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The Listening Room: Bonnie Raitt, Alabama Shakes and more...
It's been seven years since we last heard from Bonnie Raitt on record, but with "Slipstream" she emerges no worse for the wait -- and probably better and more refreshed. While the time off was spent mourning her parents, brother and best friend, Raitt -- who co-wrote just one of the album's 12 tracks -- is hardly downcast; instead she continues her career-long rumination over about matters of the heart, mixing pensive and playful perspectives inside her rootsy blend of R&B and blues-sampling rock. Raitt and her band sound absolutely ferocious on her "Down to You," while the extended outros of "Ain't Gonna Let You Go" and "Split Decision" -- both co-written by NRBQ's Al Anderson, who also plays on the tracks -- let Raitt show off her slide guitar chops. She lays a reggae groove into the late Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line," while Bill Frissell brings his tasteful guitar fireworks to renditions of Bob Dylan' "Million Miles" and "Standing in the Doorway," two of the four "Slipstream" tracks produced by Rochester Adams graduate Joe Henry. And while "Marriage Made in Hollywood," a bit of social commentary co-written by Raitt's ex-husband Michael O'Keefe, is an eyebrow-raising choice, her version of Henry's "God Only Knows" is the album`s vocal highlight; accompanied only by piano, Raitt's delivery conveys every nuance of heartbreak, uncertainty -- and hope. At 62, Raitt may not have many more seven-year gaps available to her, but "Slipstream" certainly made this particular wait worthwhile.
Alabama Shakes, "Boys & Girls" (ATO)***
This youthful buzz band whose "You Ain't Alone" graced Zales jewelery ads in 2011 has been getting plenty of attention, and its 10-song debut proves worthy of the hype. While its deliberately dense and lo-fi production may be off-putting at first, frontwoman Brittany Howard, a force of nature singer and forthright songwriter who puts her heart on her sleeve with every syllable, blasts through it with muscular garage-soul abandon. Her emotions run deep, but Howard's no pushover; those she sings about in songs such as "Heartbreaker," "I Found You" and "I Ain't the Same" better toe a fine line if they know what's good for them.
New & Noteworthy:
Amadou & Mariam, "Folila" (Because Music/Nonesuch): Santigod, TV on the Radio, Theophilus London and others guest on the latest album from the self-billed Blind Couple from Mali.
Cavo, "Thick As Thieves" (Eleven Seven): The St. Louis hard rockers' third album was preceded by the title track single, which has been warmly embraced by radio.
Alice Cooper, "No More Mr. Nice Guy Live" (4 Worlds Media): The Detroit-born shock rocker is captured on stage on, appropriately, Halloween night at Alexandra Palace in London.
Counting Crows, "Underwater Sunshine..." (Collective Sounds/Cooking Vinyl): The group's first new album in four years is an all-covers set taking on songs by the Faces, Dawes, Gram Parsons, Travis, Pure Prairie League and more.
Kat Edmondson, "Way Down Low" (Spinnerette): The sophomore album from the jazzy Texas singer who now makes her home in New York.
Florence + the Machine, "MTV Unplugged" (Universal Republic): The British group joins forces with Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vulture) for a version of Johnny Cash and June Carter's "Jackson" during this intimate performance.
Kenny Garrett, "Seeds From the Underground" (Mack Avenue): The jazz saxophonist returns to acoustic territory on his latest release, paying tribute to his Motor City roots on tracks such as "Wiggins" and "Detroit."
Nanci Griffith, "Intersection" (Hell No!/Thirty Tigers): The veteran songstress declares "Hell No! ("I'm Not Alright)" and cuts a new version of her "Just Another Morning Here" for her 20th studio album.
Halestorm, "The Strange Case of..." (Atlantic): The sophomore album from the hard touring and hard rocking band from eastern Pennsylvania.
Mickey Hart Band, "Mysterium Tremendum" (360 Productions): The Grateful Dead percussionist unveils his latest band as well as a batch of tunes -- lyrics by Robert Hunter -- drawn from celestial vibrations discovered by space-exploring scientists.
The Mastersons, "Birds Fly South" (New West): The debut outing from the married Brooklyn couple that's also part of Steve Earle's Dukes and Duchesses band.
Monica, "New Life" (RCA): The singer and actress is joined by Mary J. Blige, Brandy and Wale on her seventh studio album.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Wasted" (Tone Tied)" The Silver Bullet Band's Jim "Moose" Brown co-produced this new outing by Willie Nelson's son and his band.
Curtis Salgado, "Soul Shot" (Alligator): The Portland soul singer mixes tunes by George Clinton, Bobby Womack, Otis Redding and others with his originals on this latest collection.
Scars on 45, "Scars on 45" (Chop Shop/Atlantic): The long-in-the-making debut album from the British quintet whose songs have been heard on "Grey's Anatomy," "One Tree Hill," "Supernatural" and other programs.
Steep Canyon Rangers, "Nobody Knows You" (Rounder): The North Carolina bluegrass quartet that's been backing Steve Martin steps out on its own again, though without the all-star guests that graced 2010's "Deep in the Shade."
Taproot, "The Episodes" (Victory): The Ann Arbor headbangers' eighth album was produced by longtime cohort Tim Patalin at his Loft Studios in Saline.
Trampled By Turtles, "Stars and Satellites" (Thirty Tigers/Red): The Minnesota bluegrass troupe's sixth album follows its 2010 commercial breakthrough "Palomino."
M. Ward, "A Wasteland Companion" (Merge): The California singer-songwriter's seventh album comes after a respite to work with Zooey Deschanel as the duo She & Him.
World Party, "Arkeology" (Seaview): A five-disc set comprised of 70 previously unheard songs, demos and live recordings form Karl Wallinger's adventurous ensemble.
From The Vaults: Todd Rundgren's Utopia, "Live at Hammersmith Odeon '75" (Shout! Factory)
Soundtracks: Alan Menken, "Mirror Mirror" (Relativity)
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