane Grace is brave for its uncompromising and detailed take on a struggle the worst kind of cynic believes is a publicity stunt: As if she premeditated her hardships to boost sales numbers. And while this isn’t quite the transcendent achievement some have gushed about, it’s still an achievement nonetheless. Her lyrics are unapologetically dark and rightfully so. Here’s a heartbreaker from the opening title track: “They don’t see you like they see every other girl / They just see a faggot.” This is a first person account of someone wrestling with their new identity to cathartic results. Musically, however, it’s rather upbeat. A majority of these 10 fist-pumping anthems are in a major key and not one eclipses the 3:30 mark. It’s misery as pop as therapy in bite-sized capsules. Still, for the subject matter being so emotionally charged, I wish the tunes peaked more. A few well timed crescendos would have complimented Grace’s superbly performed and heartfelt vocals. GRADE: A-