Wow, so it’s my first actual post here and I’m already late by a day. Not good… but here they are:

Connor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, “Outer South” – Hmmm… if you’re a fan of Oberst’s Bright Eyes, then this album… Well, I was disappointed by it, actually. Really a mixed bag; Bright Eyes tends to musically mesh with Oberst’s indie-weird vocals, and the musicians here play brightly, kind of demanding someone with more power (not “Steve Perry” power, but a step in that direction). Leaves the opener a bit – off – especially the first couple times around, though Taylor Hollingsworth doesn’t do it either, for that matter. I’d venture to say not Oberst’s deepest work. Pass. (Try “Difference in Time”)

Yusuf, “Roadsinger” – Ray Davies, John Fogarty, Leon Helm; all these old 60s music guys think they still got it. I wasn’t thrilled by the title track when it came by, but I was too busy enjoying all that had came before (and after, for that matter). Does he have it still? Yes, and Yusuf showcases great vocals for his 60 years, where many of his contemporaries are still (or have already) lost the timbre of their singing voices. It’s essentially acoustic and vocal, but it’s strong and enchanting enough to keep the rebel Clash-slash-Wilco in me down, and “The Rain” really does bring me back to those 60s-hippie songs about turmoil and the “rain”… though if you’ve never seen the rain (Creedence right there, not Cat Stevens) it’s still worth bringing your rain ponchos out and singing along. Great album.

Ray Davies managed to survive the 60s and heroine; Fogarty had that inconceivable legal battle for the rights on his lifetime of hits; and Helm had, I believe, throat cancer, which he recently overcame. All these guys have pretty large obstacles to overcome, and Yusuf’s, I’d have to say, is the more unusual one. If you haven’t ventured out in the past two decades, “Cat Stevens” chose his nom-de-guitarra because his birth surname is “Islam.” I don’t think I have to explain how it’d be difficult to sell an album by “Yusuf Islam.”
On the one hand, I’d like to chastise him for betraying his heritage, and in some way, he still is by not advertising his last name. But, practically speaking, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do; would advertising himself as Y. Islam make his music less artistic? Of course not, but it would greatly cut off his music’s circulation, and not changing his artistic name would undercut his music. It sucks to say, but he’s got to be practical.
Steve Perry, Tony Bennett, even Bob Dylan have changed their names to something more acceptable to the American ear. It’s a small thing, but important; if your listener can’t remember your name, you’ll have a hell of a time trying to get your music sold. That’s why bands come up with ridiculous titles like “Barenaked Ladies” and “London Symphony Orchestra.” (“Sting” earned his name, so that doesn’t count.)
I’ve recently discovered that it’s extremely difficult to get your name changed to “Fire.” That’s the one thing holding me back from a horribly memorable life as a thespian or lead musician. Maybe my children will have that chance one day…

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