New Music 4/27/18: Godsmack, Willie Nelson, Dr. Dog

Hot off the presses: new music!  Better said, new music that is worth your time.

Godsmack – When Legends Rise – 11 songs / 38 minutes

Melodic metal veterans return with their best album in fifteen years.

 

When Godsmack’s eponymous debut was released in 1998, I was completely and totally enthralled.  That album spoke to me and was literally the soundtrack of my high school years (along with Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire, Radiohead’s OK Computer, and a couple others).  When their sophomore album, Awake, was announced, I started a countdown on the chalkboard of my 6th period math class.  My teacher allowed it to stay, and I counted down from over 100 days until it finally came out.  It was a great record on its own, but of course couldn’t live up to the debut.

What is the point of that story?  I am not sure, but Sully Erna and crew have returned to their roots on their seventh LP, with more straight-ahead rockers and better songwriting than their output throughout most of the last decade.  These songs are also shorter than most of their canon, with only one song topping four minutes.  That may be part of the improvement: they get in, rock with a vengeance, and get back out before you get too comfortable.

This album is a back-to-basics redux while also introducing new elements to their palette.  The opening drums and guitar riff on the title track are classic Godsmack sound, and at several points on the album the guitar solos are reminiscent of the whine-sludge that made their debut album so excellent (see “Someday” or the album closer, “Eye of the Storm”).  While not a favorite track of mine, the piano and strings-driven “Under Your Scars” is as close to a love song as these guys are going to get, and the child-choir sing a long on the final chorus of “Unforgettable” is something that would have been hard to imagine on a previous Godsmack record.

Cool to see these guys simultaneously rocking with some killer hooks like they haven’t in a while, and growing at the same time.  Maybe their best days are not yet behind them.  Check them out when their co-headlining tour with Shinedown stops in Boise in October.  I have seen both bands, and guarantee a great time.

Key Tracks: “Someday”, “Eye of the Storm”, “When Legends Rise”

 

Willie Nelson – Last Man Standing – 11 songs / 33 minutes

The ever-prolific octogenarian continues his string of worthwhile last-act recordings.

 

While last year’s God’s Problem Child had a somber tinge and some seriousness in its look back at life and ahead at impending death, this record hits familiar themes with more of a good time feel.  The title track sets the tone with its refrain “I don’t want to be the last man standing, on second thought maybe I do”.  Willie feels at home with these low key songs, and even sounds like there is still plenty in the tank on the aptly named “Ready to Roar”.  “Bad Breath” is equal parts confessional and flippant and finds Willie preaching that “bad breath is better than no breath at all”.  Well said, Mr. Nelson.

His voice may not be what it once was, and he relies on his backing band more than he used to, but you will be hard pressed to find another singer born before the FDR administration that sounds this vital and vibrant.  As he said on his last record, he continues to surprise people simply by being alive – and if this record is any indication, we are likely to be surprised for a little while yet.

Key Tracks: “Last Man Standing”, “I Ain’t Got Nothin’”, “Ready to Roar”

 

Dr. Dog – Critical Equation – 10 songs / 40 minutes

Is this impressively smart indie-rock with a flair for pop hooks?  Well, does the Pope wear a funny hat?

 

This band is one of those that I was aware of but somehow remained just under my radar until I heard this release.  It is both hooky enough to be instantly accessible and contains enough depth and nuance to withstand repeated listens.  Not long after I fell pretty hard for this record, I started hearing lead single “Go Out Fighting” everywhere: my neighborhood brewery, house music before a recent Knitting Factory concert, and from more than a couple passing cars.  Don’t be confused by the in-your-face message and music of that song, as most of the record is more restrained.

I have played selections from this album for several of my friends who had not heard it before, and unanimously they have been hooked.  Though it may be too thoughtful and subtle to be a true “album of the summer” for the masses, it is worth your time.

Key Tracks: “Listening In”, “Go Out Fighting”, “Coming Out of the Darkness”

 

Also heard:

Okkervil River – In the Rainbow Rain