Record Reviews 

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Destroyer's Rubies


(Merge Records)

New Porn wordsmith outdoes himself on a career-best solo album.

There are modern singer-songwriters, and then there is Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer). It's a bold statement for sure, but the new Destroyer's Rubies offers more considerable evidence of the greatness of this sometime New Pornographer. Bejar's previous Your Blues was, to many (though not this writer), a misstep. By breaking out the MIDI and filtering his previous style through Electric Light Orchestra-style '70s rock, Bejar turned Your Blues into the token "difficult" member of his discography, which has set up Rubies as the obligatory "return to form."

Bejar has been making albums as Destroyer since the mid-'90s, long before his membership in the more-heralded New Pornographers. The difference between Bejar and the Pornographers' other resident solo artist, Neko Case, is that a Neko Case song on a New Pornographers record is still a New Pornographers song. A Dan Bejar song on the same record is a Dan Bejar song.

The early Destroyer releases showed promise within the confines of bedroom four-track indie-folk. Then, with 2001's Streethawk: A Seduction, Destroyer began a romance with grandiosity and lyrical loopty-loops. Most artists touched by the critical pen have suffered lazy comparisons, and Destroyer's albatross happens to be Hunky Dory-era David Bowie. Fair in doses, though the real historical templates for Dan Bejar are the '70s solo output of John Cale and folkie-turned-soft-rock-genius Al Stewart. But ultimately, Bejar has a way with words and a way with a song, ways that are his alone.

Destroyer's Rubies resembles 2002's This Night more than other entries in the Destroyer discography. Bejar runs back into the loving embrace of the guitar, both acoustic and electric, and the epic nine-and-a-half-minute, semi-eponymous opener "Rubies" rises to full-blown, full-instrumental heights with head-to-the-sky "la la la la's" and then dips into man-with-guitar introspection. This pattern could be seen as indicative of what follows, though that would unnecessarily simplify matters. Rubies is signature Destroyer, no doubt, and perhaps Bejar's strongest record to date.

-- Andrew Earles

Grade: A

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out of the Ashes

Jessi Colter

(Shout Factory)

Fresh on the heels of Bobby Bare's return from retirement comes the first new album in 22 years from Jessi Colter, widow of Waylon Jennings, mother of Shooter, and former outlaw-country hit-maker in her own right. Producer Don Was is on board in hopes of adding more fuel to the comeback launch. Opening with a middling gospel number ("My Eye on the Sparrow"), Colter eventually recovers with "Starman," which percolates to a nice boil even with undercooked lyrics. Her strong cover of Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35" has no such problem, of course. In many instances here, Colter is allowed to meander through numbers that might remind you of soft rock rather than outlaw country. How much you can forgive the sloppiness probably depends on your tolerance for soft rock. ("Starman," "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35")

-- Werner Trieschmann

Grade: B-

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This Old Road

Kris Kristofferson

(Lost Highway)

Kris Kristofferson gets the Rick Rubin treatment on his 18th album, This Old Road. Aiming for the same success that Rubin brought to Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, producer Don Was uses minimal instrumentation to convey "intimacy" and "honesty," as if trying to convince us that these 11 songs were recorded by a dimming campfire. This less-is-more approach is becoming nearly obligatory for aging artists, aiming to suggest the gravity and wisdom of so many years gone by. Fortunately, Kristofferson settles right into it on most of these songs, holding forth on the inevitabilities of mortality without sounding gloomy or grim. Instead, he's clinging desperately to his youthful left-leaning idealism even as he looks for heroes like John Trudill and Steve Earle on "Wild American." As he sings on "Pilgrim's Progress": "Am I young enough to believe in revolution?" He doesn't sound too old on any of these songs. ("This Old Road," "Chase the Feeling")

-- Stephen Deusner

Grade: B+

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