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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Cake, Sugar Magnolia and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

ROCK

Cake

“Showroom of Compassion”

Upbeat Records

***

Anyone concerned that a seven-year recording gap would take some of the frosting off Cake needn’t worry; “Showroom of Compassion,” the group’s long-in-coming sixth studio album and follow-up to 2004’s “Pressure Chief,” finds the Sacramento quintet as clever and quirky — and musically dazzling — as ever. Frontman John McCrea may lament that “I’ve wasted so much time,” but that time between albums has clearly been well-spent as Cake covers more ground on these 11 tracks than some groups do in an entire career. The first single, “Sick of You,” is a cheeky put-down — completely with a spoken-word midsection — housed in a solid rock tune, while “Federal Funding” makes its socio-political point alongside a gritty guitar groove, a subtle synthesizer line and trancey ambience. Elsewhere Cake explores funk — “Mustache Man (Wasted),” prog rock “Easy To Crash,” Beatlesque melodicism “The Winter,” and acoustic country/folk “Bound Away” and existential p’s Now is Now,” and fuses classical piano into gritty blues on the instrumental “Teenage Pregnancy.” It’s unrelentingly, and unapologetically, unique and fresh, which makes “Showroom...” well worth the wait.

COUNTRY

Steel Magnolia, “Steel Magnolia” (Big Machine) **1/2

Having established itself with a second-season “Can You Duet?” win and a bit hit song (“Keep On Lovin’ You”), real-life couple Joshua Scott Jones and Meghan Lindsey shows there’s more where that came from. Produced by hitmaker Dann Huff, “Steel Magnolia” is a sturdy effort that straddles a pop-country line similar to other Nashville guy-girl groups — Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, the Band Perry — with fare such as the shimmering “Ooh La La,” the lighthearted “Last Night Again” and the reggae-flavored “Rainbow.” A loose, back porch-style treatment of Keith Urban and the Ranch’s “Homespun Love” is a treat, while Jones offers a surprisingly candid look at substance abuse on the stripped-down closing track “Glass Houses.” Reality TV wd to be a mixed bag, but Steel Magnolia’s debut shows some genuine potential for staying power.

New & Noteworthy

Alter Bridge, “Live From Amsterdam” (Dc3): An audio companion to the Creed spinoff’s concert DVD that came out in November.

Edie Brickell, “Edie Brickell” (racecarLOTTA): The onetime voice of the New Bohemians and wife of Paul Simon launches her own label with the first of two releases this month, produced by Charlie Sexton and started back while she was touring to promote 2003’s “Volcano.”

British Sea Power, “Valhalla Dancehall” (Rough Trade): The U.K. indie rockers recorded their fifth studio album on the Isle of Skye in southeast England.

Cage the Elephant, “Thank You, Happy Birthday” (Relentless/Red Ink): The Kentucky garage rock group recorded its second album with Jay Joyce, who also worked on its 2008 debut.

The Energy, “Streets of In-Between” (self-released): The debuting outing by the Brooklyn rock quartet whose songs have shown up on MTV and VH1 programs.

The Grascals & Friends, “Country Classics With a Bluegrass Spin” (Cracker Barrel): The rootsy sextet is joined by Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Joe Nichols, Dolly Parton, Charlie Daniels and others on this unique covers collection, sold exclusively at Cracker Barrel stores.

Ben E. King, “Heart & Soul” (CanAm): The “Stand By Me” legend’s latest takes on American Songbook standards such as “My Funny Valentine,” “I Only Have Eyes For You” and the title track.

Lecrae, “Rehab: The Overdose” (Reach): The Christian rapper from Houston’s fifth album is a sequel to its predecessor, “Rehab,” which came out just five months ago.

Moon Hotel Lounge Project, “Into the Ojala” (Frosty Cordial): Former music journalist and saxophone player Tom Moon steps into the performing world with nine originals and a cover of the gospel staple “Rock of Ages.”

Tom Principato, “A Part of Me” (Powerhouse): The Washington, D.C., singer, songwriter and guitarist remembers absent friends and family members on his latest album, enlisting high-profile guests such as Sonny Landreth, Brian Auger and longtime Rolling Stones sideman Chuck Leavell.

Chas Sandford, “Wag More, Bark Less” (Hanalei Music Group): It’s been nearly 30 years since the Tennessee-based singer-songwriter — best known for penning John Waite’s “Missing You” as well as tunes for Stevie Nicks, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart Sammy Hagar and more — put out an album of his own, and this is only his sophomore set.

Marvin Sapp, “Beginning” (Word): The latest praise collection from the Grand Rapids-based pastor and former member of the gospel group Commissioned.

Shackleton, “Fabric 55: Shackleton” (Fabric): The dark-tinged dance music artist mixes past favorites such as “Death is Not Final” and “Something Has Got to Give” with 13 previously unreleased tracks here.

Sodom, “In War & Pieces” (Steamhammer/SPV): The 13th album from the German headbangers gets its U.S. release nearly two months after it came out in Europe.

Soundtrack, “Meet the Parents: Little Fockers” (Varese Sarabande): “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” collaborator Stephen Trask handled the score to the latest “Fockers” film, which has been riding high at the box office the past few weeks.

Soundtrack, “The Dilemma” (Atlantic): The Black Keys, the Hold Steady, Kiss, Wolfmother and Ray Charles are among those rocking the companion to the upcoming Vince Vaughn/Kevin James comedy. Downloadable on Tuesday, Jan. 11, and in stores Jan. 18.

Tapes `n Tapes, “Outside” (Ibid): Three years between albums is becoming the norm for the Minneapolis indie rock group, last heard from on 2008’s “Walk It Off.”



From The Vaults: Jack’s Mannequin, “Everything in Transit: Anniversary Edition” (Sire/London/Rhino); N.E.R.D., “The Best of N.E.R.D.” (Virgin/EMI); Queens of the Stone Age, “Queens of the Stone Age: 10th Anniversary Edition” (Loosegroove)



Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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