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Listening Room: R.E.M., Josh Gracin and more...
R.E.M., “Accelerate” (Warner Bros.) ***1/2
As much as R.E.M.’s most recent albums(“Up,” “Reveal,” “Around the Sun”) have gotten shortshrift, especially in its native U.S., most fans of the long-lived modern rock heroes will tell you they’ve craved something that rocked a little harder. Their wishes are well-rewarded on “Accelerate,” a spirited 11-song assault that, besides being a return to a preferred form, is also one of the best things the group has done, right up there with touchstones such as “Murmur,” “Document” and “Out of Time.” Frontman Michael Stipe declares that “there’s no time to question the choices I make/I’ve got to find another direction,” but that course is actually a turn back to the bristling, rough ’n’ tumble punky energy we associate with R.E.M.’s earliest days, as tracks like “Living Well’s the Best Revenge,” “Supernatural Superserious,” “Horse to Water,” “Mansized Wreath,” “I’m Gonna DJ” and the title track blast forth amid walls of guitar noise from Peter Buck and touring sideman Scott McCaughey. With Irish producer Jacknife Lee on board, even moodier moments such as the richly arranged “Hollow Man,” the folk-tinged “Until the Day is Done” and the winding, ambient “Sing for the Submarine” are bolstered by a more musical, live-feeling kind of intensity. Stipe’s lyrics, meanwhile, are as potent as ever, making pointed, late Bush-era observations that are haunting and succinct; “Houston” begins with a Katrina refugee’s lament that “If the storm doesn’t kill me, the government will,” while “Mr. Richards,” “Living Well’s, ...” “Accelerate” and others bristle with both anger and a determination to make things better. But the truest line here is “Music will provide the light you cannot resist,” and any resistance to “Accelerate” is indeed futile.
Josh Gracin, “We Weren’t Crazy” (Lyric Street) **1/2
The former U.S. Marine and “American Idol” finalist from Westland’s 2004 debut established him as a Real Deal, going gold, scoring a trio of radio hits and giving “Idol” a foothold in Nashville. Gracin’s second set is more polished and focused, the freshfacedness of its predecessor replaced with a steady confidence and a batch of tunes — three of which Gracin wrote or co-wrote — that run from rockers (“Found,” “Favorite State of Mind,” “Livin’ It Up”) to midtempo anthems (“Invisible,” “Telluride”) and aching ballads (“Let Me Fall,” “Unbelievable [Ann Marie]”). He’s not replacing Alan Jackson or Keith Urban or Brad Paisley any time soon, but “We Weren’t Crazy” raises Gracin’s stock in the country music world.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY:
Anti-Flag, “The Bright Lights of America” (RCA):
The Pittsburgh punkers turned to producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, Thin Lizzy, Morrissey) to steer their latest in a more sophisticated direction.
Dave Barnes, “Me and You and the World” (Razor & Tie): The label debut by the Nashville singer-songwriter whose work has been recorded by Kelly Clarkson, Marc Broussard and others.
The Black Keys, “Attack & Release” (Nonesuch): The minimalist Akron duo team with Gnarls Barkley’s Danger Mouse for their first fullfledged collaboration.
Paddy Casey, “Addicted to Company” (Victor/Sony BMG): The Irish singersongwriter recorded his third album in California with producer George Drakoulias (Black Crowes, Tom Petty, Tift Merritt).
The Dino-5, “Baby Loves Hip Hop” (Baby Loves Music): An all-star collective of Roots, Jurassic 5 and Digable Planets members join forces for some “prehistoric” hip-hop for kids.
Fall Out Boy, “**** Live in Phoenix” (Island): The quartet’s CD/DVD concert package includes a bonus take of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” with John Mayer.
Jackie Greene, “Giving Up the Ghost” (429): The California singer-songwriter’s fifth album is his second produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin and features a stellar cast of backing players.
Kathy Mattea, “Coal” (Captain Potato): The country singer dips into her West Virginia heritage for this set of mining-themed songs.
Ministry, “Cover Up” (Megaforce): The industrial rockers’ covers set runs from the Rolling Stones to Louis Armstrong.
Moby, “Last Night” (Mute): A good night out at the club is the theme of the electronic auteur’s first set of new material in three years.
Van Morrison, “Keep it Simple” (Lost Highway): In the wake of a couple of compilations, the Irish icon wrote all 11 songs — his most prolific exposition in several years — for his latest release.
Ours, “Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy)” (American/Columbia):
Grammy-winning producer Rick Rubin helmed the third studio album by this hardrocking New York outfit.
Poi Dog Pondering, “7” (Platetectonic Music):
Group leader Frank Orrall brought in Poi Dog members from throughout the country to make the group’s imaginatively titled seventh album.
The Proclaimers, “Life With You” (Decca/W14): The Scottish twins, of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” fame, cover Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” on their seventh studio album.
Stones, “Shine a Light” (Interscope): The companion to the Stones’ new Martin Scorsese-directed concert film comes in single- and doubledisc versions, both featuring guests Jack White, Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera.
Joe Satriani, “Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock” (Sony BMG): The rock guitar virtuoso’s 13th solo album features his son, ZZ, on saxophone.
Sevendust, “Capter VII: Hope and Sorrow” (7Bros. Records): The hard rockers’ second release on their own label features guest appearances by Chris Daughtry and members of Alter Bridge.
Soundtrack, “My Blueberry Nights” (Blue Note): Norah Jones, who makes her acting debut in this film, contributes a new song to a soundtrack that also includes a score by Ry Cooder.
George Strait, “Troubadour” (MCA Nashville): The country icon duets with Patty Loveless and Dean Dillon on his first set of new songs in two years.
Various Artists, “In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2” (Shout! Factory): Angelique Kidjo, Les Nubians and others put a dark continent spin on some U2 favorites.
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