"Love This Giant," David Byrne & St. Vincent (4AD)
Annie Clark and David Byrne are truly kindred spirits. Both Clark (who performs under the name St. Vincent) and Byrne (the former voice of the Talking Heads) produce music that can be mesmerizing and oddly distant. Each has a charming quirkiness. Byrne confidently turned his awkwardness into art. And Clark takes a naturally pretty voice and puts it in uncomfortable places — over arrangements that turn spooky or using it as a vehicle for beguilingly dark lyrics.
The two collaborated on the new album "Love This Giant" off and on for two years before calling it finished. The two wrote all but two songs together (each contributed one non-collaboratively-written piece each).
The result is not something fresh and new, but more exactly that you would imagine. Each brings their favorite elements. Byrne favors Latin rhythms. Clark likes sparse brass arrangements and strings. "Love This Giant" is an altogether lovely listen, but it doesn't contain the elements that keep drawing you back. Clark and Byrne seem more like keen observors, even of their own lives, than participants. Even when the songs sound personal, they're devoid of emotional grit. The horns contain far more life than the vocals.
In the album's best moments, though, the two do convey a sense of wonder. "The Forest Awakes," featuring vocals by Clark, is filled with images and an awe of nature. And the disc's closer, "Outside of Space and Time" (sung by Byrne) is a delicately delivered anthem accepting the inevitability of death and maybe something more.
Collaborations by established artists nearly always seem to have been more fun for the artists than the listeners.Rarely do any eclipse what the artists create when they aren't sharing control.
Byrne and Clark are so like-minded that there's no sense of excitement of two very different artists coming together, but there are still plenty of nice moments.
"When I'm President," Ian Hunter & the Rant Band (Slimstyle)
In the 1970s, Ian Hunter fronted Mott the Hoople, one of the best real rock 'n' roll outfits in the game. When he left the group he teamed with Mick Ronson (David Bowie's best sideman from the "Ziggy Stardust" days) and continued with a string of great albums before making and inevitable slide. Beyond Mott the Hoople's classics "All the Way From Memphis" and "All the Young Dudes," audiences probably know Hunter best from "The Drew Carey Show" co-opting Hunter's "Cleveland Rocks" as its theme song and, maybe, Great White's hit cover of Hunter's "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" or Barry Manilow's hit with Hunter's "Ships."
Over the past few years Hunter has been proving that the old dog still has some teeth.
"Shrunken Heads," released in 2007, was a return to form, followed by "Man Overboard" two years later But, "When I'm President." (released Sept. 4) is the most vital of the bunch.
At 73, Hunter could be expected to record his album of classic pop standards. Instead, he re-embraces rock.
Hunter's new disc is full of the fire of his first solo discs in the '70s. "Saint," "Comfortable (Flyin' Scotsman)" and the title track make you want to sing along.
Maybe there's a little more acoustic instrumentation than there would've been 30 years ago, but Hunter has always had a folky side.
Hunter occasionally sounds a little Bob Dylan-ish — gruff and rough vocaled, but that's always been part of the package.
This old dog still knows how to rock.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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