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Listening Room: Gorillaz, Jimi Hendrix and more...
Virtual/animated bands are usually good as a gimmick but not necessarily as a sustained endeavor. The exception is Gorillaz, the brainchild of Blur’s Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett, which has logged 12 years, a pair of solid albums and some hits (notably 2005’s “Feel Good Inc.”) — and hits a new high with its third endeavor, “Plastic Beach.” Though it might not have a single song as catchy as “Feel Good Inc.,” the loosely environmental-themed set grabs and holds our attention from front to 16-song back, pushing Gorillaz sonic reach even further and deploying a dizzying corps of guests for a genial and exciting aural ride that spends most of its time on the accessible side of left field. Soul great Bobby Womack and rapper Mos Def, for instance, make a pleasing pair on the synthesizer-laden head-bobbing first single, “Stylo.” while British rappers Kano and Bashy deliver lively rhymes backed by an Arabic orchestra on “White Flag.” Clash alumni Mick Jones and Paul Simonon lay down throaty vocals amidst the smooth cascade of “Plastic Beach,” Lou Reed is at his grousing best on “Some Kind of Nature,” Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhyss and De La Soul team on the pop/hip-hop blend of “Superfast Jellyfish” and Snoop Dogg lends his laid-back lope to Hypnotic Brass Ensemble loops on “Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach.” Albarn is in fine form as well, using himself for “Plastic Beach’s” most outwardly poppy moments such as “Empire Ants” (with Little Dragon), “On a Melancholy Night,” the ambient “To Binge” (again with Little Dragon) and the soulful “Broken.” The odd miscue — “Sweepstakes,” Mos Def’s other moment, goes on a bit too long — does not take away at all from an album that we’ll certainly be talking about when the year’s best-of lists are being compiled in nine months.
Jimi Hendrix, “Valleys Of Neptune” (Experience Hendrix/Legacy) ***
The Jimi Hendrix vaults have been a source of both treasure and trash since his death in 1970 — mostly depending on who’s doing the digging. The family-owned Experience Hendrix label has been mostly consistent, however, and this first step in the new Jimi Hendrix Catalog Project is a winner, an hour-plus of unreleased material that, save for a 1967 take of the rocking “Mr. Bad Luck” from “Axis: Bold as Love” sessions, chronicles the meandering but fertile final year and a half of Hendrix’s life. Highlights include the fully-realized title track, a chunky 1969 rendering of “Stone Free,” the Experience’s studio takes of the fierce blues originals “Hear My Train A Comin’ ” and “Ships Passing Through the Night,” an instrumental version of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and expanded stage arrangements of “Fire” and “Red House.” It’s a solid addition to his catalog and his legacy, and more proof of why the term “genius” is so often associated with his name.
New & Noteworthy:
Gary Allan, “Get Off On the Pain” (Universal Nashville): The country singer co-wrote half of the 10 songs on his eighth album.
Benny Andersson Band, “Story of a Heart” (Decca): The ABBA principal packages highlights from three albums released by Benny Anderssons Orkester in his native Sweden.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” (Abstract Dragon/Vagrant): The rock trio’s sixth album is its first studio set for its Abstract Dragon label and marks the recording debut of drummer Leah Shapiro.
Broken Bells, “Broken Bells” (Sony): The 10-song debut set by the indie rock coalition of the Shins’ James Mercer and Brian Burton, aka groundbreaking pop auteur Danger Mouse.
The Chieftains and Ry Cooder, “San Patricio” (Hear Music/Concord): This pair of music mavens, nominated for a Grammy Award for a 1995 collaboration, joins forces again for this Irish-Mexican music melange, with a guest list that includes Linda Ronstadt and actor Liam Neeson.
Brian Howe, “Circus Bar” (Frontiers): The one-time Ted Nugent and Bad Company singer remakes the latter’s “How ’Bout That” and “Holy Water” on his first album in 13 years.
Demon Hunter, “World is a Thorn” (Solid State): The fifth album by the Christian heavy metal band from Seattle features guest contributions by members of Soilwork, Throwdown and Miseration.
Four Year Strong, “Enemy of the World” (Decaydance/Motown): The Massachusetts hardcore band’s third album moves it to the big time of Fall Out Boy Pete Wentz’s Decaydance label and high-cred producer Machine.
Giant, “Promise Land” (Frontiers): The rock group re-forms after an 18-year break, but without guitarist Dann Huff, who’s too busy writing and producing other artists’ hits in Nashville.
Great American Taxi, “Reckless Habits” (Thirty Tigers): Leftover Salmon frontman Vince Herman’s other band recorded its sophomore album amidst the Rockies in Loveland, Colo.
Ben Harper & Relentless 7, “Live From the Montreal International Jazz Festival” (Virgin): A CD/DVD chronicle of Harper’s latest musical incarnation, caught live in the Great White North during 2009.
Kidz in the Hall, “Land of Make Believe” (Duck Down): The Ivy League rap duo kicks out another joint, collaborating with the likes of MC Lyte, Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius, Amanda Diva, Just Blaze and more.
Patty Larkin, “25” (Road Narrows): The singer, songwriter and guitar virtuoso celebrates her silver anniversary of recording by reworking 25 of her songs with 25 guests, including Shawn Colvin, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Suzanne Vega, Rosanne Cash and others.
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, “Brutalist Bricks” (Matador): The Washington D.C. rockers add a bit of political flavor to the mix on their sixth album.
Liars, “Sisterworld” (Mute): The expanded edition of the experimental rock trio’s new album includes remixes by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, TV on the Radio’s Tunbe Adepimpe and others.
Ludacris, “The Battle of the Sexes” (DTP/Def Jam): The rapper and actor (real name Chris Bridges) kicks out another concept album with help from T-Pain, Chris Brown, Sean Garrett Flo Rida, Ne-Yo, Trey Songz and others.
Mumford & Sons, “Sigh No More” (Glassnote): The U.S. debut of the banjo-driven British quartet whose EPs have hit big in its homeland.
Peter, Paul & Mary, “The Prague Sessions” (Rhino): This recording with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra provides a worthy coda following Mary Travers’ passing last September.
Josh Rouse, “El Turista” (Bedroom Classics/Nettwerk): The Nebraska singer-songwriter explores Cuban, Brazilian, Spanish and other Latin flavors on his first release in nearly three years.
Serj Tankian, “Elect the Dead Symphony” (Reprise): The ambitious System of a Down frontman recreates his first solo album in New Zealand with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
From The Vaults
The Fleshtones, “It’s Super-Rock Time! The IRS Years 1980-85” (Raven); Jimi Hendrix, “Are You Experienced?,” “Axis? Bold as Love,” “Electric Ladyland” and “First Rays of the New Rising Sun” (Experience Hendrix/Legacy); Jan & Dean, “Carnival of Sound” (Rhino Handmade); Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, “Greatest Hits” (Blackheart); Pavement, “Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement” (Matador); Selena, “La Leyenda” (Capitol Latin/EMI); Various Artists, “Motown Around the World: The Classic Singles” (Hip-O Select).
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