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The Listening Room: Hank Williams, Scotty McCreery and more...
“The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams”
When Hank Williams died in the back seat of his car on New Year’s Day 1953 at age 29, he left behind a wealth of American standards — “I Saw the Light” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” for starters — and also a briefcase full of notebooks that included lyrics he never had a chance to set to music. Progeny and proteges dig into that treasure trove on this 12-song collection, crafting original melodies for songs mostly about heartache but occasionally with a happy ending — such as Sheryl Crow’s ringing, old tymey “Angel Mine” and Lucinda Williams’ stark solo track “I’m So Happy I Found You.” And even though 14 artists are involved in this project there’s a uniformity of sound throughout, marked by stark, waltz-time arrangements that hew toward patterns similar to “I’m So Lonesome.” Alan Jackson (“You’ve Been Lonesome, Too”), Bob Dylan (“The Love That Faded”) and The Band’s Levon Helm (“You’ll Never Be Mine Again”) tap into the central heartbreak of their songs, as does Williams’ granddaughter Holly Williams, who’s accompanied by her father, Hank Jr., on the choruses of “Blue is My Heart.” Merle Haggard’s “The Sermon on the Mount” reminds us of Williams’ spiritual side, but we also get a good look at his ability to diss with gangsta-caliber fury to Jack White’s keening “You Know What I Know,” Patty Loveless’ honky tonkin’ “You’re Through Fooling Me” (one of the few uptempo interpretations here) and Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell’s collaboration on “I Hope You Shed a Million Tears,” whose all-star put-downs include “our love was like a sacred scroll you never did learn to read.” All of the artists bring a loving reverence to the tracks, but they still manage to make these old words sound as fresh and current as they are historic. Here’s hoping even more revelations will be found in those lost notebooks.
Scotty McCreery, “Clear As Day” (19/Mercury Nashville) ★★ 1/2
The latest “American Idol” champ is just 17 years old, but when Scotty McCreery wraps his rich baritone around the 12 tracks here he sounds like a confident country veteran. That said, producer Mark Bright did a good job of finding age-appropriate material for his youthful charge, even if a couple of songs — “Back on the Ground” and “The Trouble With Girls” in particular — seem a bit too wistful for an incoming high school senior. But upbeat fare such as “Water Tower Town,” “Out of Summertime,” Rhett Atkins’ “Write My Number on Your Hand” and a cover of Keith Urban and the Ranch’s “Walkin’ the Country” sound as genuine and natural coming from McCreery as they would from singers twice or even three times his age.
New & Noteworthy:
Rodney Atkins, “Take a Back Road” (Curb): The country singer’s fourth studio set was advanced by its title track, the fastest-rising single of his career.
George Benson, “Guitar Man” (Concord Jazz): The guitar virtuoso takes on a dozen jazz and popular standards, ranging from “Danny Boy” to Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” and the Champs’ “Tequila.”
Blessthefall, “Awakening” (Fearless): The Phoenix hard rockers’ third album marks the recording debut of guitarist Elliott Gruenberg.
Jason Boland & the Stragglers, “Rancho Alto” (APEX Nashville/Thirty Tigers): Oklahoma-born Boland and his band continue to mine a purist’s form of country music with producer Lloyd Maines.
Bonnie Prince Billy, “Wolfroy Goes to Town” (Drag City): The latest outing from the Kentucky singer-songwriter also known as Will Oldham.
James Carter, “At the Crossroads” (Emarcy): The Detroit-born saxophonist returns to his trio, which features fellow Motowner Gerard Gibbs on organ.
DJ Shadow, “Less You Know the Better” (Verve/Island/Roc-a-Fella/A&M): The fourth artist album by the California DJ includes guest appearances by Talib Kweli and Tom Vek, among others.
Feist, “Metals” (Cherrytree/Interscope): The fourth solo album from the Broken Social Scene singer-songwriter includes collaborations with Chilly Gonzales, Mocky and Iceland’s Valgeir Sigurosson.
Merle Haggard, “Working in Tennessee” (Vanguard): The Hag wrote nine of the 11 songs on his latest release, assisted on some by his wife, Theresa and their daughter Jenessa.
Indigo Girls, “Beauty Queen Sister” (IG/Vanguard): The Georgia due reunites with early ’90s producer Peter Collins for a 14th studio album.
Jack’s Mannequin, “People & Things” (Sire): The California modern pop group’s third album represents a do-over after the band was dissatisfied with its initial efforts.
Lang Lang, “Liszt: My Piano Hero” (Sony Classical): As the title indicates, the Chinese pianist gives 200th birthday props to Franz Liszt on his latest release.
Lights, “Siberia” (Lights Music): The Canadian singer-songwriter’s second album features guest appearances by rapper Shad and the electronic group Holy F***.
Mayday Parade, “Mayday Parade” (Fearless/ILG): The Florida modern rockers take the self-titled approach to their third album, which follows the EP “Valdosta” that was released earlier this year.
Paul McCartney, “Ocean’s Kingdom” (MPL/Hear Music/Telarc): The former Beatle’s score for the new ballet is performed by the London Classical Orchestra and conductor John Wilson.
MGMT, “Late Night Tales” (101/EMI): The British duo’s songs are remixed by Julian Cope, Spacemen 3, Durutti Column and others, while MGMT handles a cover of Bauhaus’ “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.”
Mutemath, “Odd Soul” (Telepromt/Warner Bros.): The New Orleans-formed modern rock troupe’s third full-length is its first with new guitarist Todd Gummerman on board.
New Found Glory, “Radiosurgery” (Epitaph): The Florida punk quintet approached its seventh studio album as an homage to classic works by the Ramones, Green Day and others.
Joshua Redman, “Mood Swing” (Warner Bros.): Though actually billed to the saxophonist, this 11-song set is a fully collaborative collection by his new quartet James Farm.
Relient K, “Is For Karaoke” (Mono Vs. Stereo): The Christian punk rockers fill out the covers EP originally released in June with seven more takes on songs by Toto, Chicago, Stone Temple Pilots and others.
Wayne Static, “Pighammer” (Dirthouse): The Static X leader takes an even more aggressive course on his first solo album, which was inspired by his final days of drinking and drugging before getting clean.
Styles P, “Master of Ceremonies” (D-Block/Ruff Ryders/Bad Boy/E1): The fourth album by the Yonkers rapper boasts a guest list that includes Busta Rhymes, Rick Ross, Jadakiss, Lloyd Banks and more.
Styx, “Regeneration Volume I & II” (Eagle Rock): A two-CD combination of EPs sold at the band’s live shows, featuring Styx and Damn Yankees favorites re-recorded by the group’s current lineup.
We Were Promised Jetpacks, “In the Pit of the Stomach” (Fat Cat): The Scottish rock quartet pursues a bigger sound on its sophomore album.
Hayley Westenra and Ennio Morricone, “Paradiso” (Decca): The New Zealand-born soprano teams with the Italian composer for her latest release, recorded in Rome with Morricone and his orchestra during 2010.
Carolyn Wonderland, “Peace Meal” (Bismeaux): The Texas blues singer worked with Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson and the Monkees’ Michael Nesmith on her follow-up to 2008’s well-received “Miss Understood.”
Zucchero, “Chocabeck” (Decca): The Italian troubadour’s latest features a dream team of lyricists (U2’s Bono, Iggy Pop), producers (Detroiter Don Was, Brendan Benson) and guests (Brian Wilson).
Soundtracks: Various Artists, “Batman: Arkham City — The Album” (Watertower); Various Artists, “Hawaii Five-O: Original Songs from the Television Series” (Columbia);
From The Vaults: Joss Stone, “The Best of Joss Stone: 2003-2009” (Virgin/EMI)
Holiday Albums: Chicago, “Chicago XXXIII — “O Christmas Three” (Chicago Records); David Crowder Band, “Oh For Joy” (EMI); Jersey Boys, “Seasons Greetings: A Jersey Boys Christmas” (Rhino); Kutless, “This is Christmas” (Bec); Frank Sinatra, “A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra” (Capitol); tobyMac, “Christmas in Diverse City” (EMI); Matthew West, “The Heart of Christmas” (EMI)
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