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The Listening Room: Tim McGraw, Seal and more...
The folks at Curb Records better listen to Tim McGraw when he sings that “I know how to hold a grudge” on his latest release. “Emotional Traffic” has been McGraw’s album in exile, long-finished but held on the sidelines during a nasty legal battle between the superstar and the company over contractual issues and McGraw’s impending departure from the label. In fact, it took a court ruling in McGraw’s favor to get the album out at all. The fiduciary fisticuffs are ongoing, but now we at least have the album that’s enjoyed some buzz since McGraw began leaking tracks online last summer and launched the No. 1 country single “Felt Good on My Lips.” But the 12-track set is McGraw’s least country yet. Despite longtime producer Bryon Gallimore and Nashville songwriters such as Rhett Atkins, Dallas Davison, the Warren Brothers, Luke Laird and more, “Emotional Traffic” finds McGraw navigating the vibey ambiance of “Halo” and “Die By My Own Hand,” meaty rock anthems such as “Touchdown Jesus” and “I Will Not Fall Down” (which he co-wrote with the Warrens and Martina McBride), breezy pop (“Right Back Atcha Babe”) and the R&B flavors of the hand-clapping “Hey Now” and “Only Human,” trading vocals on the latter with Ne-Yo. The paucity of twang may not sit well with some of his long-term fans, but what has stayed the same is McGraw’s (and Gallimore’s) knack for: a) finding very good songs and b) singing them very well. That gives a decided and deserved green light to “Emotional Traffic.”
Seal, “Soul 2” (Reprise) **1/2
If you’re looking for reverence rather than reinvention, this is the album for you. On his second set of soul covers, Seal and producers Trevor Horn and David Foster stay true to the 11 songs here. The most dramatic tweak here comes in the first two minutes of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” a lushly orchestrated prelude before the song kicks into its familiar cadence, so faithful that it even captures the percussive nuances of the original. But even if the source material remains essential, Seal’s homages to the Miracles’ “Ooh Baby Baby,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love T.K.O.” and the rest are heartfelt and hardly suffer in comparison.
New & Noteworthy
Celtic Woman, “Believe” (Manhattan): The all-female troupe’s sixth studio release takes on pop ballads such as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Sailing” along with traditional Irish tunes and “Ave Maria.”
Joe Cocker, “Hard Knocks” (429): The veteran British singer takes on the Dixie Chicks’ “I Hope” in addition to nine originals, with Ray Parker Jr., playing guitar on the Matt Serletic (matchbox twenty, Santana) set.
Dion, “Tank Full of Blues” (Blue Horizon): The “Runaway Sue” man continues to run with the blues, this time composing his own songs rather than covering his favorites.
Craig Finn, “Clear Heart Full Eyes” (Vagrant): The first solo album by the frontman and leader of the Hold Steady was recorded in Austin, Texas.
First Aid Kit, “The Lion’s Roar” (Wichita): The Swedish sister duo enlisted Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis to produce its sophomore album.
Foxy Shazam, “The Church of Rock and Roll” (I.R.S.): The Cincinnati rock troupe delivers another wall of sound on its fourth album, citing Bruce Springsteen — and Evel Knievel — among its influences this time out.
Janie Fricke, “Country Side of Bluegrass” (New Music Deals): The country singer dips into her roots for bluegrass versions of some of her hits, including “Don’t Worry ’Bout Me Baby” and “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy.”
Lacuna Coil, “Dark Adrenaline” (Century Media): The Italian hard rockers enlisted mainstream producer Don Gilmore to put some varnish on their first album since 2008.
Lamb of God, “Resolution” (Epic): The Virginia headbangers continue their hard-hitting ways on this seventh album though also incorporating strings and other sophisticated touches.
moe., “What Happened to the La Las” (Sugar Hill): The jam band enlists an outside producer — John Travis (Kid Rock, No Doubt) — for the first time since 1998.
Nada Surf, “The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy” (Barsuk): The trio’s seventh album overall and first of original material in nearly five years includes contributions from Guided By Voices/Death of Samantha guitarist Doug Gillard.
Wynton Marsalis, “Music of America” (Sony Masterworks): The trumpeter brings a broad view to this two-disc survey, tapping the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orion String Quartet and some of his Lincoln Center colleagues for a sweeping sonic journey.
Ingrid Michaelson, “Human Again” (Cabin 24/Mom+Pop): A rough patch in the usually cheerful singer-songwriter’s life led to a darker and more emotive approach on her fourth album.
Kellie Pickler, “100 Proof” (19/BNA): The former “American Idol” finalist stays on the country path, co-writing six of the 11 tracks on her third album.
Riff Rockit, “Riff Rockit” (RiffRockit.com): The debut album from the Los Angeles children’s entertainer who mixes big, well, riffs, with songs about animals, the alphabet and brushing your teeth.
Rodrigo y Gabriela, “Area 52” (ATO): The Mexican guitar duo stretches out with its first full-band endeavor, recasting songs from its past with the 13-piece C.U.B.A. ensemble.
John K. Samson, “Provincial” (Epitaph/Anti-): The Weakerthan frontman’s first solo album sonically explores the terrain of Manitoba, where he resides.
Scorpions, “Comeblack” (RCA): The German rockers took time during their farewell tour to record new versions of some of their biggest hits and covers of favorites by T. Rex, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others.
Martin Sexton, “Fall Like Rain” (KTR): The Northeast singer-songwriter follows 2010’s lauded “Sugarcoating” with a five-song EP that includes a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”
Skrillex, “Bangarang” (OWSLA/Big Beat/Atlantic): The Grammy-nominated electronic artist’s third EP gets a physical release after hitting cyberspace in December.
Stew & the Negro Problem, “Making It” (Tight Natural Productions): The group’s first album since 2003 chronicles the breakup between its frontman and his wife-bandmate Heidi Rodewald.
Various Artists, “2012 Grammy Nominees” (Universal Republic): The annual pre-ceremony collection includes hits by Adele, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and 18 others.
Various Artists, “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan” (Fontana): This salute to Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary collects 75 newly recorded Bob Dylan covers on four CDs — from Miley Cyrus to Pete Seeger and all-star points (Adele, Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, Sugarland and more) in-between.
From The Vaults: Glen Campbell, “Live in Japan” (Real Gone Music); The Doors, “L.A. Woman (40th Anniversary Edition)” (Rhino); Kirk Franklin, “The Essential Kirk Franklin” (Sony Legacy); Grateful Dead, “Dick’s Picks Vol. 32” and “Dick’s Picks Vol. 33” (both Real Gone Music); Bill Medley, “Bill Medley 100%” and “Soft & Soulful” (Real Gone Music); Jody Miller, “Complete Epic Hits” (Real Gone Music); Maggie & Terre Roche, “Seductive Reasoning” (Real Gone Music); Various Artist, “WOW Gospel 2012” (Verity)
New Music DVDs: Celtic Woman, “Believe” (Manhattan); The Doors, “Mr. Mojo Risin’: The Story of L.A. Woman” (Eagle Rock); Queen, “Days of Our Lives” (Eagle Rock); Scorpions, “Get Your Sting and Blackout — Live in 3D” (Sony Music/RCA)
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