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Listening Room: New Kids On The Block, Brian Wilson and more...
New Kids on the Block, “The Block” (Interscope) **
The question, of course, is inevitable — do these guys still have “The Right Stuff” 14 years after their last album? Back in the mid-’90s, of course New Kids on the Block were kids, a post-Jackson 5 boy band playing to the screaming teen set and setting a template for Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and the glut of white vocal groups that came later in the decade. Now the boys are men, and one — Donnie Wahlberg — has carved out a career as a respected actor. So it’s not like New Kids can simply resume where they left off, and to their credit they don’t try. Instead they have their eye fixed on the current pop/R&B turf, and while “The Block” succeeds in sounding current it’s also anonymous, losing any sense of character amidst a wash of keyboards and static machine beats as the quintet promises at one point they’re “gonna give you some grown man.” Too often New Kids get lost amidst the guests that populate “The Block” — Ne-Yo, who dominates “Single,” Boston mates New Edition, who create an orchestra of harmonies on “Full Service,” Lady GaGa on “Big Girl Now” and, on “Grown Man,” the Pussycat Dolls, Teddy Riley and even Aretha Franklin, who’s present via a sample of her hit “Chain of Fools.” Producers such as Riley, Timbaland, Polow Da Don, Akon and RedOne certainly provide convincing sonics that would make most anything fit on pop radio these days, but that’s the point — tracks such as “Dirty Dancing,” “Sexify My Love,” “Twisted” and “Put it On My Tab”could be anybody, and none of it is quite new enough for the group to get away with being Kids anymore.
Brian Wilson, “That Lucky Old Sun,” (Capitol) ***
The former Beach Boys mastermind returns to the conceptual realm from which he created “Pet Sounds” and “SMiLE” and returns with another triumph — a rich song cycle about his southern California roots tied together by the 1949 spiritual made famous by Louis Armstrong. Wilson and his collaborators — “SMiLe” mate Van Dyke Parks and current band member Scott Bennett — have translated that vision into a set of richly arranged and orchestrated pop songs as well as four poetic spoken-word narratives that give the album a trippy, avant edge worthy of a Kurt Weill stage piece. There are some frank autobiographical allusions to Wilson’s troubled life, along with plenty of songs — including “Midnight’s Another Day,” “Good Kind of Love,” the suite-like “Oxygen to the Brain,” “Going Home” and “Southern California” — that affirm Wilson’s place as one of the master pop craftsmen of our time.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY:
Blessed By a Broken Heart, “Pedal to the Metal” (Century Media): The Montreal sextet goes light on the sex and drugs but offers plenty of rock ’n’ roll on its sophomore album.
Rodney Crowell, “Sex & Gasoline” (Work Song/Yep Roc): The veteran singer-songwriter made his latest album with Rochester Adams grad (and Madonna brother-in-law) Joe Henry.
Lila Downs, “Shake Away” (Manhattan): The Mexican singer continues to explore her musical roots on her latest album, including Spanish versions of songs by Fleetwood Mac and Lucinda Williams.
Dubb Union, “Snoop Dogg Presents Dubb Union” (Doggy Style/Koch): Snoop helps out on this first outing by his latest find, with Daz, Kurupt and others also helping out.
Giant Sand, “Provisions” (Yep Roc): The first outing in four years from Howe Gelb’s rootsy musical collective features vocals by Neko Case, Isobell Campbell and M. Ward.
Terrence Howard, “Shine Through It” (Columbia): The acclaimed actor (“Hustle & Flow,” “Crash,” “Ray”) takes the mic, writing and producing the 11 songs on this neo-soul outing.
Into Eternity, “The Incurable Tragedy” (Century Media): The extreme rockers from Sasketchewan deliver their fifth album.
The Jacksons, “Destiny: Expanded Edition” and “Triumph: Expanded Edition” (Epic/Legacy): The former Jackson 5’s two most successful latter-day albums are bolstered with disco mixes of some of their biggest hits.
Sonya Kitchell, “This Storm” (Decca/Velour): The jazz-influenced singer-songwriter recorded her sophomore album in upstate New York with producer Malcolm Burn (Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris).
Chris Knight, “Heart of Stone” (Drifter’s Church): The Kentucky singer-songwriter celebrates 10 years of recording with his fifth released, produced by the Georgia Satellites’ Dan Baird.
Joe Lovana, “Symphonica” (Blue Note): The veteran saxphonist recorded his 20th album with the WDR Radio Big Band and Orchestra from Cologne, Germany.
Amie Miriello, “I Came Around” (Bellasonic/Jive/ Zomba): The Connecticutt native’s debut album was guided by the same music exec who discovered and developed Destiny’s Child and Jessica Simpson.
Olivia Newton-John, “A Celebration in Song” (Capitol/EMI): The Australian singer has a few friends hopelessly devoted to her on this set of duets with Keith Urban, Barry Gibb, Richard Marx, Cliff Richard and others.
Bruce Robison, “The New World” (Premium): The Austin-based singer-songwriter continues on the country-soul path, this time working with a full horn section.
Southside Johnny, “Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits” (Leroy): Asbury Park’s other great bandleader, working with longtime compatriot Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg and his big band, becomes the latest to wade into the Waits songook.
Underoath, “Lost in the Sound of Separation” (Tooth & Nail/Solid State): The Florida headbanger’s fourth album was co-produced by Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz.
Bebo Valdes, “Live at the Village Vanguard” (Calle 54): The Latin jazz master celebrates his 90th birthday with this intimate club recording.
Young Jeezy, “The Recession” (CTE/Def Jam): The Bush administration may deny it, but the platinum Atlanta rapper knows the economic score on his third album, which features Kanye West on the first single, “Put On.”
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