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The Listening Room: Gary Clark Jr., Tony Bennett and more...
Gary Clark Jr.
"Blak and Blu"
We've heard this story before; a hotshot guitar player making big noise on a local scene, finally exploding with a major label debut. But Gary Clark Jr. arrives as something of a different creature than late forebears such as Jimi Hendrix or fellow Austin, Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan; yes, he's steeped in the blues and plays searing solos that elevate nearly every one of the 13 songs here, but he works from a much broader stylistic palette than you'd expect from just looking at him on paper. Chuck Berry and classic rock are in his DNA, but so are Prince and Lenny Kravitz, making "Blak and Blu" a diverse and gleefully unfocused ride that cruises through everything from contemporary, hip hop-flavored R&B ("The Life"), brassy funk-rock ("Ain't Messin' Around"), a rustic, back porch roots workout ("Next Door Neighbor Blues") and the vibey psychedelic soul of the title track. "Numb" sounds like an acid rock remake of the Beatles' "Come Together," while "Please Come Home" nods to doo wop, albeit with a fierce, jagged solo. The best part is it all holds up even amidst the leaden stomp of tracks such as "When My Train Pulls In," "Bright Lights," "You Saved Me" and a bruising medley of Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun" and Little Johnny Taylor's "If You Love Me Like You Say." Clark's songwriting doesn't quite rise to the admirable breadth of his ambition, but in most cases it's better than passable, and his playing makes "Blak and Blu" an arrival moment of someone we'll surely be listening to, intently, for years to come.
Tony Bennett, "Viva Duets" (Columbia) **1/2
Tony Bennett does duets well. His two previous collaborative sets both went platinum, and last year's "Duets II" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. "Viva Duets" puts a different spin on the concept, pairing the singer and a set of Great American Songbook favorites with Latin artists, although on a rendition of the Dean Martin-popularized "Return to Me" features an ethnic flavor in its arrangement. But there are still plenty of delights on these dozen tracks, including playful renditions of "Steppin' Out" and "The Best is Yet to Come" with Christina Aguilera and Chayanne, respectively, brassy takes on "Rags to Riches" (Romeo Santos) and "Just In Time" (Juan Luis Guerra), and lush versions of "For Once in My Life" (Marc Anthony) and "Who Can I Turn To..." (Gloria Estefan). Even at 86, Bennett can sing, and sing well, with just about anybody.
New & Noteworthy:
Paul Banks, "Banks" (Matador): The Interpol frontman issues a solo album under his own name after several releases as Julian Plenti.
The Bar-Kays, "Grown Folks" (Bungalo): With two original members still active, the Memphis group continues to make sweet soul music.
Cafe Tacvba, [cq] "Objecto Antes Llamado Disco" (Universal Music Mexico): The title of the Rock en Espanol group's latest translates to "The Object Formerly Known as CD."
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, "Wreck and Ruin" (Sugar Hill): The second album of duets by the lauded Australian country singer and her husband.
Billy Ray Cyrus, "Change My Mind" (Blue Cadillac): the father of Miley offers up 10 new tracks for his 13th studio album, which comes 20 years after his debut.
Diamond Rings, "Free Dimensional" (Secret City/Astralwerks): The second full-length set from the Toronto bred and based electronic artist.
Further Seems Forever, "Penny Black" (Rise): Chris Carrabba returns to his pre-Dashboard Confessional band for its first new album in eight years.
Steve Hackett, "Genesis Revisited II" (12th St.): The former Genesis guitarist returns to his old band's catalog on this two-disc set.
Ill Nino, "Epidemia" (Victory): Studio album number six from the headbanging New Jersey sextet.
Kendrick Lamar, "Good Kid: M.A.A.D City" (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): The first solo album from the Black Hippy member features collaborations with Drake, Pharrell Williams, MC Eiht and more.
Lang Lang, "The Chopin Album" (Sony Classical): The youthful Chinese pianist digs into Etudes and Nocturnes from the prolific Polish composer's repertoire.
Motorhead, "The World Is Ours -- Vol. 2" (Motorhead Music/EMI): A second set of live recordings from 2011 features key festival appearances in the U.K., Brazil and Germany.
Night Ranger, "24 Strings & a Drummer -- Live & Acoustic" (Frontiers): The title says it all as the 80s rock faves unplug on this new concert set.
P.O.S., "We Don't Even Live Here" (Rhymesayers): Minnesota electronic artist Stefan Alexander's fifth studio album features guests such as Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Gayngs' Ryan Olson, Doomtree and others.
Neal Schon, "The Calling" (Frontiers): The Journey guitarist is joined by keyboardist Jan Hammer on one of the dozen instrumental tracks from his latest solo album.
Shiny Toy Guns, "III" (Five Seven Music): The third album, and first in four years, from the Grammy Award-nominated Los Angeles electropop quartet.
Sister Sin, "Now and Forever" (Victory): A fourth album from the female-fronted (Liv Jagrell) Swedish heavy metal band.
Taylor Swift, "Red" (Big Machine): The Nashville songstress' fourth album (see interview, page XX) introduces a wealth of new collaborators and has already sent four tracks to the top of the iTunes charts.
The Sword, "Apocryphon" (Razor & Tie): The heavy rock quartet from Austin, Texas, inserts some more space and dynamics into its fourth album.
Titus Andronicus, "Local Business" (XL): the third full-length album from the New Jersey indie jam band named after a Shakepeare play.
Various Artists, "REWORK_Philip Glass Remixed" (Orange Mountain/Ernest Jenning/The Kora): Beck, Amon Tobin and My Great Ghost are among those playing with the contemporary composer's work on this remix collection.
Karyn White, "Carpe Diem" (KW/Lightyear/EMI): The first new album in 17 years from the Los Angeles R&B diva.
From The Vaults: The Doors, "Live at the Hollywood Bowl '68" (Eagle Rock/Rhino); Peter Gabriel, "So (25th Anniversary)" (Real World/EMI); The Infamous Stringdusters, "Silver Sky -- Deluxe Edition" (High Country/SCI Fidelity)
Soundtracks: Neil Davidge, "Halo 4" (7Hz/The End); Various Artists, "The Man With the Iron Fists" (Soul Temple)
New Holiday Albums: Colbie Caillat, "Christmas in the Sand" (Universal Republic); Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three" (Rhino); Lady Antebellum, "On This Winter's Night" (Capitol); Richard Marx, "Christmas Spirit" (Xenon)); Polyphonic Spree, "Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One" (Kirtland); "A Christmas Story -- The Musical" (Masterworks)
New Music Videos: Peter Gabriel, "So -- Classic Albums" (Eagle Rock); Steel Panther, "British Invasion" (Guitar Anarchy Studios); Tarja Turunen, "Act 1" (Eagle Rock)
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