Eddie Vedder, "Into the Wild" (J Records)
For his first solo album after 17 years fronting
Pearl Jam, Evanston native Eddie Vedder was tapped by his pal, director Sean
Penn, to provide the soundtrack for the new film "Into the Wild," based on
Jon Krakauer's 1996 bestseller about a 24-year-old existentialist inspired
by Tolstoy, Thoreau and Jack London to drop out of society and live off the
land -- with tragic results. The hero is exactly the sort of romantic
idealist Vedder has always admired and sometimes resembled, and in filling
Penn's request for music to provide the "interior voice of the character,"
the singer has risen to the occasion with a low-key but endearing set of
nine folksy originals and two well-chosen covers.
With mostly acoustic instrumentation, heavy on banjo
and mandolin paired with understated percussion and droning organ, the focus
naturally falls on Vedder's always-robust vocals. That's fine, since his
voice is also the standout instrument in Pearl Jam -- unless you unduly
focus on the lyrics, which are so earnestly poetic that they're sometimes
"When you want more than you have, you think you
need / And when you think more than you want, your thoughts begin to bleed /
I think I need to find a bigger place / When you have more than you think,
you need more space," Vedder sings in "The Wolf," which makes me want to
howl in protest.
By far the standout track is "Hard Sun," written by
Gordon Peterson of the band Indio.
Pearl Jam fans will recognize and embrace echoes of
that band's quieter moments, though more than anything, "Into the Wild"
evokes the solo album that R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe has been promising
for years but has yet to deliver. It's a promising debut for a solo career
that seems likely to continue.
The Go! Team, "Proof of Youth" (Sub Pop) ¼¼¼½
"Are you ready for more?" Ninja asks us over one of
studio wizard Ian Parton's typically dense and chaotic grooves on the second
album by Brighton's Go! Team, and you can't help but answer, "Heck, yeah!"
That song, "Titanic Vandalism," incorporates a sample
of "Pscha-Soula-Funkadelic" by the Politicians, a kicking four-piece horn
section and Ninja's chanted cheerleader vocals, among many other elements --
so many, in fact, that it threatens to turn into a white-noise collage like
a vintage Bomb Squad production for Public Enemy. But the energy is so high
throughout these 11 tracks -- and the Jackson Five playground hooks that
jump out of Parton's busy mixes are so memorable -- you can't help but fall
in love with this one-man bedroom band turned indie-rock group all over
The formula may not have changed much since the Go!
Team's 2005 debut, "Thunder, Lightning, Strike." But with songs as strong as
"Grip Like a Vice," "Patricia's Moving Picture" and "My World" (a pretty
acoustic detour, and a welcome respite), "Proof of Youth" plays less like a
repeat than an inspired continuation of a sound that still seems thoroughly
fresh and absolutely irresistible.
Jill Scott, "The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3" (Hidden Beach)
While Philadelphia's Jill Scott continues to have
one of the most powerful voices -- as well as the most appealing personality
-- of any performer in the so-called neo-soul or natural R&B movement, her
third studio album holds fewer surprises than fans might hope for a career
seven years on from her 2000 debut, "Who Is Jill Scott? Words & Sounds Vol.
1," which scored an impressive total of four Grammy nominations and 2.4
million albums sold.
"Everything that goes on in my life goes into the
music," the soul-searching artist recently told Billboard. But given that
she recently weathered a divorce, you'd think there would be more of an edge
to "The Real Thing," a la the album's best track. Driven by a kicking
up-tempo groove laced with horns and showcasing one of Scott's most
passionate vocals, "Hate on Me" takes aim at all of those who are jealous of
her accomplishments. "No matter where I live / Despite the things I give
/ You'll always be this way," Scott wails. "So go 'head and hate on
me hater/'Cuz my mind is free."
Unfortunately, the other 14 tracks lack that kind of
fire, reverting to the quieter, jazz-inflected quiet storm sounds of her
first album. And this time around, it all seems a bit shopworn, and
sometimes downright sleepy.