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The Listening Room: Jason Mraz, Train and more...
"Love is a Four Letter Word"
Jason Mraz's fourth studio effort reaches a point early on where it starts to sound like an album-length version of "Don't Worry, Be Happy." After all, as he sings in his version of Luc Reynaud's "The Freedom Song," "When I'm calm I feel good/When I feel good I sing" -- and the San Diego troubadour is doing some of his best singing ever on this 12-song set. Eventually, of course, hints of darkness and romantic angst creep in, the specter of lost love tempering a bit of "Love's..." buoyant bonhomme, but they hardly spoil anything. Mraz matches his vocal acumen here with some of his most fully-fleshed out and melodically ambitious work yet, tucking into meaty grooves as brass fills out "The Freedom Song" and the infectious bop of "Everything is Sound" and lush strings cushion the soaring soul-pop of "Who's Thinking About You Now?" Mraz drives the mantra-like "5/6" with a reggae lope and channels vintage Stevie Wonder on the jazz-tinged "Be Honest" (featuring Inara George on backing vocals), while many of "Love's..." songs -- including the single "I Won't Give Up," "93 Million Miles," "Frank D. Fixer" and "In Your Hands" -- sound ready to be remade in Nashville. As playful and intermittently poignant as ever, Mraz is joyful world-beater here, never letting a little heartbreak get in the way of a whole heap o' happiness.
Train, "California 37" (Columbia): **1/2
Mortality, memories and other songwriters are the hallmark of Train's sixth studio album, an 11-song set that's as crafted and earnest as the rest of the group's catalog -- and reprises plenty of elements from its Grammy Award-winning predecessor, 2010's "Save Me, San Francisco." "This'll Be My Years" is the trio's name- and event-checking sequel to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," while "50 Ways to Say Goodbye" takes its lead from Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" (interesting, they've all recorded for the same record label). Train returns to "Hey Soul Sister's" ukulele for the decidedly more sober "Sing Together" while tapping the au courant whistle for "You Can Finally Meet My Mom" and makes a bid for some country love via "Bruises," a duet with Nashville newcomer Ashley Monroe. "California 37" covers nearly that many bases, although it feels at times like more of a playlist than an album.
New & Noteworthy:
William Beckett, "Walk the Talk" (YIKE): The first of three planned solo EPs by the former frontman for The Academy Is...
Chris Botti, "Impressions" (Columbia): The trumpeter is joined on his latest album by typically eclectic crew that includes Herbie Hancock, Andrea Bocelli, Vince Gill, Mark Knopfler and others.
Jon Cleary, "Occapella" (FHZ): The British-born, New Orleans-based artist plays every instrument on his sixth solo album, with a bit of help from pals (and sometimes employers) Bonnie Raitt and Dr. John.
Cowboy Junkies, "Nomad Series" (Razor & Tie): The Canadian group packages the four albums it's released during the past 18 months with a fifth disc of other songs that didn't make it onto those titles.
Dragonforce, "The Power Within" (Roadrunner): The British headbangers' fifth album marks the debut of new frontman Marc Hudson.
Marvin Etzioni, "Marvin Country!" (Nine Mile): The Lone Justice co-founder gets help from Lucinda Willliams, Steve Earle, John Doe, Richard Thompson, ex-bandmate Maria McKee and others on his two-disc fourth solo outing.
Future, "Pluto" (A1/Free Bandz/Epic): The Georgia rapper's debut full-length includes guest features by Drake, R. Kelly, T.I., Snoop Dogg and more.
Grinderman, "Grinderman 2 RMX" (Mute/Anti-): A newly remixed version of the Nick Cave-led group's lauded 2010 sophomore album.
Horse Feathers, "Cynic's New Year" (Kill Rock Stars): The Americana troupe from Portland expanded to 11 members to make its fourth album.
Eric Hutchinson, "Moving Up Living Down" (Warner Bros.): The singer-songwriter's fourth album was recorded in New York, London and Los Angeles with hitmakers Mike Elizondo and Martin Terefe.
Jack Johnson & Friends, "Best of Kokua Festival" (Brushfire/Universal): Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, Jackson Browne, Ben Harper and many more join Johnson on this collection of tracks from his periodic Hawaiian festival.
JD McPherson, "Signs & Signifiers" (Rounder): The singer-songwriter welcomes a variety of session players from the Americana world on these dozen classic-sounding tracks.
Neon Trees, "Picture Show" (Mercury): The California alt-rockers team with Kaskade on "Lessons in Love (All Day, All Night)" from its sophomore album.
Rebecca Pidgeon, "Slingshot" (Decca): The Massachusetts actress and singer-songwriter collaborates for a third time with Grammy award-wining producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock).
Spiritualized, "Sweet Heart Sweet Light" (Fat Possum): Spiritualized majordomo Jason Spaceman fought degenerative liver disease while making the group's seventh studio album, which features a song co-written with Dr. John.
SWV, "I Missed Us" (Mass Appeal/eOne): The hitmaking 90s R&B trio returns to active duty with its first new album in 14 years.
Thousand Foot Krutch, "The End is Where We Begin" (TFK): The Canadian Christian rockers debut their own label after five previous releases with Tooth & Nail.
Loudon Wainwright III, "Older Than My Old Man Now" (Story Sound): The veteran troubadour celebrates touring 65 with Jack Elliott, Dame Edna, the Roches and all four of his children attending the musical party.
Dar Williams, "In the Time of Gods" (Razor & Tie): The singer-songwriter's first set of new material in four years mixes contemporary social commentary with Greek mythology -- and she swears she was straight when she came up with that idea.
Yanni, "Live at El Morro Puerto Rico" (Sony Masterworks): A CD/DVD document of the keyboardist and orchestra leader's December performances at the UNESCO Heritage Site.
From The Vaults: Dave Alvin, "Eleven Eleven Expanded" (Yep Roc); Blue Oyster Cult, "The Essential Blue Oyster Cult" (Columbia/Legacy); Donovan, "The Essential Donovan" (Epic/Legacy); Aretha Franklin, "Who's Zoomin' Who? (Deluxe Edition)" (Arista/Legacy); Alan Jackson, "The Essential Alan Jackson" (Columbia Nashville/Legacy) Janis Joplin, "The Pearl Sessions" (Columbia/Legacy); Greg Kihn Band, "Best of Beserkley '75-'84" (Riot); Gordon Lightfoot, "All Live" (Rhino); Little Richard, "Here's Little Richard" (Concord); Luther Vandross, "Hidden Gems" (Epic/Legacy); Hank Mobley, "Newark 1953" (Uptown Jazz); Pete Seeger, "The Complete Bowdoin College Concert 1960" (Smithsonian/Folkways); Hank Williams III, "Long Gone Daddy" (Curb)
Soundtracks: Daniel Licht, "Silent Hill: Book of Memories" (Milan); Bob Marley & the Wailers, "Marley -- Original Soundtrack" (Island/UMe); Various Artists, "Treme, Season 2: Music From the HBO Original Series" (Rounder)
New Music Videos: The Grateful Dead, "All the Years Combine: The DVD Collection" (Shout! Factory) -- Gary Graff
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