From the vault: Regina Spektor and R.E.M.

Regina Spektor
Sire Records

Regina Spektor is widely known for being unknown to what’s left of the music buying market.

For the uninitiated, the Russian-born Spektor has a cheerful voice that could make a funeral dirge bounce, superb songs with sparse arrangements, and enough personality to sing the phone book and make it sound interesting.

While “Far” isn’t quite as strong as earlier albums “Begin to Hope” or “Soviet Kitsch,” it is a very strong album.

Regina Spektor on Amazon

There is nothing here that will storm the charts, but several of these songs most likely will seep into your consciousness via placement in a movie, TV show or commercial. Most folks may look at this as selling out, but any artist who turns down an offer to have work presented to a large number of people is a certified putz.

“Blue Lips” and “Human of the Year” have hooks a mile wide that will satisfy the Spektor faithful, while “Eet” and “Genius Next Door” show that Spektor is always searching for a new way to make new sounds.

If you’re new to Regina Spektor, know that all of her records are worth owning. To make the ride a little more enjoyable, start with “Begin to Hope.” Doing that will make “Far” seem like a good sequel to a great movie.

Reckoning – Deluxe Edition
I.R.S/A&M Records

“Reckoning,” released in 1984, was R.E.M.’s second album. The first album, “Murmur,” solidified the band members as darlings of college radio in 1983, and “Reckoning” proved that “Murmur” was not a fluke and that R.E.M. had plenty of gas in the tank.

Although it didn’t sell in droves, “Reckoning” helped the band build upon their small loyal fan base. Instead of shooting to the top of the charts and disappearing soon thereafter, R.E.M. set up shop in Georgia, thus climbing into popularity slowly and deliberately.

  R.E.M. on Amazon

Being on the road for a year to promote their first album toughened up their sound, which accounts for the new sense of attack in songs such as “So. Central Rain,” “Don’t Go Back to Rockville” and “Pretty Persuasion,” are some of the greatest songs the band has ever recorded, yet for some reason they rarely make it into the band’s live shows.

Memorable guitar riffs, spooky vocals and southern mysticism are strung together in a way that the band would totally abandon by the 1990s. Critics gave them kudos for changing their sound, but some fans got off the bus and never got back on, even when “Out of Time” and “Automatic for the People” propelled the band into international stardom.

It’s important for an artist to grow, but it would be nice if R.E.M. would revisit this facet of their work just one more time.

(Reviews originally published in the Kinston Free Press in 2009).