By the time Frank Sinatra died at 82 in 1998, he had been a performer for 60 or so years, recording for Columbia and Capitol Records before founding his own Reprise Records label. Sinatra’s 1970 Reprise concept album “Watertown” (Capitol/Frank Sinatra Enterprises/UMe) has been reissued in an expanded and remastered edition, newly mixed from the original session tapes.
Considered a “lost masterpiece,” “Watertown” was co-composed and produced by Bob Gaudio (of The Four Seasons fame). The album tells the story of a Watertown, New York-based man raising his sons on his own following his wife’s departure for city life. Sinatra’s emotive vocals, even at this stage in his lengthy career, do the material justice, particularly on the songs “The Train,” “Michael & Peter,” “I Would Be in Love (anyway),” and the title cut. Previously unreleased bonus material includes the Billie Holiday homage “Lady Day,” a few session takes, and a pair of radio promos.
With 89 years and more than 70 solo studio albums under his belt, Willie Nelson’s legend status is incomparable. A celebrated songwriter (he wrote Patsy Cline’s hit “Crazy”) and interpreter of other people’s compositions (listen to “Stardust,” his celebrated 1978 album of standards), Nelson gives us some of both those aspects on “A Beautiful Time” (Legacy). Originals such as “Don’t Touch Me There” (not to be confused with the Tubes’ song of the same name), “I Don’t Go To Funerals,” and “Energy Follows Thought” strike a balance between humility and humor. Nelson’s reading of Rodney Crowell and Chris Stapleton’s “I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die” and Lennon and McCartney’s “With A Little Help From My Friends,” represent Nelson’s appreciation of new and old classics. Perhaps most telling of all is Nelson’s choice to cover “Tower of Song,” a tune written by another elder statesman, the late Leonard Cohen.
Has Superchunk mellowed with age? You might think so after listening to the quartet’s latest album “Wild Loneliness” (Merge). Some things haven’t changed, including Mac McCaughan’s distinctive vocals and Jon Wurster’s steady drumming. But now there are strings provided by gay musician Owen Pallett on “City of the Dead” and “This Night.” There’s some lovely piano on “On the Floor” provided by Franklin Bruno. Also brass on “Highly Suspect” and the title track played by Kelly Pratt and Andy Stack, respectively. Oh, and Sharon Van Etten lends her vocals to album closer “If You’re Not Dark.” Superchunk may have mellowed a bit, but nearly enough to lose the indie cred it established more than 30 years ago.
Jon Spencer has been making some version of alternative/experimental modern garage rock in one form or another since the early 1990s in bands including Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Boss Hog, Heavy Trash, and his latest incarnation Jon Spencer & the HITmakers. On songs from “Spencer Gets it Lit” (In The Red/Shove!), such as “Bruise,” in which Spencer advises us to have faith in biology, and “The Worst Facts,” featuring the mantra “It’s called a fact,” and a reference to knowing science and math, it sounds like Spencer is getting political. If not now, when? Right?
Relative newcomers in terms of the other musical acts here, duo The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney) have been churning out their own version of modern blues since the early 2000s. Where the aforementioned Spencer maintains the trashy (Spencer’s word) edge of his trademark sound, The Black Keys have made a leap towards pop accessibility with “Dropout Boogie” (Nonesuch), beginning with the opening number “Wild Child.” The Latin-tinged “It Ain’t Over” is begging for a remix for club play. “For The Love of Money” is almost as soulful as The O’Jays’ song of the same name. “How Long” is a heartbreaker and “Didn’t I Love You” attempts to mend the break.