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The Listening Room: Aaron Neville, Ra Ra Riot and more...
"My True Story"
You could hardly predict that the first landmark album of 2013 would be...a doo-wop record. But "My Story" is a near perfect combination of the right singer taking on classic and timeless material, with a tailor-made band and a pair of producer (Detroit native Don Was and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards) who know exactly what to do with those elements. Besides possessing one of the finest voices in pop music history, Aaron Neville comes from doo-wop and knows how to work his angelic tones around all 12 of these tracks, whether it's the lush trappings of the title track (originally done by the Jive Five) or energetic revivals of classics such as a shuffling take on the Drifter's "Ruby Baby," a manly rendition of Bobby Day's "Itty Bitty Pretty One" and a jovial romp through Hank Ballard & the Midnighters' "Work With Me Annie" that features Neville's brother Art on organ. A couple of the tunes, such as the Impressions' "Gypsy Woman" and the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," aren't exactly from the doo-wop era but benefit from that treatment, while Neville and company fuse the Drifter's "This Magic Moment" and "True Love" into a buoyant late-album medley. Key to "My True Story's" success is its musicality; the vocals are still the star, of course -- and Neville is backed by vets from the Jive Five, the Teenagers and the Del-Vikings -- but the arrangements bring the band up in the mix more than in the originals, showcasing in particular the sharp six-string interplay between Richards and Greg Leisz and some tasteful saxophone and flute solos by Lenny Pickett. The results is a sum greater than its formidable parts and an album that makes a legendary part of pop history sound fresh again.
Ra Ra Riot, "Beta Love" (Barsuk) **1/2
On its third album, the Syracuse-formed group is less baroque and much more pop than on its predecessors -- partly, no doubt, owing to the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn. Violinist Rebecca Zeller still plays up a storm when called upon, but that's not too often on "Beta Love," whose 11 tracks are marked by brevity (the longest song weighs in at 3.16) and uptempo, kinetic arrangements that lean towards hooky joy on "Binary Mind," "Angel, Please," "I Shut Off" and the title track. "That Much" shows Ra Ra Riot has also listened to some Hall & Oates records, while "When I Dream" and "What I Do For U" get into vibey R&B and "Wilderness" exhibits a kind of spectral ambience. There's a bit of tentativeness in this new direction, but it actually accents the wide-eyed freshness of the endeavor.
New & Noteworthy:
Gary Allan, "Set You Free" (MCA Nashville): The country singer worked with a team of top-shelf producers on his ninth album, but shared duties himself on nine of its 12 tracks.
Adam Ant, "Adam Ant is the BlueBlack Hussar Marrying The Gunner's Daughter" (BlueBlack Hussar): The glam-rock icon's first solo album in nearly 18 years includes collaborations with longtime cohort and Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni and Oasis/Beady Eye member Andy Bell.
Bad Religion, "True North" (Epitaph): The long-lived California punk band is at its fist-waving, socio-political best on its 16th studio album.
Patricia Barber, "Smash" (Concord Jazz): The singer-pianist-composer dishes out a new set of songs as well as a new band on her eighth album.
Camper Van Beethoven, "La Costa Perdida" (429): The California alt.rockers cite "Holland"-era Beach Boys as the primary influence on its first new album in nine years.
Marshall Crenshaw, "I Don't See You Laughing Now" (self-released): The veteran pop troubadour launches his subscription series with this first EP that includes a new song, a cover of The Move's "No Time" and a live version of his own "There She Goes Again" with the Bottle Rockets.
Dolly Varden, "For A While" (Evil Teen): The country-tinged Chicago rock troupe releases its first new album in five years.
Ex Cops, "True Hallucinations" (Other Music): The new Brooklyn band founded by former members of Hymns and Minks releases its first album after previewing with a single during the spring of 2012.
Max Gomez, "Rule the World" (New West): The debut outing by the rocking Americana singer-songwriter from New Mexico.
Petra Haden, "Petra Goes to the Movies" (Anti-): The former That Dog member tucks into score material from "Psycho," "Goldfinger," "Taxi Driver" and other films, reeling her own creative spins into the mix.
Randy Houser, "How Country Feels" (Stoney Creek): The country hitmaker loosens the songwriting reins on his third album, which is already riding the momentum of its hit lead single "How Country Feels."
Jose James, "No Beginning No End" (Blue Note): The debut outing by the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter, who produces an eclectic blend of jazz and R&B with help from Robert Glasper, Emily King and others.
The Joy Formidable, "Wolf's Law" (Atlantic): The Welsh rock group's second album takes its title from German surgeon Julius Wolff's theory about bone strength. Not exactly a booty call, is it?
The Lone Below, "The Lone Below" (Descendent): The debut outing from the rootsy, rocking trio previously known as Zach Williams & the Below.
Steve Lukather, "Transition" (Mascot): The Toto guitarist brings a cadre of all-stars -- Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Def Leppard's Phil Collen and others -- on board for his latest solo outing.
Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition, "White Buffalo" (Fat Possum): The Squirrel Nut Zippers co-founder launches his latest enterprise with this 10-song Americana travelogue.
Otep, "Hydra" (Victory): Heavy metal stalwart Otep Shamaya says farewell to recording with a 70-minute concept album whose bloody psychodrama will also be turned into a graphic novel.
Overmountain Men, "The Next Best Thing" (Ramseur): The sophomore release from the group formed by Avett Brothers bassist Bob Crawford and North Carolina singer-songwriter David Childers.
Rival Sons, "Head Down" (Earache): The third album from the hard rocking Long Beach, Calif., quartet earned a name-check from Jimmy Page as one of his new favorites.
Carrie Rodriguez, "Give Me All You Got" (Ninth Street Opus): The singer-songwriter blends together the styles of her native Texas and her current base of Brooklyn on her fifth full-length release.
Snowden, "No One in Control" (Serpents & Snakes): The Atlanta indie rockers' first full-length in nearly seven years was recorded in Benton Harbor and is being released by Kings Of Leon's label.
Trapt, "Reborn" (Everything): The California hard rockers leave the label world to release their fifth album independently.
The Used, "Vulnerable (II)" (Hopeless): The Orem, Utah goupr re-releases its 2012 album with a second disc that includes demos, remixes and acoustic versions of the original material.
Various Artists, "12-12-12: The Concert For Sandy Relief" (Columbia): The benefit concert's highlights package comes out in physical form after an iTunes release last months.
Various Artists, "2013 Grammy Nominees" (Capitol): fun., the Black Keys, Jack White, Gotye and more are spotlighted on this warm-up disc for Music's Biggest Night.
Various Artists, "They All Played For Us" (Arhoolie): The legendary Arhoolie Records' 50th anniversary concert is captured on four discs, featuring performances by Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Maria Muldaur and more.
Voivod, "Target Earth" (Century Media): The heavyweight Canadian prog-rockers feel lucky as they release their 13th studio album, which was recorded in Quebec.
From The Vaults: The Blue Nile, "A Walk Across the Rooftops," "Hats" (Virgin); Billy Joel, "She's Got a Way: Love Songs" (Columbia/Legacy); The Pogues, "The Very Best of the Pogues" (Shout! Factory); Say Anything, "All My Friends Are Enemies: Early Rarities" (Equal Vision)
Soundtracks: Steve Jablonsky, "Gangster Squad" (Varese Sarabande)
New Music DVDs: "Searching For Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures)
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