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The Listening Room: Kid Rock, Rihanna and more...
When Kid Rock sings that "you can knock me down and watch me bleed/but you can't keep no chains on me" on the title track of his eighth studio album, he could well be making reference to his music. "Born Free" is indeed Rock unbound, trading the vestiges of the Early Morning Stoned Pimp, the Devil Without a Cause and his other well-worn personae for the more sober, thoughtful and earnest territory of a heartland singer-songwriter closer to John Mellencamp and Detroit homie Bob Seger, who plays piano on the track "Collide," than to Run-DMC or Grandmaster Flash. The Clarkston rocker his gone this way before, of course -- check out "Amen" and "Roll On" from 2007's triple-platinum "Rock N Roll Jesus" -- but "Born Free" is by far his most comprehensive reinvention to date, and while a sentiment like "I want to trade these boots for forgiveness and find myself" may seem a long way from starting "an escort service for all the right reasons," Rock wears it well. Overseen by producer Rick Rubin, co-written with Twisted Brown Trucker guitarist Marlon Young and powered by an ace group of Los Angeles players (Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, keyboardist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo), "Born Free" kicks off with its anthemic title track and then glides into the Rolling Stones-style grit of "Slow My Roll." "Care" mashes together rapper T.I. and country star Martina McBride -- as well as a soulful, higher-register vocal by Rock -- in the gospel-referencing social commentary "Care" ("They're screamin' on the left, yellin' on the right/While I'm sittin' in the middle, tryin' to save my life"), and Sheryl Crow joins Rock and Seger on "Collide," an optimistic sequel to their 2001 hit "Picture." "Born Free" throws Rock's country fans plenty to chew on with "Purple Sky," "When It Rains" and the loping Zac Brown duet "Flyin' High," while "Times Like These" waves a lyrical pom-pon for Detroit and "God Bless Saturday" and "Rock Bottom Blues" (with the Fabulous Thunderbirds' Kim Wilson on harmonica) rattle the roadhouse walls. Rock ends the album declaring that he feels "like a brand new man," and that "for the first time in a long time, I've got nothing to prove." And these dozen tracks surely establish his potential place in the rarefied pantheon of artists whose music has made a timeless kind of impact.
Rihanna, "Loud" (Def Jam)***
Rihanna is ready to have fun again -- in an apparently kinky kind of way. "Sticks and stones may break my bones/but whips and chains excitement me" she sings in "S&M," the opening track of her fifth studio album. That's certainly a disarming start, but having handled the residue of her beating at the hands of ex-boyfriend Chris Brown on 2009's melodramatic "Rated R," the Barbadian singer is in a more playful form this time out, handling a sexy come-on from Drake in "What's My Name," hitting the club for synthy workouts such as "Only Girl (In the World)" and mining Caribbean influences on tracks such as "Cheers (Drink to That)," "Man Down" and "Raining Men" with Nicki Minaj. "Loud" has its dark moments, including the acoustic guitar-led "California King Bed" and the techy "Complicated," while her re-teaming with Eminem for "Love the Way You Lie (Part II)" is as frightening and affecting as their initial hookup on his "Recovery" album earlier this year.
New & Noteworthy:
Bryan Adams, "Bare Bones" (Decca): Adams chronicles his acoustic tour from spring of 2010 with unplugged versions of 20 of his songs.
Bombay Bicycle Club, "Flaws" (Island): The British alternative rockers go acoustic on their second full-length album, which includes a cover of JOhn Martyn's "Fairy Tale Lullaby."
Cassidy, "C.A.S.H. (Cass A Straight Hustla)" (Larsiny Family/Krossover/eOne Music): The Philadelphia rapper's fourth album is his first for Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony's Krossover Entertainment label.
Lee DeWyze, "Live It Up" (19/RCA): The latest "American Idol" champ wrote or co-wrote all but one of the 11 songs on the third overall album of his career, including the single "Sweet Serendipity."
Josh Groban, "Illuminations" (143/Reprise): Normally an interpreter, Groban had a hand in writing 11 of the 13 songs on his fifth studio album, which was produced by Grammy Award-winner Rick Rubin.
Halestorm, "Live in Philly 2010" (Atlantic): The Pennsylvania hard rock quartet follows its studio debut with this home town concert set.
Heaven & Hell, "Neon Nights" (Eagle Rock): A CD and DVD issue from the 2009 Wacken Open Air Festival that captures the former Black Sabbath in full glory prior to frontman Ronnie James Dio's death.
Freddie Jackson, "For You" (eOne Music): The first new album in five years from the veteran R&B singer.
Norah Jones, "...Featuring" (Blue Note): The piano-playing songstress teams with a diverse set of guests here, including Willie Nelson, the Foo Fighters, Dolly Parton, OutKast, Herbie Hancock and, by posthumous magic, Ray Charles.
Jesu, "Heartache & Dethroned" (Hydra Head): The experimental Welsh rockers make a little more noise by pairing its first EP with a later set of songs.
Loreena McKennitt, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" (Verve): The Canadian songstress returns to the ethereal Celtic roots she began exploring on 1985's "Elemental."
Nelly, "5.0" (Derrty Ent./Universal Motown): The title may be confusing for his sixth album, but that didn't stop T.I., Chris Brown, T-Pain, Aiken, Kelly Rowland, Keri Hilson and others from showing up to guest.
Don Omar, "Don Omar Presents: Meet the Orphans" (Orfanato): The reggaeton kingpin performs on a pair of tracks from his latest compilation of up-and-comers in the genre.
The Pipettes, "Earth vs. the Pipettes" (Fortuna POP): The second full album by the cheeky British vocal trio bows on these shores after making a splash across the pond.
Rascal Flatts, "Nothing Like This" (Big Machine): The best-selling country trio team with pop singer Natasha Bedingfield on the song "Easy" from their seventh studio album.
Bruce Springsteen, "The Promise (The Lost Session: Darkness on the Edge of Town)" (Columbia) and "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story" (Columbia): The New Jersey rock icon digs into the prodigious vaults of his 1978 album for 21 unreleased tracks, contained on both a two-CD compilation and a three-CD, three-DVD box set.
Soundtrack, "Tangled" (Walt Disney): Mandy Moore (who voices Rapunzel) performs five songs on the companion to this animated feature, which also includes an end-title track by Grace Potter.
Chris Tomlin, "And if Our God is For Us" (CCM): The seventh studio release by the Christian music artist from Texas.
Keith Urban, "Get Closer" (Capitol Nashville): The Australian-born country star's seventh studio album is more uptempo than last year's "Defying Gravity" and includes songwriting collaborations with fellow artists such as Richard Marx, Sarah Buxton and Jedd Hughes.
Violens, "Amoral" (Friendly Fire/Static Recital): The debut set from this Brooklyn trio nods extensively to 80s British influences such as Joy Division, New Order and the Cure.
From The Vaults: Angel Witch, "Angel Witch: 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" (UMe); The Bee Gees, "Mythology" (Reprise); Dave Brubeck, "Legacy of a Legend" (Columbia/Legacy); Julian Cope, "Floored Genius, Vol. 2: Deluxe Edition" (Mercury/UMe); Nelly Furtado, "The Best of Nelly Furtado" (Geffen); Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, "Almost Acoustic" and "Ragged But Right" (both Dead.net/Rhino); Jimi Hendrix, "West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology" (Experience Hendrix/Legacy); Billy Joel, "The Hits" (Columbia/Legacy); John Martyn, "Live at Leeds: Deluxe Edition" (UMe); Neville Brothers, "Authorized Bootleg -- Warfield Theatre -- San Francisco, CA -- February 27, 1989" (A&M/UMe); Pink, "Greatest Hits...So Far!!!" (LaFace); Smokey Robinson, "Solo Albums 3" (Hip-O Select); Supertramp, "Breakfast in America: Deluxe Edition" (A&M/UMe); Teardrop Explodes, "Killamanjaro" (Mercury/UMe); Various Artists, "The Very Best of the Rat Pack" (Reprise); The Who, "Live at Leeds: Super Deluxe Edition" (MCA/UMe)
New Holiday Albums: Jackie Evancho, "O Holy Night" (Columbia); Orla Fallon, "Orla Fallon`s Celtic Christmas" (self-released); "Glee: The Music, the Christmas Album" (Columbia); Jimi Hendrix, "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" (Experience Hendrix/Legacy); Annie Lennox, "A Christmas Cornucopia" (Decca); Pink Martini, "Joy to the World" (Heinz)
New Music DVDs: Bee Gees, "In Our Own Time" (Eagle/Fontana); Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla, "Moscow DVD" (Varese Fontana); INXS, "Mystify" (Eagle Rock); Various Artists, "Sondheim: The Birthday Concert" (Image); Velvet Revolver, "Live in Houston" (Eagle/Fontana); Frank Zappa, "The Torture Never Stops" (Eagle/Fontana)
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