On Rodney Carrington's Morning Wood, a couple of the country comic's songs are included twice, in both live and studio versions. It seems to be a requirement of country comedians that they also sing humorous country songs, and Carrington thankfully has a good voice, although his topics are the usual ones. This time around, Carrington's attitude prevails, as he spins out his jokes and relies heavily on audience interaction.
William Ruhlmann, Rovi
While comedian/musician Bo Burnham came to fame via YouTube, his talent is much deeper than that might infer. Besides his advanced skills at the piano, he can play with words like few others, and refreshingly, he never panders to his audience, presenting himself as highly self-satisfied young stallion but with an innocent, Charlie Brown-esque underbelly. Spend five minutes listening to his material and he’s undeniably talented, but that doesn’t keep his Steven Wright-meets-George Carlin-meets-Ben Folds-meets-Eminem act from being an acquired taste. You’ve got to have a high tolerance for clever when Burnham starts his act with the joke “My ex-girlfriend had a really weird fetish; she used to like to dress up as herself and then act like a bitch all the time” and then launches into song with the truer-than-true lyrics “My show is a little bit silly, and a little bit pretentious/Like Shakespeare’s Willy, or Noam Chomsky wearing a strap-on.” Think that’s overly showy, and you’ll just puke when you learn he was only 20 at the time of this recording, but if you happen to enjoy the way Burnham turns from erudite to ignorant on a dime, then Words Words Words is the gift that keeps on giving. Things move fast in this act, giving the home listeners a distinct advantage over the audience captured here, who often seem to be laughing five seconds after the fact as they unravel the wordplay. If you still can’t decide if this offensive brainiac is for you, try one of his Shakespearian Sonnets (“And now my belly is yellow/My pole gives cause to storms and earthy quakes/But tis not massive, I am no Othello”), evil haikus (“Even if he is your friend/Never ever call an Asian person”), or hip-hop boasts (“If you’re lucky, I might just bring you home/And I’ll having you going down, like a girl with an extra chromosome”). Hilarious, plus you get the thrill of feeling smug and horrible at the very same time.
David Jeffries, Rovi
A masterwork close to his beloved "Hot Pockets," the highlight of Mr. Universe is "McDonald's," since the "aw shucks" but terminally ticked comedian Jim Gaffigan finds his muse in the most high carb of places. It's a hilarious cut as the pale man strolls into the Golden Arches with the cocky attitude and drawl of Matthew McConaughey ("That's right folks, this is what a size 38 waist looks like. Read and weep, y'alllllllll"), but it's also the reason the world -- or at least Middle America -- needs Gaffigan as bad as it needs the annual return of the McRib sandwich. After professing his love for the fast-food chain, Gaffigan laughs "I love the silence that follows that statement, like I just admitted to support dog fighting or something...," and in spite of what Mom, the media, the entire medical field, and your very own stressed heart is telling you, that delicious tradition of having dinner handed through a window, and at rock-bottom prices, is lightheartedly blessed by the comedian. You can accuse the later "Domino's" of borrowing from Patton Oswalt's Taco Bell routine a bit, but "If my Dad loved me, why would he eat a pasta bread bowl?" is entirely Gaffigan's voice, and just because Patton first discovered that those fast-food pop-up specials are the favored forbidden fruit in a vanishing garden of Eden, that doesn't mean Gaffigan isn't closer to the situation. He sounds like it, and as bodybuilders devolve into Schwarzenegger-styled dolts while hotel rooms give up their riches of free shampoo, free robes, and free toothpaste, it's a pleasure to hear that none of this hack material comes off as such, thanks to Gaffigan's pacing, his full-on embrace of guilty pleasures, and his willingness to stumble through this cool world as an everyman anti-hipster. Business as usual, but if you've ever partied so hard that trans fats came out your pores, then this business is delicious.
David Jeffries, Rovi
When he landed a sitcom on ABC in 2004, Rodney Carrington quickly lifted himself out of the world of guest appearances on morning zoo radio and small-time comedy clubs. In other words, he went from Tim Wilson to Jeff Foxworthy and sanitized his act accordingly for prime-time TV. The two seasons of Rodney had a bit of an edge, but the truly trashy side of his act was still there, growing or maybe festering and waiting for its turn. Completely free of shame, King of the Mountains is the hilarious result. Carrington has used the four years since his last new album to hone his ribald act without disrupting the easygoing, everyman charm. His standup material is tight, but it also flows effortlessly with the comedian casually strolling through his day-to-day life of porno, immature friends, dysfunctional family, and a world that's a little too fast for a die-hard Oklahoman. His "aw shucks" attitude tempers the filth and down-home bias, but it's his understanding of what he pretends to not understand that really separates him from the Cable Guys and other Blue Collar comedians. Carrington does a perfect Bobby Trendy impression to play a Rodeo Drive salesclerk on "Shopping on Rodeo Street," while the song "Rap Star" has some current insider and properly used hip-hop slang, even if it's introduced with an "I don't know a dang thing about these rappers" excuse. As good as the standup portion of the album is, King of the Mountains does ramp up to what is always the best part of any Carrington effort: the dirty, silly, and catchy songs. They're presented at the end of the live show and again in their studio versions with a touching, heartfelt tribute to fellow comedian and longtime friend Barry Martin closing the album. With observational humor threatening to take the spotlight away from the novelty songs, King of the Mountains is a good laugh the whole way through and, in turn, his strongest album to date.
David Jeffries, Rovi
On the appropriately titled Hilarious, standup comedian Louis C.K. writes off much his bitterness as a side effect of growing old, but growing wiser seems to have much more to do with it. His disgust with the class of 2010 and their lack of a connection to the real world -- if it doesn’t plug into a USB port to charge, it’s worthless -- makes for the comedian’s richest set to date, and when he covers his recent divorce and the absurdity of reentering the dating world at 41, he elevates his material to a Pryor or Carlin level. Through it all he maintains his regular-guy status and all the accessibility that has made him the people’s comedian, but if any of that sounds like he’s given up the gross, check the climatic “My 3-Year-Old Is a 3-Year-Old” for a scatological tale of parenting that causes some in the audience to shriek with horror while most others erupt with laughter. These crude moments wouldn’t be so impactful if everything else wasn’t so smart and honest, and as Louis C.K. goes further down both ends of that spectrum, the results keep getting better and better.
David Jeffries, Rovi
As anyone who witnessed their legendary shorts on HBO will attest, Tenacious D is indeed the greatest band on earth. Bad D is still better than the Beatles and good D is transcendent. Even so, Tenacious D's debut album will likely kick fans on their asses because the D is no longer just about JB and KG. They're even ready to be more than a power trio -- they're ready to be backed by a full band, complete with Dave Grohl on drums and the Dust Brothers behind the boards. After years of hearing them as an acoustic heavy metal duo, that's a real shock, but they've also overhauled their repertoire, reworking and retitling several songs and leaving many tunes behind. Most regrettably, there is no "History of Tenacious D," even if it is quoted in the liner notes, but there's also no "Rocketsauce," no "Kyle Took a Bullet for Me," no "Sasquatch," no "Cosmic Shame," no "Special Things," and no "Jesus Ranch." "You Broke the Rules" becomes "Karate," "Song of Exultant Joy" is "Kyle Quit the Band," "Sex Supreme" becomes "Double Team," "The Best Song in the World" becomes "Tribute," lacking many of the "Stairway to Heaven" allusions in this version, and so on and so forth (elements of their opening theme are incorporated into "Kielbasa," thankfully). Furthermore, the dynamic has shifted drastically because the group no longer sounds like maniacal misfits who've conquered the worlds in their own minds playing to an audience who just hasn't caught up yet. Here, they sound like victors who've had their delusions of grandeur come real (which is true when you think about it -- those shorts might not have done much on HBO, but videotapes passed through a lot of hands on the underground video railroad). This is a bigger change than you might think, and while the acoustic D sounds better, weirder, and purer, this still is a hell of a record, particularly because it rocks so damn hard. The worst thing about it are the sketches, which may be funny, but not nearly as funny as the plots that tied the shows together (nothing as funny as asides from the show, like "circle church," either) or the live routines; they tend to distract from the music. And the music is indeed what matters, since no matter how silly and gleefully profane this can be, Tenacious D rules because the music is terrific. The tunes have hooks, Kage and Jables harmonize well, and the cheerfully demented worldview is intoxicating, since their self-belief and self-referential world is delightfully absurd and warm (think about it -- the sex songs may be vulgar and may be about their prowess, but their prowess is about making those backstage Betties feel good). Sure, some listeners may chuckle because this all comes from two large, cute, 30-something slackers, but they're missing the inspirado behind this record -- Tenacious D certainly know they're funny, but that doesn't erase the fact that they rock so hard. They came to kick your ass and rock your socks off, and that is a very special thing.
Running Cadences of the U.S. Armed Forces is a collection of cadences taken from the U.S. military. The album serves as a soundtrack for exercising as well as a document of popular military chants, making it valuable to former members of the service as well as those who can use it for motivation.
Bradley Torreano, Rovi