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Listening Room: Lucinda Williams, Keane and more...
Lucinda Williams, “Little Honey” (Lost Highway) ***1/2
AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” might seem like an odd cover for Lucinda Williams — until you remember that with her history of stormy romances, substance abuse issues, record industry head-butting and a general chin-out temperament, she’s a living, breathing and singing example of the hard road described by that song. And Williams’ version, which closes her ninth studio album, has a soulful rootsiness that makes its sentiments all the more poignant. The rest of “Little Honey,” arguably Williams’ most fully-realized outing since 1998’s “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” stirs together the many musical and lyrical elements that have made her one of America, and Americana’s, musical treasures over the past 30 years. Following the downcast tone of 2007’s “West,” “Real Love” kicks the new album off with gritty guitars and a nod to her current romantic happiness (fiance Tom Overby co-produced the album). “Honey Bee” offers more buoyant rock, but there’s plenty of cloudy and ambivalent terrain to be found on tracks such as “If Wishes Were Horses,” “Knowing,” the achingly mournful “Rarity” and the cautionary “Little Rock Star.” Williams and Elvis Costello get their twang on for the spirited “Jailhouse Tears,” and a combination of new elements (horns), powerhouse playing by her touring band Buick 6 and guest vocals from Matthew Sweet, Suzanna Hoffs, Jim Lauderdale, Tim Easton and Charlie Louvin bolster the “Little Honey’s” emotional heft. And though she laments that “Just when I thought I was getting there/ Things went and got a whole lot tougher,” Williams ultimately finds a happy ending, promising in “Plan to Marry” that “love is our weapon ... and we are the conquerors.” Viva Lucinda!
Keane, “Perfect Symmetry,” (Island) ***
If this British trio stumbled a bit, at least commercially, on its 2006 sophomore outing “Under the Iron Sea,” it comes roaring back with fresh assurance on this predominately upbeat 11-song set. Casting aside the compelling moods and melancholy of its two previous albums, Keane finds its inner New Wave here, recalling the kinetic, anthemic likes of Gang of Four, XTC, Human League and others of the ilk on tracks such as “Spiralling,” “The Lovers are Losing,” “Again & Again” and “Black Burning Heart.” “Better Than This” employs a synth hook drawn from David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” while “You Haven’t Told Me Anything” rides on a sharp guitar hook. There are airy, pretty moments on “Perfect Symmetry,” too — “You Don’t See Me,” “Playing Along,” “Love is the End” — but Keane really scores by showing that embracing change is not just an American political slogan.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY:
Buena Vista Social Club, “At Carnegie Hall” (World Circuit/Nonesuch): The long-overdue release of the historic 1998 concert filmed for Wim Wenders’ documentary of Ry Cooder’s Cuban music reclamation project.
Johnny Cash, “At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition” (Columbia Legacy): The man in black’s most famous concerts are captured on this expanded double CD and DVD collection.
Kenny Chesney, “Lucky Old Sun: Deluxe Edition” (Blue Chair/BNA): The early edition of the country star’s latest (the “regular” version hits Oct. 21) includes four bonus tracks and video material.
Copeland, “You Are My Sunshine” (Tooth and Nail):
The Florida modern rockers add singer Rae Cassidy Klagstad to help out on its fifth album.
Nikka Costa, “Pebble to a Pearl” (Go Funk Yourself/ Stax): Famed producer Don Costa’s daughter assembles a hot band to help cook up the soul stew on her first album in three years.
Billy Currington, “Little Bit of Everything” (Mercury Nashville): The country singer co-produced his third album, co-writing five of its 12 tracks.
Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, “Dirt Don’t Hurt” (Transdreamer): The first U.S. release by Golightly and her band — which in this rootsy ensemble consists solely of musical partner Lawyer Dave.
Gojira, “The Way of All Flesh” (Prosthetic): The fourth album by this French extreme rock outfit shows that there’s no language barriers to headbanging.
“Gossip in the Grain” (RCA): The Maine-based singer-songwriter goes for a bigger sound on his third album and, on “Meg White” offers a genuine homage to the White Stripes drummer.
Lordi, “Deadache!” (The End): The costumed headbangers from Finland roll out their fifth album just in time for Halloween.
Yngwie Malmsteen, “Perpetual Flame” (Rising Force): The Swedish guitar hero brings short-lived Judas Priest frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens into the fold for his latest release.
Dave Mason, “26 Letters — 12 Notes” (Out The Box): The classic rocker and Traffic co-founder worked on portions of his first solo album in 21 years at Detroit’s Harmonie Park Studios.
Ingrid Michaelson, “Be OK” (Cabin 24): The Staten Island singer-songwriter mixes demos, covers, live tracks and unreleased songs on this partial benefit for Stand Up To Cancer.
Secret Machines, “Secret Machines” (World’s Fair): The New York prog-rock trio delivers its first album since founding guitarist Benjamin Curtis left and was replaced by Phil Karnats.
Martin Sexton, “Solo” (Kitchen Table): A live document of the Syracuse-born troubadour’s engrossing solo performances.
J.D. Souther, “If the World Was You” (Slow Curve): The first solo album in 25 years from the singersongwriter who boasts a who’s-who of composing credits.
Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers, “Inside Tracks” (Telarc): The veteran Washington, D.C.-raised guitarist shows off influences from Chet Atkins to Tchaikovsky on his latest effort.
Patrick Thomas, “Build Me a City,” (Co-Op): The sophomore album from the Michigan singer-songwriter who now makes his home base in Brooklyn.
Various Artists, “Yo Gabba Gabba!” (Nickelodeon/SonyBMG): The Roots, Biz Markie, the Ting Tings and others guest on an album targeted for both pre-schoolers and their parents.
War, “Greatest Hits Live” (Avenue): Three separate albums capturing a comprehensive 2007 concert by one of this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees.
This week’s hottest holiday-themed releases:
Aretha Franklin, “The Christmas Aretha” (DMI); Al Jarreau, “Christmas” (Rhino); Los Lonely Boys, “Christmas Spirit” (Epic); Various Artists, “Christmas A Go-Go” (Wicked Cool) — featuring “Sock It To Me Santa” by Bob Seger & the Last Heard; Various Artists, “Verve Remixed Christmas” (Verve); Various Artists, “We Wish You a Metal Xmas and Headbanging New Year” (Armoury).
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