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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Keith Urban, Josh Groban and More
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Country

Keith Urban, “Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing” (Capitol Nashville) ***

Thanks to marrying one of Hollywood’s A-list starlets (fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman) and recently entering rehab, Keith Urban has gotten more mainstream attention than he ever has from being one of Nashville’s hottest hitmakers. The sad part of that is, it obscures the fact that he’s no country fl avor of the month but rather a 10-year veteran who shines as performer, tunesmith and instrumentalist (particularly on lead guitar) and comfortably straddles the increasingly blurred country/rock/pop divide. All those virtues are intact and entrenched on his fourth solo album, a spirited set certainly marked by his engagement to Kidman (“Once in a Lifetime,” “Got It Right This Time,” “Won’t Let You Down”) and his increasing creative confi dence. Anthems such as “Shine” and “Used to the Pain” roll comfortably alongside heart-rending epics like “God Made Woman,” “Everybody” and Billy Nicholls’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Urban turns in plenty of twangy rockers, too, galloping through “I Told You So,” the brassy “Faster Car” and “Raise the Barn,” a particularly rowdy romp sporting a duet with Ronnie Dunn. And Urban isn’t too polished to go out on a couple of limbs, including the spare ’n’ funky acoustic track “Tu Compania” and the gently soulful “Got It Right This Time.” Urban’s recent travails may have him laying low at an inopportune time, but there’s plenty here to keep fans engaged until he gets down with that “Whole Crazy Thing.”



Pop

Josh Groban, “Awake” (Reprise) **1/2

We know Groban can sing classical love songs, in several languages, with that big, rich voice that’s taken on more resonant weight since 2003’s multi-platinum “Closer.” But the real delights on his third studio set are found at its end — a pair of tracks, “Lullaby” and “Weeping,” sung with South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo (the former co-written with Dave Matthews), and the closing “Machine,” one of three Groban co-writes on the album that shows a heavier rock leaning, with jazzy piano fills by Herbie Hancock and sharp brass charts from the Tower of Power horns. Romance will always be his stock-in-trade, but it’s good to see other parts of Groban’s artistry “Awake”-ning here.



New and noteworthy:

James Blunt, “Back to Bedlam” (Atlantic) — The British troubadour’s doubleplatinum debut comes back with a second CD featuring Crowded House and Pixies covers and one brand new song.

Bowling For Soup, “Great Burrito Extortion Case” (Jive) — The cheerful modern rockers purport that “High School Never Ends,” something they’ve been striving to prove on all nine of their albums.

Isobel Campbell, “Milk White Sheets” (V2) — The Belle & Sebastian singer follows her acclaimed Mark Lanegan collaboration with this acoustic-oriented third solo album.

Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale, “The Road to Escondido” (Reprise) — Clapton and his occasional muse Cale (who wrote “After Midnight” and “Cocaine”) team up for a full-length collaboration.

dredg, “Live at the Fillmore” (Interscope) — This California quartet has always been an engaging live act, which makes this a good sampler for those who haven’t yet discovered the band.

Foo Fighters, “Skin and Bones” (RCA) — A live set documenting the group’s eight-piece acoustic format’s Los Angeles concerts.

Gnarls Barkley, “St. Elsewhere (Deluxe Edition)”

(Downtown) — A limited edition re-release of the duo’s debut, featuring music videos and live recordings on a bonus DVD. “Crazy,” no?

Jack’s Mannequin, “Everything in Transit”

(Maverick) — Interrupted by leader Andrew McMahon’s bout with leukemia, the group re-launches its album with a bonus DVD.

Dave Matthews, “The Best of What’s Around, Vol. 1” (RCA) — A greatest-hits style set of studio and live tracks spread across two CDs.

MoZella, “I Will”

(Maverick) — Debut album from the Detroit-born singer whose music has graced Mercedes-Benz ads and various TV series.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard, “A Song Unique” (DDMG) — The album the rapper was working on when he died in the studio in 2004 fi nally sees the light of day, with guest appearances from Macy Gray, Missy Elliott and his Wu-Tang Clan brethren.

Pepper, “No Shame”

(Atlantic/EastWest) — Debut set by a Hawaiian trio that liberally laces its rock with reggae fl avors.

The Slip, “Eisenhower”

(Bar/None) — Debut set from the Boston quartet that counts My Morning Jacket’s Jim James as its most passionate patron.

Sugarland, “Enjoy the Ride” (Mercury Nashville) — The country group releases its sophomore set in the wake of singer and songwriter Kristen Hall’s departure.

Dionne Warwick, “My Friends and Me” (Concord) — The friends include Gladys Knight, Gloria Estefan, Reba McEntire, Cyndi Lauper and more, all joining Warwick for remakes of some of her biggest hits.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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