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The Listening Room: Avril Lavigne, R.E.M. and more...
You’d expect four years between albums to make a difference for any artist, even one who didn’t go through a very public divorce like Avril Lavigne did from Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley. So the tamed countenance is of “Goodbye Lullaby,” the follow-up to 2007’s “The Best Damn Thing,” is not necessarily a surprise, but it’s still disarming to hear the onetime princess of power pop sounding so, well, complicated, as well as mature and conflicted. Though the spunk and sass that made her famous nearly a decade ago pops up on the first single, “What the Hell,” the 14-track set is her most intimate and soul-baring yet as she wades, poetically, into deeper emotional waters that are closer to countrymate Sara McLachlan than, say, Lady Gaga. Not that it’s all dour; Lavigne is most definitelyin love on several of these songs, though there’s an ambivalence and a keen awareness that “love hurts whether it’s right or wrong” on more dimensional tracks such as “Wish You Were Here,” “Smile,” “4 REal” and even “I Love You,” while “Darlin’ “ offers a bracing pep talk to a wounded soul. “Push” and “Not Enough” exorcize some anger, while “Everybody Hurts,” “Remember When” and “Goodbye” wallow in a sea of acoustic guitars, piano and strings. (The opening “Black Star,” however, sounds more like a product placement for Lavigne’s fragrance of the same name than a legitimate song.) Lavigne produced two of the songs herself and was aided elsewhere by Max Martin, Shellback, her guitarist Evan Taubenfeld and even Whibley, but she manages to keep the vision focused and singular. She may not be as much fun this time around, but Lavigne is clearly wiser for the lessons learned, and it’s clear that it will take more than another “Sk8er Boi” to rock her world again.
R.E.M., “Collapse Into Now,”(Warner Bros.)***
R.E.M. rocked hard again on 2008’s “Accelerate,” and the group is still doing that on its 15th studio album — particularly on stun-gun tracks such as “Discoverer,” “All the Best,” “Mine Smell Like Honey,” “That Someone is You” and “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter.” But this time out the trio has added quieter touches and even the acoustic and pastoral flavors of its 1991 multi-platinum smash “Out of Time,” and “Uberlin,” “Oh My Heart” and “Every Day is Yours to Win” are awash in ringing but fat-free atmospherics. Guest appearances by Pearl James Eddie Vedder, Peaches, Lenny Kaye and Patti Smith — the later on the album-ending avant tone poem “Blue” — make a good thing that much better, and when Michael Stipe’s declaration that “We’ll show the kids how to do it” speaks to his band’s enviable ability to stay valid some 30 years after its first release.
New & Noteworthy
Buffalo Tom, “Skins” (Scrawny): The Boston trio continues its comeback with a second album after a nine-year hiatus, enlisting longtime cohorts Paul Q. Kolderie and Tom Polce to produce.
Exene Cervenka, “The Excitement of Maybe” (Bloodshot): The X and Knitters singer welcomes Dave Alvin, jazz bassist Christian McBride and fellow singer-songwriter Maggie Bjorklund on her latest solo album.
Children of Bodom, “Relentless Reckless Forever” (Universal): The Finnish dark metal troupe teamed with producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Monster Magnet) for its seventh studio album.
Bruce Cockburn, “Small Source of Comfort” (True North): The influential Canadian troubadour writes about his recent travels to Afghanistan and Richard Nixon on his first studio album in six years.
Dance Gavin Dance, “Downtown Battle Mountain II” (Rise): The return of three founding members in 2010 gave the California headbangers reason to reference its 2007 debut.
Sara Evans, “Stronger” (RCA Nashville): The country singer’s first new album in nearly six years is also her first since divorcing her husband and going through rehab.
Lupe Fiasco, “Lasers” (1st & 15th/Atlantic): The Chicago rapper’s third album features guests such as Trey Songz, John Legend and Skylar Grey, among others.
Glee Cast, “Glee: The Music, Volume 5” (Columbia): The usual “Glee” cover fare is augmented this time by a pair of original songs, including the Lea Michele-showcasing ballad “Get It Right.”
The High Kings, “Memory Lane” (Ard Ri/EMI): The third release by the Irish ballad trio created by the Celtic Woman camp.
Sierra Hull, “Daybreak” (Rounder): The 19-year-old mandolin prodigy wrote seven of the 12 songs on her sophomore album, which was produced by Union Station’s Barry Bales.
Billy Joel, “Live at Shea Stadium” (Columbia/Legacy): A two-CD/DVD combo of the piano man’s July 2008 show featuring guests Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, John Mayer and more.
Mae, “(e)vening” (Cell): The band’s original five members come together for the first time in more than three years to complete a trilogy (which also includes “(m)orning” and “(a)fternoon”) and bid a final, recorded farewell.
Ian Moore, “El Sonido Nuevo” (Spark & Shine): The Seattle singer-songwriter-guitarist’s delivers his first album with his new power pop trio the Lossy Coils.
Alexi Murdoch, “Towards the Sun” (Zero Summer): The Scottish-American singer-songwriter recorded his second full album in just one night in Vancouver during his 2009 tour.
Raekwon, “Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang” (Ice H2O/EMI): The Wu-Tang Clan member plays hosts to plenty of famous friends — including the Roots’ Black Thought, Rick Ross, Lloyd Banks, Busta Rhymes, Nas, Raheem Devaughn and Clan mates Method Man and Ghostface Killah — on his fifth solo album.
Johnny Reid, “Introducing Johnny Reid” (EMI Manhattan): The U.S. debut by the Canadian pop/soul singer who’s a giant in the Great White North.
Kenny Rogers, “The Love of God” (Cracker Barrel): The Gambler’s new inspirational album includes collaborations with the Whites and Point of Grace.
Trust Company, “Dreaming in Black & White” (eOne Music): The Alabama rock trio’s third album is getting a boost from the advance release of its first single, “Heart in My Hands.”
Alex Winston, “Sister Wife” (HeavyRoc): The new mini-album from the Detroit-born Americana singer-songwriter finds Winston working with The Knocks production team from New York and Florence & the Machine cohort Charlie Hugall.
Wye Oak, “Civilian” (Merge): The Maryland modern folk duo continues to mine organic and electronic flavors on its third full-length album.
From The Vaults: Tommy Bolin, “Teaser Deluxe” (Samson); Neil Diamond, “The Bang Years” (Columbia/Legacy); Bo Diddley, “Bo Diddley’s Beach Party” (Hip-O Select); Dr. John, “Zu Zu Soiree” (Blues Boulevard); Elvis Presley, “Elvis is Back! (Legacy Edition)” (RCA/Lgacy); Rainbow, “Down to Earth (Deluxe Edition)” (Polydor/UMe); Simon & Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Troubled Water (40th Anniversary Edition)” (Columbia/Legacy); Traffic, “John Barleycorn Music Die (Deluxe Edition)” (Island/UMe).
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