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The Listening Room: Justin Bieber, Kenny Chesney and more...
Accept the inevitable; while some of the unconverted may wish otherwise, Justin Bieber lets us know during the first half of his highly anticipated third studio album that "I'm here to stay/I ain't going nowhere." But "Believe" also shows that he's growing up -- not necessarily turning into, oh, Bob Dylan on us and still tossing keywords like "baby" around with regularity, but at 18 displaying and appropriate amount of emotional maturity and increasing musical maturity that will keep the "Baby" babies on board and probably won't win too many adult converts. "Believe" alternates between clubby dance tracks such as "All Around the World" (with Ludacris), "As Long as You Love Me" (with Detroit's Big Sean), the Nicki Minaj-featuring "Beauty and a Beat" and the Diplo co-produced "Thought of You" and more organic, acoustic-guitar driven fare such as the single "Boyfriend" (co-written by Southfield's Mike Posner), "Fall" and "Be Alright." "Catching Feelings," which lists Babyface among its co-writers, is the best of the bunch, a smoothly melodic track whose ambivalence about friends turning into lovers sounds sincere coming out of his mouth. "One Love" wraps Bieber interestingly in chill restraint, and while he and Drake don't quite gel on the slow jam "Right Here," "Die In Your Arms is a breezy bit of Motowny soul-pop that even samples Michael Jackson's "We Got a Good Thing Going." Jackson is also referenced in the deluxe edition track "Maria," Bieber's version of "Billie Jean" that takes on the woman who accused him, falsely of paternity and incorporates plenty of Jackson vocalisms in its delivery. "Believe's" chief flaw is a lack of rhythmic swing in any of the songs, something you'd think at least some of the team of some two dozen producers could achieve. But it's still a reasonable next step forward in the teen heartthrob's career, and you better "Believe" he's planning to stay on that path for the foreseeable future.
Kenny Chesney, "Welcome to the Fishbowl" (Blue Chair/Columbia) ***
Like his lineal forebear Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney has enough staples in his catalog that new albums become exercises in finding good songs more than adding to the canon. So while you can bet that "Feel Like a Rock Star," Chesney's new duet with Tim McGraw, and the beach bum anthem "Time Flies" have a future in his live shows, "...Fishbowl" is really propelled by meaty, richly drawn and often sentimental character studies such as "Sing 'Em Good My Friend," "I'm a Small town" and "Makes Me Wonder," the latter with a clever chorus twist you don't see coming until you're there. "To Get to You (55thand 3rd)" and "Always Gotta Be You" show he can croon a convincing love song, and a live version of his last album hit "You and Tequila," with Grace Potter, is a bonus bit of levity on mostly heart-rending collection.
New & Noteworthy:
Gerald Albright and Norman Brown, "24/7" (Concord Jazz): A contemporary jazz team-up that blends Albright's saxophone with Brown's guitar on tracks that include covers of Ne-Yo and the Brothers Johnson favorites.
Fiona Apple, "The Idler Wheel..." (Epic): It's been seven years since we last heard from this compellingly indiosyncratic singer-songwriter, and she has a lot to say -- and not just in a title that's 23 words long.
Johnny Bassett, "I Can Make That Happen" (Sly Dog): The Detroit guitar hero keeps singing the blues with help from homeboys the Brothers Groove and the Motor City Horns.
Neneh Cherry & the Thing, "Cherry Thing" (Smalltown Supersound): The largely dormant Cherry joins the jazz trio named after one of her father Don Cherry's compositions and covers tunes by him, the Stooges, Suicide, Ornette Coleman.
The Dirty Heads, "Cabin By the Sea" (Five Seven Music): The sophomore album from the SoCal hippie rockers features guests Matisyahu, Rome, DEl the Funky Homosapien and Ky-Mani Marley.
Lita Ford, "Living Like a Runaway" (SPV/Steamhammer): The former Runaways guitarist collaborated with Gary Hoey on this punky 10 song set, which also includes a cover of 58's tongue-in-cheek "A Song to Slit Your Wrists By."
Groove Armada, "Presents Music For Pleasure" (Azuli): The British electronic duo blends together soul and classic rock favorites from the 70s, including big hits by Ambrosia, Toto, the Doobie Brothers and Hall & Oates.
Hacienda, "Shakedown" (Collective Sounds): The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach produced the San Antonio roots rockers' third album.
Glen Hansard, "Rhythm and Repose" (Anti-): The first solo album from the Frames frontman and "Once" film star sports a strong supporting cast, including Swell Season bandmate Marketa Irglova.
Sophie B. Hawkins, "The Crossing" (Trumpet Swan/Lightyear): The New York singer's first studio set in eight years includes a bonus acoustic version of her hit "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover."
Lostprophets, "Weapons" (Fearless): The Welsh rockers' fifth album has already debuted in the U.K. Top 10 and yielded a pair of hit singles.
Lit, "The View From the Bottom" (Megaforce): The California modern rockers turned to Butch Walker to produce their first new album in five years.
Men Without Hats, "Love in the Age of War" (Cobraside): The Canadian troupe of "The Safety Dance" fame returns with its first new release since 2003.
Steve Poltz, "Noineed Noiny Noin" (Arrival): The Southern California singer-songwriter is at his good-humored best on songs that chronicle, among other things, Johnny Cash's transvestite lover.
Return to Forever IV, "The Mothership Returns" (Eagle Rock): A two-CD/DVD chronicle of the latest, quintet incarnation of the famed jazz fusion group that includes violin virtuoso Jean-Luc Ponty.
Smashing Pumpkins, "Oceania" (Martha's Music/EMI/Caroline): The revived alt.rock group's first conventional release in five years spins off of its continuing "Teargarden By Kaleidyscope" digital initiative for releasing new music.
Chris Smither, "Hundred Dollar Valentine" (Signature Sounds): The New England-based singer-songwriter gets support from members of the Lemonheads and Morphine on his first collection of all-original material.
Mike Stern, "All Over the Place" (Heads Up International): The jazz and fusion guitarist gets help from Esperanza Spalding, Kenny Garrett, Randy Brecker and more on his first solo album since 2009.
Walk The Moon, "Walk The Moon" (RCA): The Cincinnati pop quartet makes its national debut with some buzz thanks to the single "Anna Sun."
Don Williams, "And So It Goes" (Sugar Hill): The veteran country icon gets help from Alison Krauss, Vince Gill and Keith Urban on first new album in eight years.
From The Vaults: Can, "Lost Tapes"; Ernie Kovacs, "Percy Dovetonsils Thpeaks" (Omnivore); Kylie Minogue, "The Best of Kylie Minogue" (EMI); Buck Owens, "Live at the White House" (Omnivore); Senses Fail, "Follow Your Bliss: The Best of..." (Staple/Workhorse); B.J. Thomas, "The Complete Scepter Singles" (Real Gone)
Soundtracks: Ramin Djawadi, "Game of Thrones: Season Two" (Varese Sarabande); Original Cast, "Queen of the Mist" (Razor & Tie); Various Artists, "Brave" (Walt Disney); Various Artists, "People Likes Us" (Lakeshore)
New Music DVDs: Jimmy Buffett, "Welcome to Fin City: Live From Las Vegas 2011" (Mailboat); John Mellendamp, "John Mellencamp: It's About You" (MPI); The Raconteurs, "Live at Montreux 2008" (Eagle Rock); Lee Ritenour, "Overtime" (Eagle Rock)
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