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Listening Room: Keith Urban, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more...
Keith Urban, “Defying Gravity” (Capitol Nashville) **1/2
There’s a part of Keith Urban that’s a pop, or rock, artist in country clothing — Nashville’s Bryan Adams, if you will, a writer with a knack for an indelible hook and a player who knows how to wring the most out of them and how to deploy just enough twang to make it work south of the Mason-Dixon line. On “Defying Gravity,” the Australian-born artist’s fifth studio set, Urban consolidates those virtues into an easygoing focus collection that doesn’t have the same emotional gravitas as 2006’s “Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing” but still soars with a kind of hard-earned contentment throughout these 11 tracks. “Kiss a Girl” mashes up rock guitars and banjos, while bassist Jerry Flowers’ “Hit the Ground Runnin’ ” hits a triumphant gallop. “Standing Right in Front of You” and “Sweet Thing” (a kissing cousin to the Eagles’ “Take It Easy”) are soaring pop anthems, and “My Heart is Open” and “Thank You” subtly reference Urban’s marriage to Nicole Kidman. He also turns in an ace cover of Radney Foster’s “I’m In,” and samples the odd new direction — the martial rhythm that closes “If Ever I Could Love,” the Buffett-style Caribbean groove of “Why’s It Feel So Long,” the atmospherics of the sentimental “ ’Til Summer Comes Around.” Urban may be happy, but that hasn’t cost him his genre-straddling creative edge.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “It’s Blitz!” (DGC/Interscope) ***1/2
The New York trio’s third album is the unlikely disco hit of the year, a 10-song set on which Nick Zinner sublimates his guitar attack to a wash of synthesizers and sequenced club beats — without, mind you, sacrificing the Yeahs’ subversive artiness and melodic integrity. This does make Karen O the real star here (not that she wasn’t already) as she lets loose with a falsetto “Oh!” on the opening track and first single) “Zero,” orders us to “dance till you’re dead!” on “Heads Will Roll” and coos like (insert your favorite dance/ pop diva here) on quieter fare such as “Soft Shock,” “Skeletons,” “Runaway” and “Little Shadow.” It may unsettle fans of the raw, razor-edge style of the group’s first two albums, but even they’ll be able to appreciate the forceful, halting energy of “Shame and Fortune” and treacly groove of “Dragon Queen.” This “Blitz” has a beat, yes, but you can do much more than just dance to it.
New & Noteworthy
Rodney Atkins, “It’s America” (Curb): As the title indicates, the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist follows a patriotic path on his sophomore album.
Bruce Cockburn, “Slice O Life — Live Solo” (Rounder): The Canadian singer-songwriter’s 30th album showcases the strength of his songs in a stripped-down, solo acoustic setting.
Gavin DeGraw, “Free” (J): The singer-songwriter strips his bull-blown pop sound down to a more rootsy core on his third album.
The Flatlanders, “Hills and Valleys” (New West): The legendary trio of Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock come back together for their first studio set in five years.
Flo Rida, “R.O.O.T.S.” (Poe Boy/Atlantic): The Miami MC’s sophomore album is already cooking thanks to hits such as “Right Round,” “Shone” and “Sugar.”
Steve Forbert, “The Place and the Time” (429): Now more than 30 years into his recording career, the singer-songwriter welcomes guests such as Bekka Bramlett, Anthony Cawford and session legend Reggie Young on guitar to be part of his latest project.
Ian Gillan, “One Eye to Morocco” (Eagle Rock): The Deep Purple frontman issues his first solo album of all-new material in a decade.
Gomez, “A New Tide” (ATO): The British group — whose bassist, Paul Blackburn, now lives in Detroit — recorded its sixth studio album at label boss Dave Matthews’ Virginia recording studio.
Guru, “Guru 8.0 Lost & Found” (7 Grand): The GangStarr MC and Jazzamatazz founder rolls solo again with help from K. Born, Highpower, Omar, Solar and others.
PJ Harvey and John Parish, “A Woman a Man Walked By” (Island): The two British artists reunite for their first duo project since 1996’s lauded “Dance Hall at Louse Point.”
Keri Hilson, “In a Perfect World...” (Zone 4/Mosley/ Interscope): The solo debut by the Timbaland protege whose previous credits include songwriting for Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Ciara, Usher and Ludacris.
Diana Krall, “Quiet Nights” (Verve): The songs stylist reunites with arranger Claus Ogerman for the first time in eight years on this collection of Brazilian and West Coast jazz tunes.
thenewno2, “you are here” (Hot/Vagrant): The long-in-themaking debut album from the Los Angeles-based band fronted by the late George Harrison’s son Dhani.
Stevie Nicks, “The Soundstage Sessions” (Reprise): The Fleetwood Mac singer performs her solo and band hits on this public TV outing, including an orchestral version of “Landslide.”
Peter Bjorn and John, “Living Thing” (Almost Gold/StarTime International): The Swedish trio can still whistle — but hopes to prove it’s more than a one-hit (“Young Folks”) wonder with its second global release.
Prince, “LOtUSFLOW3R/ MPLSoUND/Elixer” (NPG): The Purple One’s latest experiment — two discs of his own, a third that introduces new protege Bria Valente — is being sold only via the Target chain.
John Scofield, “Piety Street” (Emarcy): The veteran guitar virtuoso turns to blues, with the help of an all-star band, on his 36th solo album.
Queensryche, “American Soldier” (Atco/Rhino): The Seattle hard rockers take another conceptual course, following the futuristic “Operation: Mindcrime” series with a tale more grounded in the present and that also features the voices of real combat vets.
Various Artists, “A Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney” (Yep Roc): The late Hacienda Brothers member is remembered with a salute by friends and admirers such as Boz Scaggs, Los Lobos, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, Jim Lauderdale and more.
Various Artists, “Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration” (Vector/EMI Gospel):
Al Green, Jon Bon Jovi, Queen Latifah, 3 Doors Down, Michael McDonald and others praise the lord for this set of standards and gospelized versions of their own hits.
From the Valuts
Filter, “The Very Best Things (1995-2008).”
New Music DVDs
Asia, “Fantasia: Live in Tokyo” (Eagle Rock Blu-Ray); Jeff Beck, “Performing This Week...Live at Ronnie Scott’s” (Eagle Rock DVD and Blu-Ray); Stevie Nicks, “Live in Chicago” (Reprise); Paul Rodgers, “Live in Glasgow” (Eagle Rock Blu-Ray.
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