This summer’s already been a good one for music, with both Tom Petty and Jenny Lewis announcing new albums in the last couple of months, (see our Summer Upcoming Album Release Guide) and both releases are slated to drop on July 29. Not only have those two released material from their new projects, but Ryan Adams dropped a new single last week, and announced he’s releasing a self-titled album on September 9. With all this new music, and because of the insanely good quality of it all, I thought I’d write about them to get you guys through the wait.
Lewis released her single first, with “Just One Of The Guys,” a predictably smart foray into shimmering pop-rock that’s sure to be one of a handful of gems from The Voyager, her next release. Lewis does what she’s best at, which is letting her catchy, but deceptively deep, lyrics paint a picture, while she harmonizes with herself and a sonic wave carries her message home with the delicacy of a cool breeze. But what’s different about this single, and what’s going to be different about the album that follows, is that she brought Beck and Ryan Adams on as producers. Beck’s critical milestones are self-evident to anyone that’s paid attention to him over the years, and he brings that wealth of knowledge to “Just One Of The Guys,” highlighting Lewis’ biggest strength, effortless composition. She’d probably scoff at that, because it’s taken her six years to put this album together, but even if it was the hardest thing she’s ever done, the song doesn’t feel like it. “Just One Of The Guys” has a serenity to it most artists would kill for, and it’s blanketed with a wall of sound that’s anchored in place by a simple 4×4 beat that takes the guesswork out of the song. It knows where it’s going, and everything is blended together so beautifully that I’d like to hear every track used on the single by itself, just so it’d be easier to pick out what’s coming from where. And more so than her partnership with Beck, Adams and Lewis working together, is a dream come true for music fans. If “The Voyager,” her other single, is any indication of what Voyager, will sound like, I hope they continue this partnership for years. At the end of “Just One Of The Guys”, Lewis calls out women her age, telling them there’s, “only one difference between you and me / when I look at myself / all I can see / I’m just another lady without a baby.” Well, if putting off motherhood is going to keep Lewis delivering material as uplifting and strong as this, then I hope she holds out a little longer.
With Lewis dropping such a bomb at the end of May, it seemed like she would garner the most attention for a little while, but leave it to Tom Petty to come back with the Heartbreakers and deliver the loudest and hardest-hitting pair of tracks they’ve put out together in years. He teased everyone with “American Dream Plan B”, which is better than 95 percent of what most bands are going to put out in 2014, but not even close to as good as the highs Tom Petty’s capable of. But the joke was on us, because he released “Red River” and “U Get Me High” next, and it was obvious that he’s been dying to get back to the sound that defined him in the mid-to-late ’70s. Crashing choruses, dirty ass guitars and that southern wail are all back in spades. Petty doesn’t sound like he’s aged a day since 1976 here, and if the production value didn’t sound so good, it’d be easy to mark these songs as lost gems from when his debut album and You’re Gonna Get It came out. “Red River” is a classic fable about meeting somewhere in the backwoods of the deep south and finding out what you’re made of, while “U Get Me High” has a simple hook that’s really just an excuse for the band to bust out a backbreaking groove that would make me buy the album for its energy alone. Then, if somehow you still had any reservations about Hypnotic Eye, his new album, he dropped another track off the LP, “Forgotten Man,” last week. Petty’s waist-deep in his dirty southern drawl throughout this entire anthem, and it’s damn fun to listen to. Just smart, smart rock and roll. Nobody else could pull this off, and Petty knows that. I think that’s why he doesn’t care that four of the album’s tracks are already available. If he really “feels like a Forgotten Man”, it’s the loudest I’ve ever heard anyone remind his audience of who he is.
Finally, the last single I want to highlight feels like the most important, and that’s because it’s Ryan Adams’ latest. “Gimme Something Good,” the first track from Ryan Adams, feels like a throwback as well, capitalizing on Adams’ strengths as an overall musician, but lining it with enough grit to make the track burn through the same wall of sound that characterized Jenny Lewis’ newest releases. It’s louder and drenched in ten times the reverb and crunch his previous release (2011’s introspective and hushed Ashes and Fire) was, but it also retains the maturity that’s made his recent work such a joy to listen to. He just knows what he’s doing in the studio, and it’s a pleasure to be able to listen to stuff that’s this well-composed. He growls “all my life / been shaking / wantin’ somethin’ / holding everything I have / like it was broken” and it’s the kind of poetry that’s simple, but gets the job done, and anchors the song to an emotional center that gives it strength. Yes, it’s poppy, and yes, that is a twelve-string you hear in the song’s bridge, but this is still the fiery singer-songwriter who put out Gold, one of the best albums of the early-Aughts. Hopefully he carries this momentum through the entire album, and by September, he, Jenny Lewis, and Tom Petty will have delivered three of the year’s best albums. The forecast looks good from here.