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Listening Room: Randy Newman, Glen Campbell and more...
Randy Newman, “Harps and Angels” (Nonesuch) ***1/2
Randy Newman does enough other stuff — mostly film music — that you barely notice a long gap between his albums. But it’s been nine years since “Bad Love,” his last set of all-new material, and the typical verve and gleefully sardonic wordplay of “Harps and Angels” does make us wonder why it had to be so long. Accompanied by an appropriately subtle club-size band, Newman laces these 10 tracks with touches of blues, Dixieland, Tin Pan Alley and even a bit of country and, for “Korean Parents,” the most obvious kind of oriental motif. All of this, of course, is there to frame the singer-pianist’s lyricism, as vivid and detailed as ever and, despite his classic troubadour’s bent, is entirely of the moment. “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” released as an iTunes single last year, serenades “an empire whose time at the top may be coming to an end,” backhand complimenting the Bush administration as not as bad as, oh, Caesar or Stalin and skewering the current Supreme Court. The Broadway-style “A Piece of the Pie” examines working and middle class woes while name checking Jackson Browne, Bono, “Johnny Cougar” and General Motors Corp., while the horn-fueled “Laugh and Be Happy” cajoles would-be immigrants and “Korean Parents” takes on the inadequacies of the public education system, playing into enough stereotypes to offend just about everybody except, perhaps, short people. These songs show as much heart as they do wit, of course, but Newman knows how to play the sincere emotional card, too, particularly on “Losing You,” a parent’s paean about losing a child, and the unapologetically sentimental love song “Feels Like Home,” which closes the album. Hopefully we’ll hear from Newman again before another nine years elapses, but even if that’s the case, he’s left us with yet another rich piece of work to absorb during that time.
Glen Campbell, “Meet Glen Campbell” (Capitol) ***
OK, so we met Glen Campbell 50 or so years ago, and he hasn’t seemed to have much to say recently. And while on the surface “Meet Glen Campbell” — which comes out Tuesday on vinyl and Aug. 19 on CD — seems like a dubious geezer-does-rock prospect, the 72-year-old Arkansan makes all 10 songs sound like something he could have recorded just before or after, say, “Wichita Lineman.” Campbell shows a not surprising affinity for Tom Petty on the string-laden “Walls” and the twangy shuffle of “Angel Dream,” but he also gives Jackson Browne’s “These Days” a bit more country flavor and treats Foo Fighters “Times Like These,” John Lennon’s “Grow Old With Me” and U2’s “All I Want is You” like orchestrated pop epics. The Velvet Underground’s “Jesus” and the Replacements’ “Sadly Beautiful” are downright daring choices for the onetime “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
NEW & NOTEWORTHY
Black Light Burns, “Cover Your Heart & the Anvil Pants Odyssey” (I Am: Wolfpack/YMA): A CD/DVD set featuring covers, instrumentals, videos and a tour documentary from former Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland’s latest band.
Brazilian Girls, “New York City” (Verve Forecast): The cosmopolitan, genre-blending troupe pays tribute to its home base on its third album.
The Faint, “Fasciinatiion” (blank.wav): The Nebraska quintet steps out of the Saddle Creek empire and steers its own course on its sixth album.
Mike Gordon, “The Green Sparrow” (Rounder): The Phish bassist’s latest solo album features guests like bandmates Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell, Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell and the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann, among others.
Anthony Green, “Avalon” (Photo Finish): The debut solo album from the frontman of Philadelphia prog rockers Circa Survive.
Hawthorne Heights, “Fragile Future” (Victory): The Ohio modern rockers’ third studio album comes in the wake of guitarist Casey Calvert’s death and the settlement of its bitter lawsuit with Victory Records.
Robyn Hitchcock, “Luminous Groove” (Yep Roc): The British pop bard’s latest box set focuses on his years with the Egyptians, with bonus tracks and to discs of unreleased material.
Jars of Clay, “Closer” (Nettwerk): A five-song EP from the Christian rockers designed to tide fans over until a new full-length album comes out in early 2009.
Lloyd, “Lessons in Love” (The Inc./Universal): The New Orleans R&B singer’s third album, already three singles deep, features guest shots by Ludacris and Lil Wayne, among others.
Sarah McLachlan, “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy: Legacy Edition” (Arista): The Canadian singer-songwriter’s popular 1993 release is filled out with “The Freedom Sessions” EP and a DVD of live and documentary footage and song videos.
Norma Jean, “The Anti Mother” (Solid State): The Christian headbangers from Georgia collaborate with deftones’ Chino Moreno and Helmet’s Page Hamilton on their fourth studio album.
Jamey Johnson, “The Lonesome Song” (Mercury Nashville): The third album from the Alabama-born country singer best known for the hits he wrote for George Strait, Trace Adkins, Joe Nichols and others.
Matt Nathanson, “Left & Right: Live @ Fingerprints. Live @ Park Ave.” (Vanguard): A long title for a short EP featuring strippeddown live takes of songs from Nathanson’s debut, “Some Mad Hope.”
Conor Oberst, “Conor Oberst” (Merge): The Bright Eyes leader recorded his fourth solo album in Mexico with his specially formed Mystic Valley Band.
Elvis Presley, “Elvis — The Complete ’68 Comeback Special” (SonyBMG): Four CDs of performances and rehearsals the King’s legendary ’68 NBC TV special.
Tony Rice, “Night Flyer: The Singer-Songwriter Collection” (Rounder): This 17-song compilation is a welcome chance to catch up with an unjustly unsung figure on the Americana scene.
Carrie Rodriguez, “She Ain’t Me” (Manhattan/Back Porch): The Brooklyn-by-wayof-Texas songstress and multiinstrumentalist worked with Gary Louris, Dan Wilson and Mary Gauthier on her second solo album.
The Rumble Strips, “Girls and Weather” (Gigantic): The British rockers’ first full-length follows on the heels of last year’s wellreceived debut EP.
Dave Stewart, “The Dave Stewart Songbook, Vol. One” (Surf Dog): Musician/writer/ producer Stewart and his Rock Fabulous Orchestra revisit the hits he wrote for Eurythmics, Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Celine Dion and others.
Trapt, “Only Through the Pain” (Eleven Seven): the “Headstrong” hard rockers switch to Mötley Crüe’s label for their third studio album.
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