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The Listening Room: Zac Brown Band, John Legend and the Roots and more...
Zac Brown Band
“You Get What You Give”
Can a band be worried about the sophomore slump four albums in? If it’s the Zac Brown Band, then yes, since its third album, 2008’s “The Foundation,” marked its major label debut and went double-platinum while launching hits such as “Chicken Fried” and “Toes” — in the process vaulting the Georgia group from regional favorite status to a nationwide embrace from both the country and jam band communities. “You Get What You Give” comes with some familiarity; five of the 14 tracks — including the 10-minute jam “Who Knows” and “Colder Weather,” which was first recorded at Kid Rock’s Clarkston studio after the 2009 Downtown Hoedown — appeared earlier this year on the live set “Pass the Jar.” Overall, however, “You Get What You Give” doesn’t stray too far from “The Foundation” with beachside campfire songs like “Knee Deep” (with Jimmy Buffett) and “No Hurry,” quiet country fare such as “Quiet Your Mind” and “As She’s Walking Away” (with Alan Jackson), the rowdy honky tonk of “Make This Day” and a bit of Texas swing for “Whiskey’s Gone.” But the set incorporates other flavors, including the New Orleans rhythms of “Let It Go” and “Settle Me Down,” a fusion of funk and Southern vocal harmonies on “Keep Me In Mind” and hints of the Grateful Dead’s particular brand of Americana on “I Play the Road” and “Who Knows,” an epic that gives the sextet room to show off its instrumental chops. Brown and company give a lot this time out, which means we get a follow-up that makes good on the “Foundation” the group laid last time out.
John Legend & the Roots, “Wake Up!” (Columbia) *** 1/2
It’s no surprise that the pairing of John Legend and the Roots yields a stellar album, and “Wake Up!” certainly lives up to expectations. The 12-song set features covers of sociopolitical soul songs, several infused with raps by the Roots’ Black Thought and guests such as Common and CL Smooth. Highlights include a fervent rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy,” a jazzy take on Donny Hathaway’s “Little Ghetto Boy” and a hard-hitting workout on Les McCann and Eddie Harris’ “Compared to What,” as well as the thundering “Our Generation (The Hope of the World).” Bill Withers’ anti-war ode “I Can’t Write Left Handed” is a bit overdone at nearly 12 minutes, but even that has more than enough flashes of brilliance to keep us engaged.
New & Noteworthy
Black Country Communion, “Black Country Communion” (J&R Adventures): Producer Kevin Shirley put together this supergroup that includes guitarist Joe Bonamassa, singer-bassist Glenn Hughes (Trapeze, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath) and the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s son Jason on the skins.
Paula Cole, “Ithaca” (Decca): The singer-songwriter and original Lilith Fair favorite wrote every song here, the first time she’s done that since 1999.
Billy Currington, “Enjoy Yourself” (Mercury Nashville): There’s no shortage of smiles on the country singer’s fourth album, thanks to tracks like “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer” and “Bad Day of Fishin’.”
Luke Doucet & the White Falcon, “Steel City Trawler” (Six Shooter): The Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist (also for Sarah McLachlan) enlisted Sloan’s Andrew Scott to produce his latest outing.
Michael Franti & Spearhead, “The Sound of Sunshine” (Capitol/Boo Boo Wax): Franti and his crew follow the success of “Say Hey (I Love You)” with another optimistic set whose title pretty much sums things up.
Selena Gomez & the Scene, “A Year Without Rain” (Hollywood): The Disney Channel star and her band enlisted some stellar help for their second album, which includes contributions from Katy Perry, Fefe Dobson, Kevin Rudolf and oldest Hanson brother Isaac.
Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson, “At Edwards Barn” (Rounder): A set full of pickin’ and grinnin’ from two veteran acoustic music masters.
Randy Houser, “They Call Me Cadillac” (Show Dog/Universal): The country singer’s second album features a guest appearance by Lee Ann Womack on the song “Addicted.”
Iyaz, “Replay” (Beluga Heights/Reprise): The Sean Kingston protege worked primarily with hitmaker J.R. Rotem (Rihanna, Leona Lewis, Britney Spears) on his debut.
Maroon5, “Hands All Over” (A&M/Octone): The pop-rock quintet teamed with legendary and reclusive producer Mutt Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard) on its third album.
Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s, “Buzzard”: The fourth album from the self-described “chamber pop” troupe features three new members and the message song “Earth to Aliens: What Do You Want?”
Johnny Mathis, “Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville” (Columbia): The veteran crooner goes country with covers of staples such as “Southern Nights,” “Crazy” and the title track with Alison Krauss.
Methods of Mayhem, “A Public Disservice Announcement” (Roadrunner): Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee’s second project with is own collective features worldwide contributions that fans contributed via the Internet.
Jane Monheit, “Home” (Emarcy/Universal): The vocalist celebrates her 10th year of recording with guests such as guitarist John Pizzarelli, genre-hopping violinist Mark O’Connor and more.
Santana, “Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time” (Arista): Santana stays on the “Supernatural”-style path for a fourth album, this time bringing in a slew of singers (and one rapper) to help deliver a dozen classic rock tunes.
Shontelle, “No Gravity” (SRC): The second album from the Barbadian R&B singer leans slight more towards rock than its 2008 predecessor, “Shontelligence.”
Serj Tankian, “Imperfect Harmonies” (Serjical Strike/Reprise): The System of a Down singer continues the orchestral rock experimentations he began on the “Elect the Dead Symphony” earlier this year.
The Lucky Tomblin Band, “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round” (Texas World): The Lone Star state vocalist puts out another album whose title says it all.
Twiztid, “Heartbroken & Homicidal” (Psychopathic): The eight full-length release from the Warren horrorcore hip-hop duo.
Rhonda Vincent, “Taken” (Upper Management): The bluegrass favorite goes independent for the first time in 19 years on her latest album.
From The Vaults: Thievery Corporation, “It Takes a Thief” (ESL); Various Artists, “We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year Deluxe Edition” (Eagle Rock)
New Music DVDs:4Troops, “Live From the Intrepid” (Masterworks); Kenny G, “Live at Montreux 1987/1988” (Eagle Rock); Michael McDonald, “This Christmas — Live in Chicago” (Eagle Rock); Opeth, “Evolution XX: An Opeth Anthology” (Roadrunner); Johnny Winter, “Live Through the 80s” (MVD Visual)
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