While I was getting nostalgic last week about early 2011, apparently the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lenny Kravitz, and Glen Campbell released new records. So let's get current, shall we, and step into the fall musical rush, along with Lindsey Buckingham and John Doe — a bunch of dudes well past 40, all proving that rock (and country and folk) can age gracefully.
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PLAY: Glen Campbell, "Ghost on the Canvas"
Is it a blessing or a curse to know the way you're gonna go? Glen Campbell knows. Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Campbell has decided to write his farewell while he's able. Like Warren Zevon, who wrote his own epitaph with "The Wind" (released two weeks before his death in 2003), "Ghost on the Canvas" brings Campbell's friends, fans, and contemporaries into the studio one last time.
Unsurprisingly, this album hangs together more coherently than his 2008 comeback, "Meet Glen Campbell." It also contains five originals (his last album was all covers) that sit neatly beside songs from Paul Westerberg, Teddy Thompson, and Jakob Dylan and a series of instrumental passages from Jellyfish founder Roger Manning, Jr. It's a bittersweet affair, no doubt about it. But the album is a blessing even without the subtext. "Ghost on the Canvas" is a memorable final stand.
PLAY: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "I'm With You"
Peppers' drummer Chad Smith says that the name is the same, but the band is entirely new. Technically, there's only one new dude: guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who replaced John Frusciante in 2009. Frusciante left some big musical shoes to fill. So big, it took RHCP two years to figure out how to walk in them again.
"I'm With You" has a different swagger than the Peppers of old; it's filled with pianos, percussion, and the passion of three dudes pushing 50. Yes, folks, the Peppers are pushing 50. This means less dick socks and more meditations on mortality and the meaning of life. The maturity present in RHCP's music is closer to the surface on "I'm With You." These guys have always been on a spiritual path, but it's good to hear them get closer to the mountaintop — and leave the dick socks behind.
PLAY: Lenny Kravitz, "Black and White America"
Lenny Kravitz falls in a musical purgatory somewhere between fellow one-man bands Prince and Raphael Saadiq. He's often dismissed as too derivative to earn the full respect of fans of the Purple One, while his classic rock predilections keep him from having the full soul cred of Saadiq.
"Black and White America" likely won't change anyone's mind. That's too bad, because Lenny Kravitz's musical and songwriting gifts are just as unbridled. His ninth album is an ambitious mashup of social commentary, naked faith, and genre gumbo that most artists would fumble before the first chorus. It also has many of the same musical and lyrical cliches that mar most Lenny Kravitz albums (look no farther than the innocuous anthem "Rock Star City Life"). Still, you have to admire Kravitz's 20+ year commitment to peace, love, and analog soul. You may not play "Black and White America" for long, but it'll keep you company on the way to your next peace rally — or stadium show.
PLAY: Lindsey Buckingham, "The Seeds We Sow"
Life with Fleetwood Mac is a double-edged sword for Lindsey Buckingham — and his fans, although one could argue that Fleetwood Mac fans and Lindsey Buckingham fans are two separate crowds. Buckingham's main talking point is that his supergroup is the "big movie," while his solo works constitute his small "indie films." Cynics would say that's a politician's way of managing expectations — and Buckingham's own ego. However, any artist will realize that Lindsey Buckingham is smart enough to know that without Fleetwood Mac, he'd be another brilliant, starving musician. The Mac pays the bills, but the solo work keeps him from becoming a classic rock caricature. More of the group's fans should join along.
"The Seeds We Sow" is better than any big-budget band album Buckingham has pushed out in decades. The title track and the beautifully amped-up "The Way Love Goes" show a player, writer, and singer still passionate at 62. I'll tolerate a mediocre Fleetwood Mac album knowing that the money is funding stuff like this one. It brings new meaning to art patronage.
PLAY: John Doe, "Keeper"
John Doe doesn't have the same problem as Lindsey Buckingham: His band has never been the source of embarrassment or excuses (OK, maybe "Hey Zeus!"). X remains as essential now as they were three decades ago when they were the antidote to '80s excess. And Doe's solo output has become richer with every passing year. The guy ages better than any of those tepid, tattooed punk poseurs who are running out of luck.
John Doe is one of the last real deals. He's got the voice and songs of a man standing with one foot in the Dustbowl and the other in the barroom. Doe also knows how to pick a band: Don Was, Smokey Hormel, Jill Sobule, and Patty Griffin all keep perfect musical company. "Keeper" — along with the rest of John Doe's solo catalog — is a textbook lesson in how to keep your punk roots and integrity intact long after you've made your last stage dive.