Album reviews: Miranda Lambert, Andy Aylward, Gene Clark, and Homeboy Sandman

Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman. Publicity photo Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman. Publicity photo

Miranda Lambert

Wildcard (Sony)

Glowing with sanitized professionalism, performed hot messiness, and branded shout outs from Patron to Tide sticks, Wildcard is textbook pop country. And after “divorce album” The Weight of These Wings, it’s party time, as Jay Joyce’s production insists–Wildcard is engineered for loudness, and even the acoustic passages are compressed to 11. Meantime, Lambert serves the songs well, holding back her twang on the ‘00s alternative-sounding “Mess With My Head” before unleashing it for the trainwreck slideshow “It All Comes Out in the Wash.” She stripmines country lyric tropes to the point of parody, but remember, she’s a pro, so “I got a track record, a past that’s checkered / As the floor at the diner on Main Street” is merely one of a hundred quotables. If Wildcard stumbles in spots—the bland “Bluebird,” the cheeseball “How Do You Love?”—it slots a couple gems on the back end: “Pretty Bitchin,’” which rewrites The Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling” for suburban cool moms; and closer “Dark Bars,” a waltz which finds Lambert suddenly subdued and sincere, and ends with an instrumental fade that’s the prettiest minute on the record. [7.6]

Andy Aylward

Sometimes Rain (Andy Aylward)

Opener “Long Goodbye” sets the tone for Sometimes Rain, the debut full-length of NYC-based UVA alum Andy Aylward. Clear, dry guitars, spacious production, strolling tempos, and undeniable ’70s vibes hold sway throughout, and Aylward’s unprepossessing voice combines a mellow melancholy with a faint underlying tension that mirrors the way his melodies feel familiar even as they take unexpected turns. Befitting its title, Sometimes Rain carries muted echoes of the Velvets, Silver Jews, and early John Cale, and the house band adds stylish details, none tastier than the pedal steel by Dan Lead (Cass McCombs, Vetiver) on “Mockingbird.” [7.2]

Sometimes Rain by Andy Aylward

 

Gene Clark

No Other (4AD)

What kind of country-rock flop from 1974 would experimental pop label 4AD treat to a deluxe reissue? The same country-rock flop boasting a track that 4AD house band This Mortal Coil covered in 1986. Which is to say, a majestically gothic country-rock flop. The failure of No Other hung over ex-Byrd Gene Clark’s career until his death at 46, whereupon, in an instance of supremely rueful timing, rock crits upgraded No Other to a consensus masterpiece. It still sounds masterful, and prescient—sure, there are Byrds echoes, but Clark’s untethered, psychically damaged songs provide more than a foretaste of “Hotel California” and Tusk. Paradoxically, the gloom happens under the canopy of Tommy Kaye’s sumptuous produc-
tion. Lambasted at the time, Clark and Kaye’s instincts were sound—the celestial production beautifully heightens and refracts the hanging sense of dread. No Other isn’t just a psychedelic country-rock classic (and major props to the sparkling musicianship of studio aces Danny Kortchmar, Lee Sklar, and Russ Kunkel)—it’s an L.A. classic, and an indelible post- ’60s American lament. [9.5]

 

Homeboy Sandman

Dusty (Mello)

Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman has long been identified as one of underground hip-hop’s superstars, and Dusty deserves to change the “underground” part. Sandman’s rhymes are exuberant, adroit, and hilarious—he’s like Kool Keith, but without the abject depravity. Or maybe he just makes depravity sound wholesome, like on the no-really-it’s-a-love-song “Picture on the Wall.” Producer Mono En Stereo aptly undergirds Sandman with playful tracks of ’70s jazz and space funk, even some soft rock. Here’s hoping Homeboy Sandman will be name-checking Atreyu (from The Neverending Story) and cosmetics-magnate-turned-PBS-sponsor Helena Rubenstein when he brings his joyful prolixity to Richmond’s Wonderland on November 20. [8.5]

Dusty by Homeboy Sandman

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