The History of Rock (Lava/Atlantic 83314)
The funniest thing about Kid Rock's "The History of Rock" is its title. Because what we get on this CD isn't a look back at where Rock has been, but a collection of remakes that recasts his old songs in terms of his current sound.
As revisionist history goes, not even the Soviets could have done better.
It's not hard to see how Rock arrived at such a decision. When he started making records, way back in 1990, he was a straight-up hip-hop artist. Sure, his first album," Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast," borrowed riffs from rock records, but overall his sound owed more to Whodini than to the Who.
That had changed dramatically by 1999, when Kid Rock released his breakthrough fourth album, "Devil Without a Cause." Not only were guitars much more prominent, but Kid Rock had moved away from DJ-based tracks and toward full-band arrangements. He had become a full-fledged rock/rap crossover artist.
"The History of Rock" picks up where "Devil Without a Cause" left off. From the album-opening roar of "American Bad Ass" to the full-tilt funk of "My Oedipus Complex," the tracks on this new album deliver the full mega-watt punch of Rock's stage show. He may be rapping, but this is definitely a rock album.
Unfortunately, that stylistic shift doesn't always work to Rock's advantage. Because the rhythms he's working against have changed, Rock's cadences don't flow the way they did on his earlier albums.
"Prodigal Son," for instance, finds Rock leaning into the beat, putting an aggressive spin on his rhymes that fits well with the chunky power chord guitar hook but feels stiff against the funky drums and bass. At the same time, the parts he sings add enormously to the song's impact.
That's not to say that Rock's new band-based approach is a mistake. "Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp," for instance, benefits greatly from the instrumental input, taking on a loose, soulful swagger that vividly evokes the "Superfly" aesthetic that inspired Rock. Likewise, "I Wanna Go Back" sounds stronger and funkier now that Rock has augmented the turntables and drum machine with live instruments.
Rock/rap fusion may well be the wave of the future, but the style at this point is hardly set in stone. Kid Rock will undoubtedly play a large role in determining the movement's future, but "The History of Rock" doesn't completely define his role.
acoustic.net (Reprise 47714)
Anytime something gets labeled "this.that," our immediate assumption is that it's futuristic and computerized. That couldn't be further from the truth for Dwight Yoakam's new disc, "acoustic.net." Far from being plugged in, the album reduces Yoakam's sound to just a voice and an acoustic guitar, a stripped-down approach that lays bare the Appalachian roots of Yoakam's sound. Don't take that to mean these performances are somehow staid and folky; even without a rhythm section, Yoakam's singing is raucous and energetic, pushing the songs as hard as any band could. From the dark humor of "This Drinkin' Will Kill Me" to the libidinous thump of "Little Sister," these tracks represent Yoakam at his best.
Bachelor No. 2, or the Last Remains of the Dodo (Superego SE002)
They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, but He's got nothing on the inner workings of the recording industry. When Aimee Mann finished what should have been her third album, the disc was rejected by her record company, which claimed the songs were too uncommercial to release. Then, after many of those songs wound up on the soundtrack to "Magnolia," Mann not only netted an Oscar nomination but got a huge publicity boost. So now that she has released the rejected album on her own, "Bachelor No. 2, or the Last Remains of the Dodo" seems an act of courage instead of a vanity project. As well it should. Few songwriters anywhere are capable of delivering songs as smart, poignant and tuneful as Mann does here.