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The Listening Room: John Mayer, Joey Ramone and more...
"Born and Raised"
John Mayer has a mouth that sings nicely but has gotten him into all kinds of trouble, most recently with heavily criticized off-color comments about ex-girlfriends Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Aniston while supporting his last album, 2009's "Battle Studies." But it's a contrite Mayer that we find on his fifth solo set, assuring us that "I never meant her harm/But that doesn't mean I didn't make it hard to carry on" and that "I don't want a world of broken things" but also noting that "hard times have helped me see" and that his "shadow days are over." He's playing nice, in other words -- and he's also playing and singing in his most engaging fashion yet on these 12 tracks, the latter ironically so since recent throat issues forced him to cancel live dates for the immediate future. And while Mayer has explored a variety of styles with his previous albums, he finds a new one this time -- the Laurel Canyon folk-rock of the early 70s, even singing at the album's start that he's "Looking for the sun that Neil Young hung/After the gold rush of 1971." Some of his references are fairly direct -- the jammy Allmans/Dead alchemy of "Queen of California" and the single "Shadow Days," the Lindsey Buckingham borrow "Speak For Me," the Bakersfield twang of the title track's reprise -- while others capture a spirit that also extends into the soulful on "Love is a Verb." With a crack band and guests such as David Crosby and Graham Nash ("Born and Raised"), trumpeter Chris Botti ("Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967) and Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins (the sweet-tempered "A Face to Call Home)," it all fits Mayer well for his most consistently satisfying release yet.
Joey Ramone, "...ya know?" (BMG Rights Management) **1/2
Joey Ramone is long gone -- 12 years now -- but, of course not forgotten. More than the late Ramones frontman's second posthumous album, however, "...ya know?" is something of a labor of love, 15 new songs built from raw tracks that had been tied up in litigation. Ramone's brother Mickey Leigh oversaw their conversion into a finished product, a winningly eclectic and occasionally sentimental hodgepodge that gets by with a little help from Ramone friends such as Joan Jett on the rocking "21st Century Girl" and Little Steven Van Zandt on the Phil Spectoresque "Party Line." Marky Ramone and members of Cheap Trick, the Patti Smith Group, the Dictators and the Smithereens, as well as a corps of previous Ramones producers, join forces in a loving, if overdue last word from the iconic punk singer, which truly makes us believe that "Rock 'n' Roll is the Answer."
New & Noteworthy:
Kris Allen, "Thank You Camellia" (19/RCA): The "American Idol" Season 8 winner's second major label album is named after the place he stayed in Los Angeles while working on the new songs.
Joe Bonamassa, "Driving Towards Daylight" (J&R): The prolific guitarist is joined by Aerosmith's Brad Whitford and his son Harrison Whitford on this blues-entrenched back-to-basics set.
Cory Brannan, "Mutt" (Bloodshot): The singer-songwriter gets help from guitarist Luther Dickinson and Tom Waits horn player Ralph Carney on his latest set of musical "American gumbo."
The Cult, "Choice of Weapon" (Cooking Vinyl): The hard-rocking quartet delivers its first new album in five years, recorded partly with "Sonic Temple" producer Bob Rock.
El-P, "Cancer For Cure" (Fat Possum): The Brooklyn hip-hop artist delivers his first full-length rap album in five years, with a guest list that includes Detroit's Danny Brown.
Robert Francis, "Strangers in the First Place" (Vanguard): The Los Angeles singer-songwriter received his first guitar from family friend Ry Cooder and took lessons from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante.
Garbage, "Not Your Kind of People" (STUNVOLUME): The electro rock troupe returns after a six-year hiatus, this time recording for their own label.
Gossip, "A Joyful Noise" (Columbia): The Olympia, Wash., trio recorded its fifth album of synth-propelled dance tracks with Xenomania's Brian Higgins co-producing.
Great White, "Elation" (Frontiers): This is a new album from the version of the band fronted by Terry Ilous, not original singer Jack Russell, who has his own Great White as well.
Kimbra, "Vows" (Warner Bros.): The New Zealand singer's debut album was a Top 5 and platinum success at home and in Australia when it was first released there in 2011.
Sonny Landreth, "Elemental Journey" (Landfall): The Louisiana slide guitar hero's first all-instrumental album features guest appearances by Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson, among others.
Jon McLaughlin, "Promising Promises" (Razor & Tie): The Indiana singer-songwriter teams with Sara Bareilles and Xenia Martinez on songs from his third studio album.
Mercy Me, "Hurt & the Healer" (Fair Trade/Columbia): The Texas Christian rock group's latest takes a somewhat more secular direction than last year's "the Worship Sessions."
Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and Randy George, "Cover 2 Cover" (Metal Blade): The all-star trio joins forces for a batch of covers of classic rock hits by Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Todd Rundgren, Styx, the Police and more.
Oak Ridge Boys, "Back Home Again: Gospel Favorites" (Spring House): The veteran country vocal group brings its four-part harmonies to a dozen church favorites.
Haley Reinhart, "Listen Up!" (19/Interscope): The debut album by the 2011 "American Idol" finalist includes a duet with B.o.B. on the opening track "Oh My!."
Six Feet Under, "Undead" (Metal Blade): The Florida death metal band's ninth was finished before the departure of bassist Terry Butler and drummer Greg All.
Smile Empty Soul, "3's" (eOne): The southern California hard rock trio recorded its latest album with Eddie Wohl, who co-produced 2009's "Consciousness."
Soulsavers, "The Light the Dead See" (Mute): Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan joins this British electronic troupe to provide vocals for its fourth studio album.
Tedeschi Trucks Band, "Everybody's Talkin' " (Sony Legacy): A welcome live set from Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and company, with 11 songs that include covers of tunes by Stevie Wonder, Muddy Waters, the Staples Singers and others.
Young Man, "Vol. 1" (Frenchkiss): The second entry in a trilogy singer-songwriter/producer Colin Caulfield and company began with 2011's "Ideas of Distance."
From The Vaults: Paul and Linda McCartney, "Ram" (Hear Music); Eric Prydz, "...Presents Pryda" (Astralwerks)
Soundtracks: New Broadway Cast, "Porgy and Bess" (P.S. Classics)
New Music DVDs: Alice Cooper, "The Strange Case of Alice Cooper: Live 1979 -- Madhouse Rock Tour" (Shout! Factory)
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