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The Listening Room: Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Kenny Chesney and more...
Neil Young, “Le Noise” (Reprise) ***
Eric Clapton, "Clapton" (Reprise) **1/2
As guitar heroes and classic rock hitmakers, Neil Young and Eric Clapton have never shied away from reinventing themselves — sometimes to the frustration of even their most devoted fans. But there’s no question they know how to keep it interesting, which is certainly the case on both of their latest albums. Young’s “Le Noise” is particularly unique, a true solo album — just him and a guitar, mostly electric — on which he and producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel) explore textures and tonalities and make one man sound like more. “Sign of Love” is the kind of rugged rocker Young has done so well over the years with Crazy Horse, while the quieter “Love and War” reflects a Spanish flavor and “It’s An Angry World” incorporates dark, rhythmic loops. The seven-minute “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” is the album’s socio-political statement, while “The Hitchhiker,” which Young started writing in 1975, has a grit that reflects its autobiographical content. At just eight songs “Le Noise” could feel slight, but its ambition provides a fulfilling listen.
Clapton, meanwhile, shoots wide on “Clapton,” which shares a title with his 1970 solo debut and swings from lush renditions of Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves” and Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean?” to a relaxed stroll through Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rocking Chair” and a bit of hip-swiveling blues-rock on the original “Run Back to Your Side.” Tasteful as always with his soloing and characteristically generous with his guests — Steve Winwood, Sheryl Crow, Allen Toussaint, Wynton Marsalis, Derek Trucks, J.J. Cale — Clapton satisfies and even dazzles in spots, particularly his pair of Fats Waller covers (“My Very Good Friend the Milkman,” “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful”) and the New Orleans-flavored treatment of Robert Wilkins’ “That’s No Way To Get Along.”
Kenny Chesney, “Hemingway’s Whiskey”(Blue Chair/BNA) ***
With more than 30 million albums sold and eight consecutive No. 1 country chart debuts, Kenny Chesney has little to prove anymore — and seems to know it. That’s not to say he’s light on the pedal on his first studio album in two years; there’s simply an easygoing assuredness to these 11 tracks, which touch all the bases from good time odes such as “Live a Little,” “Coastal” and “Reality” to sentimental fare like “Where I Grew Up” and the football homage “The Boys of Fall.” He gets a little roadhouse with George Jones on a version of Randy Travis’ “Small Y’all” and also covers Matraca Berg’s “You and Tequila” with Grace Potter, while the soulful “Somewhere With You” is a unique kind of love story. This is “Whiskey” that goes down smooth, which is exactly what a Chesney fan wants anymore.
New & Noteworthy
Bad Religion, “The Dissent of Man” (Epitaph): The punk rock veterans’ 15th album marks the first time they’ve gone four straight releases without a lineup change.
Phil Collins, “Going Back” (Atlantic): The Genesis singer and successful solo artist used members of Motown’s Funk Brothers on this two-disc soul music homage.
The Dance Party, “Touch” (HellYa!/Atlantic): The dance-rock quartet relocated from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles to make its major label debut.
Deerhunter, “Halcyon Digest” (4AD): The Atlanta indie rockers’ fourth album closes with a tribute to the late Jay Reatard, “He Would Have Laughed.”
Doobie Brothers, “World Gone Crazy” (HOR Entertainment): The Doobies’ first new release in a decade reunites the group with its 70s producer, Ted Templeman.
Electric Six, “Zodiac” (Metropolis): The Detroit group’s seventh studio album includes a cover of the Spinners’ “Rubberband Man.”
Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, “Lonely Avenue” (Nonesuch): After previously collaborating on a song for William Shatner, Folds goes full-bore in setting author and screenwriter Hornby’s lyrics to music.
Gin Blossoms, “No Chocolate Cake” (429): The Arizona hitmakers’ first new material in six years includes collaborations with the Rembrandts’ Danny Wilde.
Gucci Mane, “The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted” (1017 Brick Squad/Warner Bros./Asylum): The Atlanta rapper’s first album since being jailed for parole violations features guest appearances by Bun B., Nicki Minaj, Wyclef Jean, Estelle, Pharrell, Ray J and Swizz Beatz.
Halford, “Halford IV — Made of Metal” (Metal God): NASCAR has embraced the title track of the Judas Priest singer’s fourth set with his other band.
Ice Cube, “I Am the West” (Lench Mob): The West Coast rap stalwart goes young on his ninth studio album, enlisting up-and-comers such as JIGG, OMG, Doughboy and more for features.
Jimmy Eat World, “Inverted” (DGC/Interscope): The Arizona rockers reunited with Mark Trombino, who produced 2001’s breakthrough “Bleed American” album, on its seventh full-length.
“La Cage Aux Folles: New Broadway Cast Recording” (P.S. Classics): Kelsey Grammar and Tony Award winner Douglas Hodge are featured in this revival of the long-running, campy love story.
Raul Malo, “Sinners & Saints” (Fantasy/Concord): The former Mavericks singer takes a Tex-Mex turn with help from Augie Meyers, the late Sir Doug Sahm’s son Shawn and the vocal quartet the Trishas.
Steven Page, “Page One” (Anthem/Zoe/Rounder): The former Barenaked Ladies co-frontman emerges as a solo artist a year and a half after splitting from the baned.
OMD, “History of Modern” (Bright Antenna): The ‘80s faves also known as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark re-emerge with their first new album in 14 years.
The Posies, “Blood/Candy” (Ryko): The Washington state group’s first set of new material in five years finds the Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell and Broken Social Scene’s Lisa Lobsinger dropping in.
Mark Ronson & the Business Intl., “Record Collection” (Columbia): Producer Ronson’s third artist album features a wide array of guests, from ‘80s hitmakers Boy George and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran to rappers Q-Tip and Ghostface Killah.
Seal, “Seal 6: Commitment” (Reprise): The British singer returns to originals after his 2008 set of “Soul” covers.
Michael W. Smith, “Wonder” (Reunion): The Christian singer-songwriter and one-time Amy Grant sideman stays true to his optimistic, faith-based roots on his latest project.
Spock’s Beard, “X” (self-released): The American prog-rockers funded their 10th album with pre-orders for a special edition, even before recording sessions started.
Trout Fishing in America, “Lookin’ At Lucky” (Trout): The good-humored roots duo returns with its first full album for adults in 11 years.
Ronnie Wood, “I Feel Like Playing” (Eagle): The Rolling Stones and Faces guitarist gets help from Slash, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Kris Kristofferson and more on his first solo album in nine years.
Pete Yorn, “Pete Yorn” (Vagrant): The rock singer-songwriter’s latest is the product of a quick five days in Oregon with producer and Pixies frontman Frank Black.
From The Vaults: David Bowie, “Station To Station” Special and Deluxe editions (Virgin/EMI); Montgomery Gentry, “Hits And More: Life Beside a Gravel Road” (Columbia Nashville); Soundgarden, “Telephantasm” (A&M); Hank Williams, “Complete Mothers Best Recordings...Plus!” (Time Life); Rob Zombie, “Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Special Edition” (Roadrunner/Loud & Proud).
New Music DVDs: Alice Cooper, “Theatre of Death — Live at Hammersmith 2009” (Bigger Picture); Rush, “Classic Album: 2112 + Moving Pictures” (Eagle Rock); Slipknot, “(sic)nesses” (Roadrunner); Various Artists, “Rock & Rule (25th Anniversary Edition)” (Time Life); Various Artists, “The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts” (Time Life).
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