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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Beyonce, Blake Shelton and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

POP

Beyonce, “I Am ... Sasha Fierce” (Columbia) ***

If she can be a multi-faceted entertainer, from all aspects of making music to acting, there’s no reason Beyonce Knowles can’t have a couple of identities, too. Her third solo album, a two-CD set, introduces us to both Beyonce, the pop-minded romantic of “I Am ...,” and Sasha Fierce, the more, well, fierce and aggressive persona who at one point lets us know that “a diva is a female version of a hustla.” It’s an odd but entertaining concept, though it somewhat weakens the album itself by spreading the songs — 11 on the standard edition, 16 on the deluxe — between two separate discs. What it amounts to is a pair of somewhat one-dimensional mini-albums, whereas putting everything together and mixing up the tracks would make a much stronger statement about Beyonce as a musical force, especially as she prepares to drive that up a notch with her buzzed-about starring role as Etta James in the upcoming film “Cadillac Records.” What we’re left with, however, is still a highly accomplished effort that, taken as a whole, amounts to the best batch of songs Beyonce has ever put together, on her own or even with Destiny’s Child. She manages to do it without any featured guests, a real rarity these days, although she does work with an array of hit-making collaborators such as Kenneth Nate “Danjahands” Hills, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Toby Gad, Amanda Ghost, Sean Garrett and Lil Wayne cohorts Jim Monsin and Bangladesh. You can pretty much click and point on almost any track on either edition of the album and come up with a winner, whether it’s “I Am ...’s” poppy and provocative “If I Were A Boy” (she’d be “a better man,” she tells us), lushly epic “Halo” and compellingly textured “That’s Why You’re Beautiful” or the “Sasha Fierce” reggae-tinged “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” jagged “Radio” and sexy, Easternflavored “Video Phone.” It may not be all it coul be, but “I Am ... Sasha Fierce” is still a richly rewarding listen.



COUNTRY

Blake Shelton, “Startin’ Fires,” (Warner Bros.) ***

After the heartbroken pall, due to the breakup of his first marriage, that hung over 2007’s “Pure BS, “Startin’ Fires” finds Blake Shelton in a more boisterous mood — as he should be now that he’s dating fellow country firebrand Miranda Lambert. She shows up here, co-writing and dueting on the final track, a campfire singalong called “Bare Skin Rug,” while elsewhere Shelton revels about being with someone who’s “Good at Starting Fires” and mines a swampy groove for “Never Lovin’ You” and a soulful sway in “100 Miles.” “Country Strong” salutes to boot-wearin’ men and women, and “This is Gonna Take All Night,” meanwhile, is a pronouncement of sexual intent so direct it would make the late Barry White smile. Talk about startin’ a fire ...



NEW & NOTEWORTHY:

Eric Bobo, “Meeting of the Minds” (Nacional): The percussionist son of Latin jazz legend Willie Bobo and member of Cypress Hill goes solo with help from Cypress’ B Real, rapper Ill Bill and DJ Tony Touch.

Bring Me the Horizon, “Suicide Season” (Epitaph): A second set from the Sheffield, England, punk rockers.

Zac Brown Band, “The Foundation” (Home Grown/ Big Picture/Atlantic): The Atlanta country group recruited Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, George Jones) to produce its fourth album and first for a major label.

Erran Baron Cohen, “Songs in the Key of Hanukkah” (New Line): The brother of Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat,” “Ali G”) takes Hanukkah music in new directions with this set of remixes and reinventions.

David Cook, “David Cook” (19/RCA): The latest “American Idol” winner worked with Soundgarden/ Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell and Grammy-winning producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Kid Rock) on his debut album.

Miley Cyrus, “Breakout” (Hollywood): An expanded version of the “Hannah Montana” star’s album includes two bonus songs (one with brother Trace Cyrus from Metro Station) and a DVD with an interview and seven live clips.

Dido, “Safe Trip Home” (Arista): The first album in five years from the British singer (and Eminem collaborator on “Stan”) moves to a new release date.

D.O.A., “Northern Avenger” (Sudden Death): The long-lived Canadian punk outfit celebrates its 30th anniversary with producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Mötley Crüe) at the helm.

The Doors, “Live at

the Matrix 1967” (Bright Midnight/Rhino): The latest installment of the group’s archival series hails from a pair of early shows in San Francisco.

The Fireman, “Electric Arguments” (MPL/ATO): Paul McCartney goes undercover for his third album of electronic experiments — and first in a decade — with producer Youth.

Sammy Hagar, “Cosmic Universal Fashion” (Loud & Proud): The Red Rocker’s latest set features guests such as ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, along with a cover of the Beastie Boys’ “(You’ve Got to) Fight For Your Right (To Party).”

Il Divo, “The Promise” (Syco/Columbia): “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell’s vocal quintet mixes classical repertoire with songs by ABBA and Frankie Goes to Hollywood on its fifth album.

Femi Kuti, “Day By Day” (Mercer Street): The Afrobeat progeny of the great Fela Kuti gets his groove back on his first studio album in seven years.

Mudvayne, “The New Game” (Epic): The headbangers from Peoria put out their first set of new material in three years after scuttling plans for a 2007 release in order to go back and record more songs.

Nickelback, “Dark Horse” (Roadrunner): The Canadian quartet teamed with the reclusive Mutt Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard, ex-wife Shania Twain) for its follow-up to 2005’s phenomenally successful “All the Right Reasons.”

Peter, Paul & Mary,

“The Solo Recordings (1971-1972)” (Rhino): A three-CD box set, available exclusively at Barnes & Noble, that checks out their initial extra-group work, much of which has been out of print.

Phish, “At the Roxy” (Jemp): The jam band’s revered three-night stand in Atlanta is preserved on this eight-CD set, with assorted guests and cover songs intact.

The Priests, “The Priests” (RCA Victor): A debut album of classical and religious material from three bona fide, ordained Irish priests.

Stereophonics, “Decade in the Sun: The Best of Sterephonics” (Fontana/ Universal): A comprehensive look at the Welsh modern rockers first 10 years, revelatory since most of their success has been overseas.

Third Eye Blind, “Red Star” (digtal): This digital EP features the San Francisco rockers’ first new songs in five years, with a full album, “Ursa Major,” coming in 2009.

Various Artists: “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson — Music From the Film” (Legacy): This companion piece to the DVD release of the documentary mixes some of Thompson’s favorite songs with narrative tracks by the good “doctor” and other voices from the film.

Various Artists, “Juno: Deluxe Edition” (Rhino): The surprise soundtrack hit is expanded with 15 songs, including one sung by film star Ellen Page, that didn’t make the final cut.



Hot New Music DVDs

Hitting stores this week: Foo Fighters, “Live at Wembley Stadium” (RCA); “Down the Tracks: The Music That Influenced Led Zeppelin” (Eagle Rock); The Who, “The Who: At Kilburn 1977” (Image Entertainment); Wu-Tang Clang, “Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan” (Loud/Legacy/ BET/Paramount).

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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