The Mavericks, James McMurtry, Kelly Clarkson

Posted by Robert Bartosh
March 13, 2015 - 3:49pm EDT

1 channel is all the Mavericks need on ‘Mono’

The Mavericks

The Mavericks have always been a rootsy band, plying musical turf from Havana to Nashville via Miami. Here their sound is more retro than ever, recalling the era when these sorts of songs were best heard on small radios and big jukeboxes. 

”Mono” was recorded in -- you guessed it -- mono. Kids, that means everything was loaded into one channel, including horns, accordion, bouncy beats and Raul Malo’s glorious tenor.

The Mavericks chose the throwback technology after listening to a bunch of vinyl records for inspiration. The resulting sound takes a little getting used to, and the arrangements become a bit cluttered on a couple of cuts.

But overall, mono serves “Mono” well as a fitting match for the Mavericks’ old-school approach. There are hints of Elvis, the Drifters and Roy Orbison, lots of Latin riffs and country twang, too. It turns out one channel is plenty for the Mavericks’ infectious polyglot performances. (AP)

Life’s a ‘Complicated Game’ for James McMurtry’s characters

James McMurtry
“Complicated Game”
(Complicated Game) 

For the sharply drawn characters portrayed on “Complicated Game,” life is an uphill battle, even in a fishing boat.

James McMurtry’s first release in six years is peopled with struggling crabbers, farmers, hunters and Long Islanders. The album title -- also the name of McMurtry’s new label -- sums up their situations, and his eye for detail makes their stories fascinating, whether the topic is a relationship in need of repair, self-inflicted wounds or caring for cows.

Taut lyrics are nothing new for McMurtry, but he has switched up the sonics a bit, setting aside his electric guitar for more varied arrangements. “Forgotten Coast” would play in a tiki bar; “Ain’t Got a Place” is framed with two drummers; and “She Loves Me” includes finger-snapping and doo-wop backing vocals. 

Not that McMurtry’s going soft; his lyrics make nearly every song seem like the blues. (AP)

Kelly Clarkson’s new album fails to woo

Kelly Clarkson
“Piece By Piece”
(RCA, 19)

As one of the most successful “American Idol” winners, Kelly Clarkson can hold her head up high -- she’s still in the game after 13 years. That doesn’t mean her new album, “Piece By Piece,” gets any awards for creativity -- it sounds like a Clarkson album they forgot to release a decade ago. 

This 13-track record writes a check its ambition can’t cash. Sadly, Clarkson’s strong voice is misused on songs so generic, even she probably forgot she’s singing on them. 

Case in point: The first single, “Heartbeat Song,” doesn’t get engaging just by making it high tempo, a modern allegro agitato. The Sia-penned “Invincible,” on the other hand, sounds both catchier and more textured, while “Piece By Piece” is a color-by-numbers pop march. 

The one collaboration on the album, the John Legend-assisted “Run Run Run,” is a beautiful ballad that adds feeling and drama to an album otherwise in a hurry to get to the finish line. (AP)