NY Daily News On "A Tribute From Friends"
BY Jim Farber
DAILY NEWS MUSIC CRITIC
Sunday, September 18th 2011, 4:00 AM
Where have all the superstars gone?
They've certainly made themselves more scarce this fall, a period when they're usually as common as court appearances by Lindsay Lohan.
To be sure, a fistful of sure-fire sellers are locked and loaded for release, including Coldplay, Drake, Nickelback, Mary J. Blige, Lady Antebellum and Susan Boyle.
There's also fresh work aborning from Kelly Clarkson, Joe Jonas and Akon, though none of those releases can be considered guaranteed smashes. What would have been a biggie — Metallica — limited the sales potential of its latest work by design. It's an arty collaboration with Lou Reed, not exactly a name bound to wow the band's metal-loving core.
Part of the relative paucity of can't-miss hits has to do with the continuation of a trend from the past few years in which the major labels stopped segregating their top-shelf items to the leaf shedding season. Instead they began doling them out over the year, the better to avoid eating into each other's press attention and market potential during increasingly dicey times.
More, this year the industry can't repeat a recent pattern in which the heavy hitters of hip hop waited until right before Christmas to put out their most potentially lucrative works. They already blew the wad this summer with a new CD from Lil Wayne plus that pas de deux between Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Yet, there's a deeper and more distressing reason for the downshift in blockbuster likelies:
At this point, there simply aren't enough pop superstars to go around.
Perhaps you've heard? The music business isn't exactly soaring these days. Worse, they can't expect things to get much better, given the ever diminishing sales patterns created by the Internet's war on monetization.
All this goes a long way toward explaining why the most exciting releases of the fall — and there is no shortage of them — come from either newer names, historic-minded releases or stars who command substantial cults, usually in the 300,000 range.
Folks like the latter command a fan base likely to still actually pay for music. The stress on historic releases has to do with a rear-view focus in pop in general. This season it will present itself in important packages by acts from Pearl Jam to Miles Davis to Nirvana to Hank Williams (unfinished recordings).
The fall will also see some prized comebacks, including the first Jane's Addiction studio album in eight years, the first Jayhawks work in 16, and a reunion of the fantastically wan English singer June Tabor with the rollicking Brit-trad act Oysterband after 21 years apart.
Closer to the mainstream, the season will host the debuts from this year's two top American Idols: Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, singers still unproven in the marketplace but whom the industry prays will become their superstars of tomorrow.
Even without such magical creatures, music can not only endure but even excite. In fact, some of the most interesting fall releases suggest music may soon hold some of its greatest joys in years.
- Ryan Adams "Ashes & Fire": Another year, another Ryan Adams album. The latest from the highly prolific songwriter features a guest shot for everyone's favorite duet partner: Norah Jones.
- Lauren Alaina "Wildflower": One week after the release of her rival Scotty McCreery's CD, runnerup Lauren Alaina issues hers. I smell a rematch.
- Evanescence "Evanescence": The first album in five years from the band that made goth metal go pop.
- Joe Henry "Reverie": An all-acoustic work from one of Americana's best songwriters (not to mention finest producers). Features guest spots from the lilting Lisa Hannigan and the wiry Marc Ribot.
- Joe Jonas "Fastlife": The solo debut from the, let's-face-it, best looking member of the Jonas clan.
- Martina McBride "Eleven": The latest effort from country pop's biggest voice.
- Various Artists "ZZ Top: A Tribute From Friends": The use of the word "friends" in the title sounds like a bit of a warning. It suggests not all the participants in this ZZ Top salute are the most astute choices. They include Steven Tyler, Wyclef Jean, Mastodon and more.
- Ben Folds "Retrospective: Best Imitation of Myself": A three-CD look back at the quirky songwriter's progress from 1995 to now.