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Listening Room: U2, Raul Malo and more...
U2, “No Line on the Horizon” (Interscope) ***1/2
We mostly celebrate U2 for its arena-shaking rock anthems — the “I Will Follow,” “New Year’s Day,” “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Beautiful Day” explosions of righteous, joyous fury. But the Irish quartet’s predilection, especially since 1984’s “The Unforgettable Fire,” has been to experiment and confound and shake things up, sometimes to a fault as evidenced by the much (and unjustly) maligned ’90s tandem of “Zooropa” and “Pop.” “No Line on the Horizon,” U2’s 11th studio album, finds the band poking at its parameters again after returning to “basics” on 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” and 2004’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” It’s not as dramatic a departure as the aforementioned titles or 1991’s “Achtung Baby,” but the 11-track set steps — quite successfully — into new and different sonic terrains, mixing the expected moments of bombast with the kind of airy, ambient dressings often associated with co-producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois (original U2 cohort Steve Lillywhite is also part of the creative team, and the Black Eyed Peas’ will. i.am plays keyboards on a couple of songs). The title track opens with a loud wash of drone, with The Edge’s guitar groove joining on the second verse. “Magnificent” gives us a sliding bass line and burbling synthesizers under a ringing rock stride and a stirring chorus, while “Unknown Caller” lays plenty of space and polyrhythms under a chorus of group-sung affirmations (“Go! Shout it out! Rise up!”). “Moment of Surrender” offers a soulful seven minutes of the kind of self-examination frontman/lyricist Bono does so well, “White as Snow” plays with a subtle Western motif, “Breathe” is a particularly bluesy take on Bob Dylan and “Fez-Being Born” serves up avant impressionism with plenty of techy touches and another generous helping of guitar at the end. In this context, and sitting in the middle of the album, the initially curious first single “Get On Your Boots” makes more sense — a fuzzy, hard rocking and somewhat silly respite from the more sober ambitions that come before and after it. In “Magnificent” Bono tells us that, “I was born to sing for you ... and sing whatever song you wanted me to.” On “No Line,” he and the rest of U2 give us songs we didn’t necessarily know we wanted, but are very happy to have.
Raul Malo, “Lucky One” (Fantasy): *** The former Mavericks frontman’s first album of his own songs in eight years shows that he paid close attention to the craft of the songs he covered on his two previous albums, 2006’s “You’re Only Lonely” and 2007’s “After Hours.” Straddling genre lines, “Lucky One” echoes many of the forebears who have long influenced Malo, including Roy Orbison (“Crying”) and Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack cronies (“Ready For My Lovin’,” “You Always Win”). “One More Angel,” “So Beautiful” and “Lonely Hearts” hark back to country, while Malo’s Latin roots fortify “Rosalie,” “Moonlight Kiss” and the brassy title track. We haven’t minded Malo wrapping his outstanding voice around other people’s songs, but it’s good to hear him singing his own again this time around.
New & noteworthy:
Blue X1, “Blue Lights on the Runway” (Yep Roc): The Irish group’s fourth outing follows 2005’s lauded “Flock” and last year’s departure of Brian Crosby.
Alison Brown, “The Company You Keep” (Compass): The 10th solo outing from the Harvard-educated banjoist and former Alison Krauss sidewoman.
Neko Case, “Middle Cyclone” (Anti-): The Canadian-based singer taps her prodigious community of musical friends to help on her eighth solo release including M. Ward, The Band’s Garth Hudson, Sarah Harmer and members of Los Lobos, New Pornographers, the Sadies and more.
The Defibulators, “Corn Money” (City Slavage): The debut album from the sevenpiece honky tonk troupe from Brooklyn.
Justin Townes Earle, “Midnight at the Movies” (Bloodshot): Steve Earle’s son continues to mine rustic, rootsy influences on his second fulllength album.
Bela Fleck, “Throw Down Your Heart/Tales From the Acoustic Planet Vol. 3/Africa Sessions” (Rounder): The banjo virtuoso rolls out more music from his early 2005 trip to Africa, featuring guests such as Toumani Diabate, Richard Bona, Baba Maal and others.
Laura Gibson, “Beasts of Season” (Hush): The Portland singer borrows from jazz and folk, enlisting help from members of Bright Eyes and the Decemberists, among others.
Jesse Harris, “Watching the Sky” (Downtown Music):
The New York musician and songwriter gets help from pal Norah Jones on his ninth album.
Ann Heaton, “Blazing Red” (Spill): The New York singer-songwriter, a Notre Dame grad, strikes a deeply personal chord on her fourth release.
Hollywood, Mon Amour, “Hollywood, Mon Amour” (PIAS] Recordings): Nouvelle Vague’s Marc Collin recruited a multinational corps of singers — Juliette Lewis, Yael Naim, Nadeah, former Morcheeba member Skye — for this collection paying homage to movie songs from the ’80s.
Molly Jenson, “Maybe Tomorrow” (Nettwerk): The San Diego singer-songwriter’s first album was produced by hometown hero — and successful artist in his own right — Greg Laswell.
Ian McLagan, “Never Say Never” (00:02:59 Records): The Faces keyboardist and his Bump Band recorded his latest album in London with veteran Glyn Johns and dedicates it to his late wife, who died in a 2006 auto accident.
Meg & Dia, “Here, Here, Here” (Warner Bros.): The third album, and first in three years, from the sister-fronted rock quintet.
Marissa Nadler, “Little Hells” (Kemado): The Boston singer-songwriter drops her fourth album.
The Prodigy, “Invaders Must Die” (Take Me to the Hospital/Cooking Vinyl):
The fifth album from the electronic rock duo finds Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl drumming on the track “Run With the Wolves.”
Say Hi, “Oohs & Aahs” (Barsuk): The debut outing from Seattle by way of Brooklyn songwriter Eric Ebogen.
Lisa Sokolov, “A Quiet Thing” (Laughing Horse): The jazz singer’s fourth album dips into a variety of styles, from standards to modernist poetry and Jewish liturgy.
The Soundtrack of Our Lives, “Communion” (Yep Roc): The Swedish psychedelic rockers pursue a particularly epic path this time out with a sweeping two-disc, 24-track opus.
The Takeover UK, “The Takeover UK” (Rykodisc): The first full-length effort from the Pittsburgh-based garage pop quartet.
Marty Wilson-Piper, “Nightjar” (Second Motion):
The Church member tapped a number of Australian homies to take part in his first studio solo album in nearly nine years.
From the vaults:
Coheed and Cambria, “The Children of the Fence” (box set) (Columbia); Chris Darrow, “Chris Darrow”/”Under My Own Disguise” (Everloving); Rush, “Retrospective III” (Anthem/Atlantic); Thin Lizzy, “Still Dangerous: Live at the Tower Theater Philadelphia 1977” (VH1 Classic)
New music DVDS:Fountains of Wayne, “No Better Place: Live in Chicago” (Shout! Factory); Little Richard, “Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969” (Shout! Factory); Phish, “The Clifford Ball” (Rhino/JEMP)
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