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Joanna Newsom, Ryan Adams, and Frank Zappa

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Joanna Newsom
  • Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom

Divers

Drag City

File next to: Vashti Bunyan, Angel Olsen, Laura Marling

A few feminists have taken to the web lately with claims that failure to recognize Divers as a masterpiece is indicative of male oppression. In reality, Joanna Newsom has proudly offered up uncompromising "difficult music" since 2004's Milk-Eyed Mender, and in so doing, leaves plenty of listeners of both sexes behind. Her work is not dissonant or improvisational, but is so layered, with minute detail and complexity, that she demands much from her fans. Divers is a more distilled, pop-friendly album than her last three-disc monster Have One On Me, but she leaps from classical suites to sea-shanty waltzes without dropping a beat. Over time, Newsom's music has become less harp-centric, and more in a style of Kate Bush or Jane Siberry, if those two women were theoretical mathematicians. If you're not fascinated by Newsom, good luck catching up. — Loring Wirbel

Ryan Adams
  • Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

1989

Pax Am

File next to: Justin Townes Earle, Josh Ritter, Jason Isbell

There are many reasons why Ryan Adams' decision to cover Taylor Swift's entire 1989 album should have been a horrible idea. Adams tends to infuse his body of work with a relevance and grandiosity it doesn't always deserve. His love for sparkly pop has often been evident, but going for a Swiftian delivery always seemed too far a reach. On 1989, though, Adams pulls a winner from virtually every track. For the biggest hits from the original work, like "Blank Space" and "Shake It Off," he brings radically different interpretations. But it's in lesser-known numbers like "Wildest Dreams" that Adams shines. This album has not found favor among Adams' less pop-tolerant fans, which is unfortunate. These fine, keenly felt love songs sound far from generic, regardless of whether it's Adams or Swift behind the mic. — Loring Wirbel

Frank Zappa & The Mothers
  • Frank Zappa & The Mothers

Frank Zappa & The Mothers

Roxy: The Movie

Eagle Vision

File next to: Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Tubes, Sun Ra

There's no consensus among Frank Zappa fans as to which album is his "best." But most will agree that the 1974 live double-LP Roxy & Elsewhere was a high point. Recorded in L.A. over three nights in December '73, the album captured The Mothers' unique mix of bizarre lyrics, astounding and intricate musical interplay, and rapport with the audience. The shows were filmed, and Zappa tried for years to correct the synchronization problems that plagued the footage. But the technology to do so didn't yet exist, and Zappa died in 1993 without finishing it. Happily, 21st-century technology has allowed the previously unthinkable. This new package, Roxy: The Movie, presents the long-planned film, as well as a CD with versions of the songs not found on the 1974 album. Forty-plus years is a long time, but Roxy is worth the wait. — Bill Kopp

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