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Listening Room: My Morning Jacket, Emmylou Harris and more...
My Morning Jacket, “Evil Urges” (ATO) ***1/2
On 2005’s diverse “Z,” My Morning Jacket flaunted an ambition to push beyond the hot-playing Southern rock band tag with which it had been labeled, and “Evil Urges,” the fifth studio set from the Louisville quintet, only quickens the pace down that path. Take the album’s first three songs: the title track, a jammy, dynamic rocker with a tricky tempo change toward the end; “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 1,” a pillowy, ambient tone poem; and “Highly Suspicious,” a silly, falsetto-sung, guitar-drenched funk track that’s so left-field it’ll send you straight to the CD booklet to make sure you’re listening to the right album. It’s a head-spinning start, and frontman Jim James and company don’t really let up on the eclecticism after that. “Evil Urges,” in fact, has something for almost every taste, whether it’s the folksy country vibe of “Sec Walkin’” and “Librarian,” the ebb-and-flow anthemry of “I’m Amazed,” the hard rocking “Remnants,” the old Thank You Too!” or the jukebox of ’60s vintage rock sounds on “Aluminum Park.” The key to the album’s success is that MMJ ties everything together in a seamless fashion, as an album that grows richer with each front-to-back listen. That’s a heady ambition in this day and age of single-track downloading, and it’s hard to say if contemporary attention spans will hop on board. But anyone who does will be rewarded with as good a 50 or so minutes of music as has come out so far this year.
Emmylou Harris, “All I Intended To Be” (Nonesuch) ***
Working again with Brian Ahern, who produced her first 11 albums, Emmylou Harris fuses the country and folk flavor of those early recordings with the ethereal ambience that’s marked her work of the last dozen or so years, adding some richly nuanced instrumental work and ensemble vocal arrangements. On her first new album in five years, Harris offers strong originals — two written with Kate and Anna McGarrigle — and illuminating, newly definitive covers d’s “Kern River” and Tracy Chapman’s “All That You Have is Your Soul.” Duets with Dolly Parton (“Gold”) and Vince Gill (on Billy Joe Shaver’s “Old Five and Dimers Like Me”) are further highlights on an album that was well worth the wait.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY
• Priscilla Ahn, “Good Day” (Blue Note): The Pennsylvania-born, Californiabased singer-songwriter bows with a full-length after getting the “Grey’s Anatomy” nod for the song “Rain” from her debut EP.
• Trey Anastasio & the Undectet, “Original Boardwalk Style” (Rubber Jungle): The Phish guitarist’s live album with his latest ensemble benefits the Seven Below Arts Initiative, a nonprofit in his home base of Vermont.
• Walter Becker, “Circus Monkey” (5 Over 12): After a 14-year wait, the guitar-playing half of Steely Dan rolls out his second solo album.
• Solomon Burke, “Like a Fire” (Shout! Factory): The King of Soul gets songwriting contributions from Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, Keb’ Mo’ and Jesse Harris on his latest release.
• Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, “Susquehanna” (Space Age Bachelor Pad): The eightpiece California group’s sixth full-length release reaches well beyond the swing-rock on which it staked its reputation in the ’90s.
• The Fratellis, “Here We Stand” (CherryTree/ Interscope): The Scottish rockers self-produced the follow-up to last year’s “Costello Music.”
• James Hunter, “The Hard Way” (Hear Music): The Grammy-nominated British singer and songwriter takes a more soulful direction on his second album with New Orleans great Allen Toussaint helping to make things easier.
• Joan As Police Woman, “To Survive” (Cheap Lullaby): The soulful British singer, songwriter and instrumentalist gets help from Rufus Wainwright and David Sylvian on her sophomore outing.
• Lil Wayne, “The Carter III” (Ca$h Money/Universal Motown): The Louisiana rapper’s long-awaited third “Carter” album is already a hit thanks to the chart-topping single “Lollipop.”
• Janiva Magness, “What Love Will Do” (Alligator): The award-winning Detroitborn blues singer covers songs from the Tina Turner, Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Little Milton songbooks on her eighth album.
• Alanis Morissette, “Flavors of Entanglement” (Maverick/Reprise): The Canadian rock singer-songwriter mines her breakup with actor Ryan Reynolds on her first set of new material in four years, although she does wind up “Giggling Again For No Good Reason.”
• Sergio Mendes, “Encanto (Enchantment)” (Concord/Starbucks): The legendary Brazilian band leader enlists Fergie, Natalie Cole, Herb Alpert, Ledisi and others on this follow-up to 2006’s “Timeless.”
• Montgomery Gentry, “Back When I Knew It All” (Columbia Nashville): The country duo charts a rowdier course on its seventh album, with Toby Keith guesting on the track “I Pick My Parties.”
• N*E*R*D, “Seeing Sounds” (Star Trak/ Interscope): The third album from the band incarnation of the production duo the Neptunes is another genreblending set frontman Pharrell Williams has termed “chaotic.”
• Plies, “Definition of Real” (Big Gates/Slip-NSlide/Atlantic): The Florida MC welcomes guests Ne-Yo, T-Pain, Akon and others on his sophomore album.
• Rev Theory, “Light It Up” (Interscope/Van Howes): The first album in three years from the New York hard rockers previously known as Revelation Theory.
• Sloan, “Parallel Play” (Yep Rock): The Canadian quartet gets “lazy” on this 13-song set — 17 less than its 2006 predecessor “Never Hear the End of It.”
• Supergrass, “Diamond Hoo Ha” (Yep Roc): The British rock quartet decamped to France to write the songs for its sixth album.
• Billy Bob Thornton & the Box Masters, “Billy Bob Thornton & the Jazzmasters” (Vanguard): The actor puts on his music hat again, debuting his new band with this two-CD set.
• Cassandra Wilson, “Loverly” (Blue Note): The jazz diva delivers her first set of standards in 20 years.
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