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It’s All You Need

By John Brodeur

Lenny Kravitz

Let Love Rule (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

It’s hard to think of Lenny Kra vitz as anything other than a caricature at this point in time. Through the prism of his truly lazy latter-day output, he appears to be nothing more than a rehash artist shilling fancy vodka and spouting “yeh yeh yeh” over thrice-recycled riffs. But when his debut album dropped some 20 years ago, dude was actually kind of important, his unabashedly retro funk-rock a welcome alternative to the dominant pop-metal and prefab dance schlock of the day. After more than a decade of critical drubbing, perhaps the Kravitz legacy is due for reassessment. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

And what fortuitous timing: Virgin Records has issued a remastered deluxe edition of Let Love Rule, its Summer of Love vibe not only intact but bolstered by a handful of unreleased tracks, as well as an entire disc of live performances. (Meanwhile, the performer has taken to the road on a tour that places the album’s deep tracks alongside such Top 40 bunk as “Fly Away.”) The record’s earthy sounds still carry that weight—it sounds as refreshingly human in comparison to the polished turds that dominate today’s radio as it did when played back-to-back with C+C Music Factory back in the day. There’s no gloss or frills, just bone-dry drums, over-loud bass, fuzz guitar, and Kravitz’ multitracked, warts-and-all voice.

The highlights are in the details: The foot-tap and voice crack that open “Sitting on Top of the World” set a warm, intimate tone; the bass licks are playful and enthusiastic. “Let Love Rule” is just one of a handful of Kravitz-penned rock tracks that rank among the greats, while the omnipresence of tenor saxophonist Karl Denson gives the music a Family Stone lean that would otherwise be muted. Even the Big Moments have their place: The Lennon-for-Dummies “Does Anybody Out There Even Care?” is a charmingly self-important reminder that Kravitz once thought himself a capital-A Artist, before he settled into irony-free Guess Who covers and tin-eared Stones knockoffs like “Dancin’ Til Dawn.”

The demos included here are little more than rough sketches of the songs they’d become, though a basic mix of the title track is worth skimming to hear Kravitz ape the not-yet-tracked sax solo. Meanwhile, the live tracks fill in the not-so-dotted line between Kravitz and his obvious influences. The takes on the Plastic Ono Band (“Cold Turkey”), Love (“My Flash On You”) and Hendrix (“If 6 Was 9”) have some bite, while the live versions of his own tunes take on a soulful sheen. There’s fire and heart in the young man’s performances, and while this does nothing to forgive such later half-assery as “Dig In,” it at least helps to explain why people liked him in the first place.

The Fiery Furnaces

I’m Going Away

Amazingly, this is the eighth album in just about as many years by the Friedberger siblings. Eleanor and Matt wrote the songs together, and this is a new highpoint in a career of many head-spinning moments. They’re still happily layered, veiled and fractured in their sensibilities, and I’m Going Away crams all those impulses squarely down the throat of pop music. Hook-filled, yet brimming with obtuse words and sounds, the set is rooted in traditional forms, especially in the taut arrangements and gutsy vocals. The album is downright funky, with robust drum fills, saucy keyboard fills and guitars—guitars aplenty. Matt’s production inclinations keep the grooves rolling forward while taking gleeful liberties whenever an opportunity appears. His guitar solos in particular are loopy excursions into the realm of deadpan stereo hijinks. Eleanor sings her lyrics with star-power confidence, all the better to lodge mysterious phrases in your head forever.

—David Greenberger

Father Murphy

. . . and He Told Us to Turn to the Sun

Shrouded in mystery are the Italian trio Father Murphy. No info is provided as to who among the three plays what, and even their names have some obfuscation: Rev. Freddie Murphy, Chiara Lee and Vicar Vittorio Demarin (GVitron). That said, this nine-song disc moves along with it own organic and thematic identity. Vocal lines owe their melodic character to everything from Gregorian chants to simple folk mel odies, and are utilized as just another sonic element in the mix. Few lyric phrases form themselves into any sort of continuous narrative or even fragmented narrative. Rather, the words are a tumble. Revealed in the accompanying booklet, they have a poetic bearing that dances into and around issues of faith or the lack thereof, and the consequences and struggles to find a footing in a fractious world.

The most ready comparison is to British band This Heat, and particularly their defining Deceit album. Like that work, Father Murphy’s set is part relentless tumult, part earthy timelessness. It sounds like a nugget of avant-garde freedom dug up from the base of a 400-year-old tree.

—David Greenberger


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