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The Listening Room: Beach Boys, "Rock of Ages" and more...
The Beach Boys
"That's Why God Made the Radio"
It's been awhile since we've been excited about a Beach Boys album -- actually it's been awhile, 16 years, since there's even been a Beach Boys album. But to celebrate the iconic group's 50th anniversary, the surviving members of the troupe -- Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and, for the first time since 1963, David Marks -- have reunited for their first set of new material since the 1996 country set "Stars and Stripes Vol. 1." "We've got beaches in mind/Man it's been too much time" they sing halfway through the album, and the 12 tracks on "That's Why God Made the Radio" certainly mix winsome nostalgia with a wistful realization that the Boys have become men and that the surf's more out than up these days. On "Pacific Coast Highway," Wilson -- who produced the album with Love -- notes that "I'm better off alone...I'm better on my own" -- while the album-closing "Summer's Gone," co-written with Jon Bon Jovi, is a telling paean to old friends going their separate ways, declaring that "We laugh, we cry/We live then die/And dream about our yesterday." But the group tempers such dark sobriety with plenty of good times, if not the unbridled "Fun, Fun, Fun" of the Beach Boys' heyday. The quintets harmonies remain rich and disarmingly youthful, making tunes such as "Isn't It Time," "Spring Vacation," "Shelter," "Daybreak Over the Ocean" and "Strange World" sumptuous and mature pop treats. This is no "Pet Sounds," of course, but 50 years on the Beach Boys prove still able to give us something to "Smile" about.
Various Artists, "Rock of Ages: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (Watertower)**
There's one draw here -- the curiosity of Tom Cruise singing Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard, Foreigner and Bon Jovi hits in the guise of fictional icon Stacee Jaxx. Not surprisingly Cruise approaches his vocals like an actor, clearly having studied the nuances of Axl Rose, Joe Elliott, Lou Gramm and his other subjects to deliver convincing approximations rather than original interpretations, which was probably the best course for the film adaptation of the Tony Award-nominated musical. More interesting are the medleys and mash-ups that populate the soundtrack, performed by a cast that's capable if not quite as accomplished as its stage counterpart. The familiarity of these songs breeds more fondness than contempt, but these versions will hardly make you forget about the originals.
New & Noteworthy:
Eric Benet, "The One" (Jordan House/EMI): The R&B singer changes his record company situation with his sixth album, which was advanced by the single "Real Love."
Big K.R.I.T., "Live From the Underground" (CMG/Def Jam): The Mississippi MC's long-awaited full-length debut rocks with a guest list that features Ludacris, Melanie Fiona, Bun B, Anthony Hamilton and the decidedly jiggy B.B. King.
Brandi Carlile, "Bear Creek" (Columbia): The Seattle singer-songwriter co-wrote many of the 12 songs for her fourth studio album with the twin Hanseroth brothers who are longtime fixtures in her band.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, "Big Moon Ritual" (Silver Arrow/Megaforce): The Black Crowes frontman debuts his new band with a set of expansive, jammy songs that will be followed by a second album in the fall.
Shawn Colvin, "All Fall Down" (Nonesuch): The singer-songwriter gets help from Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Jakob Dylan, Mary Chapin Carpenter and others on her first new album since 2006.
Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr, "Kin: Songs of Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell" (Vanguard): Crowell and memoirist Karr join forces for a set of songs reinforced by guests such as Norah Jones, Vince Gill, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and more.
Curren$y, "The Stoned Immaculate" (Jet Life/Warner Bros.): The New Orleans rapper is joined by Whiz Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T., Marsha Ambrosius, Wale and others on his eighth studio album.
Alejandro Escovedo, "Big Station" (Fantasy/Concord): The Texas music legend returns to producer Tony Visconti on his latest release, which was written mostly with good pal Chuck Prophet.
Fear Factory, "The Industrialist" (Candlelight): The Los Angeles headbangers get back to their sonic roots with this charged concept album.
Bela Fleck & the Marcus Roberts Trio, "Across the Imaginary Divide" (Rounder): The always adventurous Fleck takes his banjo into the jazz realm again on this 13-song endeavor.
The Hives, "Lex Hives" (Disque Hives): The Swedish garage rockers return after a five-year recording break, but don't let the tuxes and top hats of the album cover full you; the quintet still rocks with frightening fury.
Kelly Hogan, "I LIke to Keep Myself in Pain"
Alan Jackson, "Thirty Miles West" (ACR/EMI Nashville): The white-hatted country star's 17th studio album includes a duet with Zac Brown called "Dixie Highway."
Rhett Miller, "The Dreamer" (Maximum Sunshine): The Old 97s frontman goes solo for a sixth time, with Rosanne Cash and Rachael Yamagata guesting.
The Rocket Summer, "Life Will Write the Words" (Aviate): After two albums in the major label world, Texas' Stephen Bryce Avary takes his music indie again on this 12-songs set.
Patti Smith, "Banga" (Columbia): The first album by the iconic singer-songwriter and onetime St. Clair Shores resident includes guest appearances from Tom Verlaine as well as Smith's children, Jackson and Jesse.
Spectrum Road, "Spectrum Road" (Palmetto): The all-star collective spearheaded by Cream's Jack Bruce and Living Colour's Vernon Reid unleashes its first album, mostly covering material by the jazz great Tony Williams.
Squackett, "Life Within a Day" (Esoteric): Yes' Chris Squire and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett spent the better part of three years working on this nine-song collaboration.
Temper Trap, "The Temper Trap" (Glassnote): The Australian indie rockers' second album has already hit No. 1 in its homeland and Top 20 in the U.K.
Various Artists, "2012 Warped Tour Compilation" (SideOneDummy): Rise Against, New Found Glory, Yellowcard and Miss May I are among the artists featured on the latest edition of this annual two-CD companion compilation.
Joe Walsh, "Analog Man" (Fantasy): The James Gang founder and Eagles member's first solo album in 20 years features guest appearances by brother-in-law Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Graham Nash and others.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Americana" (Reprise): Young regroups with Crazy Horse for the first time since 2004 for a collection of folk and roots standards -- as well as "God Save the Queen" (the British national anthem, not the Sex Pistols song). An album of original material is due this fall.
ZZ Top, "Texicali" (American): A four-track, digital-only sampler from the new album the lil' old band from Texas plans to release this fall.
From The Vaults: Davie Bowie, "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars: 40th Anniversary Edition" (EMI); Heart, "Strange Euphoria" (Epic/Legacy); Lenny Kravitz, "Mama Said (Deluxe Edition)" (Virgin/EMI); Maroon5, "Songs About Jane (10th Anniversary Edition) (A&M/Octone); Terry Knight & the Pack, "Terry Knight & the Pack"/"Reflections" (Real Gone/ABKCO); Paul Simon, "Graceland 24th Anniversary Edition)" (Columbia/Legacy)
Soundtracks: The Beatles, "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" (Capitol/EMI); Victorious, "Victorious 2.0: More Music From the Hit TV Show" (Columbia)
New Music DVDs: The Beatles, "Yellow Submarine" (Capitol/EMI)
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