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Listening Room: Allison Moorer, Smokey Robinson and more
They aren't exactly the household names of Faith Hill and Tim McGraw or Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks -- or even Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner. But real-life couple Allison Moorer and Steve Earle are a potent pair of musical mavericks, and by producing this set the always fearless Earle has helped his wife realize an album so fiercely bold and personal that it leaves its five predecessors, none-too-shabby themselves, in the dust. Moorer (who's also the younger sister of singer Shelby Lynne) wrote all 10 of "Getting Somewhere's" songs herself, co-writing just one, "Fairweather," with Earle. Opening the album with a chugging guitar attack she declares that "I've got a lotta work to do," and she boars hard into her life and psyche, delving into her parents' murder-suicide when she was 14 in "How Does She Do It," her troubled childhood prior to that in "New Year's Day" and about her relationships with Lynne ("Where You Are") and Earle ("If It's Just For Today"). Earle's grinding rock style is the album's default position on songs such as "New Years Day," "Take it So Hard" and the title track, but Moorer's husky, soulful voice is equally at home on ringing acoustic-based pieces like "You'll Never Know" and "How She Does It," and amidst the string section that dominates the elegant "Where You Are." At just 31 minutes and change it's a compact affair that leaves us wanting more, but when Moorer sings that "I have to believe I'm getting somewhere," it's clear that she's already arrived.
Smokey Robinson, "Timeless Love" (New Door/UME) 2.5 stars: Yes, yet another tribute to the Great American Songbook -- but this time by someone who knows how to stylize it. Unlike Rod Stewart's snooze-inducing outings, Motown legend Robinson gives his renditions a welcome light touch built on small ensemble arrangements on only subtle orchestrations. Check out his gently grooving version of "Under My Skin," the smooth rendering of "Night and Day" and easy bounce of "Can't Give You Anything But Love." A more contemporary highlight is Robinson's slow and aching take on Cyndi Lauper's "Time after Time," accented by an almost spectral but captivating violin line.
New & Noteworthy:
The Alarm, "Under Attack" (Eleven Thirty/Redeye): The "Attack" in this case is frontman Mike Peters' battle with leukemia.
Rhett Atkins, "People Like Me" (BNA): The title track is a tearjerker, but the country butt-kicker also finds time to remind us that "I Love Women My Mama Can't Stand."
Busta Rhymes, "Big Bang" (Aftermath): The big-voiced rapper joins Dr. Dre's camp for his seventh album, with help from Stevie Wonder, Missy Elliott, Nas and Q-Tip.
The Futureheads, "News and Tributes" (Vagrant): The sophomore set from one of the bright lights of the latest British invasion.
Indigenous, "Chasing the Sun" (Vanguard): Six years after its debut, guitarist Mato Naji has taken the reins of this Native American blues-rock outfit.
Billy Joel, "12 Gardens Live" (Columbia): A concert set from the piano man's recent run at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Keb' Mo', "Suitcase" (Red Ink): The rootsy troubadour moves from political to more personal concerns on his eighth album.
Del McCoury Band, "Promised Land" (McCoury Music): Bluegrass hero McCoury turns in his all-gospel set for his latest release.
The Replacements, "Bastards of Young: The Best of" (Rhino): Two new songs mark the landmark Minneapolis group's first recordings in 16 years.
Shadows Fall, "Fallout From the War" (Century Media): One of America's most potent metal bands continues on the path of its lauded predecessor, "The War Within."
Sonic Youth, "Rather Ripped" (Geffen): After the departure of Jim O'Rourke, the New York troupe is back to being a quartet for its 20th title.
Sound Team, "Movie Monster" (Capitol): The first full-length from the well-respected ambient rockers from Austin.
Regina Spektor, "Begin to Hope" (Sire/London/Rhino): The Russian-born singer-songwriter fleshes out her sound on this sophomore disc.
Three Days Grace, "One-X" (Jive): Feelings of on-tour isolation inform the Canadian quartet's sophomore release.
Widespread Panic, "Earth to America" (Widespread/Sanctuary): The veteran jam and pays tribute to late guitarist Michael Houser on the album-closer, "May Your Glass Be Filled."
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