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Listening Room: Willie Nelson, Joe Jackson and more...
Willie Nelson, “Moment of Forever” (Lost Highway) ***
It’s a mistake — that’s occasionally made — to dismiss Willie Nelson as some saber-toothed country icon whose best days are behind him. Nelson remains prolific as a recording artist, which occasionally works against him but also creates opportunities for gems like “Moment of Forever,” a 13-track set that reminds us (as if we needed to be) of his prowess as song interpreter. It’s newsworthy, of course, that young buck Kenny Chesney and his producer, Buddy Cannon, helm the set — with Chesney dueting on the good-humored honky tonk lament “Worry B Gone” — but the real stars are the songs and Nelson’s performances of them. He delivers a hushed version of the Kris Kristofferson title track and a loping, subtle rendering of Dave Matthews’ “Gravedigger.” Nelson also recasts Randy Newman’s mid-’70s ballad “Louisiana 1927” into something that has post-Katrina resonance, echoing those sentiments in his treatment of Dave Loggins’ “Takin’ on Water.” There’s some good, semicreepy fun with Big Kenny on “The Bob Song,” and there’s also a Bob song — a down ’n’ dirty cover of Dylan’s gospel “Gotta Serve Somebody” infused with soulful horn charts and stinging harmonica and electric and acoustic guitar solos. Amidst all this, Nelson scores with a few of his own tunes, including the country shuffle “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore,” the subtly Caribbean “Always Now” and “Over You Again,” the albumopener he co-wrote with sons Micah and Lukas Nelson whose airy, hypnotic ambience is contemporary enough for a U2 or Coldplay album. At 74, Nelson has outlived all titles to simply be considered an American artist, and “Moment of Forever” is a potent example of what that means.
Joe Jackson, “Rain” (Rykodisc) *** 1/2
There is indeed something going on around here on Jackson’s latest album — a trio effort that contains 10 of the most sublime songs and performance of his nearly 30 years of recording. Working with the original Joe Jackson Band rhythm section (Graham Maby and drummer Dave Houghton), he treats these jazz-flavored pop tunes with a fluid and sophisticated dynamic attack that uses space — and Jackson’s rich piano tone — in order to make something that sounds bigger than the sum of its parts from the elegiac “Solo (So Low)” to the rocking “King Pleasure Time” and the rolling soul-jazz of “The Uptown Train.” It’s a high water mark in a career that’s set a few high bars already.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
Ron Blake, “Shayari” (Mack Avenue) — The third album from the “Saturday Night Live” house band saxophonist.
Sarah Brightman, “Symphony” (Decca) — The British soprano’s latest includes duets with Andrea Bocelli, Fernando Lima — and Kiss’ Paul Stanley.
Bullet for My Valentine, “Scream, Aim, Fire” (Red Ink) — The sophomore assault from the buzz-generating British heavy metal band.
Dailey and Vincent, “Daily and Vincent” (Rounder) — The first outing by the bluegrass duo whose credits include Doyle Lawson, Ricky Skaggs and Rhonda Vincent & the Rage.
Emigrate, “Emigrate” (Pilgrim/Motor Music) — The debut set from Rammstein guitarist Richard Kruspe’s side project.
The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, “Down in New Orleans”
(Time Life) — The long-lived vocal group join Allen Touissant, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and other Crescent City icons for the first New Orleans album of their 70-year career.
Donna Jean & the Tricksters, “Donna Jean & the Tricksters” (Dig Music) — The former Grateful Dead singer joins forces with the Zen Tricksters for her latest musical foray.
Louis XIV, “Sick Dogs and Ponies”(Pineapple/Atlantic) — The San Diego rockers go for a bigger and lusher sound on their third album.
Shelby Lynne, “Just a Little Lovin’ ” (Lost Highway) — The Southern singer pays tribute to Dusty Springfield on her latest album.
The Mars Volta, “The Bedlam in Goliath” (GSL/Universal) — The At the Drive-In refugees deliver a fifth album of cascading musicality, influenced by the spirits contained in an Ouija-style board played during the band’s last tour.
Pat Metheny, “Day Trip” (Nonesuch) — The jazz guitar great showcases his latest trio, which includes Christian McBride on bass and drummer Antonio Sanchez.
SSM, “Break Your Arm for Evolution” (Alive) — A 10-track second album from the Detroit garage rock “supergroup.”
Chris Stills, “Chris Stills” (Fanista) — The second album by Stephen Stills’ son gets an overdue U.S. release after causing a stir overseas.
Tiles, “Fly Paper” (InsideOut) — The Detroit prog rockers’ fifth album features a variety of guests, including Canadian artists Kim Mitchell and Alannah Myles.
Chris Walla, “Field Manual” (Barsuk) — The first-ever solo album by the Death Cab For Cutie member and producer.
The Wrights, “The Wrights” (ACR) — The Nashville husband and wife duo co-wrote five of the eight tracks on their second album.
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