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It’s All Here
By David Greenberger

Yo La Tengo

Prisoners of Love (Matador)

Yo La Tengo have been re cording for 20 years if you include this two-disc anthology covering 1985 through 2003. The album title is apt, as Yo La Tengo are all about love, both romantic love as celebrated in lyric and melody, and also the giddy, jaw-dropping love of music. The latter can be summed up in passages from two songs among the 26 included on this set. At the 1:52 mark in “Tom Courtenay,” Georgia Hubley stops drumming. Ira Kaplan continues slashing away on his guitar and singing, with James McNew letting a bass note ring out. At 1:56, James helps delineate a change in the chordal structure with one new note. Then, at 1:59, Georgia comes crashing back in with an exuberant fill worthy of Charlie Watts. On “The Summer,” the song’s quiet bearing is built around a pulsing acoustic guitar. As it moves between a pair of chords that lay out its character in the opening bars, the microphone unblinkingly picks up the squeaking of fingers sliding to reposition themselves on the guitar neck. Those two examples are among scores, and it’s a list that differs as wildly as the identities of the band’s fans. Those drum hits come with an excitement that makes it seem that the seven-second wait was an eternity and Hubley couldn’t wait to get back on board, doing so with the practiced flair of a trainhopper boarding a moving freight car. The squeaks, which parallel the foreground movement of the song and can therefore be invisible in plain sight, capture an immediacy and presence.

They’ve also created some of the most stunningly forceful grooves of the past hundred years. “From a Motel 6” is utterly seductive as near-whispered vocals float atop the world’s friendliest fuzz-bass sound ever created, drums and guitar all conspiring to imitate the natural rhythms of the human body. In the flush of full health, this is the musical equivalent of all the body’s organs working in concert. “You Can Have It All” builds the propulsion out of interlocked backing vocals and doubled percussion tracks. The entrance of a cello for the solo can make strong men weep. The song is transcendent because it is the sound of truly having it all. Listen to this song in the morning and there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.

Two discs and a third of outtakes and rarities. For those already well-stocked with Yo La Tengo music, revisiting is an utter delight. For those with a deficit in the “Y” section of their library, this is a perfect place to start. Then you’ll want to have it all. And you can.

Shelby Lynne

Suit Yourself (Capitol)

Just like its title, Shelby Lynne’s fourth album in five years is casual and inviting. It’s also her most assured, because she doesn’t sound as if she has anything to prove. And even though its music is the most easygoing of any recent Lynne album, her lyrics are tough-minded, giving the subtly textured and adult “Suit Yourself” unusual tension.

Based on demos laid down in Lynne’s California home, rounded out by tracks recorded at the studio of engineer-bassist Brian “Brain” Harrison, “Suit Yourself” covers pop, blues and country, all genres in which Lynne is comfortable. Oh, yes; soul, too. Alabama native Lynne evokes a bayou Aretha on the stunning “I Cry Everyday,” cuts like a razor on the metaphor-rich, provocative “You’re the Man,” and puts nouveau-blues chanteuse Norah Jones in her place on “Sleep.”

The music is rich (count on that when Benmont Tench contributes keyboards), the ambience organic; Tony Joe White contributes his swamp-fox baritone to a few tunes, and Harrison allowed the chirps some local crickets laid down during the sessions to stay on the record. The topics include love (“Iced Tea”), disdain (“You Don’t Have a Heart”), pride (the pretty pop of “I Won’t Be Alone”) and sensuality. One of the strongest cuts is the 12th track, cleverly called “Track 12.” It’s actually a long, jamming version of White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” a hit way back when for Brook Benton. You don’t want it to end. You could say the same for the CD overall. Lynne has never sounded more confident or sultry.

—Carlo Wolff

Graham Parker and The Figgs

Songs of No Consequence (Bloodshot)

It’s just shy of 30 years since the release of Graham Parker’s Howling Wind, and his boiling social outrage is still bubbling and steaming. He’s been on more labels than most people can name; Songs of No Consequence marks his second on the feisty Bloodshot from Chicago. It seems a good match: He’s clearly been able to enjoy not having to pack his bags yet again, instead settling in for one of his best studio outings since his glory days with the Rumour. This is due in no small part to his teaming up with the Figgs. He toured with them in 1996, which resulted in the live disc The Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour, and Pete Donnelly was an important presence on Deep Cut to Nowhere in 2001.

Parker has created such an identifiable catalog of songs that just a cursory look at the new track list yields a range of such Parkerisms as “Suck ‘n’ Blow,” “There’s Nothing on the Radio,” and “Vanity Press.” Here, the titles became a hurdle that he and the band clear every time. “Dislocated Life” is equal to anything on Squeezing Out Sparks. This song is also a perfect look at what makes the Figgs such an enduring power, as Donnelly’s looping bass lines dance around Pete Hayes’ drums and Mike Gent creates a solo that’s at once anthemic and street-level scruffy. The fact that they’re a real band with their own history adds a continuity to this set that elevates it beyond being just another new batch of Parker songs.

—David Greenberger


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