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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: The Decemberists, Gregg Allman and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

AMERICANA

The Decemberists

“The King is Dead”

(Capitol)

*** 1/2

“Simple” and “direct” are seldom words associated with the Decemberists. Consider that the Portland quintet’s last two albums were the compositionally complex opuses “The Crane’s Wife” in 2006 and 2009’s highly conceptual song cycle “The Hazards of Love.” On the group’s sixth album however, frontman/songwriter Colin Meloy and company get back to the country, lyrically (it was recorded in a converted barn) and sonically, with their most forthright, accessible and even American-sounding album yet. Though he’s acknowledged the influence of British composers on the Decemberists’ previous albums, here Meloy looks to clear late 60s and early 70s country-rock influences such as The Band and Neil Young, even incorporating Gillian Welch as an Emmylou Harris to Meloy’s Gram Parsons on seven of the 10 tracks. Also carrying some weight on “The King is Dead” is R.E.M., whose guitarist Peter Buck is featured on the rocking single “Down By the Water.” “Don’t Carry It All” starts things on a stomping, gospel-tinged note while “Rox in the Box” leans in a Celtic direction and drum-less songs such as “January Hymn” and “June Hymn” take on a gentle ambience. The subtle protest tune “This is Why We Fight” is the album’s heaviest and most electric moment, but most of “The King is Dead” explores a pastoral impressionism with one of the most unique vocabularys in popular music. But this time Meloy’s wordplay is just one intriguing part of a successful record we’ll still be talking about when it’s time to compile the best-of-2011 lists.



BLUES

Gregg Allman. “Low Country Blues” (Rounder) ***

Gregg Allman has sung his share of the blues — with the Allman Brothers Band and in life, up to his liver transplant last June as part of a long battle with Hepatitis C. His first solo album in 14 years shows that practice makes perfect, however, as Allman and his gritty, whiskey-soaked voice unite with producer T-Bone Burnett on a set of gems by Elmore James, T-Bone Walker and Blind Willie McTell, as well as a solid new original — the Memphis soul-styled “Just Another Rider,” co-written with the ABB’s Warren Haynes. Highlights include a country-tinged treatment of Sleepy John Estes’ “Floating Bridge,” a gospel-steeped romp through Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” and a New Orleans-flavored rendition of B.B. King’s “Please Accept My Love.”



New & Noteworthy

Abused Romance, “The Sound of Violence” (Freeway Entertainment/UMG): The quartet of Israeli army veterans debuts with a five-song EP culled from its first full-length album, which is due out later this year.

Aquabats, “Hi-Five Soup!” (Fearless): Guitarist Eagle “Bones” Falconhawk makes his recording debut on the costumed ska-rock troupe’s fifth studio album.

Blackmore’s Night, “Autumn Sky” (Spinefarm/Universal): Former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and his wife, singer Candice Night, worked wtih members of Larchmont and Lumley on their eighth album of acoustic Renaissance music.

James Blunt, “Some Kind of Trouble” (Custard/Atlantic): The British singer-songwriter’s third album hits these shores after going gold and reaching No. 4 on the album charts in his homeland.

Kat Maslich-Bode, “The Road of 6” (Mishara Music): The first-ever solo release by the former eastmountainsouth singer features a guest appearance by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Simone Dinnerstein, “Bach: A Strange Beauty” (Sony Classical): The Julliard-educated pianist returns to the Bach cannon after charting with her self-funded 2007 set of “Goldberg Variations.”

Dolorean, “The Unfazed” (Partisan): Al James’ Portland group returns with a fourth album of restrained but emotional songs about perseverance and persistence.

Brandon Heath, “Leaving Eden” (Reunion): The third album from the Nashville-based contemporary Christian singer-songwriter.

Steve Lukather, “All`s Well That Ends Well” (Mascot): The Toto guitarist collaborates with Def Leppard’s Phil Collen and the Tubes’ Fee Waybill, as well as two of his four children, on his latest solo foray.

Madlib, “Medicine Show No. 11: Low Budget High Fi Music” (Madlib Medicine Show): The latest mixtape from the prolific, sharp-tongued Los Angeles Rapper.

Pearl Jam, “Live on Ten Legs” (Monkeywrench): The Seattle modern rock icons kick off their 20th anniversary year with this 18-track live album, recorded at shows between 2003-2010.

Robert Pollard, “Space City Kicks” (Guided By Voices): More catchy pop and rock from the prolific Guided By Voices frontman.

Ponderosa, Moonlight Revival” (New West): The first full-length album from the classic rock-referencing Atlanta quintet that worked the same circuit as its forebears, the Black Crowes.

Roomful of Blues, “Hook, Line & Sinker” (Alligator): The brassy New England big band showcases new singer Phil Pemberton on its first new album in three years.

The Script, “Science & Faith”: The Irish rockers’ sophomore album was its second No. 1 debut in its homeland when it came out there in September.

Smith Westerns, “Dye It Blonde" (Fat Possums): The Chicago indie rockers deliver another 10 songs for their second album release.

Social Distortion, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” (Epitaph): The veteran group’s first new album in more than six years marks the first time founder and frontman Mike Ness has stepped into the producer’s role as well.

Stratovarius, “Elysium” (Armoury): The Finnish heavy metal band’s 13th studio album ends with the 18-minute title suite.

Tennis, “Cape Dory” (Fat Possum): The lo-fi debut from the Denver duo of singer Alaina Moore and guitarist Patrick Riley.

Times of Grace, “The Hymn of a Broken Man” (Roadrunner): Killswitch Engage co-founders Adam Dutkiewicz (who’s still with the group) and Jesse Leach reunite in a new and, not surprisingly, heavy-hitting project.

White Lies, “Ritual” (Fiction/Geffen): The British group’s second album was produced by Alan Moulder (Depeche Mode, nine inch nails, Interpol, the Killers) and recorded at home in London.



From The Vaults: Above & Beyond, "10 Years of Anjunabeats" (Ultra); Vanessa Carlton, "Icon" (A&M/UMe); Cher, "Icon" (Geffen/UMe); Shemekia Copeland, "Deluxe Edition" (Alligator); Sheryl Crow, "Icon" (A&M/UMe); El DeBarge, "Icon" (Motown/UMe); Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "Icon Love Songs" (Motown/UMe); The Jayhawks, "Tomorrow the Green Grass: Legacy Edition" and "Hollywood Town Hall: Legacy Edition" (both American/Legacy); Tokio Hotel, "Best of..." (CherryTree/Interscope); Lee Ann Womack, "Icon" (MCA/UMe)

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