I have to admit that I’m glad Richie Havens is still out
there making records and doing the good work he does. This is a dangerous admission to make; it
reveals, for one, that I was biased going into this review and, perhaps more
egregiously, it also reveals how unhip I likely am. After all, appreciating Richie Havens is one
step away from appreciating the likes of Jackson Browne and James Taylor. God help me.
Younger music fans did not grow up with the music of Richie
Havens in the way that the Woodstock generation did. But music fans take note: the legendary and
ecstatic performance immortalized in the Woodstock film does Havens something of a disservice, at least to listeners who might
find themselves listening to his new album, an album that is comprised of soft
rock tunes for aging hippie-types.
Lest you think I mean the preceding statement in a positive
way, please allow me to assure you that I do not. Nobody
Left to Crown reminds me a bit of an album like Clapton’s Pilgrim: a boneless chicken breast of an
album. The songs are fine, the playing
is fine, the singing, as always, is fine, but in the end I found myself wanting
Havens to get some balls, particularly since the topics are heavy ones. I want Havens to push the envelope at least a little or, failing that, I’d like his
producers to push the envelope for him.
On the latter topic, where co-producers Jay Newland and
Brian Bacchus brought an interesting enough mishmash of country rock and jazz
sounds together for Norah Jones’ debut, here the producers rely mostly on stock
studio sounds and package Havens in a capsule a bit too easy to swallow. That’s
not to suggest that Havens needs Timbaland to produce his next album, but it’s
difficult not to see some parallels with artists like Dylan or Cash, both of
whom in some ways were rescued from sonic irrelevance by interested and
conscientious producers—Daniel Lanois for Dylan and Rick Rubin for Cash.
In short, Havens still has the goods, but this album makes
me want to kick him in the ass to see what he can really do. At his best, Havens is scary in his
convictions, magnificent in his performance, and beautiful in his
melodies. Believe me, I wish I could say
otherwise, but On Nobody Left to Crown scary and magnificent are replaced by earnestness, and while there are
certainly moments of beauty, it’s just not enough to make up for the vacuum.
Standout Tracks: “Nobody Left to Crown,” “(Can’t You Hear) Zeus’s
Anger Roar” CHRISTIAN KIEFER