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The Listening Room: Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews Band and more...
We could be excited about Bob Dylan's 35th studio album because he's an iconic legend of American popular music, or because it's the 50th anniversary of the release of his first album. But there's an even better reason; because it's excellent, another standard-setter on a roll Dylan has been on since 1997's Album of the Year Grammy winner "Time Out of Mind." "Tempest" finds Dylan and his sharp, intuitive band -- which includes guitarist Charlie Sexton and Los Lobos multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo -- stirring up just what the title suggests with everything from edgy love songs like "Duquesne Whistle," where you're not sure whether the object of his affection is coming or going, to "Tin Angel," a rolling folk murder/revenge ballad with a body count that would impress Tony Soprano. "Early Roman Kings" is a stark, Muddy Water blues that spouts a 1 percent-damning social commentary written expressly for these times (it even references "the day Detroit fell") while "Pay in Blood" has a soulful grace that would make Smokey Robinson proud, though Motown has never racked up a death toll quite like this song's. "Tempest's" highlights, meanwhile, come at the end. The title track is a richly and graphically detailed 14-minute recitation of the Titanic tragedy, complete with reference to "Titanic" star Leonardo DiCaprio, while "Roll On John" is Dylan's tribute to the late John Lennon, incorporating references to Lennon lyrics and melodies over its seven and a half minutes. There aren't many septuagenarian singer-songwriters who have spent the past 15 years routinely delivering at this high a level, but Dylan, as we know, is one of a kind and, as the man himself sings here, "I ain't dead yet/My bell still rings." Beautifully.
Dave Matthews Band, "Away From the World" (RCA) ***
"I'm too old to wanna be younger now," Dave Matthews sings about halfway through his band's first new album in three years, and it's an apt summation of the overall tact in these 11 songs, which straddle a line between adult complexities and arrested adolescence. The latter can be found in sex-fixated tracks such as the playful "Belly Belly Nice" (you'll never think of the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme quite the same) and "Rooftop," while more adult and socially conscious concerns crop up in the single "Mercy," "Gaucho" and the album-closing epic "Drunken Soldier." With producer Steve Lillywhite back on board for the first time in a decade, the DMB is in crackling, energetic form from the opening notes of "Broken Things," with violinist Boyd Tinsley a typical standout and Tim Reynolds' electric guitar adding to the sonic tapestry, while the group's penchant for rich dynamic builds are fully intact on songs such as "Sweet," "Snow Outside" and the soulful "If Only." An inspiring addition to the catalog.
New & Noteworthy:
The Avett Brothers, "The Carpenter" (Universal Republic): The North Carolina roots rock trio took a bit of control back from producer Rick Rubin on this set, and sings about a "Pretty Girl From Michigan" in the process.
Billy Talent, "Dead Silence" (Roadrunner/Warner Bros.): Guitarist Ian D'Sa produced the fifth album by the punkish Canadian rock quartet.
Blaqk Audio, "Bright Black Heaven" (Superball): The second album by the electronic side project of AFI members Davey Havok and Jade Puget.
Kix Brooks, "New To This Town" (Arista Nashville): The other half of Brooks & Dunn teams with Joe Walsh and Rascal Flatt's Jay DeMarcus on his first solo album.
David Byrne & St. Vincent, "Love This Giant" (Todo Mundo/4AD): The former Talking Heads frontman and Oklahoma-born songstress experiment with brass constructions on this duo project.
Calexico, "Algiers" (Anti-): The eclectic Arizona troupe's recorded its first new album in four years at a converted church in the New Orleans neighborhood that gave the album its title.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, "The Magic Door" (Silver Arrow/Megaforce): The Black Crowes frontman wasted little time (three months) in releasing the follow-up to his other band's June debut.
Bucky Covington, "Good Guys" (eOne Music): The former "American Idol" finalist's second album includes a duet with Shooter Jennings on the single "Drinking Side of Country."
Firewater, "International Orange!" (Bloodshot): World music auteur Tod A and Balkan Beat Box's Tamir Muskat, recording in Turkey and Tel Aviv during the Arab Spring, continue the heady explorations they began on 2007's "The Golden Hour."
Neil Halstead, "Palindrome Hunches" (Brushfire): The third solo album from the British songwriter and founder of the bands Slowdive and Mojave 3.
Hoobastank, "Fight or Flight" (Open E): The California rockers leave the major label world on its fifth album and returns to a sound closer to its mid-90s alt.rock.
Patterson Hood, "Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance" (ATO): The Drive-By Truckers frontman gets help from his bandmates and from his father, legendary Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood, on his third solo album.
Chris Knight, "Little Victories" (Drifter's Church): The Nashville troubadour digs into the socio-economic straits of his native Slaughters, Ky., on this poignant new release.
Little Big Town, "Tornado" (Capitol Nashville): The quartet's fifth album has already spawned its first No. 1 country hit, "Pontoon."
Kathy Mattea, "Calling Me Home" (Sugar Hill): The onetime country hitmaker continues the Appalachian music exploration she began on 2008's "Coal."
miggs, "15th & Hope" (Elm City): The San Francisco quartet recorded its fifth album with Lifetime Grammy Award winning producer Phil Ramone.
NOFX, "Self Entitled" (Fat Wreck Chords): The long-lived California punk band returned to the Descendents' Bill Stevenson and his Blasting Room studio in Colorado for its 12th studio album.
Pet Shop Boys, "Elysium" (Astralwerks): The British electro-pop duo joined forces with Kanye West/Jay-Z collaborator Andrew Dawson for a change-of-pace entry in its 11-album catalog.
Raveonettes, "Observator" (Vice): The Swedish duo reconvenes with producer Richard Gottehrer, who worked with the band on 2005's "Pretty in Black."
Time Jumpers, "Time Jumpers" (Rounder): The debut outing by the all-star Western swing troupe featuring Vince Gill, Paul Franklin and other Nashville luminaries.
Tom Tom Club, "Downtown Rockers" (Nacional): The Talking Heads' husband-wife duo returns with its first fresh material in 12 years, six new songs, four instrumentals and a dub mix of the title track.
Various Artists, "Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album" (Capitol): Author E.L. James personally curated this 15-track set of music to accompany her popular novel series.
The xx, "Coexist" (Young Turks): The hip British indie trio's sophomore album digs deeper into club influences than its 2009 debut.
ZZ Top, "La Futura" (American): The lil ol' Texas trio teamed with Grammy Award-winner Rick Rubin on this 10-song set, its first full album since 2003.
From The Vaults: Emerson, Lake and Palmer, "Emerson Lake and Palmer (Deluxe Edition)," "Tarkus (Deluxe Edition") (Razor & Tie); The Knack, "Rock & Roll is Good For You" (Omnivore)
Soundtracks: Ross Lynch, "Austin & Ally" (Walt Disney); Various Artists, "Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap" (Legacy)
New Music DVDs: George Martin, "Produced By George Martin" (Eagle Rock); Rolling Stones, "Some Girls" (Eagle Rock); Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones, "LIve at the Checkerboard Lounge Chicago 1981" (Eagle Rock)
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