Whitesburg KY

Work by rock vets overlooked


“Why don’t you come back, baby? Why don’t you go away?” Elvis Costello sings in the duet “Go Away” with indie rock favorite Jenny Lewis on his recent CD, “Momofuku.”

Rock ‘n’ roll is filled with mixed messages, as someone like Juliana Hatfield can attest to. Her disc “When I Grow Up” is a career highlight. Twenty years of experience, honing her skill at crafting pop rockers, paid dividends with these smart, tuneful tales.

Chances are you never heard it, or even heard OF it. She, like Costello and other veterans, put out solid work in 2008 with little fanfare or commercial success.

Hatfield probably should have released it under the name Fleet Foxes. Then, thanks to rock’s constant fascination with what’s new, she’d be hailed on critics’ Top 10 lists. She’d make all the magazines, just like during her brief period of fame in the early 1990s, when her music wasn’t as good.

Now, no disrespect to Fleet Foxes. “White Winter Hymnal” is gorgeous. But they get the attention because they’re not one of rock’s in-between acts, the artists who don’t come back because they don’t go away. They keep working at their craft, and don’t give up because some tastemakers deem them old hat. They don’t become oldies acts. Here’s to some artists whose work should not be overlooked because, as in Hatfield’s case, she’s 41 instead of 21.

James McMurtry got a burst of attention two decades ago when he was “discovered” by John Mellencamp. He’s kept improving, too, while most of the world didn’t notice. His dry-as-west-Texas wit, keen observations and sharp political commentary are all evident in the “Just Us Kids” disc. We’re most impressed by how good a guitar player he’s become, honed from years of clubbing as part of a three-man band.

Talking Heads fans who have lost track of David Byrne’s solo career should seek out his new collaboration with Brian Eno, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.” It’s his best sustained work since “Speaking in Tongues.” Byrne and Eno were once world music pioneers, and here they’re much more conventional in their songcraft. Don’t mistake that for a lack of ideas; this disc sounds playful and joyous.

Don’t forget Elvis, either. “Momofuku” was almost a spontaneous album, born out of Costello’s work with Lewis on her disc, “Acid Tongue,” also out last year. “Momofuku” is a little spotty as a result, but “My Three Sons” is one of the best songs about latein life fatherhood you’ll ever hear.

Oh, and “Go Away” is not bad, either.

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