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
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.
Taking his glorification of American laziness to a whole new level, Jim Gaffigan's King Baby tops his 2006 release, Beyond the Pale, a rare platinum-selling comedy album that is referenced here right off ("I thought he'd be paler. Least as pale as that CD where he looks like a pedophile"). The track "Inside Voice" is named after the comedian's signature falsetto alter-ego voice, a device that's used sparingly and purposefully here, completely taking the "it's a crutch" argument off the table. With less of it, there are fewer cheap laughs, allowing Gaffigan to build momentum as he heralds bowling ("The activity you do after you've done everything else"), hammocks ("nets for catching lazy people"), and Waffle House ("I love Waffle House, and not just because watching someone fry an egg while they're smoking reminds me of my dad"). The bit on bologna and it's spelling vs. pronunciation -- decided by the man responsible for "colonel" -- is especially funny, but it's the epic riffing on bacon that becomes the set's centerpiece and somewhat of a sequel to Beyond the Pale's big comedy hit "Hot Pockets." There are a few Jesus jokes and such that might not fly with some, but this is otherwise a family-friendly effort with no profanity. It's also Gaffigan in top form, remaining laugh-out-loud funny the whole way through.
David Jeffries, Rovi
It's no mystery why Tenacious D call their third album Rize of the Fenix. JB and KG suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when they unleashed The Pick of Destiny in 2006, a feature film -- complete with an accompanying soundtrack -- that netted approximately no new fans and may even have cost them a few. Well aware of this bomb, it's imperative that the D fashion their third album -- arriving a long six years after Pick -- as a triumphant comeback, a Fenix rising from the ashes, if you will. And, for the most part, the D do succeed, the best moments of Rize of the Fenix easily flattening the bloat of The Pick of Destiny. If they happen to lose a bit of their sense of rampaging grandeur, they compensate with tightly constructed epics that impress by their lack of fat: the title-track suite gallops along with purpose, "To Be the Best" is a gleeful send-up of "The Power" (animated "Transformers" by way of "Boogie Nights"), "Roadie" is a heartfelt salute to its overlooked namesake, and country-rock closer "39" is an ode to an aging groupie. This is all, in the parlance of another of the album's highlights, "Low Hangin' Fruit." Tenacious D don't stray from their songs of rock & roll and songs of themselves, but considering the pit that they were in, they can't be faulted for being overly careful, even if that caution can make parts of the album -- namely the spoken skits, the staged blow-ups between Hollywood Jack and Rage Kage, and a few of the songs about rocking -- feel a little long in tooth. Nevertheless, Rize of the Fenix does amount to a rousing comeback for Tenacious D: they're back to their old tricks, oblivious to whether the world at large actually cares about their shenanigans.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, 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