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listening Room: Jack Johnson, Outrageous Cherry and more...
“To the Sea”
Over the course of his five albums, Jack Johnson has gradually shifted and altered his perception as the genially laconic beachside troubadour, but he shakes it up even more on this journey “To the Sea.” That much is clear from the get-go of the 13-track set, as Johnson and his quarter roll into “You and Your Heart” with a full-band attack driven by electric guitar licks and co-writer Zach Gill’s piano. It has the vague feel of a jam band recording — most specifically Phish, an influence that’s echoed later on the title track — which is appropriate territory for Johnson, anyway. He doesn’t completely abandon the “Brushfire Fairytales” sound that built him a platinum-sized cult following; check out the man-and-his-guitar showpiece “Anything But the Truth,” the gently atmospheric “My Little Girl,” the mantra-like “Turn Your Love” or the far too short “When I Look Up,” with its engaging vocal counterpoints. But the real ear-catchers are the change-ups, none too drastic but just different enough to make this Johnson’s most ambitious and even experimental outing to date. “At or With Me” is a buoyant pop confection, while “From the Clouds” and “The Upsetter” add island flavors to the mix, and “Only the Ocean” tosses in a bit of soul. “Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology,” meanwhile, is a jaunty, loose-limbed, stream-of-consciousness jam and one of two tracks featuring G. Love on harmonica. Lyrically, “To the Sea” finds Johnson at his most poetic and non-specific, exploring loose political and environmental themes at times but mostly showing his penchant for taking an individual image — his son at the beach, for instance, on the title track or tourists taking photos on “Pictures of People Taking Pictures” — and building from it a philosophical treatise. It may challenge the longtime fan, but only a little on a trip “To the Sea” that’s definitely worthwhile.
Outrageous Cherry, “Seemingly Solid Reality” (Alive/Naturalsound) ***
These are heady days for Detroit rock auteur Matthew Smith. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy sang — or at least shouted — his praises from the stage in Ann Arbor last year, while the New Pornographers released an EP of Outrageous Cherry covers. It’s a good time, then, to come out with a new OC album, and Smith and company put their best foot forward with a typically engaging 11-track set recorded in Hamtramck and rooted in the garage and thick, fuzzed-out psychedelia of the quartet’s previous outings. Smith taps into the current political and economic gestalt in songs such as “Unbalanced in the City,” “Fell” and “Forces of Evil,” while “Nothing’s Changed” and “I Like It” offer full-bodied pop and “Self-Made Monster” employs a bit more ambience and sonic space. OC’s “Reality” is certainly solid, and the album will undoubtably win over those who wonder what the fuss is all about.
New & Noteworthy:
Mindi Abair, “In Hi-Fi Stereo” (Heads Up International): The saxophonist is joined by singers Lalah Hathaway and David Ryan Harris and all-star players James Gadson on drums and Reggie McBridge on bass for a soul set that includes a cover of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
Clay Aiken, “Tried and True” (Decca): The “American Idol” runner-up takes on songs of the 50s and 60s, covering Johnny Mathis, Frankie Valli, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison favorites with help from David Sanborn and Linda Eder.
Cherryholmes, “IV: Common Threads” (Skaggs Family): So if we want to get technical and count its independent releases, this is actually the family bluegrass band’s seventh album.
Chase Coy, “Picturesque” (Universal Republic): The Indiana singer-songwriter lands a major label deal after three EPs and one full-length release.
The Futureheads, “The Chaos” (Dovecote): The Sunderland, England, quartet releases its fourth album on these shores after it’s been kicking around in the group’s homeland since April.
Hawthorne Heights, “Skeletons” (Wind-Up): The hard rocking Dayton, Ohio, group’s second album as a quartet was produced by rock hit-maker Howard Benson.
Krokus, “Hoodoo” (SIN): The Swedish hard rockers’ latest is already No. 1 and platinum in their homeland.
Lamb of God, “Hourglass” (Prosthetic/Epic): A comprehensive overview of the Virginia headbangers’ career, right up to 2009’s “Wrath.”
Jeff Lorber Fusion, “Now is the Time” (Heads Up International): The keyboardist reaches back into his history to revisit some of his Jeff Lorber Fusion favorites with an all-star group that includes trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl.
The Melvins, “The Bride Screamed Murder” (Ipecac): The third album from this permutation of the influential Washington state grunge group comes in the wake of its 25th anniversary celebration.
Sergio Mendes, “Bom Tempo” (Concord Jazz): The Brazilian bandleader recruited Milton Nascimento to guest on his own “Caxanga” for an album that also includes songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil and a new take on Stevie Wonder’s “The Real Thing.”
Tift Merritt, “See You on the Moon” (Fantasy): The North Carolina singer-songwriter went back home to make her latest release, getting help from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James on the track “Feel of the World.”
Molly Hatchet, “Justice” (SPV/Steamhammer): The long-lived Southern rock troupe shows some “American Pride” on this set of 11 new songs.
New Interiors, “New Interiors” (self-released): The indie rockers from Halifax deliver the follow-up to their Juno Award-winning debut “Welcome to the NIght Sky.”
Peggy Sue, “Fossils and Other Phantoms” (Yep Roc): The first full-length by the British folk-punk trio.
Sleepy Sun, “Fever” (ATP): The third album from the eclectic San Francisco sextet that’s collaborated with British dance music collective U.N.K.L.E. and covered Graham Nash’s “Chicago” for a tribute album.
Stone River Boys, “Love on the Dial” (Cow Island Music): Members of the Paladins, the Hacienda Brothers and the Hollisters have joined forces to create this “country funk” group from Austin, Texas.
Various Artists, “A Song For My Father” (429): Pop music progeny such as Salvador Santana, A.J. Croce, Devon Allman and more pay tribute to their dads by covering some of their better-known songs.
Various Artists, “Listen Up! The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup Album” (Epic): Soccer (aka football) fans will get a kick out of this compilation for this year’s tournament, featuring specially crafted songs by R. Kelly, Shakira, Matisyahu, Pitbull and others.
Various Artists, “Warped Tour Compilation 2010” (SideOneDummy): This two-CD set features 51 modern rock tracks from the likes of blink-182, Alkaline Trio, Dropkick Murphys, Anti-Flag and other Warped Tour veterans.
Paul Weller, “Wake Up the Nation” (Yep Roc): The politically minded British rocker brings his latest solo album, already a success in the U.K., across the pond.
From The Vaults:>/b> Corrosion of Conformity, “Playlist: The Very Best of...” (Columbia/Legacy); Charlie Daniels Band, “Playlist: The Very Best of...” (Epic/Legacy); The Dixie Chicks, “Playlist: The Very Best of...” (Columbia/Legacy); Art Garfunkel, “Playlist: The Very Best Of...” (Columbia/Legacy); Bruce Hornsby, “Playlist: The Very Best Of...” (RCA/Legacy); Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, “Playlist: The Very Best of...” (Epic/Legacy); moe., “Smash Hits 1” (Fatboy); Jimmy & David Ruffin, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” (Hip-O Select); The Stooges, “The Stooges: Collector’s Edition” (Rhino Handmate); Townes Van Zandt, “Legend: The Very Best Of...” (Snapper)
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