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The Listening Room: Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Kris Kristofferson and more...
Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite
For those who genuinely understood, this summit meeting is of the same magnitude to American roots enthusiasts as Jay-Z and Kanye West's The Throne was to the hip-hop community. It may not have the same kind of commercial clout, but the Ben Harper-Charlie Musselwhite pairing brings together artisans of two generations but similar inclinations, with equal enthusiasm for their craft and for continuing the musical traditions that have come before them -- although harmonica wizard Musselwhite can lay claim to have invented some of those during his nearly 50-year career. "Get Up!" finds the two getting down, dirty and raw, presenting a roots tutorial across 10 stark and stripped-down songs that range from the folky front-porch duo arrangement of "You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend)" to the dusty ambience of "I Ride at Dawn" and the gospel-flavored majesty of "We Can't End This Way" and "Don't Look Twice." "Blood Side Out" and the funky, expansive title track let Harper and Musselwhite rock a little harder and heavier, while "I Don't Believe a Word You Say" has a muscular oomph that amounts to a sonic slap upside the head. Harper's lyrics hope between celebrations and laments (perhaps exorcising the emotional residue of his split from actress Laura Dern), while his singing and playing -- particularly on slide guitar -- is sharp throughout the album. Musselwhite, meanwhile, is an effective complement, more ensemble player than soloist but certainly displaying his characteristic mettle on both fronts. It's an exceptional collaboration, and we certainly won't complain if they opt to pursue the partnership further in the (hopefully near) future.
Kris Kristofferson, "Feeling Mortal" (KK Records):***
At 76 and iconic turns in pop, rock and country (not to mention the silver screen), Kris Kristofferson has certainly earned the right to sing about "that old man there in the mirror." He doesn't always like what he sees, either, which fills this set, produced by Detroit native Don Was, with stark, reflective, confessional and unaplogetically melancholy songs -- though Kristofferson does get his dander up on tracks such as "Bread For the Body" and "Ramblin' Jack" (as in Elliott). Greg Leisz's pedal steel accents the moody ambience well, but it's Kristofferson's voice -- world-weary but still defiant -- that really howls out of the quiet.
New & Noteworthy:
A Rocket To the Moon, "Wild & Free" (Fueled By Ramen)": The Nashville rock group tweaks things a bit on its second album, working with hitmaking country producer Mark Bright.
Justin Bieber, "Believe Acoustic" (Schoolboy/RBMG/Island): The Biebs offers unplugged versions of songs from his second album. We can't guarantee these will keep his usually screaming fans quiet, however.
Blaudzun, "Heavy Flowers" (Krian Music Group): The U.S. debut of acclaimed Dutch singer-songwriter Johannes Sigmond, who took his music handle from an obscure Danish cyclist.
Blue Sky Riders, "Finally Home" (3 Dream): Kenny Loggins is joined by Nashville songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman in this "supergroup" of sorts.
Andrea Bocelli, "Passione" (Sugar/Verve): The acclaimed tenor is joined by Jennifer Lopez, Nelly Furtado and, posthumously, Edith Piaf on his second set of love songs in multiple languages.
Eric Burdon, " 'Til Your River Runs Dry" (ABKCO): Burdon is still going strong 50 years after starting the Animals, getting both personal and political on his first solo album in more than six years.
Terri Clark, "Classic" (Bare Track): After being released in her native Canada during November, the country singer's latest comes out in the U.S., sporting duets with Reba McEntire, Dierks Bentley, Tanya Tucker and others.
Cult of Luna, "Vertikal" (Density): The Swedish prog-metal troupe returns after a five-year break with a concept piece influenced by Fritz Lang's classic film "Metropolis."
Colton Dixon, "A Messenger" (Sparrow/19): The debut full-length from the faith-based "American Idol" Season 11 finalist.
Fiction Family, "Fiction Family Reunion" (Rock Ridge): The second collaboration between the unlikely duo of Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek alumnus Sean Watkins.
Frontier Ruckus, "Eternity of Dimming" (Quite Scientific): The Detroit-based roots quartet moves to a new, Michigan-based label for its third album, which it recorded in Ann Arbor.
Adam Green and Binki Shapiro, "Adam Green & Binki Shapiro" (Rounder/Concord): The bi-coastal singer-songwriter duo with Moldy Peaches (Green) and Little Joy (Shapiro) credits team up for a set of melodic, if occasionally quirky, folk-pop songs.
Hatebreed, "The Divinity of Purpose" (Nuclear Blast): The punky headbangers charge through 37 minutes of primal mosh pit anthems on its sixth album.
Leagues, "You Belong Here" (Bufalotone): The full-length debut from the rootsy and melodic Nashville rock trio.
Kiddo, "Where To?" (Vaziva Music/Fontana North): The full-length debut from the French singer-songwriter and daughter of actress/director Zabou Breitman and sculptor Fabien Chalon.
Local Natives, "Hummingbird" (Infectious Music/Frenchkiss): The Los Angeles quartet adds a little more shimmer to its sound for it sophomore album.
Lisa Loeb, "No Fairy Tale" (429): The singer-songwriter's helpers on her first album in eight years include New Found Glory's Chad Gilbert, who co-produced, Tegan and Sara, Hello Goodbye and others.
Cassadee Pope, "The Voice: Complete Season 3 Collection" (Universal Republic): A compilation of performances by the Hey Monday singer and darling of "The Voice's" third season.
Rock Candy Funk Party, "We Want Groove" (J&R Adventures): Always-busy guitar hero Joe Bonamassa gets himself into another musical situation, a quintet that explores vintage jazz-funk fusions of the 70s and early 80s.
Emmy Rossum, "Sentimental Journey" (Warner Bros.): The "Phantom of the Opera" film star hits the Great American songbook for her second album, taking on classics such as "Sentimental Journey," "Summer Wind" and "Pretty Paper."
Tegan & Sara, "Heartthrob" (Warner Bros.): The Canadian twin sisters turn to hitmaking producer Greg Kurstin (Kelly Clarkson, Ke$ha) for their seventh studio album.
Dale Watson, "El Rancho Azul" (Red House): The Texas country firebrand hit Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studio in Austin to record for the first time ever with his regular touring band, His Lonestars.
Trixie Whitley, "Fourth Corner" (Strong Blood): A strong, soulful solo debut from the voice of Daniel Lanois' Black Dub and the daughter of the late singer-songwriter Chris Whitley.
Charlie Wilson, "Love, Charlie" (P Music/RCA): Keith Sweat guests on the latest album from the former Gap Band singer known as "uncle" to everyone in the R&B and hip-hop worlds.
From The Vaults: Deep Purple, "Live in Paris 1975" (Eagle Rock); Destiny's Child, "Love Songs" (Music World/Columbia/Legacy); Doobie Brothers, "Playlist: The Very Best of the Doobie Brothers Live" (Sony Legacy); Fleetwood Mac, "Rumours: Expanded Edition" (Rhino); Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, "Texas Flood (30th Anniversary Collection) (Epic/Legacy); Johnny Winter And, "Live at the Fillmore East 10-3-70" (Collector's Choice Live)
Soundtracks: "The Mystery of Edwin Drood (New 2013 Broadway Cast Recording)" (DRG); Various Artists, "Boss (Original Television Soundtrack)" (Lakeshore)
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