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The Listening Room: Avenged Sevenfold, Tom Jones and more...
The fifth studio album from these southern California headbangers comes with the kind of drama nobody really wants — the death of a band member, in this case drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan, who passed away Dec. 28 while the quintet was in the midst of recording. Fans will be somewhat heartened to know that some of his singing and playing is preserved on the final product, and that Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy finished the set in fine form. And there’s a bittersweet tinge to the fact that “Nightmare” is Avenged Sevenfold’s best recorded outing yet, a sweeping, quasi-thematic epic that runs nearly 67 minutes, mixing prog-rock ambitions with punky abandon and plenty of musicality within the generously tattooed muscle that’s the band’s stock in trade. Lengthy, suite-like songs such as the title track, “Victim” and the 11-minute “Save Me” are filled with seamless sonic twists and turns, while more measured tracks like “Buried Alive,” “Fiction” and “So Far Away” bring acoustic guitars, piano, strings and vocal harmonies into the mix. “Danger Line,” “God Hates Us” and “Welcome to the Family” are blazing power rock, and “Tonight the World Dies” references the dark, moody terrain of Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots. “Nightmare” was certainly a not an easy album for Avenged Sevenfold to make, but the group marshalled its emotions into what creatively could be considered a dream achievement.
Tom Jones, “Praise & Blame” (Lost Highway) ***
Tom Jones usually leads us to think about more wanton ways than worship, but the Welsh pop icon’s latest musical adventure finds him skewering sin and seeking salvation on both originals and covers — the latter including Bob Dylan’s “What Good Am I?,” Susan Werner’s “Did Trouble Me,” Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things” and John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell.” Jones’ Northern soul voice sounds as righteous and true here as it does when he’s singing about more prurient concerns, and support from producer Ethan Johns, Booker T. Jones, Augie Meyers, Benmont Tench, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings and others makes this gospel/rockabilly/folk/blues blend a brave and winning testimony.
New & Noteworthy:
Kimberly Caldwell, “Without Regret” (Vanguard/Capitol): It took awhile — she was on “American Idol’s” second season, after all — but Caldwell emerges with a debut that features songs written by Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, Melissa Etheridge, Diane Warren and “Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi.
Robert Cray Band, “Cookin’ in Mobile” (Vanguard): A live CD/DVD set recorded in Alabama, with a track list that includes Cray’s hits “Smoking Gun” and “Right Next Door.”
Dean & Britta, “13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen” (Double Feature): The Brooklyn duo performs songs from a baker’s dozen of Warhol’s short films, including songs by Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground, paired with a second disc of remixes.
Fat Joe, “The Dark Side” (Terror Squad/E1): Young Jeezy, R. Kelly, Trey Songz, the Clipse, Lil Wayne, Too $hort and Cam’ron fill the guest list on the corpulent New York rapper’s latest album.
Dru Hill, “InDRUpendence Day” (Kedar): The Baltimore R&B group’s first new album in eight years is also the first to feature newest member Tao (ne Antwaun Simpson), who joined in 2008.
Nina Hagen, “Personal Jesus” (Zoom/Universal): The veteran German singer takes on gospel on her first new release in four years — including the Depeche Mode title track.
Jessica Hoop, “Hunting My Dress” (Vanguard): The Los Angeles singer-songwriter’s recent move to England inspired her second album.
Incognito, “Transatlantic RPM” (Shanachie): The latest sonic excursion from the British acid jazz group led by guitarist Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick.
JBM, “Not Even in July” (Partisan): The debut full-length by Montreal-bred singer-songwriter Jesse B. Marchant.
Eileen Jewell, “Butcher Holler — A Tribute to Loretta Lynn” (Signature Sounds): Singer-songwriter Jewell takes on material from throughout the coal miner’s daughter’s rich career, naming the album after Lynn’s fabled Kentucky home town.
Jorn, “Dio” (Frontiers): Norwegian singer Jorn Lande joins the ranks of those paying tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio, covering a dozen of his tunes and adding his own “Song For Ronnie James.”
Mark Olson, “Many Colored Kite” (Rykodisc): The Jayhawks co-founder follows up 2007’s heart-wringing “Salvation Blues” as well as his recent reunion with former bandmate Gary Louris.
Michael Sarver, “Michael Sarver” (Dream): The debut album by the “American Idol” Season 8 finalist sends him in a country direction on its 13 tracks.
Kelli Scarr, “Piece” (Silence Breaks): The first solo outing by the former Moonraker member and Moby cohort.
Sky Sailing, “An Airplane Carried Me to Bed” (Universal Republic): Now that he’s hit big as Owl City, Adam Young reaches back for one of his previous projects, which adds some depth to the public persona of the “Fireflies” man.
Slum Village, “Villa Manifesto” (Ne’Astra/E1): The Detroit rap troupe mined its vaults for its first-ever release to feature all four members, including the late J. Dilla and Baatin.
Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, “Live at the Greek Theatre 2008” (Hip-O): This CD/DVD set captures the previous version of Starr’s periodic touring enterprise, including Gary Wright, Billy Squier, Edgar Winter, Men at Work’s Colin Hay and the Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart.
36 Crazyfists, “Collisions and Castaways” (Ferret/WMG): The Portland hard rockers’ fifth studio album features guest appearances by Twelve Tribes’ Adam Jackson, Across the Sun’s Brandon Davis and Raithon Clay of Plans To Make Perfect.
J. Roddy Walston and the Business, “J. Roddy Walston and the Business” (Fairfax/Vagrant): The second full-length from the piano-led Baltimore (via Cleveland) rock troupe.
From The Vaults: Cactus, “Ultra Sonic Boogie: Live 1971”; Delaney and Bonnie, “On Tour With Eric Clapton — Deluxe Edition” (Rhino Handmade); Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “A Time and A Place” (Shout! Factory); Billy Squier, “Don’t Say No (30th Anniversary Edition)” (Shout! Factory); George Thorogood & the Destroyers, “Live in Boston, 1982” ; Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather (Legacy Edition)” (Epic/Legacy)
New Music DVDs: Clay Aiken, “Tried & True Live!” (Decca); Chimaira, “Coming Alive” (Ferret); Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Pictures at an Exhibition (Special Edition)” (Eagle Rock); “Gold: Before Woodstock, Beyond Reality” (MVD); The Rolling Stones, “1969-1974 — The Mick Taylor Years” (MVD)
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