Solo adventures

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday March 19, 2019
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Solo adventures

"Warm" (dBpm), the first proper solo album of all original material by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo fame, is the kind of musical project that will please his fans. As personal as it is universal, the sincerity of the 11 songs on "Warm" generates a welcome ardor similar to what we heard Kacey Musgraves do on her lauded "Golden Hour" album. Even the most removed listener can't help but be moved by the exquisite "How Hard It Is for a Desert To Die," "How Will I Find You?" and the John Lennon-esque "Bombs Above." Tweedy also breaks up the serious nature of the album with the subtle humor of "Don't Forget" and storm-beckoning "Let's Go Rain."

One of the original founding members of the Australian band The Go-Betweens ("Streets of Your Town"), Robert Forster has been releasing solo albums for nearly 20 years. His latest, "Inferno" (Tapete), is a welcome addition to his canon. The songs nicely alternate between sunny pop numbers such as the irresistible "Inferno (Brisbane in Summer)," "I'm Gonna Tell It" (which sounds like a long lost Velvet Underground song) and "Life Has Turned a Page" (Forster's wife Karin Bäumler provides backing vocals), and mood pieces "I'll Look After You" and "One Bird in the Sky."

Solo albums have long been a productive way for musicians to stretch muscles that may be otherwise sitting dormant. "Elastic Days" (Sub Pop) by legendary Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis is a good example. An audible departure from Dinosaur Jr.'s trademark alternative rock crunch, its dozen songs are mellow and electrically charged without being washed out. Highlights include "See You at the Movies," "Picking Out the Seeds," the subtle twang of "I Went Dust," and the title track.

If you don't immediately recognize the name Nat Freedberg, perhaps you know him better as Lord Bendover from rock novelty act The Upper Crust. Dressed in 18th-century period attire and powdered wigs, The Upper Crust was in on the joke as they played a style of rock that combined metal, glam and a heavy dose of camp. For Freedberg's solo album "Better Late Than Never" (Rum Bar), featuring "love songs, sad songs, songs about the devil," he is joined by a stellar line-up of Boston musicians, and rocks us to our core on "I Think I Died and Went to Heaven," "Queen for a Day" and "Heavy Metal Cow."

Known for leading blistering garage rock acts including Pussy Galore, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Boss Hog and Heavy Trash, Jon Spencer steps out on his own on "Spencer Sings the Hits" (In the Red). Fear not, Spencer doesn't veer too far from his trademark scuzzy fuzz rock on the album's 12 songs including "Time 2 Be Bad," "Alien Humidity" and "Love Handle."

When you stop to think about it, a lot of cool bands have roots in Ohio. Devo, Pretenders, Pere Ubu, The Black Keys and Afghan Whigs, all have connections to the Buckeye State. One of the best was The Waitresses, known for "I Know What Boys Like," "No Guilt," "Christmas Wrapping" and the theme song to the early 1980s Sarah Jessica Parker sitcom "Square Pegs." Chris Butler, The Waitresses' leader and main songwriter, has continued making music since the band broke up, and "Got It Together" (Future Fossil) is his latest. You can definitely hear traces of The Waitresses' delicious wit throughout the album's 16 songs, including three demo recordings.

Formerly of Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin, Andrew McMahon has been making piano-driven pop music as Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness since 2014. The first few songs on his new album "Upside Down Flowers" (Fantasy/Crush) set the tone with their personal lyrics. McMahon knows firsthand what he's singing about on opener "Teenage Rockstars." In "Blue Vacation," McMahon sings about needing "a place to raise my daughter," perhaps on a "private island." He sings like a person with "mouths to feed" ("Paper Rain").

"Sunlight Tonight" (Normaltown) is the solo debut album by Parker Gispert of Georgian band The Whigs. With the exception of "Is It 9?," the album is a much less raucous affair than you might expect from the frontman of The Whigs. The gorgeous "Magnolia Sunrise" even features a lovely string section.