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Listening Room: Peter Gabriel, Jason Derulo and more...
“Scratch My Back”
This is decidedly not what Peter Gabriel fans have been waiting for in the eight years since his last album. He apparently doesn’t want to be our “Sledgehammer” anymore; in fact, the British singer and former Genesis frontman (who, by the way, is skipping the group’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction on March 15) doesn’t even employ anything that musicians traditionally bang on for “Scratch My Back” — no drums, guitars or any other typical rock ‘n’ roll trappings. Instead we get a lushly orchestrated collection of 12 cover tunes that are part of a quid-pro-quo collaboration with other artists who will, in turn, cover some of Gabriel’s songs for a subsequent companion album (“I’ll Scratch Yours”). Fortunately, Gabriel can sing, and the dusty, aching tone we heard in the bridge of “In Your Eyes” or in the a capella opening of Genesis’ “Dancing Out With the Moonlit Night” keeps “Scratch My Back” from being a total snoozefest. The closest Gabriel comes to his prog rock roots here is the dark ebb-and-flow treatment he gives Arcade Fire’s “My Body is a Cage,” while he uses a subtle string arrangement to bring an even more romantic tone to Lou Reed’s “The Power of the Heart” and holds the orchestra at bay altogether for lone piano accompaniments on Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” and Radiohead’s mournful “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” He also “scratches” the sonic backs of Talking Heads, Elbow, Magnetic Fields and others here, but slowed-down treatments of David Bowie’s “Heroes” and Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” and a version of Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” that sounds like a “Titanic” soundtrack leftover are only likely to polarize an audience that’s long awaited something new from him.
Jason Derulo, “Jason Derulo” (Beluga Heights/Warner Bros.)★★ 1/2
Jason Derulo’s first singles — the chart-topping “Watcha Say” and the current “In My Head” — portray the Florida singer as a club-trolling playa and a bedroom Van Gogh. But much of his modest debut (just nine songs in less than 35 minutes) shows that he’s better on the poppier side of the fence, stepping out on frothy, synthesizer-propelled confections such as “Love Hangover” and the “Flashdance” recast “The Sky’s the Limit,” or on the light-hearted, acoustic guitar-driven snap of “Fallen.” Derulo was a songwriter before he was a recording artist, so it should be no surprise he — as well as mentor/mentor J.R. Rotem — knows how to generate some melodic buzz. This doesn’t quite take over the world, but it certainly has more hooks and flair than most of Derulo’s nuevo New Jack peers.
New & Noteworthy:
Black 47, “Bankers & Gangsters” (United For Opportunity): The politically minded Celtic rockers tap into the tenor of the times as well as some nostalgia on its follow-up to 2008’s charged “Iraq.”
Dee Dee Bridgewater, “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee” (DDB/Emarcy): The contemporary vocal great pays tribute to one of her own heroes, Billie Holiday, on this 12-songs salute.
Citizen Cope, “The Rainwater LP” (RainWater): Singer-songwriter Clarence Greenwood produced his latest effort himself, recording at studios in Brooklyn and Malibu.
Easton Corbin, “Easton Corbin” (Mercury Nashville): The debut album from the Florida-born country singer and former Ace Hardware worker.
Jamie Cullum, “The Pursuit” (Verve): The British-born singer hasn’t been goofing off during the four years since his last album; among other projects, he co-wrote and performed the Golden Globe-nominated title song for Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino.”
Krishna Das, “Heart as Wide As the World” (Notone): The “chant master of American yoga,” according to the New York times, rolls out more music to meditate by with help from “Midnight at the Oasis” co-writer David Nichtern.
DJ Khaled, “Victory” (We the Best/E1): The well-connected DJ’s fourth album features guest appearances by Usher, Drake, Diddy, Young Jeezy, Snoop Dogg, Akon, Lil Wayne, Nas and more.
Raheem DeVaughn, “The Love & War MasterPeace” (Jive): The R&B singer teams with guests Ludacris, Wale and Damian Marley on his third album.
Danny Gokey, “My Best Days” (19/RCA Nashville): “American Idol’s” season eight third-place finisher takes a country route on his first post-show release.
Groove Armada, “Black Light” (Cooking Vinyl): The British electronic duo’s sixth album counts Bryan Ferry and Will Young
Guitar Shorty, “Bare Knuckle” (Alligator): The Texas-born guitarist also known as David William Kearney shows he still has what it takes to breathe six-string fire, even at the age of 70.
John Hiatt, “The Open Road” (New West): The veteran troubadour’s self-produced new album picks up the energy and rocks out a little more than he did on 2008’s cheerfully easygoing “Same Old Man.”
Holmes Brothers, “Feed My Soul” (Alligator): Good pal Joan Osborne returns to help the soulful trio with its first release since chief songwriter Sherman Holmes’ heart attack.
Shooter Jennings and Hierophant, “Black Ribbons” (Black Country Rock): Waylon’s boy collaborated with horror author Stephen King on this psychedelic rock concept album that includes between-song dialogue.
Lifehouse, “Smoke & Mirrors” (Geffen): The Jason Wade-fronted trio releases its fifth album riding the momentum of its successful first single, “Halfway Gone.”
Little Boots, “Hands” (Elektra): The British singer — real name Victoria Hesketh — brings the music that’s been all the rage in the U.K. since June to these shores.
Point of Grace, “No Changin’ Us” (World): The Christian vocal trio keeps the faith on its first full-length outing in nearly three years.
Rogue Wave, “Permalight” (Brushire): The Northern California duo explores new directions on its fourth album, which comes after Zach Rogue’s recovery from a crippling spinal disorder.
Blake Shelton, “Hillbilly Bone” (Warner Bros. Nashville): Country hitmaker Shelton condenses an album’s worth of good moments into this six-song EP, with Trace Adkins guesting on the title track.
Sarah Silverman, “Songs of the Sarah Silverman Project” (Comedy Central): Silverman and her Comedy Central show cohorts put together some of fans’ favorite musical moments from the show.
Soundtrack, “Curious George 2: Follow that Monkey” (Backlot): Jackie Greene, Brian Wilson and Carbon Leaf provide new songs for the monkey’s second feature film.
Various Artists, "Almost Alice" (Buena Vista); Soundtrack, "Alice in Wonderland" (Walt Disney): Tim Burton's forthcoming "Alice in Wonderland" gets a pair of musical companions. Avril Lavigne, Owl City, Shinedown and other modern rockers dish up new songs on "Almost Alice," while longtime Burton cohort Danny Elfman took care of the score.
Various Artists, "Rounder Records 40th Anniversary Concert" (Rounder): Alison Krauss & Union Station, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bela Fleck and Irma Thomas are among those who performed at the label's birthday party, which was recorded and filmed last October at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry.
New Music DVDs: Flogging Molly, “Live at the Greek Theatre” (SideOneDummy)
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