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Listening Room: John Legend, Queen + Paul Rodgers and more...
John Legend, “Evolver” (Columbia) ***
John Legend’s thesis over the course of his three albums has been pretty basic — love isn’t all you need, but it’s pretty darn close. Following its pair of platinum predecessors, “Evolver” wakes us up with the fluttery pillow talk of the “Good Morning (Intro)” but quickly jams us into some fresh territory that lives up to the album’s name. “Greenlight” is an upbeat, electro-tinged come-on with a fun rap by OutKast’s Andre 3000 that name-checks Detroit singer Anita Baker and chides Legend to “step out from that piano ... Even Stevie Wonder got down sometime!” Onetime Legend mentor Kanye West then shows up on the next track, “It’s Over,” a brassy funk workout that, paired with “Greenlight,” generates a little more sweat than Legend is known for. “No Other Love,” which features Legend protege Estelle, takes things to the reggae tip in convincing fashion, while “Satisfaction” returns to the electro element. Those forays provide a welcome bit of spice to the 13-song set and nicely frame the songs that hew closer to Legend’s love-man stock-in-trade, such as “Cross the Line,” in which Legend ponders a move from friends to lovers, and “Quickly,” in which he uses these troubled times to convince an object of his desire — voiced by Brandy — to “love me like the world’s about to end.” Legend at least gets into some real social consciousness on the albumclosing “If You’re Out There,” a call to personal engagement that sounds tailor made for an Obama campaign rally — or inauguration. The good news is that Legend does evolve on “Evolver,” but without losing the smooth and soulful romanticism that he does so well.
Queen + Paul Rodgers, “The Cosmos Rocks” (Hollywood) **1/2
This is not quite the first new Queen album in 17 years and, in fact, sounds much closer to Bad Company and Free — which is a testament to the command of Paul Rodgers’ still-potent voice. The bombastic majesty of the late Freddie Mercury’s reign is only hinted at in the stacked harmonies that populate a few of these 14 tracks, and via guitarist Brian May’s occasional recast of the rich, ringing tone so familiar from “Bohemian Rhapsody” and scores of other Queen favorites. This new incarnation of the group could hardly try to recreate all that, so the trio instead churns out a more straightforward set of songs that include heavy guitar rockers such as “Cosmos Rockin’,” “C-lebrity,” “Voodoo” and “Surf ’s Up ... School’s Out!” and the rootsy hand-clapper “Call Me.” It’s a new era, perhaps, but the old one is far too ingrained for this, perhaps unfairly, to do anything but pale in comparison.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, “Cardinology” (Lost Highway): The prolific former Whiskeytown leader and his latest band follow up their lauded 2007 release “Easy Tiger.”
Avant, “Avant” (Capitol): The Cleveland R&B singer switches labels after four releases for the Magic Johnson Music label.
Bloc Party, “Intimacy” (Atlantic): The British modern rock quartet’s third album gets a terrestrial release after two months of digital availability.
Joe Budden, “Padded Room” (Amalgam Digital): The New Jersey-born rapper’s second album comes five years after his first, with a lauded series of “Mood Muzik” mixtapes in between.
Johnny Cash, “Johnny Cash’s America” (Columbia/Legacy): The CD compilation is cool, but the DVD documentary is superlative — and watch for an appearance by Dan John Miller of Detroit’s avant country rockers Blanche (the documentary airs Tuesday on the Biography Channel).
Chiodos, “Bone Palace Ballet: Grand Coda” (Equal Vision): The Davison, Mich., rock troupe recasts its 2007 album with outtakes, acoustic recordings and a DVD of behind-the-scenes and performance footage.
Cradle of Filth, “Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder” (Roadrunner): The theatrical British metal band mines history for this conceptual piece about the life of Joan of Arc ally Giles de Rais.
The Cure, “4:13 Dream” (Suretone/Geffen): The veteran British alt.rockers recorded more than 30 songs for their 13th album but backed off plans for a two-CD set in favor of a more streamlined 13-track outing.
Matthew Dear, “Body Language Vol. 7” (Get Physical): A new set of mixology by the Detroit area electronic dance music artist.
Deerhunter, “Microcastle” (Kranky): The Atlanta indie rock quartet recorded its latest album during a week of sessions in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Tom Gabel, “Heart Burns” (Sire): A seven-song solo EP from the Against Me! frontman.
Lady GaGa, “The Fame” (Interscope): The dance-rock singer from New York delivers her long-awaited debut after writing for other performers, including the Pussycat Dolls.
Eagles of Death Metal, “Heart On” (Downtown): The latest collection of headbanging cheek from Jesse Hughes and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme.
Amp Fiddler and Sly & Robbie, “Inspiration Information” (Strut): Detroit dance/funk/jazz artist Fiddler joins forces with the veteran reggae duo for a stylized workout recorded in Jamaica and the Motor City.
Elton John, “The Red Piano” (Redline): A CD/ DVD commemoration of the Rocket Man’s Las Vegas stage show, augmenting the music with an accompanying documentary. Available only at Best Buy.
Kaiser Chiefs, “Off With Their Heads” (Universal Motown): The third album by the British modern rockers features guest appearances by Lily Allen, rapper Sway DaSafo and James Bond composer David Arnold.
Toby Keith, “That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy” (Show Dog Nashville): The country insurgent’s second straight album as his own producer shows off a new writing relationship with Bobby Pinson.
O’Death, “Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin” (Kemado): A third album of “hootenanny punk” from the New York ensemble.
Pink, “Funhouse” (LaFace/Zomba): Never one to back down from a fight, Pink plays the woman scorned on her fifth album, taking a few shots at her ex-husband, motocross pro Carey Hart.
Rascal Flatts, “Greatest Hits Volume 1” (Lyric Street): The country trio’s first retrospective features three newly recorded Christmas tracks.
Science Faxtion, “Living on Another Frequency” (Mascot): The debut set by the new all-star band that features Bootsy Collins, Buckethead and Brain.
Snow Patrol, “A Hundred Million Suns” (Polydor/Fiction/Geffen): The anthemic U.K. group recorded its fifth album at studios in Berlin and rural Ireland.
Susan Tedeschi, “Back to the River” (Verve): The singer-songwriter’s first new album in three years features guest appearances by the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, Doyle Bramhall II, Tony Joe White and her husband, Derek Trucks.
UB40, “Twentyfourseven” (Atco/ Rhino): The domestic rollout of the British group’s latest, which marks the debut of new singer Duncan Campbell (replacing older brother Ali) and has already topped the U.K. reggae chart.
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