Trampin’ ghosts cause chaos

Ten years ago, this column was often used as an album review space. It’s enjoyable to slip back into that mode on occasion, especially when some quality CDs spin into earshot.

Patti Smith—Trampin’. On this energized new disc, Patti goes from rock ’n’ roll populist (and nobody tops her in that department) to dreamy psychedelia to razor-edged semi-punk, and she and her band make most of it work really well. On the 11-minute psycho-dream song “Radio Baghdad,” she dares to confront the undercurrent of racism that runs beneath the surface of Christian and Muslim cultures as these two ancient forces clash again in the land “that invented the zero.” There are not many artists left who will dare to make a listener think about hitting the streets with one’s brothers and sisters, even if that thought lasts for only a second and a half. (Heck, who out there can make you think in terms of “brothers and sisters?”) But Patti can pull it off, more often than not, and do so with contemporary and righteous honesty.

Wilco—A Ghost Is Born. In the last 10 years, Jeff Tweedy’s band has gone from being the kingpin of alternative country to a daring, multi-faceted and often terrific rock band. There was a climax of sorts with 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an excellent work that made a lot of top-10 lists that year. Now, we have A Ghost Is Born (a poetically pleasant way to refer to one’s death, as Tweedy does in the song “Theologians”). A lot of critics think this new disc isn’t quite as accomplished as Y.H.F., but I have to disagree. Ghost is strong, well-crafted stuff, drawing freely upon influences like Neil Young (both the guitar slasher Neil and the moody-dude-in-the-basement Neil) and The Beatles (especially in “Handshake Drugs”). So, Wilco … yes. And man, this would be one great band to see at Hawkins Amphitheater.

Alanis Morissette—So-Called Chaos. Sure, on the surface, it might seem a bit strange for a semi-geezer like me to whip a rave on the queen of I’d-like-to-cut-your-nads-off-with-rusty-wirecutters rock, but this is not the same Morissette who raged her way to mega-stardom 10 years ago. She’s matured and mellowed a bit, but she still writes from both head and heart, and she still makes sure her band can rock. Not acoustic rock or “chick” rock, you understand, but stuff that can shake you right on down to your appendix, if properly voluminated. Yes, she can still be shrill and screechy at times, but that stuff is now balanced by moments of genuine happiness, and it’s obvious that Alanis is enjoying those feelings at least as much as she enjoys the pitching of a deluxe hissy fit. Either she finally found a great guy or that just-right prescription, or maybe a combination of the two. But whatever it is, it’s working.