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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: The Cars, Matthew Morrison and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

ROCK

The Cars

“Move Like This”

Hear Music/Concord Music Group

★★★

Comebacks are a tricky business, and after 24 years it’s OK to be dubious of what the Cars can offer — especially after the universal thumbs-down given to the 2005 New Cars experiment from guitarist Elliott Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes. But this time founding frontman and creative director Ric Ocasek is back on board, and while it’s not the full-on Cars reunion fans may crave (Benjamin Orr’s death in 2000 rules that out, sadly), it’s a lot closer to being, well, just what they needed. And, in fact, the group sounds like it’s picking up right where it left off on these 10 songs, which is more a mark of how timeless and forward-looking the Cars were in 1978 than how retro “Move Like This” is. The sound — produced half by the band, half by Garret “Jacknife” Lee (R.E.M., U2, Weezer) — is as clean and crisp as ever, blending eighth-note guitar click with Hawkes’ synthesizer coloring into what can best be described as fresh familiarity. “Blue Tip,” “Free,” the crunchy “Keep On Knocking” and the first single, “Sad Song,” could be dropped onto any of the Cars’ other six albums, as could gentler, ambient fare like “Too Late” and “Take Another Look.” There’s a Beatles flare to “Soon” and “It’s Only,” while Ocasek adopts a Dylanesque sense of worldplay to his lyrics (“Your waxy face is melting on your lap/I sat there trying to crush a ginger snap”) that’s a bit closer to his post-Cars solo work than to the group’s passel of late 70s and 80s hits. Nevertheless, “Move Like This” feels like the return of an old friend, and one who’s in good shape despite the high mileage of intervening years.



POP

Matthew Morrison, “Matthew Morrison” (Mercury) ★★1/2

Here’s how much punch “Glee” packs these days; Matthew Morrison, who plays teacher and New Directions glee club sponsor Will Schuester but is a newbie recording artist, sings with Sting, Elton John and recurring “Glee” guest Gwyneth Paltrow on his debut album. Not too shabby, eh? Neither is the disc, a perfectly presentable pop package that will please the Gleeks but also establishes Morrison as a songwriter (four of the 10 tracks here) and a ukulele player. His duet with Sting on a brassy, soulful remake of the latter’s “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” is the album’s highlight, and Morrison fares well next to John on a combo of his “Mona Lisas and Madhatters” and “Rocket Man.” He also channels the lighthearted Israel Kamakawiwo’ole version of “Over the Rainbow” with Paltrow and cops a Lady Antebellum-meets-Jason Mraz spirit on the single “Summer Rain." It’s not necessarily a superstar-making release, but it definitely gives Morrison first chair in the “Glee” club.



New & Noteworthy

The Antlers, “Burst Apart” (Frenchkiss): The Brooklyn group’s second album with a full band lineup seeks to build on the buzz-making notoriety of 2009’s “Hospice.”

Anvil, “Juggernaut of Justice” (The End): The Canadian heavy metal trio recorded its first studio album since the success of its ?? documentary at Foo Fighter Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 in California.

Susana Baca, “Afrodiaspora” (Luaka Bop): The Peruvian singer explores the African influence on her country’s indigenous music on her latest release.

Eric Bibb, “Troubadour Live” (Telarc International): The title of Bibb’s concert set, recorded in Sweden during December, says it all.

Black Label Society, “Song Remains Not the Same” (E1): Zakk Wylde and company’s latest set includes unplugged versions of songs from 2010’s “Order of the Black,” some leftover tracks and a duet with country star John Rich.

Blue October, “Ugly Side: An Acoustic Evening with Blue October” (Updown/Brando): An 11-song document of the group’s unplugged shows last July in Houston and Dallas.

Greg Brown, “Freak Flag” (Bee Flat/Yep Roc): The title track of the singer-songwriter’s 24th album is all that remains of initial sessions that were wiped out by hard drive-killing thunderstorm.

Christopher Cross, “Doctor Faith” (Eagle Rock): The first new album in 12 years from the “Ride Like the Wind” Grammy Award winner.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore, “Heirloom Music” (Redeye): The Texas music legend joins forces with roots musician Warren Hellman on a set of early 20th century songs.

Warren Haynes, “Man in Motion” (Stax/Concord): The Gov’t Mule and Allman Brothers Band guitarist pays homage to his R&B roots, with an all-star band behind him, on his stellar new solo album.

Hugo, “Old Tyme Religion” (Roc Nation): The British-born “gangsta rocker” and Beyonce songwriter is already hot with his debut set’s first single, “99 Problems.

Booker T. Jones, “The Road From Memphis” (Anti-): The legendary keyboardist and MG’s band leader enlists Lou Reed, Sharon Jones and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James for the follow-up to 2009’s “Potato Hole.”

The Lonely Island, “Turtleneck & Chain” (Universal Republic): Akon, Beck, Michael Bolton, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna and Justin Timberlake are among the guests appearing on the second album from “SNL” star Andy Samberg’s comedic trio.

Manchester Orchestra, “Simple Math” (Favorite Gentleman): The Atlanta indie rockers’ third album is a concept piece about a 23-year old’s questions about the world at large.

Randy Newman, “Randy Newman Songbook 2” (Nonesuch): The singer, songwriter and Academy award winner delivers a second set of solo voice-and-piano recreations of his past material.

Christina Perri, “lovestrong.” (Atlantic): The debut album from the Philadelphia singer whose “Jar of Hearts” caused a stir on “So You Think You Can Dance” last year.

Sam Roberts Band, “Collider” (Zoe/Rounder): The Juno Award-winning Canadian group recruited members of Califone and the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra to add rhythmi touches to its sixth studio release.

Raphael Saadiq, “Stone Rollin’ “ (Columbia): The Tony! Toni! Tone! man’s fourth solo set continues to ride the old school wave of its predecessors.

Sloan, “The Double Cross” (Yep Rock): The Canadian power pop troupe’s 10th studio album comes out in time to celebrate its 20th anniversary as a band.

Ben Sollee, “Inclusions” (Thirty Tigers): Singer, songwriter and cellist Sollee explores some heady, philosophical lyrical terrain on his third album.

Chris Thile and Michael Davies, “Sleep With One Eye Open” (Nonesuch): The mandolin-guitar duo recorded its salute to the traditional songs of the Monroe Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, the Louvin Brothers and more in just four days at Jack White’s Third Man studio in Nashville.

Tyler the Creator, “Goblin” (XL): The second solo album by the member of the rap collective Odd Future includes guest appearances by Frank Ocean, Hodgy Beats, Jasper Dolphin and others.

Urge Overkill, “Rock & Roll Submarine” (Redeye): The first new album in 16 years from the Chicago alt.rock heroes.

Various Artists, “The Royal Wedding: The Official Album” (Decca): The ceremony’s music for those who want to relive The Event. [cq] Now all you need are the trees, Westminster Abbey and some really bad hats.



From The Vaults: Dave Brubeck, “Playlist: The Very Best of” (Sony Legacy); Rory Gallagher, “Rory Gallagher,” “Deuce,” “Blueprint,” “Live in Europe” (all Eagle Rock); Grateful Dead, “Road Trips Vol 4, No. 3: Denver ‘73” (Deadnet/Rhino); Janis Ian, “Playlist: The Very Best of” (Sony Legacy); Korn, “The Essential Korn” (Epic/Legacy); Teena Marie, “Playlist: The Very Best of” (Sony Legacy); Dionne Warwick, “Playlist: The Very Best of” (Sony Legacy); The The, “Playlist: The Very Best of” (Sony Legacy); Johnny Winter, “Playlist: The Very Best of” (Sony Legacy)



Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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