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The Listening Room: Katy Perry, Little Big Town and more...
“It’s not easy to be chosen,” Katy Perry sings on her sophomore album, and she should know. Her 2008 debut “One of the Boys” made the “I Kissed a Girl” singer a different sort of pop music It Girl, one whose songwriting chops and unapologetically plainspoken ‘tude gave Perry a credibility many of her chart neighbors lacked. That’s a lot to carry, especially when this gurl just wants to have fun — which is evident from the outset of “Teenage Dream.” Amidst old school synthesizers and insistent, dance floor beats, Perry is going “all the way tonight” in the title track, having a wild time — including skinny dipping and a menage a tois — in “Last Friday Night (TGIF),” admiring a gentleman’s non-feathered “Peacock” and running around in Daisy Dukes and bikini tops in the single “California Gurls” while Snoop Dogg practically licks some lascivious chops in the background. But Perry pulls this off with winning good cheer and a bit of a wink — not to mention drum beats straight from Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and Toni Basil’s “Mickey;” after all, she’s still a girl/gurl (your choice) who craves a cinema-worthy romance (“Not Like the Movies”) and genuinely laments “The One That Got Away.” There’s a real world sincerity at work here, and it says something that Perry’s best vocal performances on “Teenage Dream” come during more serious tracks such as the gritty “Circle the Drain,” in which she disses a self-destructive lover, in “Pearl’s” feminist empowerment affirmations and in “Who Am I Living For?” in which the onetime Christian singer Perry contemplates motherhood while invoking the biblical figure Esther as a role model. It’s considerably more ambitious than the typical “Teenage Dream,” but that reach is what gives Perry even broader appeal.
Little Big Town, “The Reason Why” (Capitol Nashville) ** 1/2
Given the recent breakthroughs of guy-girl country groups such as Sugarland and Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town is either poised to follow suit or to be the one-too-many in the crowd. The quartet, whose members wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 tracks on its fourth album, certainly goes for broke here, from the carefully crafted songcraft to Teflon-slick production by the band and Wayne Kirkpatrick and, of course, the rich harmonies that are Little Big Town’s stock-in-trade. The buoyancy of “Runaway Train,” “Life Rolls On” and “All the Way Down” are balanced by the heartstring-pulling pathos of “Kiss Goodbye,” “Rain on a Tin Roof” and “Shut Up Train,” while forays into bluegrass (“Little White Church”) and more traditional country (“You Can’t Have Everything”) offer plenty of portals for the masses the group is so clearly courting this time out.
New & Noteworthy
Apocalyptica, “7th Symphony” (Jive): The Finnish cello metal quartet’s seventh album features vocals by Shinedown’s Brent Smith, Gavin Rossdale of Bush, Flyleaf’s Lacey Sturm and Gojira’s Joe Duplantier.
Atom Smash, “Atom Smash” (Jive): The debut album from this hard-rock quintet from Miami features the already buzzed-about first single “Do Her Wrong.”
BARB, “BARB” (Yep Rock): Liam Finn, son of Crowded House’s Neil Finn, got together with some pals from New Zealand to form this ad hoc band.
Booka & the Flaming Geckos, “Baghdad, Texas” (Loudhouse): An all-star troupe of Austin, Texas, musicians — including Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson and the Bad Livers’ Ralph White — assembled to record the soundtrack to the forthcoming indie film.
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, “Hawk” (Vanguard): The third collaboration between the Belle & Sebastian singer-cellist and the former Screaming Trees frontman.
!!!, “Strange Weather Isn’t It” (Warp Records): The fourth album of energetic dance punk from the Sacramento, Calif., collective.
Margaret Cho, “Cho Dependent” (+1): The author’s latest album features collaborators such as Tegan and Sara, Patty Griffin, Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird, Detroit native Brendan Benson and more.
Dead Confederate, “Sugar” (TAO/Old Flame): The Georgia rock quintet recorded its sophomore album while a record-setting blizzard raged outside the studio in New Jersey.
The Devil Wears Prada, “Zombie” (Ferret): The headbangers from Dayton put together a five-song EP to serve as a stopgap between 2009’s “With Roots Above and Branches Below” and its next full-length.
Joe Diffie, “Homecoming: The Bluegrass Album” (Rounder): The title says it all for this dozen-song set that feature guests such as Rhonda Vincent, the Grascals and Alecia Nugent.
Eels, “Tomorrow Morning” (E Works): Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mark Oliver “E” Everett continues a prolific run with his third album in as many years.
Fantasia, “Back to Me” (J): The “American Idol” champ’s third album — with its Cee-Lo Green feature on “The Thrill is Gone” — gives us something else to talk about besides the romantic turmoil that’s put her in the news recently.
JJ Grey, “Georgia Warhorse” (Alligator): Toots Hibbert and Derek Trucks join Grey and company on their fifth album.
JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys, “Fidelity!” (La Mina/Rocket Science): JP Jones and the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde team on a debut that was written in Cuba and recorded in London.
Charlie Musselwhite, “The Well” (Alligator): The harmonica virtuoso is backed by a full band for the first in his career as he surveys his life in a series of autobiographical songs.
Never Shout Never, “Harmony” (Loveway/Sire): The second full-length album from still-teenaged singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Christofer Drew Ingle.
Ra Ra Riot, “The Orchard” (Barsuk): The Syracuse indie rock sextet co-produced its sophomore full-length, with one track (“Do You Remember”) mixed by Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend.
Stan Ridgway, “Neon Mirage” (A440): The former Wall of Voodoo frontman muses about “Lenny Bruce” and other topics with help from Dave Alvin, Rock King, Ralph Carney and, in one of her final recorded performances, the late Amy Farris.
Ricky Skaggs, “Mosaic” (Skaggs Family): The country and bluegrass veteran returns to a full-band sound after 2009’s exemplary “Solo (Songs My Dad Loved).”
Marty Stuart, “Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions)” (Sugar Hill): The always engaging Stuart returns to traditional country music on a set that includes “Hangman,” a song he wrote with Johnny Cash four days before Cash passed away.
The Sword, “Warp Riders” (Kemado): The Austin hard rockers’ third album breaks from tradition and brings in an outside producer (Matt Bayles) to spell frontman J.D. Cronise.
Turtle Island Quartet, “Have You Ever Been...?” (Telarc International): Three years after paying homage to John Coltrane, the San Francisco string quartet gives its trademark props to the music of Jimi Hendrix.
Usher, “Versus” (LaFace/Jive): The R&B singer follows his latest album (“Raymond v Raymond”) with a more modest and somewhat more cheerful seven-song EP, which is also packaged in a deluxe edition of its predecessor.
Various Artists, “My Country — Smash Hits (To Benefit Fisher House)” (Stadium Entertainment): Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Lady Antebellum and more A-listers contributed songs for this project benefiting the military housing and medical organization.
Dale Watson, “Carryin` On” (E1): The Alabama-born singer and songwriter stays true to traditional (and good-humored) country and honky tonk styles and becomes the “Wizard of Booze” on the track “Tequila, Whiskey and Beer, Oh My!”
From The Vaults: Dandy Warhols, “The Capitol Years: 1995-2007” (Capitol/EMI); Aretha Franklin, “The Best of Aretha Franklin” (Rhino Handmade); Nils Lofgren, “I Came to Dance” (Hip-O Select); Henry Mancini, “The Essential” (Columbia/Legacy); Todd Rundgren, “For Lack of Honest Work”; Various Artists, “Disney Villains: Simply Sinister Songs” (Walt Disney); Tony Joe White, “That on the Road Look” (Rhino Handmade); Dwight Yoakam, “Top 10” (Warner Bros.)
New Music DVDs: Electric Light Orchestra, “Live: The Early Years” (Eagle Rock); O’Jays, “Live in Concert” (Cleopatra); Les Paul, “Live in New York” (Questar)
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