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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Whitney Houston, the Black Crowes and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

POP

Whitney Houston

“I Look To You”

Arista

***

Mid-way through her first album in seven years, and on one of the two tracks she co-wrote, Whitney Houston tells a former lover — and, by extension, her audience — that “I want you to love me like I never left.” In a way, of course, Houston hasn’t left during that interim, but she’s populated the tabloids rather than the airwaves and has hardly heeded the “No Drama” edict of Mary J. Blige, one of those who’s stepped into the soul/pop diva void in Houston’s musical absence. Now, shorn of ex-husband Bobby Brown and whatever bad habits she fell into, Houston is back, showing a bit of wear and tear both in her voice and her profile but is a long way from defeated. “I Look to You” is, in fact, the kind of album Houston should be making. There’s a restraint and subtlety to many of these 11 songs that she wears convincingly. “Million Dollar Bill,” co-written by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, gets things off to a snappy, clubby start, and the synthesihin’ But Love” shouts out forgiveness even for the haters who reveled in Houston’s tribulations. “For the Lovers” strikes a spare dance groove with an epic chorus reminiscent of the Bee Gees, while R. Kelly coaxes Houston into a torchy ballad on the title track and a minimally produced declaration of resilience on “Salute.” A track like “Worth It” is a bit anonymous and Houston’s take on Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” another StarGate collaboration, jumps the shark when it shifts into Eurobeat mode. “I was not built to break,” she declares during “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” and you can rest assured Houston is still in fine working order.



ROCK

The Black Crowes,

“Before the Frost...”/ “...Until the Freeze”

Silver Arrow

***

Good, and certainly interesting things, usually happen when the Black Crowes get in front of an audience, so it bodes well that the group’s latest sets of original material were recorded live in front of fans at Levon Helm’s barn studio in Woodstock, N.Y. Theeeping stylistic adventure that spreads 20 songs over two discs (the more acoustic-flavored “...Until the Freeze” via download) and rolls from the typically gritty, roots-flexing rock of “Good Morning Captain,” “What is Home” and “Shine Along” to the surprising club thump of “I Ain’t Hiding” and the mountain folk of tracks such as “Last Place That Love Lies” and “Roll Old Jeremiah.” The band sounds sharp on both discs, with frontman Chris Robinson trying on a variety of voices and the guitar tandem of Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson even more developed than it was on 2008’s “Warpaint.” The Crowes have had erratic moments in the past, but this time the group nails it.



New & Noteworthy:

Arctic Monkeys, “Humbug” (Domino): The British quartet’s third album was co-produced by Queens of the Stone Ages’ Josh Homme and Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford.

A.A. Bondy, “When the Devil’s Loose” (Fat Possum): The singer-songwriter’s sophomore album sports 10 songs recorded mostly in — and sounding very much like — rural Mississippi.

Chtonic, “Mirror of Retribution” (SpineFarm): The Taiwanese headbangers’ first new album in three years sheds the “black metal” of its previous work for a more wide-ranging outing produced by Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano.

Terri Clark, “The Long Way Home” (Bare Track/Capitol/EMI Canada): The Canadian country maverick’s seventh studio set is coming out only in her homeland but won’t have any trouble making its way across the border.

Chevelle, “Sci-Fi Crimes” (Epic): The Chicago heavy rock trio ventured down to Nashville to make its fifth studio album with producer Brian Virtue.

Drive-By Truckers, “The Fine Print” (New West): This between-album release collects rarities and unreleased material the Southern rockers recorded between 2003-2008.

El Maricahi el Bronx, “El Mariachi el Bronx” (Swami): L.A. punk rockers the Bronx morph into their mariachi counterpart, which they’re releasing in conjunction with a new fragrance appealingly titled Barrio Sweat.



n Liam Finn and Eliza Jane, “Champagne in Seashells” (Yep Roc): This Down Under super duo combination pairs the son of Neil Finn (Split Enz, Crowded House) with the daughter of singer Jimmy Barnes.

John Fogerty, “The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again” (Fortunate Son/Verve Forecast): The former Creedence Clearwater Revival leader revisits his 1973 solo debut album on this set of rock and country chestnuts, with help from Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley and some ace session players.

Hollis Brown, “Hollis Brown” (Vibe Theory Music): The debut album from the buzzed-about New York retro-rock quartet.

Reverend Horton Heat, “Laughin’ and Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat” (Yep Roc): Another set of psychobilly fun from the “Rev.” Jim Heath and company.

Ladyhawke, “Special Edition” (Decca): The New Zealand born pop auteur (aka Pip Brown) re-releases her debut album with five new tracks to capitalize on its success in the U.K. and Australia.

Len Price 3, “Pictures” (Wicked Cool): Label chief Little Steven Van Zandt lent a hand in helping the trio make its sophomore album.

Mew, “No More Stories...” (Columbia): The Danish dream-poppers holed up in Brooklyn for most of their fifth studio album.

Chris Pasin, “Detour Ahead” (H2O): The New York-raised trumpeter and Buddy Rich Band alumnus wrote six of the nine songs on this solo outing.

Pitbull, “Rebelution” (Polo Grounds/J/RCA): The bilingual Cuban-American rapper returns to the mic with help from T-Pain, Akon, Lil Jon, Trick Daddy and others.

The Used, “Artwork” (Reprise): The Orem, Utah, hard rockers ditched producer John Feldmann on their fourth studio album, though hopes to record with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo did not materialize.

Loudon Wainwright III, “High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project” (2nd Story Sound): The veteran troubadour’s two-CD set used Kinney Rorrer’s biography of the late Poole as a guide for this tribute collection.

Steve Wariner, “c.g.p., My Tribute to Chet Atkins” (SelecTone): The abbreviation stands for “certified guitar player,” and Wariner is just one of four upon whom Atkins bestowed that title.

Yonder Mountain String Band, “The Show” (Frog Pad): The acoustic roots group adds Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello’s Attractions and Imposters on drums for its fifth album, and first in three years.



From the Vaults:

Rory Gallagher, “Crest of a Wave, “The Best of Rory Gallagher” (Eagle Rock); Radiohead, “Kid A: Collector’s Edition,” “Amnesiac: Collector’s Edition” and “Hail to the Thief: Collector’s Edition” (Capitol/EMI); The Apples in Stereo, “#1 Hits Explosion” (Yep Roc)



New Music DVDs:

Jason Aldean, “Wide Open Live & More” (Eagle Rock DVD and Blu-Ray); The Chieftains, “Live at Montreux 1997” (Eagle Rock); Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, “Unwigged & Unplugged” (Courgette)



Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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