Rockpile--Live at Montreux, 1980 (Eagle): Better late than never for the first official live set from Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams. Although there's but one song from Rockpile's lone studio album (1980's Seconds of Pleasure) and the sound quality is hardly top drawer, the live takes on material from Edmunds' and Lowe's solo albums sparkle with energy and drive. Rockpile's roots-based rock'n'roll moves from "So It Goes" to "I Knew the Bride" and "Queen Of Hearts" to Jerry Lee Lewis' "Let's Talk About Us" with breathless abandon. Lowe's "They Called It Rock" is still an uproarious extended quip about the music biz: "The drummer is a bookie/The singer is a whore/The bass player's selling clothes he never should have worn." Edmunds' and Bremner's razor-sharp guitar interplay on "Switchboard Susan" makes it obvious that Lowe's Labour of Lust version wasn't built on studio effects--these guys can play like the dickens, with Williams in particular romping through every drum pattern with scintillating speed and precision. It's no wonder that Rockpile was kicked off many a tour for upstaging the lethargic bands for which they opened. Don't miss Live at Montreux, 1980.
Carole King--A Holiday Carole (Hear Music): Her first record in ten years, King walks the line between joyous and quietly accomplished and mediocre. A Holiday Carole's best tracks are more than enough, but it's disappointing that there's no new material by one of the greatest songwriters of all-time. Thankfully, King's daughter, Louie Goffin, is the album producer and wrote the handful of originals. "Chanukah Prayer" is especially moving, and the cover of "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday" reminds us of King's connection to 1960s R&B. I could do without overworked tunes like "Sleigh Ride" (a big thanks to King for not recording the lame "Silver Bells," however), and yet there are genuine moments of Carole King's organic, vulnerable sound we've long loved as well.
A Very She & Him Christmas (Merge): Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward's third album is an uneven holiday set that's terrific if you're a She fan, but there's less interaction with He than I'd hoped. That might be because Ward mainly concentrates on overdubs of skeletal guitar in the tradition of Les Paul; my faves are where She & Him cross paths vocally. "Baby It's Cold Outside" is rushed (as most versions are), but it's an interesting version as Deschanel sings the opposite part of song than in her duet with Leon Redbone from the Elf soundtrack. They've covered NRBQ before, and this time it's "Christmas Wish," which lends a welcome goofiness to the project. A Very She & Him Christmas is pleasant, though not much more than that.