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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Drake, Tom Petty and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

RAP

Drake

“Thank Me Later”

Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Motown

★★ 1/2

At the outset of his first full-length album, Aubrey Drake Graham reminds us that “my 15 minutes of fame started an hour ago” — which is what’s made “Thank Me Later” one of the most anticipated releases of the year. The Toronto MC, singer and actor has been ubiquitous on the pop and hip-hop scenes, logging six Top 20 singles — three of which hit No. 1 — and has been featured on a slew of tracks for other artists, including Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Jamie Foxx and Young Money label chief Lil Wayne. So this debut is hardly from a new artist, but it does establish Drake as someone who seems to work better in short bursts — single or EPs, like his 2009 release “So Far Gone” — than in longer formats. That’s not to say “Thank Me Later” is bad; it just doesn’t pack the track-after-track punch we’ve become accustomed to from his previous work. The 14-song set does re-affirm how unique of a talent he is, however, with a smooth vocal flow that wraps a deceptively smooth edge — allowing his disses to land with surprising force — and also allows him to slip into a New Jack singing style without jarring his listeners. The opening “Fireworks,” with Alicia Keys providing the melodic vocal hook, digs deep into his relationships with his divorced parents, while many of the other songs joust with haters and the closing “Thank Me Now” ponders the conundrum of being pop’s new go-to guest: “Rappers hit me up all the time and I don’t know what to tell ‘em/They think I can help them get back to where they came from.” There are intriguing musical moments as well: the spare R&B ambience of “Karaoke” with the trippy New York troupe Francis and the Lights; the chill electronica of “The Resistance” and “Shut It Down;” the gang vocals on “Fancy” with T.I. and producer Swizz Beatz; and the gentle piano/big beat dichotomy of “Light Up” with Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, The-Dream, Niki Minaj, Kanye West and Timbaland also log time alongside Drake here, lending sizzle to an album that’s solid but not as commanding as you’d expect it to be given his already impressive track record.



ROCK

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Mojo” (Reprise) ★★★ 1/2

On their first album together in eight years, Petty and his Heartbreakers have their hard rocking “Mojo” working like they never have before, which is a good thing. Weighing in at 65 minutes, this 15-track blues-rock opus damns the torpedoes and unleashes lead guitarist Mike Campbell and Petty with an unprecedented lack of restraint, resulting in blazing performances on songs such as “Jefferson Jericho Blues,” “I Should Have Known It,” “Good Enough” and the lengthy psychedelic opus “First Flash of Freedom.” The group takes side trips through Delta blues (“Takin’ My Time”), reggae (the pro-pot “Don’t Pull Me Over”), garage rock (“Running Man’s Bible,” “Candy”), soul (“No Reason to Cry”) and folk (“Something Good Coming”), making for a studio set that hews closer than any of its predecessors to the Heartbreakers’ potency.

New & Noteworthy

Gerald Albright, “Pushing the Envelope” (Heads Up International): The saxophonist welcomes Detroiter Earl Klugh, George Duke and James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley as guests on his latest album.

Elvin Bishop, “Red Dog Speaks” (Delta Groove): The veteran bluesman is still a force more than 45 years later, with help this time from Buckwheat Zydeco and John Nemeth.

Stanley Clarke, “The Stanley Clarke Band” (Heads Up International): Clarke’s latest electric outing features guest pianist Hiromi Uehara and Cheryl Bentyne of the Manhattan Transfer.

Cowboy Junkies, “Remmin Park” (Latent): Inspired by chief songwriter Michael Timmins’ 2008 visit to China, this is the first of four albums that will comprise “The Nomad Series” for the Canadian group.

Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere, “Midnight Flyer” (Stax): The Booker T. & The MGs and Rascals men put together a second collaborative set of blue-eyed soul.

Devo, “Something For Everybody” (Warner Bros.): The final 12 songs for the eccentric modern rockers’ first new album in 20 years were chosen by a “song study” that gave fans 16 options.

Foghat, “Last Train Home” (Foghat): The veteran blues rock act, fronted by Detroiter Charlie Huhn, unleashes a set of blues favorites with Eddie “Bluesman” Kirkland joining for a pair of them.

Gaslight Anthem, “American Slang” (SideOneDummy): The literate New Jersey rockers’ third album comes just as frontman Brian Fallon is featured on fellow Garden State icon Bruce Springsteen’s latest concert DVD.

Chris Isaak, “Live at the Fillmore” (Reprise): A souvenir of Isaak’s always memorable concert performance, this time recorded in October of 2008 at San Francisco’s famed Fillmore Auditorium.

Arif Mardin, “All My Friends Are Here” (NuNoise): The late producer Mardin’s son Joe put together this collection of his final studio works, including collaborations with Bette Midler, the Bee Gees, Phil Collins, Carly Simon, Norah Jones, Dr. John and many others.

Sarah McLachlan, “Laws of Illusion” (Arista): The Canadian singer-songwriter comes to grips with divorce and rebirth on her first new studio set in seven years. She’s also represented on the “Lilith 2010 Compilation” (Nettwerk) that promotes her coming summer tour.

Steve Miller Band, “Bingo!” (Space Cowboy/Roadrunner/Loud & Proud): Miller reaches back to blues, R&B and rock favorites of his youth on his first set of new recordings in 17 years.

Naturally 7, “Vocalplay” (Hidden Beach): The vocal group that’s dazzled audiences opening for Michael Buble slots him on in a version of Dinah Washington’s “Relax Max” on this set.

Ashton Nyte, “The Valley” (Intervention Arts): The fifth album from the South African singer-songwriter and frontman for alt-rockers the Awakening.

Pernice Brothers, “Goodbye, Killer” (Ashmont): The Boston Americana duo releases its first full band album since 2006’s “Live a Little.”

Plies, “Goon Afilliated” (Big Gates/Slip-N-Slide/Atlantic): The Florida rapper’s fourth album features guest shots by Young Jeezy, Trey Songz, Keri Hilson and Fabolous.

Pineapple Tree, “Someone Here is Missing” (Kscope): The British prog rock quartet’s eighth studio album features cover art by the legendary Storm Thorgeson, who designed key titles for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and others.

Punch Brothers, “Antifogmatic” (Nonesuch): The sophomore album from the New York bluegrass group led by Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile features more band compositions than its predecessor.

Robyn, “Body Talk, Pt. 1” (Cherrytree/Interscope): The Swedish singer unleashes the first of three planned “Body Talk” mini-albums, with eight tracks that include collaborations with Diplo and Roksopp.

Soundtrack, “Toy Story 3” (Walt Disney); Various Artists, “Toy Story Favorites” (Walt Disney): A pair of albums featuring songs by Randy Newman and others who have made their musical mark on the Disney-Pixar series.

Various Artists, “Playing For Change Live” (Concord): A CD/DVD document of the international collective’s 2009 tour, with guest appearances by Ziggy Marley and Toots Hibbert.

We Are Scientists, “Barbara” (Maserswan/Megaforce): The fourth album from the harmony-loving Berkeley, Calif., modern rock quartet

Kevin Welch, “A Patch of Blue Sky” (Music Road): The singer-songwriter’s first new solo album in eight years includes appearances by his children, Savannah (with her band the Trishas) and Dustin.

Lucy Woodward, “Hooked” (Verve): The New York singer mixes originals with tracks by Nellie McKay, Peggy Lee, Hoagy Carmichael and Louis Prima on her “modern-day torch record.”

From The Vaults:The Blue Shadows, “The Floor of Heaven” (Bumstead); John Cunningham, “1998-2002” (Ashmont); John Mellencamp, “On the Rural Route 7609” (Mercury/Island/UMe); Oasis, “Time Flies...1994-2009” (Epic/Legacy); Steve Winwood, “Revolutions” (Island/UMe box set).

New Music DVDs: George Strait, “George Strait Live on DVD” (Wal-Mart exclusive).

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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