A few familiar names who have certainly stood the test of time recently released new albums, and while it would be hyperbole to claim that these are their greatest works, the artists prove that they still belong in a recording studio.
Bruce Springsteen “Wrecking Ball” (Columbia)
Despite being one of the world’s most famous rock stars, Bruce Springsteen has always championed the cause of the working man, but never has he devoted as much attention to tough economic times as he does in his latest CD, “Wrecking Ball.”
The opening cut, “We Take Care of Our Own,” (which Springsteen debuted to a rousing reception at this year’s Grammy Awards) is the kind of the anthemic rocker that would not have been out of place on arguably his greatest album ever, 1984’s “Born in The USA.” Ironically, the song about how Americans pitch in when the chips are down is more optimistic than most of the songs in his portfolio.
Other tunes that reflect the bleak employment picture of recent years are “Jack of All Trades,” whose protagonist seems like he came out of a John Steinbeck novel; “Death to My Hometown,” which attacks profitable corporations for killing small American manufacturing towns in search of higher profits overseas; the self-explanatory “This Depression” and “The Land of Hope and Dreams,” whose intro was clearly influenced by Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
On a more upbeat note, the Boss shows an appreciation of Cajun and Zydeco music with “Easy Money.” The title tune, “Wrecking Ball,” is a tribute to old Giants Stadium, Springsteen’s favorite concert venue.
Paul McCartney “Kisses On The Bottom” (Concord)
As one of the most esteemed composers of our lifetime, it’s not a surprise that Paul McCartney would have the utmost respect for the songwriters who his parents loved such as Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Frank Loesser.
Sir Paul honors his late mom and dad on this album by performing some of the songs that they would all sing at family gatherings when he was young.
“Kisses on The Bottom” is also McCartney’s first stab at a jazz album. It’s not a revelation that the best musicians of any genre would gravitate to McCartney, and so it’s not surprising that legendary jazz producer Tommy LiPuma is at the helm here, while such famous musicians as Diana Krall, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, and Mike Mainieri back up the old Beatle. Although he can play nearly every instrument imaginable, Sir Paul is content just to sing on this album.
He handles the Ink Spots’ “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” Bing Crosby’s “Ac-Cent-Thchu-Ate the Positive,” and the oft-recorded “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and “The Glory of Love” with aplomb. Just about the only misfire is his overly deliberate take on “Bye Bye Blackbird,” which sorely misses the pep that Trini Lopez put into it one of his live albums of the early 1960s.
Two McCartney originals, “My Valentine” and “Only Our Hearts,” are written in the style of the Great American Songbook writers.
Madonna “MDNA” (Interscope)
At the recent Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Madonna proved that just because you have an AARP card doesn’t mean that you can’t perform with the same vim and vigor that you always had.
The Material Girl’s acrobatic dance moves and strong voice seemed to be identical to when she was touring to promote her first album nearly 30 years ago.
The one thing that has changed is her record label. After being synonymous with Warner Brothers Records, Madonna left for Interscope last year and this is her debut for her new company. The standout tracks are her first single, and the song that she performed at Super Bowl XLVI, “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” her tune about her divorce from Guy Ritchie, “I Don’t Give A,” and a pretty pair of ballads, “Masterpiece” and “Falling Free.”
We could all live happily, however, without “Gang Bang,” a tune in which a foul-mouthed Madonna fantasizes about shooting an ex-lover.