By Gregg Shapiro
Photos: Sean Dunn, John Clark
With the release of her debut solo disc Change (Kill Rock Stars), Cindy Wilson is now the third member of the legendary B-52s to record a solo album. Fred Schneider led the pack way back in 1984 with an album that didn’t drift too far from the B-52’s path. Schneider changed all that with the punk assault of 1996’s Just Fred. Kate Pierson followed suit almost 20 years later with 2015’s Guitars and Microphones, displaying another side to the singer/songwriter. All of this is to say that you shouldn’t expect to hear the Cindy Wilson you remember from B-52s’ songs such as “Give Me Back My Man,” “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland,” “Legal Tender” or “Love Shack,” on Change. Closer in mood to the subtle soul drama of “Ain’t It a Shame” (from 1986’s underrated B-52s platter Bouncing Off the Satellites), the songs on Change introduce us to a more soft-spoken Wilson who sings these ten songs (two of which are covers) in a breathy belt. The disc opens with “People Are Asking,” a potential activist anthem if there ever was one. Wilson, who has an appreciation for a good beat, invites us to “dance this mess around” again on “No One Can Tell You,” “Stand Back Time,” “Mystic,” “Memory” and the title track. Wilson takes an unexpected experimental rock turn on “Brother,” her interpretation of a song by Athens, Georgia band Oh-OK.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a Led Zeppelin fan, there’s no denying that the band’s former lead vocalist Robert Plant has had a fascinating solo career. His first two albums were well-received and are still highly regarded to this day. A late-career collaboration album with Alison Krauss, 2007’s Grammy Award-winning Raising Sand, marked a new creative period for Plant, including 2014’s excellent lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar. Plant’s new album Carry Fire (Nonesuch) finds him once again working with his band the Sensational Space Shifters, and features guest appearances by Chrissie Hynde (vocals on “Bluebirds Over the Mountain”) and Seth Lakeman (the title cut and others). Songs such as “Carving Up The World Again…a wall and not a fence”, “New World…,” “Bones of Saints” find Plant making political statements, while most of the remaining tunes (including “Dance With You Tonight”) can best be described as heartfelt love songs.
Collaboration is key on several new releases. Lotta Sea Lice (Matador) is an album by out singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett (2015’s acclaimed Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.) and ex-War On Drugs guitarist Kurt Vile. Compared to previous efforts by each artist, the disappointing album feels so low energy as almost to be sleep-inducing. Part of the problem is the similar quality of their voices (although Barnett’s is more expressive). Songs such as “Over Everything,” “Blue Cheese,” “Continental Breakfast” and “Peepin’ Tom” prevent the album from being a total loss.
Filthy Friends is the kind of band they used to call a supergroup. Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5), Bill Rieflin (King Crimson) and Kurt Bloch (The Fastbacks) teamed up to form and record an album, Invitation (Kill Rock Stars) as Filthy Friends. As it was when she sang lead on Sleater-Kinney songs, it’s Tucker’s distinctive voice that steals the focus here on songs including “Faded Afternoon,” the R.E.M.-esque “Any Kind of Crowd,” “No Forgotten Son” and “Makers.”
Karen and Ryan Hover, formerly of Candy Claws, are joined by Jacob Graham (ex-The Drums), along with Ben Phelan and Derrick Bozich, to form the new band Sound of Ceres. The Twin (Joyful Noise), the second album from Sound of Ceres, is a dream pop reverie, combing influences ranging from Cocteau Twins to Air. The aptly titled “The Trance”, as well as “Mercury’s Moods” and “Solar Mirror 9”, could keep listeners busy on the dance floor in the three-minute range. Mostly, however, languorous songs such as “Humaniora”, “Gemini Scenic” and “Eden V” sound like they’re meant to be listened to going into or coming out of an altered state of being.
Virtual/animated group Gorillaz, led by Blur’s Damon Albarn, returns after seven years with Humanz (WB/Parlophone), one of its most dance-oriented albums. Potential club-bangers including “Strobelite” (featuring Peven Everett), “Momentz” (featuring De La Soul), “Andromeda” (featuring D.R.A.M.), “Sex Murder Party” (featuring Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz) and the Prince-ly “We Got The Power” (featuring Jehnny Beth and Noel Gallagher), definitely have the potential to expand Gorillaz’ audience. Collaborations with Grace Jones (“Charger”) and Mavis Staples (“Let Me Out”) don’t hurt either.
More than 20 years ago, electronic music legend Moby detoured into full-fledged rock music on Animal Rights. The trip was short-lived, although Moby continued to incorporate rock elements into his music (see “South Side”). It’s likely that the politically-minded Moby thought he could get his message across in a harder rocking format, and that given the state of things, there aren’t many reasons to dance. The 2016 debut album by Moby & The Void Pacific Choir was titled These Systems Are Failing, and the second album More Songs About the Apocalypse (Mute) maintains the mood on songs such as “All The Hurts We Made”, “Trust”, “If Only A Correction of All We’ve Been”, “Happy Song”, and even the more dance-oriented “In This Cold Place”.
Also keep in mind Clara Obscura (Lollipop) by The Relationship (led by Brian Bell of Weezer), the band’s second album and first in seven years, and Gargoyle (PIAS/Heavenly) the fourth album by Mark Lanegan Band led by Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees fame.
Cindy Wilson performs on Nov. 10 at The Earl in Atlanta. Filthy Friends perform on Feb. 2 in Athens at 40 Watt Club and on Feb. 3 in Atlanta at The Earl.