Neko Case & Timbaland Review

One of rock’s greatest voices belongs to none other than Neko Case, this week’s guest on Sound Opinions. The singer/songwriter takes a break from her recent tour to talk with Jim and Greg and perform some of her signature country-soul songs. Then stay tuned for a review of the new solo album from famed hitmaker Timbaland.

Neko Case
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Earlier this week the music label EMI agreed to drop Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions from its digital music files. In addition, the files will be of a higher quality than those available now. Essentially this means that consumers who purchase EMI tracks from bands like The Arctic Monkeys, Beyoncé, and Nelly Furtado can play them on any player, regardless of where they purchased it. But, there is a catch: these digital songs will be almost 30% more expensive.

EMI’s announcement seems to be a response to a plea that Apple head Steve Jobs made earlier this year for all record companies to remove DRM from their digital music. And while these songs will be available for purchase and download from all online retailers, it’s interesting to note how much Jobs is thrusting himself into the music industry. In fact, he was posed right next to EMI chief Eric Nicoli for this announcement.

Back to Black Amy Winehouse

Back to Black

This first album up for review this week is of Back to Black, the second album by British import Amy Winehouse. The singer/songwriter was one of the most buzzed about acts at this year’s SXSW Festival, and her off-stage antics are getting her a flurry of attention in the British press. Jim and Greg, however, aren’t sure the phenomenon will translate overseas. Winehouse prides herself on being influenced by jazz and the R&B and soul singers of the 1960s. But, both critics find her music to be a retro parody more than an authentic homage. In fact, Jim outright hates this album and gives his Trash It rating right up front. Greg didn’t dislike the album as much as he thought he would, but was still unimpressed by Winehouse’s pale imitation of artists like Donnie Hathaway and Nina Simone. He also gives Back to Black a Trash It.

Neko Case

This week’s guest is singer/songwriter Neko Case. It’s hard to categorize Neko’s music. Some call her alt-country. Others throw the word soul in there. But whatever you call it, fans and critics alike are happy to hear it. In addition to making her own music, Neko records and performs with Canadian pop band The New Pornographers. After wrapping up her current tour, Neko will go out on tour with the New Pornographers in support of their new album.

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is Neko’s most successful album to date. It’s also one for which she did much more of the songwriting. Neko credits that songwriting with learning to play the tenor guitar. Greg compares Neko’s guitar playing to that of Steve Howe, but she likes to think of herself as more of a Paul Butterfield.

Neko calls Fox Confessor Brings the Flood her most smart-ass album. The way in which the songwriter tells stories on the record is in large part inspired by Eastern European folktales. Neko grew up listening to this style of storytelling from her Ukrainian grandparents and appreciated how open-ended and non-judgmental the tales were.

Two of the songs Neko performs for the show have unique inspirations. The first, That Teenage Feeling, was written after her guitarist, Paul Rigby, exclaimed that he didn’t feel the need to get married for the sake of getting married. Rather, he desired that simpler, no-strings feeling that love gives you when you are a teenager. The second song, Margaret vs. Pauline, is based on a book by Beat novelist and poet Richard Brautigan called In Watermelon Sugar. Jim’s relieved to hear the song has a far less ominous meaning than he thought. You can also hear a bonus performance of Sometimes When I Get To Thinking by Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Shock Value Timbaland

Shock Value (Instrumental Version)

Superstar producer Timbaland also has a new solo album called Timbaland Presents: Shock Value. Timbaland, otherwise known as Tim Mosley, has produced massive hits for pop and hip hop stars like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake. But, in addition to having a knack for making commercially successful tunes, Timbaland is also one of the most inventive, innovative and avant-garde producers of all time. This fact makes it all the more difficult for Jim and Greg to give their ratings of this album. Jim thinks the first half of the album is worth checking out for some solid production. But, he wishes Timbaland hadn’t been so base and clichéd in his lyrics. He also questions the creativity involved in the album’s all-star collaborations. He gives Shock Value a Burn It. Greg can’t even be that kind. He is completely disappointed by this album and is forced to give it a Trash It rating.

Jim

It’s Jim’s turn to select a song to take with him to the desert island this week. His DIJ pick was inspired by the two albums reviewed in the show. Amy Winehouse considers herself a modern day Nina Simone, and Timbaland uses a Nina Simone sample in his song Oh Timbaland. Jim is in favor of referencing the past, but wanted to go back to a band that was able to bring a hip hop attitude to classic ‘60s soul and jazz much more successfully than Winehouse ever could. That band is Portishead. Portishead came out of England during the 1990s as part of the trip-hop movement. While their tenure was short (though word is they are making music again), Jim is still impressed by the group’s ability to merge American hip hop with British psychedelia with early soul and R&B. The album he urges listeners to go back to is 1994’s Dummy, and the track he wants to add to the Desert Island Jukebox is Sour Times.

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