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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: AC/DC, Kenny Chesney and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

ROCK

AC/DC, “Black Ice” (Columbia) ***

Even after eight years, we don’t demand too much from AC/DC — just killer guitar riffs, anthemic choruses, lyrics full of sly sexual innuendo and songs that sound best when they’re played really, really loud. These virtues are present in abundance on “Black Ice,” the Australian hard rockers’ long-awaited follow-up to 2000’s “Stiff Upper Lip.” The 15-song set, which hits Monday exclusively via Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, kicks off with the bright power chords of “Rock N’ Roll Train,” with frontman Brian Johnson screeching about “living on ecstasy” (the emotion, not the drug) as the song chugs along with highoctane abandon. That’s not to say AC/DC doesn’t step out of its prototypical mold a bit: “Anything Goes” is as poppy as anything the band has ever cranked out; “Decibel” and “Stormy May Day” mine a gritty, blues-tinged intensity; “Rock N’ Roll Dream” starts out in disarmingly mellow fashion (at least by AC/DC standards); and “She Likes Rock N’ Roll” gets a particularly funky backbeat from drummer Phil Rudd. But AC/DC’s stock-in-trade remains riff-driven rockers, which on “Black Ice” range from the vintage Rolling Stones cops “Wheels” and “Big Jack,” the stomping sass such as “Skies on Fire” and “Money Made,” big-bottomed juggernauts like “Spoilin’ For a Fight,” “Smash N’ Grab” and the title track, and one tune, “Rocking All the Way,” that echoes the archetypal “Highway to Hell.” Producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Rage Against the Machine) gives “Black Ice” plenty of sonic shine without too much polish, and we wind up happily back in black — ice or otherwise.



COUNTRY

Kenny Chesney, “Lucky Old Sun” (Blue Chair/BNA) **1/2

Things have gotten a bit heavy for country music’s Jimmy Buffett on his 12th album. Kenny Chesney starts this overtly laidback 11-song set singing that “everybody’s got their battle scars” and shares a few of his here, with what he’s acknowledged are allusions to his 4-month whirlwind marriage to actress Renee Zellweger. This sober state of mind is jarring but also compelling, and it’s not an unpleasant change to hear Chesney strike a more reflective tone on songs such as “I’m Alive” (with Dave Matthews), “Way Down Here,” “Boats” and “Nowhere to Go, Nowhere to Be.” The grins are here too, though, as he cuts it up with the Wailers on “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” and romps through the horn-laden blues of “Ten With a Two.” And the pop standard “That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day),” with Willie Nelson, would be an interesting exercise, too — if Brian Wilson hadn’t used it to greater effect as the title track and thematic lynch pin of his new album.



NEW & NOTEWORTHY

Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm, “2 Man Wrecking Crew” (Delta Groove): A bluesy summit from two sons of fertile music heritage scenes in Mississippi and Missouri.

The Dears. “Missiles” (Dangerbird): Creative differences over the Montreal indie rockers’ fourth album trimmed all but two key members from the group’s roster.

Brent Dennen, “Hope For the Hopeless” (Dualtone/ Downtown): The California singer-songwriter brings Afrobeat star Femi Kuti as the primary guest on his third album.

Electric Six, “Flashy” (Metropolis): The Detroit sextet offers a sequel to its hit “Gay Bar” on an album it recorded back home at Hamtramck Sound Machine studios.

Gang Gang Dance, “Saint Dymphna” (The Social Registry): The fourth full-length album from the boundary-pushing Brooklyn dance-rock quartet.

Waylon Jennings, “Waylon Forever” (Vagrant): The late country legend’s son Shooter Jennings backs him on this final eight-song session of covers and originals.

Montell Jordan, “Let it Rain” (Universal/Fontana): The California R&B singer cowrote all 12 songs on his first new album in three years.

Arden Kaywin, “Elephant in the Room” (PEGA): The sophomore outing from the indie rock singer who prepped herself at Oberlin and the Manhattan School of Music.

LaBelle, “Back to Now” (Verve): The “Lady Marmalade” trio reunites after 30 years, with help from Lenny Kravitz, Wyclef Jean, Philly soul architects Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff and others.

Los Cenzontles with David Hidalgo, “Songs of Wood & Steel” (Los Cenzontles): Los Lobos’ Hidalgo joins the San Francisco Latino music troupe, which also welcomes guest appearances by Linda Ronstadt, the Estrada Bros. and others.

Mary Mary “The Sound” (Columbia): The gospel duo continues to spread The Word along with “The Sound,” joined by guests David Banner, Deborah Joy Imani Winans and Kierra “Kiki” Sheard.

Matisyahu, “Shattered” (J-Dub/Epic): This eclectic four-song EP is a preview for the Hassidic artist’s new album, “Light,” which comes out in early 2009. (See story, page D1.)

Craig Morgan, “That’s Why” (BNA): The country singer wrote six of the 10 track son this debut for a new label.

Of Montreal, “Skeletal Lamping (Dig)” (Polyvinyl): Kevin Barnes, the majordomo of this Athens, Ga., collective, maintains a theatrical and dramatic edge on Of Montreal’s ninth studio album.

Lou Reed, “Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse” (Matador): The grizzled rock iconoclast recreates his 1973 opus on this set taped from a five-night 2006 stand in Brooklyn.

The Sea & Cake, “Car Alarm” (Thrill Jockey): The Chicago pop/rock/jazz quartet rolls out its eighth studio album — and second since a three-year, hiatus.

Soundtrack, “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” (Walt Disney): The kids are alright, or at least still singing and dancing, on this third installment of the family friendly juggernaut.

Tony Trischka, “Hill Country” (Rounder): The banjo virtuoso works through a bluegrass set with help from Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglass, Mark O’Connor and members of the McCoury family.

Various Artists, “Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia” (Philadelphia International/Legacy): A four-CD, 71-song celebration of one of the country’s greatest soul music factories.

Hank Williams III, “Damn Right Rebel Proud” (Sidewalk): The third-generation insurgent makes a case for his grandfather’s reinstatement into the Grand Ole Opry.

LeAnn Womack, “Call Me Crazy” (MCA Nashville): The country veteran re-focuses on her chosen genre, co-writing four of the 12 songs and dueting with George Strait and Keith Urban.



HAPPY HOLIDAYS

This week’s hottest holidaythemed releases: Tony Bennett, “A Swingin’ Christmas” (RPM/Columbia); Sheryl Crow, “Home For Christmas” (Hallmark Gold Crown stores exclusive); Manheim Steamroller, “Christmasville” (American Gramaphone); Neil Sedaka, “The Miracle of Christmas” (Razor & Tie); Various Artists, “Classic Rock Christmas” (Hip-O).

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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