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MUSIC | Reviews of four albums
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Star Fleet Sessions
Brian May + Friends
What 40 years ago was a 19-minute vinyl EP is now two CDs lasting seven times longer. And, for once, such excess almost makes sense: The title cut (a rock version of a theme song from a Japanese sci-fi show for kids) boasts the juiciest chord progressions, the meatiest riffing, and the most spotlight-worthy singing that Brian May ever recorded. So hearing it twice on the first disc (single edit, long version) and over and over on the second (10 incomplete but substantial takes) doesn’t get old. The studio-vérité jamming does, but not as quickly as you’d think—probably because Eddie Van Halen was one of May’s “Friends.”
Calling Cortez: Neil (Vol. 3)
The Minus 5
Believe it or not, Neil Young’s voice sets some people’s teeth on edge. Enter Scott McCaughey, the once-upon-a-time Young Fresh Fellow who began covering Young songs several years ago as part of his recovery from a stroke. Besides having good (and eclectic) taste in Young songs (“Out of My Mind,” “Misfits,” “Don’t Be Denied”), McCaughey has the vocal range and the emotional investment to put them across. He’s also tuned-in enough to Young’s radar to contribute compatible songs of his own. Don’t be surprised if someday Young covers “Let’s Build a Pyramid,” “One Last Tank,” and “Empty Quiver” on an album called Scott.
One version or another of this Swedish Christian band has been pounding out high-quality metal off and on (mostly on) for over 25 years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. There’s still thunder aplenty in the rhythm section, the keyboards still provide ’80s frosting, and, vocally, Christian Liljegren still gives Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson a run for his money. Best of all, the group remains oblivious to nuance, but not artlessly or unimaginatively so. Gleefully, maybe.
Heart & Sacrifice
Sweet & Lynch
Sweet is Michael, the lead singer of Stryper. Lynch is George, the ex-Dokken guitarist and current guitarist of Lynch Mob. Sweet, Lynch, their bassist Alessandro Del Vecchio, and Faithsedge’s Giancarlo Floridia wrote all 12 songs. The lyrics, however, have Sweet (and maybe Floridia) stamped all over them, speaking as they frequently do for seekers on the verge of leaps of faith. On “After All Is Said and Done” and “World Full of Lies,” the band eases up a bit. On everything else, minor-key hooks and bludgeoning riffs (including one from Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”) face off in a high-volume slugfest that’s winner take all for sure.
When Scott McCaughey isn’t heading up the Minus 5, he’s platooning with the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn as the leader of the Baseball Project, an indie-rock all-star team (like the Minus 5) whose lineup includes R.E.M.’s Pete Buck and Mike Mills and Wynn’s wife Linda Pitmon. The recently released Grand Salami Time! is the Project’s fourth full-length collection of funny, poignant, hooky, and insightful rock ’n’ roll songs about and inspired by America’s national pastime.
The main prerequisite for enjoying them is a working knowledge of names such as Jim Bouton, Steve Blass, Dave Kingman, Shohei Ohtani, Carl Hubbell, Gaylord Perry, Dave Kingman, José Fernandez, Harmon Killebrew, Bowie Kuhn, Vin Scully, Dave Niehaus, and Bob Prince. But even people who can’t tell a fastball from a slurve or Joe Buck from Buck Owens will relate to “Journeyman” (about the loneliness of the jack of one trade) and “Having Fun” (without which, after all, a game is just a job). —A.O.
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