With Metals, Feist responds to the surprise success of 2007’s The Reminder with a whisper, not a bang. She treads lightly through a series of disjointed torch songs and smoky pop/rock numbers, singing most of the songs in a soft, gauzy alto, as though she’s afraid of waking some sort of slumbering beast. Whenever the tempo picks up, so does Feist’s desire to keep things weird, with songs like “A Commotion” pitting pizzicato strings against a half-chanted, half-shouted refrain performed by an army of male singers. But Metals does its best work at a slower speed, where Feist can stretch her vocals across fingerplucked guitar arpeggios and piano chords like cotton. “Cicadas and Gulls,” with its simple melodies and pastoral ambience, rides the same summer breeze as Iron & Wine, and “Anti-Pioneer” breaks down the blues into its sparsest parts, retaining little more than a sparse drumbeat and guitar until the second half, where strings briefly swoon into the picture like an Ennio Morricone movie soundtrack. They’re gone after 30 seconds, though, leaving things as quiet as they began. Like the rest of the subdued track list, “Anti-Pioneer” is unlikely to find itself featured in an iPod commercial, meaning Feist’s days as a provider of hip, trendy TV jingles may be over. Still, there’s a soft-spoken power to Metals, even if its songs are more liquid and atmospheric than the title suggests.
This two-fer CD (which replicates a double-LP reissue from 1976) pulls together two strong albums Joe Simon recorded in 1969 onto one disc. While The Chokin' Kind sounds a bit more spare in terms of its arrangements and production, and Better Than Ever lacks any songs written by Harlan Howard, for the most part these two albums fit together quite well; both sets are steeped in Southern soul with a pronounced C&W influence, and both make the most of Simon's strong, sad, and smoky voice. Both halves of the disc are also seasoned with a healthy selection of covers, and if Simon doesn't exactly cut Otis Redding on "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" or Glen Campbell on "Wichita Lineman," he brings qualities to both that set them apart from the better-known originals. And Joe Simon is at the top of his form on all 22 tracks; impassioned without overplaying his hand, and displaying a disarming emotional honesty that brings a touch of sorrow to even his most optimistic moments, this is stuff anyone who loves Southern soul will fall for. Strong material well presented (except for some audio anomalies on "Wounded Man"), this isn't quite as useful for beginners as Rhino's superb Music in My Bones: The Best of Joe Simon, but anyone with a taste for Simon's early work will love it.
Though the Turtles were rightfully known as an excellent pop/rock singles band, on this recording they let loose their humor, which was part of their act from the beginning. On the outside cover the group is dressed in conservative suits and bow ties, yet on the inside the group is clad in, shall it be tastefully said, less traditional attire. The Turtles (who wrote nine of the 12 songs on the original LP, two songs being added to the CD) basically mock the entire spectrum of music on this album, though elements of their pop/rock sound are contained even in the most country, psychedelic, and R&B elements of the music presented here. Two Top Ten hits are contained in this collection, Roger McGuinn's "You Showed Me" and the Turtles own subtly mocking "Elenore." Light psychedelia meets Booker T. & the MG's in the instrumental "Buzzsaw." The Beach Boys sound shows up in "Surfer Dan," and the original album closer "Earth Anthem" is a hippie ecology, folk-pop anthem that is both very pretty and quite satirical -- a listener could easily lose himself in the fine melody and atmospheric production, while laughing at the same time. The only potential problem with this album is that it is caught in the middle between two extremes: On the one hand, non-mainstream listeners will criticize the album for sounding too commercial, and, on the other, typical Turtles fans will find the album too sophisticated, especially if they are looking for another album like Happy Together. Between these two points of view falls an excellent album that is both commercial and comical, as if both of these elements couldn't coincide in one album.
Unexpectedly reforming 20 years after their 1983 breakup, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters pick up, literally, where they left off: most of 2003's Piece of Mind consists of new recordings of songs the Boston folk-rockers had written and demoed for their third Warner Brothers LP in 1982, before the company dropped them.
Not only does it sound like the intervening two decades had never happened, Piece of Mind actually sounds several degrees better than either Robin Lane and the Chartbusters or Imitation Life.
Freed of major label expectations and the suffocating slickness that plagued those earlier records, Piece of Mind sounds like Robin Lane and the Chartbusters were meant to sound; the jangly pop tunes are still there, but there's a rootsier feel on songs, like the country-ish "Little Bird." Lead guitarist Asa Brebner breaks out occasional rockabilly or R&B riffs, and the band's trademark three- and four-part harmonies, as well as Lane's own warm alto, sound as good as ever. Though no one song is as memorable as the group's classic first single, "When Things Go Wrong," this is their most consistently solid effort by far, and, surprisingly enough, the best Robin Lane and the Chartbusters album yet.