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Listening Room: Kelly Clarkson, Chris Cornell and more...
Kelly Clarkson, “All I Ever Wanted” (19 Recordings/RCA) **1/2
It’s comeback time for “Miss Independent.” The stakes for the first American Idol’s fourth album are well-known; after two massive successes, she decided to go toe-to-toe with her record company on 2007’s harder rocking “My December,” and suffice to say “the law” won. So Clarkson has retrenched to a position that’s a lot closer to 2004’s six-times platinum “Breakaway,” a 14-track set that determinedly blends can’t-miss pop hooks and alt-flavored rock energy, all of it well sung and delivered with the mea culpa conviction of someone who knows she has something to prove again. The hitmakers — OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Max Martin, Dr. Luke, new “Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi, Sam Watters and Howard Benson — have lined up to give Clarkson, who co-wrote six of these songs, the array of feels that albums of this ilk require, and she even has a pair of Katy Perry outtakes (”I Do Not Hook Up” and “Long Shot”) for a little extra sizzle. The alreag “My Life Would Suck Without You” gets the album off to a bouncy, full-bodied start — one wonders if a line like “Maybe I was wrong to pick a fight” references the battle over “My December” — while “If I Can’t Have You,” one of four songs Tedder helmed, mines Garbage-style dance-rock and “Whyyawannabringmedown” roars with punky anger. “I Want You,” meanwhile, has a fresh, poppy feel, and the title track rides a funkier kind of beat. The quieter side of Clarkson is here, too, on “Cry,” “Save You” and the album-closing “If No One Will Listen,” which was penned by Detroit-raised singer-songwriter Keri Noble. All of this will likely win back the masses who embraced Clarkson early on, even there’s an anonymity here that sounds like any number of other young mainstream pop-rockers who know that independence is overrated if you want hits.
Chris Cornell,“Scream” (Interscope) ***
It’s early, but there’s unlikely to be a more polarizing album released this year than “Scream.” Who, after allreseen the iconic voice of high-cred rock groups such as Soundgarden and Audioslave linking up with hip-hop and pop hitmaker Timbaland on a full-fledged collaboration that has more in tonal common with Timbaland pal Justin Timberlake — who guests on this album’s world music-laced “Take Me Alive” than with any of Cornell’s previous associations? But those with an open mind will find that it works. The aggressiveness of Cornell’s attack keeps “Scream” decidedly in rock terrain, even on big, emotive tracks such as “Never Far Away,” “Part of Me” and “Time,” or in the urban-meets-metal urgency of “Watch Out.” Timabland brings in pal Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic to add some of his own pop sheen, and for more strange bedfellows, Cornell hooks up with John Mayer for the bluesy “hidden” album closer “Two Drink Minimum.” Audacious and gutsy, “Scream” is something to shout about.
New & Noteworthy:
Ballas Hough Band, “BHB” (Hollywood): They dance ... and they sing. “Dancing With the Stars” props Mark Ballas and Derek Hough roll out their own band, whose lead single (”Do It For You”) was co-written by new “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi.
Corbin Bleu, “Speed of Light” (Hollywood): The “High School Musical” co-star ups the booty quotient on his second album, co-writing two songs in the process.
BLK JKS, “Mystery” (Secretly Canadian): The South African troupe’s debut EP was produced by urban/dance artist Diplo at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady studios in New York.
Sarah Brightman, “Symphony — Live in Vienna” (Manhattan): A CD/DVD souvenir of the British diva’s January 2008 concert at Austria’s Stephandsome Cathedral.
Burn Halo, “Burn Halo” (Rawkhead): The debut effort from the new band formed by former 17 Visions frontman James Hart.
Rocco Deluca, “Mercy” (Ironworks Music): The singer, songwriter and dobro specialist’s sophomore album is produced by Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan) and features backing by British pop trio Keane on the song “I Trust You to Kill Me.”
Dope, “No Regrets” (E1 Music): The Chicago rockers get help from tourmate Zakk Wylde on their new album’s first single, “Addiction.”
The Dream, “Love vs. Money” (Radio Killa/Def Jam): The second album from the hip-hop auteur, who’s written hits for Rihanna, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and others, features a payback appearance by Carey as well as help from Fabolous, Juelz Santana, Ludacris, Rick Ross and more.
John Wesley Harding, “Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead” (Popover Corps): The British-born singer-songwriter delivers his most ambitious set yet, supported by the Minus Five and members of Los Lobos and the Candy Butchers.
Ari Hest, “Twelve Mondays” (self-release): The New York singer-songwriter polishes up a dozen songs chosen by fans from the 52 he released weekly during the past year.
Taylor Hicks, “The Distance” (Modern Whomp): “American Idol’s” fifth season champ rebounds from losing his major label deal by resurrecting his own imprint and returning to the blue-eyed soul of his pre-Idol days.
Buddy and Julie Miller, “Written in Chalk” (New West): The first couple of Americana taps pals Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris, Patti Griffin and others to guest on their latest release.
Mirah, “(a)spera” (K): The idiosyncratic singer-songwriter from Portland ends a five-year wait for her fourth solo album.
New Found Glory, “Not Without a Fight” (Epitaph): The Florida pop-punk group leaves the major label world for its sixth studio album, produced by Mark Hoppus of blink-182 and +44.
Madeleine Peyroux, “Bare Bones” (Rounder): For the first time ever the celebrated French singer has co-written every song on her album, collaborating with luminaries such as Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, producer Larry Klein and Rochester Adams grad Joe Henry.
Razorlight, “Slipway Fires” (Mercurty): The British group’s third album hits these shores after making waves in its homeland with the hit “Wire to Wire.”
Red Fang, “Red Fang” (Sargent House): The debut effort from the Portland-based hardcore hard rockers.
The Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman, “Modern Art” (Peak): After celebrating its 20th anniversary, the smooth jazz troupe gets back to the business of making new music, with the return of saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa.
Various Artists, “Punk Goes Pop 2” (Fearless): A second set of pop hit covers by nuevo punk bands such as Bayside, Alesana, Silverstein, A Static Lullaby and more.
Various Artists, “Re-Generations” (Capitol/EMI): The Nat King Cole catalog gets remixed and reinvented by the Roots, Brazilian Girls, TV On the Radio, Cee-Lo and will.i.am, who works with Nat’s daughter Natalie on a new rendition of “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”
From the Vaults: BoDeans, “Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams (Collector’s Edition)” (Rhino); Beth Orton, “Trailer Park: Legacy Edition” (Arista/Legacy); Rod Stewart, “Unplugged...and Seated (Collector’s Edition)” (Rhino)
New Music DVDs: Stevie Wonder, “Live at Last” (Motown)
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