Album Reviews: Wilco and Akon

You could very easily jump over to my profile at Last.fm to find out exactly what I’m listening to, up to the minute. But I think at times those dynamic utilities, at times can be disingenuous to what I’m really feeling. You know, there’s music I throw on when I’m reading a script or writing a proposal, and it’s usually something without lyrics like Yo-Yo Ma, something orchestrated by John Williams or one of the Cirque Du Soliel albums. They’re just so good for inspiring concentration. But they aren’t always the music that I listen to for listening’s sake; they aren’t the artists that spur enjoyment, unless I’m going for the melt-away sleep kinda enjoyment. So, every once in awhile I’m going to drop a few albums here and give you a few words to pump them up.

Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

This is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of all time. I first fell upon Wilco back in 1996, in what my close circle of friends dubbed “The Summer of Love.” They came along with Son Volt and the Jayhawks, and stole time from our then constants of The Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz, Bob Marley, and Dave Matthews Band. While I still listen to all of the latter bands, I really hadn’t listened to Wilco in about a decade until I ran across one of their recent albums at the library (read more about this here).

Wilco is a lot of things. Some credit front-man Jeff Tweedy’s 90’s band Tupelo with being the crystallizing genesis of Alt-Country. Tweedy is a guitar force, who’s lyrical genius and musicianship has been overshadowed by the turbulence and inconsistency in his personal life and supporting cast (only recently has the same Wilco lineup shown up in the studio for back-to-back records). Regardless, if you are a fan of what I like to call mid-country rock and artists ranging from Neil Young to The Black Crowes (the poppy-end of the spectrum), you’ll love Wilco. And Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a great starter album.

This album starts with an easy paced mellow tune, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, which serves its purpose as a lead-off hitter, but honestly I usually skip it in favor of one of my favorite Wilco songs, “Kamera” which comes in the second slot. Like a good baseball lineup, the first song gets you in the door, the second song really picks up the pace, and the 3, 4, and 5 slots are heavy hitters. “Radio Cure”, “War on War” and “Jesus, Etc.” which itself echoes Grateful Dead like nothing I’ve ever heard before, are all absolutely great songs. The rest of the album is solid, but the next great song is “Heavy Metal Drummer.”

There are sounds of Jeff Buckley in here, Radiohead, The Dead, The Shins, Neil Young and the what is becoming an unmistakable Wilco quality to the music. The Black Crowes are oft called “America’s most rock n’ roll Rock N’ Roll band.” I don’t disagree, but Wilco is becoming one of the most original Rock N’ Roll bands around. I can’t recommend this record more.

Akon
Konvicted

My review of Akon’s Konvicted is going to be shorter than the review of Wilco above. I suppose it’s because there’s a bit less substance to it. But I’m not sure that’s a completely fair assessment, as I don’t think that Konvicted (which is a pop album) was written or conceived in an effort to rival the depth or structure of a neo-country / indie rock record written by one of the more accomplished guitarists of this generations. But I still say this album is well worth a purchase. It’s a hip-pop album, with some Highlife-Afro flair; a great recipe for mellow beats and smooth rhythms.

While the whole album is pretty good, there is one absolute gem in here on track 7, “Mama Africa.” It’s not quite the enduring reggae standard of the same name by Peter Tosh, but Akon’s “Mama Africa” is rich with near Soukous style guitar riffs and runs that play a nice backdrop to this love song to Akon’s motherland.

The rest of the album is filled with a mix of: well-known club-bangers, two featuring Snoop and Eminem, songs which beside their nice beats are absolutely raunchy songs with absurd lyrics; the radio hit “Don’t Matter” which is what helped catapult Akon into the limelight in 2006-2007, which is really a very solid song; and a handful of songs where Akon’s Senegalese roots shine strong. Top to bottom, it’s an interesting collection, and I’m really happy that the album is on my figurative shelf. It’s been in pretty regular rotation on my iPod and iTunes for the past 3-4 weeks.

***

I think I like reviewing two completely disparate albums next to each other. Looking at them back-to-back forces a glance from a wider perspective, opening angles to both albums previous undiscovered. I’ll try to have a couple each week. So until then, have a good week.

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