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The Listening Room: N*E*R*D, Jason Aldean and more...
As the performing outpost for the hit-making production team the Neptunes, N*E*R*D teeters on the edge of unwieldy, challenging definitions of identity as the group weaves together its members’ impressively broad array of influences and interests. Time has worked in N*E*R*D’s favor, however; the troupe of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley have not only gotten better at being a band but also are reaching out further and exploring more new directions on “Nothing,” their fourth album and follow-up to 2008’s “Seeing Sounds.” The club bangers are here, of course, with T.I. rapping on the opening “Party People,” Nelly Furtado lending vocals to the single “Hot-n-Fun” and slinky rhythms driving “Nothing on You” and “Sacred Temple.” “Hypnotize U” is a darkly ambient collaboration with Daft Punk featuring falsetto vocals and a sexy underpinning, while N*E*R*D mines the blues on “Help Me” and “It’s in the Air,” mid-60s garage rock with “I Wanna Jam” (which references the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man”), 70s Philly soul dynamics on “Life as a Fish” and a hippy feel-good vibe on “The Man.” “Victory,” meanwhile, lays Queen-styled vocal harmonies atop a track that builds to a soaring, gospel-flavored conclusion. Though women and song (not so much wine, or whine) remain N*E*R*D’s stock in trade here, there’s a bit more socio-political content on these 14 tracks. But the sound is really what it’s all about. And as they sing early on “Nothing,” “the limit is the sky,” and N*E*R*D keeps things enjoyably aloft.
Jason Aldean, "My Kinda Party" (Broken Bow) **1/2
Jason Aldean has every reason to party in the wake of 2009's "Wide Open," which went platinum, topped Billboard magazine's Indie chart and launched three No. 2 country hits. But this "Party" is a somewhat sober affair, where bittersweet goodbye songs such as "Heartache That Don't Stop Hurting," "Don't Want You to Stay" and "See You When I See You" rub elbows with rowdy moments like "Texas Was You" and the title track. The rocking "Tattoos on this Town" and a remake of Colt Ford's "Dirty Road Anthem" show Aldean's sentimental side, while "Church Pew or Bartstool" and "Country Boy's World" are filled with rich, vivid details. It's not all hootin' and hollerin', but Aldean's kind of "Party" is certainly worth attending.
New & Noteworthy:
AfroCubism, "AfroCubism" (World Circuit): A mashup of Malian and Cuban musicians, intended to be the original Buena Vista Social Club, sees released after being bumped back from its original October date.
Autumn Defense, "Once Around" (Yep Roc): The fourth album by the side project of Wilco members John Stirratt and Pat Sansone.
Black Dub, "Black Dub" (Jive): Producer and artist Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel) leads this new trio on an album of live sessions done in mostly one take.
David Campbell, "On Broadway" (Masterworks): The Australian singer and actor takes on Great White Way favorites from "Les Miserables," "Guys & Dolls," "Carousel" and others.
Elvis Costello, "National Ransom" (Hear Music): The multi-faceted musical auteur sticks with producer T-Bone Burnett for a second straight album, continuing and expanding the rootsy path of last year's "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane."
Darkstar, "North" (Hyperdub): The first full-length album by the British electronic duo includes the 2009 hit such as "Aidys Girl is a Computer."
Devin the Dude, "Gotta Be Me" (Real Talk): The underground rapper from Houston celebrates turning 40 with this new collection of explicit rhymes, a follow-up to "Suite 420)" that came out earlier this year.
Neil Diamond, "Dreams" (Columbia): A 14-song survey of some of Diamond's favorite rock-era songs, including a slowed-down take of "I'm a Believer," which he first wrote for the Monkees.
Elizabeth & the Catapult, "The Other Side of Zero" (Verve Forecast): The Brooklyn indie pop trio spent two years working on its new album, a darker affair than its two predecessors.
Brian Eno, "Small Craft on a Milk Sea" (Warp): The artist-producer drew inspiration from film soundstracks and scores for this 15-songs set.
Escape the Fate, "Escape the Fate" (DGC/Interscope): The Las Vegas headbangers' third studio album includes songs co-written with Rob Zombie and Motley Crue's Mick Mars.
Steve Gadd, "Live at Voce" (Varese Fontana): Well-credentialed drummer Gadd and his quartet work out on a set of standards ("Georgia on My Mind," "Bye Bye Blackbird") and pop songs on this concert set.
Good Charlotte, "Cardiology" (Capitol): The modern rock quintet switches labels for its first album in three years but stays true to the pop-punk sound that made it a platinum concern not many years ago.
Huey Lewis & the News, "Soulsville" (W.O.W.): Lewis and company's first new album in nine years digs into the Stax-Volt catalog, including gems originally done by Joe Tex, Johnny Taylor, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and more.
Matt & Kim, "Sidewalks" (Fader): The third album from the Brooklyn-based keyboard-and-drum indie duo.
Mark Newman, "Walls of Jericho" (Danal Music): The singer-songwriter-guitarist's sophomore album includes covers of It's a Beautiful Day's "White Bird" and Willy DeVille's "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl."
NOTA "NOTA" (Sony U.S. Latin): The Puerto Rican troupe that won NBC's "The Sing Off" debuts with a set covering the Black Eyed Peas, Maroon5, the Temptations and the Miracles, among others.
Pitbull, "Armando" (Mr. 305 Inc./J): The first all-Spanish album from the Latino Miami rapper, with guest appearances by Lil Jon, Papayo, Jencarlos and others.
7 Walkers, "7 Walkers" (Response): The first album by the Louisiana-inspired and saluting quartet featuring Grateful Dead percussionist Bill Kreutzmann and Meters bassist George Porter, Jr.
Various Artists, "Music From and Inspired by the Original Motion Picture 'For Colored Girls' " (Atlantic): The companion album to the upcoming drama includes tracks by Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Estelle, Macy Gray, Janelle Monae and the title song sung by a cast that includes Janet Jackson and Whoopi Goldberg.
Various Artists, "Punk Goes Pop Volume 3" (Fearless): The Ready Set, Family Force 5, Mayday Parade and put a rough-hewn edge on guilty-pleasure pop songs.
Various Artists, "25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert" (Time Life): A four-CD set featuring audio highlights of the 2009 shows with a who's-who of classic artists and once-in-a-lifetime collaborations.
Weezer, "Death to False Metal" (Geffen/UMe): Ten unreleased songs from Weezer's vaults, including a cover of Toni Braxton's "Un-break My Heart," spruced up by the band's current lineup.
From The Vaults: Eric Clapton, "Eric Clapton: Rarities Edition" (UMe); Jimi Hendrix Experience, "BBC Sessions (Deluxe Edition)" (Experience Hendrix/Legacy); Jimi Hendrix, "Blues (Deluxe Edition)," "Woodstock (Deluxe Edition)" and "Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year" (all Experience Hendrix/Legacy); Jethro Tull, "Stand Up" (Capitol/EMI); Paul McCartney and Wings, "Band On the Run" (Hear Music); Neville Brothers, "Authorized Bootleg Warfield Theatre San Francisco" (A&M/Hip-O Select); No Doubt, "Icon" (Interscope/UMe); Brad Paisley, "Hits Alive" (Sony Nashville/UMe); Puddle of Mudd, "Icon" (Geffen/UMe); Keith Richards, "Vintage Winos" (Mindless); Smokey Robinson, "The Solo Albums 2" (Hip-O Select); Scorpions, "Icon" (Mercury/UMe); Elliott Smith, "Introduction to Elliott Smith" (Kill Rock Stars); Soundtrack, "The Sound of Music -- 45th Anniversary Edition" (20th Century Fox/Legacy); Weezer, "Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition)" (Geffen/UMe); Barry White, "Icon" (A&M/UMe).
New Holiday Albums: Mariah Carey, "Merry Christmas II You" (Island): Joe, "Home is the Essence of Christmas" (Kedar); The Priests, "Noel" (RCA Victor); Bryn Terfel, "Bryn's Christmas" (Deutsche Grammophon)
New Music DVDs: Phil Collins, "Going Back -- Live at the Roseland Ballroom NYC (Eagle Rock); Imogen Heap and Justine Pearsall, "Everything In-Between: The Story of Ellipse" (RCA); Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, "The Big 4 -- Live from Sofia, Bulgaria" (Warner Bros.); The Rolling Stones, "Let's Spend the Night Together" (Lions Gate); Frank Sinatra, "Concert Collection" (Shout! Factory)
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