Who Should Rick Rubin Do?
You may not be into everything Rick Rubin has had a hand in over the course of his career as a producer, but chances are even if you passed on the Beastie Boys or Slayer, you tuned in to Tom Petty and Johnny Cash. While the exact nature of Rubin’s magic touch has been elusive to outsiders, there can be little doubt that when he gets together with the right artist at the right point in their career, he seems to bring out their very best.
What is his secret? No matter what style he’s working in, Rubin seems to have a knack for helping artists shed excesses and bring their music to a core essence. He’s the great focus puller of modern music. That’s as true of his work in hip-hop as it is in heavy metal. It’s a tribute to his musical vision and his rapport with musicians that Rubin has helped artists ranging from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Dixie Chicks.
Much has been written about Rubin’s taking on the role of co-head of Columbia Records and more recently about the waning patience his corporate overlords may have with Rubin’s quixotic work habits. Whatever his talents as a record exec, there’s no reason to believe that Rubin still doesn’t have some pixie dust left to sprinkle over some well-selected artists and help them make great music. Recent reports suggest Rubin is working with hip-hop duo Clipse on their next record, but aside from his production on Jay Z’s “99 Problems,” Rubin has been focusing on singer-songwriters such as Neil Diamond and Jakob Dylan and heavy rockers like Metallica. Other acts rumored to be on Rubin’s schedule are ZZ Top and The Avett Brothers.
So who should Rubin do next? Time, fate and circumstance have X’d a few off my dream roster (The Clash, Elvis Presley) of acts which could have restored their relevance with Rubin’s guidance. Here are my thoughts, feel free to contribute your own.
They haven’t made a new record since 1989’s Two Hearts, and it’s been even longer than that since they commanded commercial attention. When they did make a splashy reunion, they followed it up with the Dave Edmunds-produced EB 84, and as much as it might have seemed like Edmunds would be a great choice, the results seemed to betray a desire to make the Everlys relevant to the MTV generation. Rubin could surround Phil and Don with sympathetic supporting players, hook them up with some appropriate cover material or maybe coax some new original material out of them. Most importantly, he’d shift the focus back to the brothers’ inimitable harmonies.
There’s something about the mixture of spirituality and gutter rock in Patti Smith’s music that I think would find great empathy in Rubin’s hands. He could find that balance between inspiration and method that would restore Smith’s studio efforts to the power she still commands on stage.
Crosby, Stills and Nash are reportedly collaborating on an album of covers with Rubin. Whatever. The guy who could use Rubin’s discipline and taste is Young. While Rubin seems to value the spirit of intuition and performance, he’s also careful about his choices, a principle from which Young has strayed, resulting in haphazard quality control. Whether it would be a hellacious Crazy Horse noise record or a stark acoustic affair (or, like the best Young albums, a combination of both), I have no doubt Rubin could lead Young to some great music. Whether Young is willing to be lead is another question.
Inauguration hat jokes aside, can anyone doubt Aretha can still bring it vocally? If she could focus and make a live-off-the-floor R&B album, it would be a triumph. This is one voice Rubin could save before it withers on the vine.
Rev. Al is back on track after 2008’s Lay It Down and some sympathetic production from Amir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots. Keep the ball rolling. Hook up with Rubin for an acoustic album. Why not? There can be no doubt that Green’s voice could carry the day. Whatever you do, let him make soul music. Don’t try to force him into some contemporary, programmed-beat straightjacket.
It’s a surprise that Rubin’s mixing work (according to Wikipedia) on 1998’s Car Wheels On A Gravel Road didn’t translate into a more sustained project. The way he nurtured the Dixie Chicks through the challenges they faced suggests he has the temperament to help Williams create music in an environment sympathetic to her songwriting.
Well, why not? I don’t want to debate the merits of Bruce’s recent output. Let’s just say Rubin could conceivably clear the decks and reorient the Boss. Nobody is expecting him to take a mere nostalgia trip and return to peak glories. On the other hand, it might be interesting if Rubin reacquainted Bruce with this guy and then reintroduced him to us.
‘ If you’re gonna dream … Like Young, it’s not clear Dylan wants to, or could be, led in the studio. And not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the sound of the last couple of Dylan albums, But I remember when Johnny Cash talked about working with Rubin, he said he’d audition songs for the producer, who would listen carefully and then when the song would end, Rubin would say “that’s pretty good, what else ya got?” It wouldn’t kill Bob to have someone who would listen to him and then say “what else ya got?”