He's 76, so, sure, Kris Kristofferson is feeling mortal. Over the last several years, however, that feeling has resharpened his muse, resulting in his best work since the '60s and '70s, when he introduced a new poetic lyricism to country music. “Feeling Mortal” is no exception — it's the first great album of 2013.
As on 2006's “This Old Road” and 2009's “Closer to the Bone,” producer Don Was puts Kristofferson in the best possible light. He highlights the aging troubadour's craggy grace with spare arrangements that fit his conversational delivery and heighten the intimacy of these songs about life, love and hard-earned wisdom. (Not all of them are new: Two have 1970s copyrights, which makes for a nice linking of his two golden ages.)
Kristofferson may be feeling mortal, but that's also freeing, and so the silver-haired devil doesn't sound as though he's ready to quit anytime soon, as he indicates on “You Don't Tell Me What to Do.” And while “Ramblin' Jack” pays tribute to his friend Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Kristofferson could also be singing about himself: “And I know he ain't afraid of where he's going/ And I'm sure he ain't ashamed of where he's been/ ... And he made his own mistakes, and love, and friends/ Ain't that what matters in the end.”
— Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite
Now, with nearly 20 years of traveling down his own versatile and communal road behind him, Ben Harper finds himself sharing the stage with one of the most gifted harmonica players in modern day blues, Charlie Musselwhite. The result, “Get Up!,” is a rowdy 10-track set that is as moody as it is delicate, as invigorating as it is subtle.
Together, Charlie and Ben have become a force from which it may be impossible to turn away. There's a palpable sense of comfort between these two, and each listen becomes yet another illustration of how strong their musical connection is.
— Colin McGuire, PopMatters.com
Circumstances shifted under the feet of the Local Natives, a critically acclaimed first record named after the bohemian destruction in the take-all-comers pad where they wrote the album, “Gorilla Manor.”
For follow up “Hummingbird,” Aaron Dessner from the National took production duties in a new studio. As living conditions improved and the goal posts moved, as they often do, for the sophomore release, the band insisted on its youth, gathering itself against this mounting responsibility — the weight of expectations, three years turned long — to forge a dark and hopeful record.
If the future remained uncertain, Local Natives managed to shuffle backwards towards it with images of bucolic 20-somethings in tow.
— Geoff Nelson, PopMatters.com
Tegan and Sara
Warner Bros. Records
Tegan and Sara Quin were once the darlings of the indie-rock set, charming Canadian twins known for their raw, guitar-driven confessionals packed with emotion.
On “Heartthrob,” the Quins' seventh album, they let their inner dance-pop divas loose. Instead of Cat Power teamed with Ani DiFranco, they now sound like Kelly Clarkson paired with Gwen Stefani. And, in a bigger surprise, they sound pretty great doing it.
Tegan and Sara teamed with producer Greg Kurstin, best known for his work with Clarkson and Ke, to build a shiny dance pop album that still includes their personal lyrics and memorable melodies.
The single “Closer” announces the change of direction and their broader commercial ambitions — a catchy, stomping dance number that would be at home on a Katy Perry album and, more important, at the top of the pop charts. The synthy “Drove Me Wild” has slightly more of an edge, moving into Ellie Goulding territory.
Where Tegan and Sara really shine on “Heartthrob,” though, is when they reimagine songs that would previously have worked on their own albums and add some pop gloss. “I'm Not Your Hero” could have been on “The Con,” but it has received a Clarkson-esque makeover with “Since U Been Gone”-ish guitar and the synth-pop swoosh of “Stronger.”
“How Come You Don't Want Me,” which they wrote with longtime friend Jack Antonoff of fun., shows how Tegan and Sara can keep their history of deep feelings and weave it into their bright, poppier future.
— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
On the Radar Brothers' eighth album the long-running Los Angeles guitar rock group founded by Jim Putnam continues its gradual, if at times glacially-paced, expansion. Twenty years after its formation, the band has thickened its sound with more dynamic layers and arrangements, even as the voice at the center remains stubbornly consistent.
Since their inception, the Radar Brothers have continually worked on creating the perfect languid guitar rock song, as if orbiting an ideal that they never quite seem to touch. The band does one thing really well, and whether one of the 11 songs on “Eight” hits the sweet spot in your heart will depend on mood, weather, planetary alignment or some combination thereof. None of these tracks are clunkers, but none will redefine guitar rock, either.
Ever patient with its pace, “Eight” seldom shocks with grand gestures or ridiculous hooks. Rather, at their best — the pedal-steel warble of “Couch,” the crisp guitar layers of “House of Mirrors” and the oblong bass line that turns the song awkward or the closing gem “Horse Down” — Putnam and company increase the heat gradually, adding washes of drama until structures nearly buckle under the combined weight.
— Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times