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The Listening Room: Dave Stewart, the Muppets and more...
“The Blackbird Diaries”
Razor & Tie
Dave Stewart’s on a roll. The onetime half of Eurythmics has produced strong new albums by Stevie Nicks and Joss Stone, opened a stage musical adaptation of the film “Ghost” on London’s West End and is part of the new all-star group SuperHeavy with Mick Jagger, among others. That would be enough for most artists, but amidst all this activity Stewart also managed to come up with his sixth and best solo album. “The Blackbird Diaries” was recorded in Nashville at the titular studio owned by Martina McBride’s husband, John, with co-producer and Detroit native Mike Bradford and a band of players whose credits are a who’s-who of rock and country. It’s not a country album, mind you, but it definitely fits in the Americana realm, albeit with nods to both Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones circa 1968-72. Dylan, in fact, co-wrote the soulful “Worth Waiting For,” and his phrasing is all over Stewart’s vocals in that song as well as “Magic in the Blues” and the joyfully rambling “The Gypsy Girl and Me.” The Stones’ bright, riffy guitar sound drives tracks such as “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “Stevie Baby” — the latter addressed to Nicks, who guests on “Cheaper Than Free” — while the opening “So Long Ago” sounds like an “Exile on Main Street” outtake recorded by The Band. Stewart also gets help from Martina McBride (“All Messed Up”), Colbie Caillat (“Bulletproof Vest”) and, on two tracks, the Secret Sisters, while many of his lyrics mine an autobiographical path that runs from Eurythmics partner Annie Lennox (“Beast Called Fame,” “Magic in the Blues”) to his current wife Anoushka Fisz (“Can’t Get You Out of My Head”). Stewart has already been working on a follow-up with much of the same cast, and after this we’ll be anxiously awaiting his next “Diaries” entry.
Various Artists, “Muppets: The Green Album” (Walt Disney) ★★ 1/2
Muppets music doesn’t really need to be a guilty pleasure, but the dozen acts that cover them on this tribute album add an extra layer of cool to the tunes. Some are out-and-out wacky — like OK Go’s twisted rendition of “The Muppet Show Theme” — but more than a few of the contributors manage to put just enough twist on the songs to make them their own while still maintaining their innocent charm. Among the highlights: My Morning Jacket’s airy “Our World”; the Airborne Toxic Event’s contemporary cool treatment of “Wishing Song”; Andrew Bird’s chamberesque version of “Bein’ Green”; and Matt Nathanson’s passionately sung “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along.” Nobody really fumbles here, although The Fray’s “Mahna Mahna” and Evanescence singer Amy Lee’s “Halfway Down the Stairs” come off as a bit stiff.
New & Noteworthy
Zee Avi, “ghostbird” (Monotone/Brushfire/Universal Republic): The second album from the Malaysian singer-songwriter includes the single “The Book of Morris Johnson.
Black Tide, “Post Mortem” (Interscope): The Miami metal band’s second album marks the recording debut of new guitarist Austin Diaz and features a guest appearance by Bullet For My Valentine’s Matthew Tuck.
Blue Highway, “Sounds of Home” (Rounder): The ninth studio album from the award-winning contemporary bluegrass quintet
Dee Dee Bridgewater, “Midnight Sun” (DDB Records/Emarcy): The jazz vocalist’s collection of love songs includes well-known pieces by Sammy Cahn, Kurt Weill, Johnny Mercer, Alan Jay Lerner, Billie Holiday and more.
Gabe Dixon, “One Spark” (Fantasy/Concord): The singer-songwriter delivers a solo debut after three previous studio albums with the band that bore his name.
Ana Egge, “Bad Blood” (Animal): Steve Earle produced this seventh album by the Canadian singer-songwriter, which was recorded at the Woodstock, N.Y., studios of The Band’s Levon Helm.
Charlie Faye, “Travels With Charlie” (self-released): The Austin-based singer-songwriter collaborated with members of Calexico, Malcolm Burn, Will Sexton, Lil’ Band O’ Gold and other luminaries on this set inspired by John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley.”
Forty Winks “Bow Wow” (End Sounds): The fourth album from the indie rock quartet that hails from Bologna, Italy.
The Game, “The R.E.D. Album” (Aftermath/Interscope): The Compton gangsta rapper’s fourth studio album loads the guest list with the likes of Dr. Dre, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Drake, Young Jeezy, the ubiquitous Chris Brown and Tyler, The Creator.
Global Noize, “A Prayer For the Planet” (Lightyear/EMI): Jazz, funk and electronica collide — to good effect — on this collaboration between Jason Miles, DJ Logic and Indian vocalist Falu.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, “Mirror Traffic” (Matador): Beck produced this fifth studio album by the former Pavement member and his current band.
Stephin Merritt, “Obscurities” (Merge): The prolific singer, songwriter and performer assembles a batch of rare and unreleased songs from his bands the Magnetic Fields, Buffalo Rome and the 6ths, as well as undesignated solo material.
MIKESCHAIR, “A Beautiful Life” (Curb): The second full-length album by the Nashville-based Contemporary Christian music quartet.
Moreland & Arbuckle, “Just a Dream” (Telarc International): Stax-Volt legend Steve Cropper makes a guest appearance on the latest release by the bluesy Kansas duo.
Selah, “Hope of the Broken World” (Curb): This 12-song collection celebrates the Christian pop trio’s 10-year anniversary.
Connie Smith, “Long Line of Heartaches” (Sugar Hill): The country singer’s first album of new material in 15 years includes five new songs co-written with husband Marty Stuart.
Soundtrack, “O Brother, Where Art Thou? — Deluxe Edition” (UMe): The 10th anniversary of the Grammy Award-winning roots album is celebrated with a second disc sporting 14 more songs, including a dozen recorded for but not used in the film.
Barbra Streisand, “What Matters Most — Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman” (Columbia): As the title indicates, Streisand delivers 20 songs by her favorite songwriting couple, revisiting “The Way We Were” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” among others.
Sunny Sweeney, “Concrete” (Republic Nashville): The Texas singer co-wrote seven of the 10 songs on here new album, including the already proven smash “From a Table Away.”
We Are Augustines, “Rise Ye Sunken Ships” (Oxcart): The debut album from the new band formed by former Pela members Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson.
From the Vaults: Average White Band, "Live at Montreux 1977" (Eagle Rock); Canned Heat, "Live at Montreux 1973" (Eagle Rock); Darondo, "Listen to My Song: The Music City Sessions" (Omnivore); The Grateful Dead, "Road Trips Vol. 4, No. 4: Spectrum 4-6-82" (Dead.net/Rhino); Rockpile, "Live at Montreux 1980" (Eagle Rock); Patti Smith, "Outside Society" (Arista/Columbia/Legacy); Status Quo, "Pictures: Live at Montreux 2009" (Eagle Rock)
New Music DVDs: Counting Crows, "August and Everything After -- Live at Town Hall" (Eagle Rock); Tangerine Dream, "Live in America 1992" (Eagle Rock) -- Gary Graff
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