Sting’s first rock album in 13 years, 57th & 9th

Bass Player magazine recommends the new Sting album, and I heartily concur. Here’s the review by Chris Jisi:

Sting’s first rock album in 13 years, 57th & 9th (named for the Manhattan intersection near the recording studio), is a first-rate, ten-song collection that touches on all phases of Mr. Sumner’s broad musical career. The first single, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You,” has a heavy Police presence—with its chugging-eighths groove, arpeggio guitar parts, and shifting key centers—while “Petrol Head” pivots between the Police and roots rock. “50,000,” dedicated to such departed greats as Prince, Glenn Frey, and Lemmy, rides a muted verse (with Sting tuning the E string on his ’53 Fender Precision down to D) before bursting into a stadium-ready classic rock hook, a formula present on “Down, Down, Down,” as well. Sting’s Celtic persona emerges on the 6/8 “Pretty Young Soldier” and the guitar-and-vocal ballads “Heading South on the Great North Road” and “The Empty Chair” (for journalist and ISIS victim James Foley).

Summoning the jazzy, solo Sting side is the Middle Eastern-tinged, European refugee-focused ballad “Inshallah,” and the exotic “If You Can’t Love Me,” with descending bass notes creating harmonic colors against a repeated four-note pattern, set to Vinnie Colauita’s 7/8 drum figure. Finally, there’s the somber topic of climate change presented via the upbeat, super-catchy rock bossa “One Fine Day,” which, with its Latinlike pushes in the bass line, make it Sting’s best 4-string work on the album.

It’s precisely the Police-like opening track, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You,” that first hooked me, along with the magnificently smoldering meditation on mortality, “50,000,” where Sting muses on the “what is it all worth?” factor of stardom.

My favorite part of the post-Police side of Sting is exhibited on the guitar-and-vocal pairings on “Heading South on the Great North Road” and “The Empty Chair.” So also on “Inshallah” which is both haunting and catchy.

Skip the bonus tracks version, which offers nothing additional worth hearing, but do be sure to grab hold of the ten-track album version. Sting should keep returning to that corner of NYC, if only to remind us how great music could be when record companies allowed it to be smart.

Top 6 Rock Albums of 2016

In addition to my lists of the Top 10 Metal Albums of 2016 and the Top 6 Prog Albums of 2016 (+4 from the Metal list makes it a Top 10 Prog list), I wanted to add another 6 albums of pure Rock.

(For those of you doing the math, this makes it a total of 22 for my favorite albums of 2016. That’s the same total number of favorites that I picked last year.)

Sure, there’s a hint of prog on Space Elevator, especially on the last track, which, at the very end, recapitulates themes from most of the preceding songs on the entire album. And the recapitulation forms a conceptual part of the grand finale to the sci-fi framing sequence for the whole album. But nonetheless the album is mostly a pop-rock masterpiece that goes down smooth, so I place it on my Rock list.

Wolfmother, Weezer, and Sting all delivered perfect albums this year. They each deserve supreme recognition for doing so. Among this year’s most highly satisfying discs, I gave them all multiple spins over the weeks of 2016.

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My favorite jazz album of 2016: “The Sting Variations”

Yes, I’m getting a jump on things. After failing to pen a “Favorite Albums of 2015” earlier this year, I figured I need to strike while the iron was hot and I had a few moments of free time.

Those who follow the proceedings here at Progarchy.com likely know that I am the resident “jazz guy.” Jazz probably makes up close to half of the 75,000 or so songs in my collection. I first “discovered”—that is, really listened to—jazz in my early twenties; my first jazz albums were Keith Jarrett’s “The Köln Concert” and “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis—one being the best-selling solo piano album of alltime and the other being the most famous jazz album yet produced. “Kind of Blue” is notable here  because the first song on The Tierney Sutton Bands’ (www.tierneysutton.com) brilliant album “The Sting Variations” is “Driven to Tears”, but opens by directly quoting Davis’ “So What”:

Below is the short review I recently left at Amazon.com.

This exceptional album, which continues Tierney Sutton’s impressive run of very good to outstanding releases, is a revelation in several ways. thestingvariations

First, the playing and singing is of the highest order, with Sutton and band so perfectly sympatico that they should appear as one definition of “organic” in Webster’s Dictionary. There is a remarkable economy married to robust breadth and depth; in other words, the musicians never overplay—every note is necessary and purposeful—but they also never under-commit; each song is played with masterful purpose, focus, and command. An example of this is “Seven Days”, which opens with a simple bass line and plaintive, quiet vocals and then builds in both musical and emotional complexity, capturing the conflicted (“Though I hate to make a choice”) but assertive (“the fact remains, I love him so…”) lyrics. Sutton’s vocals are spell-binding, combining both a light innocence and a rich maturity; the countless shades of emotion and intonation are remarkable.

Finally, the selection of Sting songs is inspired, not simply because Gordon Sumner draws deeply on jazz in his songwriting, but because the lyrical content is so eclectic and his best songs are immediately memorable but never simplistic. That Sutton brings a female voice and feminine genius to the entire project makes this, in my opinion, a truly special recording. A perfect example is found in “Every Breath You Take (Lullabye)”, in which the mega-selling single is both subverted and reimagined, turned from a somewhat unsettling stalking tune into a hushed and then soaring reflection on the complexities of loving one’s child.

An album of covers can be many things: an homage, an exercise, a one off, a replication, a dedication. This album, however, is a work of musical art, which demonstrates the musicians’ respect for the songs and songwriter not through slavish imitation, but brilliantly imaginative explication that looks backward and forward in perfect balance, as most great art does. A masterpiece.