Pavement Terror Twilight (Matador) Weepy, sloppy, and severely clever, Pavement mouthpiece Stephen Malkmus has always been the Sean Penn of art-rock. In a well publicized diatribe, Penn attacked the work of Nicolas Cage and Tom Hanks; Malkmus sliced suckup Lollapalooza mates Smashing Pumpkins in the unhesitant "Range Life" ("I don't understand what they mean/And I could really give a fuck"). Pavement's lushly highbrow albums have come close to success, but as with many of Penn's films, mainstream accolades remain elusive. Still, for 10 years, Pavement has provided heady thrills with cracked songs no one else would touch for fear of a pay cut. What thanks do they get? In the case of Terror Twilight, they catch hell for growing soft and old and—gasp!--less ironic. This doesn't necessarily mean Pavement has gone the way of wallet chains, but it does mean they're no longer at the top of their game. Terror Twilight teems with Malkmus' harried-rhymes-as-history-lessons, while his bandmates strive to keep the feedback low and the melodic heartache theme steady. Successes include "Billie," a fine stretch of feeble la-la's collapsed by Velvet Undergroundish freakout riffs, and "Major Leagues," which belies the sad sexiness of yet another summer babe ("Bad girls are always bad girls," sayeth Steve). But far too often the band sounds trapped in Wowee Zoweeland—both "You Are a Light" and the ultra-lifeless "Ann Don't Cry" shamelessly echo that record's "Rattled by the Rush." Even with the help of production deity Nigel Godrich, Pavement's new watery, domesticated sound makes you cry for the days of Walkman faces, electricity, and lust.—Kristy Ojala
Pavement will play the Showbox, Wednesday, July 14.
Townes Van Zandt A Far Cry From Dead (Arista Austin) A few years before his death on New Year's Day 1997, Texas songwriting troubadour Townes Van Zandt handed his wife Jeanene a batch of 21 recordings he had assembled over the previous few years: just Townes, his guitar, and a couple dozen of the classic songs that Steve Earle has called "some of the finest literature of the 20th century." Now, a little more than two years after Townes' passing at 52, Jeanene keeps her husband's memory burning. Together with Nashville producer Eric Paul and an army of musicians and friends who backed the recordings, she has released 13 of those songs on this collection. One of his generation's most respected songwriters, Townes was sadly also one of its most unknown. His lyrics are part Hank Williams, part Woody Guthrie, haunting one moment and tear-jerking the next. And his melodies lock the words in your head and throw away the key. Whispers of country-folk and hard-charging blues are evident on re-recorded versions of his classics "For the Sake of the Song," "Ain't Leavin' Your Love," and "Pancho and Lefty" (which was brought to no. 1 by Willie Nelson). But it's the never-before-released gems, "Squash" and "Sanitarium Blues," that make this record. The latter was tricky for Jeanene and producer Paul, as Townes left behind only a rambling spoken-word poem and a separate recording of guitar. His instructions: "You'll know how to put the words and music together." Collectors of Townes' sparse recording library will be amazed at the quality of the sound, the cleanest vocals and guitar work to ever grace his recordings. Townes' life and music are celebrated again in this historic and timeless collection of American music.—Scott Holter
Various Artists Return of the Grievous Angel—A Tribute to Gram Parsons (Almo) He partied with the Stones. He wore designer Western suits. He died young. Gram Parsons was the original trust-fund cowboy, a reckless spirit who went from Harvard to the heartland armed with enough talent and charm to redirect both rock and folk down twangy country lanes. And all before he overdosed in 1973, at age 26. Though his contributions to the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds—not to mention his influence on Let It Bleedera Jagger/ Richards—didn't seem as significant in the early '70s as they do today, Parsons has catapulted to the top of the canon now that alt-country is an established subgenre. Cue the tribute album. With a twist. The double-disc set, named for his signature song, features the requisite cast of well-known admirers on the first CD, then matches it song-for-song with a best-of-Parsons on the second. The polished tributes by the likes of the Pretenders ("She"), the Mavericks ("Hot Burrito #1"), and Sheryl Crow with Emmylou Harris ("Juanita") threaten to suck the soul out of Parsons' hard-fought tunes, but most stand up despite the sheen. The ubiquitous Elvis Costello grounds things a bit with "Sleepless Nights," kicking off a run that finishes the first disc with a flourish: Lucinda Williams stirs up a passionate take on the title track with help from David Crosby, while Wilco, Whiskeytown, and Gillian Welch pay their respects, solemn and smart. But it's disc two that testifies to Parsons' legacy, repeating the original version of each of the tribute disc's tracks and covering each stage of his brilliant, brief, and beatific career.—Richard A. Martin
Various Artists Hallelujah Anyway: Remembering Tom Cora (Tzadik) The death of cellist Tom Cora in 1998 was one of creative music's most taxing. It struck down a young talent who'd taken his instrument to untold new places, all the while insisting that his music be widely accessible. He helped make Curlew one of the best bands to ever traffic the lines between jazz, avant rock, and who knows what else. This 2-CD tribute to Cora (with proceeds benefiting his young son, Elia) comes with incredibly heartfelt moments, especially Seattle resident Lesli Dalaba's lyrically poignant solo-trumpet opener and the pair of pieces from Cora, Zeena Parkins, and Fred Frith's Skeleton Crew, with their folky, feel-good mix. You won't find a better collection of post-1970s avant-garde guiding lights collected anywhere, and you certainly won't find them playing like this anywhere, either. Everything on this collection sings with Cora's insistently populist vibe, preaching at once to the gods of creativity and to listeners honing their ears on punk's debris. Cora's playing on the single Roof track is some of his best, delivered as always in brief; he favored pieces that had something to say, said it, and moved on. This set of tributes is eminently memorable, but his widow Catherine Jauniaux's duo with Frith at the Cora memorial is alone worth the package's price.—Andrew Bartlett