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The Listening Room: Blake Shelton, The Strokes and more...
"Based On A True Story"
Warner Bros. Nashville
Forget the contestants; Blake Shelton is arguably the biggest winner to come out of NBC's "The Voice." The show's amiable country judge was a popular enough figure in the genre, but put him on TV and he gets his first No. 1 and platinum album with 2011's "Red River Blue," with four chart-topping country singles to boot. "Based on a True Story" is already off to a strong start with the first single, "Sure Be Cool If You Did" -- as polished and melodic as any pop hit -- notching Shelton's eighth country No. 1. Most of the album's other 12 songs, meanwhile, make it clear that despite the mass media notoriety Shelton still considers himself a proud country boy -- declaring his beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin' "redneck" loyalties on the opening "Boys 'Round Here" (with wife Miranda Lambert and her Pistol Annies) and celebrating the joys of listing to "Country on the Radio" on another track. Shelton keeps things kicking on tracks such as the fish-out-of-water ode "Small Town Big Time," "Ten Times Crazier" and the irreverent "I Still Got a Finger," (that would be the middle one), while his guy-next-door tenor really showcases on smoother, more melodic fare like "My Eyes," "Lay Low" and "Doin' What She Likes." "Do You Remember" is a bittersweet power anthem, while "Granddaddy's Gun" is sentimental without getting too cornpone. Shelton didn't write any of the songs this time out, but a top-shelf crew of Nashville's best -- Rhett Atkins, Dallas Davidson, Craig Wiseman, Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins and more -- clearly know how to craft songs that are true to Shelton's character. He asks at one point if we "wonder why country songs say the same old thing," but when they're sung this well, we pretty much have our answer.
The Strokes, "Comedown Machine" (RCA) ***
It's a mark of just how good the Strokes' 2001 debut "Is This It?" was that we still remain fascinated by what the band's up to even after subsequent releases have come up well short of that initial standard. But on "Comedown Machine," its fifth studio album, the quintet is more interesting than ever, diving joyfully and unapologetically into an 80s-style aesthetic filled with offhanded dance grooves, kinetic dynamics and plenty of exceptional melodies amidst 11 breezy tracks. The opening "Tap Out" sounds like U2 channeled through the Gang Of Four, while "One Way Trigger" sounds like something straight out of the a-ha songbook. "50/50," "Welcome to Japan," "Partners in Crime" and "All the Time" are brash blasts of energy, complementing the textured ambience of "80s Comedown Machine," "Chances" and "Call It Fate, Call It Karma." Call it what you will; it's as good as anything the Strokes have produced since "Is This It?"
New & Noteworthy:
David Archuleta, "Now Matter How Far" (eOne): The "American Idol" runner-up, currently serving a church mission in South America, mixes brand new material with previously unreleased tracks on this stop-gap set.
Diane Arkenstone, "Union Road" (Pacifica): The sophomore set from the New Agey singer-songwriter concludes with a "Dulcimer Suite" -- not the kind of thing you hear on every album these days.
Sebastian Bach, "Abachalypse Now" (Frontiers): The former Skid Row frontman delivers his band's classics and solo favorites on this concert CD-DVD recorded and filmed in Belgium, France and Los Angeles.
The Black Lillies, "Runaway Freeway Blues" (North Knox): The third album from the widely acclaimed Americana troupe from Knoxville, Tenn.
Black Rebel Motorycle Club, "Specter at the Feast" (Abstract Dragon/Vagrant): The California alt.rockers mourn the loss of mentor (and bassist Robert Levon Been's father) Michael Been on it sixth studio album.
Joe Bonamassa, "An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House" (J&R Adventures): The guitar hero shows his quieter side on this CD-DVD set from Austria.
Crystal Bowersox, "All That For This" (Shanachie): The ninth season "American Idol" finalist's latest album was produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, with a guest appearance by Jakob Dylan.
Crime & the City Solution, "American Twilight" (Mute): Simon Bonney's Australian troupe recorded its first new set in 13 years in Detroit, with indigenous new recruits such as Matthew Smith and Troy Gregory.
Depeche Mode, "Delta Machine" (Columbia): The U.S.-based British electronic rock trio's first new album in four years should be "Heaven" for fans of the veteran group.
Dido, "Girl Who Got Away" (RCA): The British singer taps a number of collaborators -- including Jeff Bhasker and her brother Rollo Armstrong -- on her fourth studio album and first release in nearly five years.
Fred Hammond, et al "United Tenors" (RCA): The gospel great has put together a veritable vocal Mount Rushmore on this set, including Dave Hollister, Brian Courtney Wilson and Eric Roberson.
Alan Jackson, "Precious Memories Volume II" (ACR/EMI Nashville): The country stars second set of gospel hymns comes seven years after the platinum-plus first "Precious Memories" album.
Lil Wayne, "I Am Not a Human Being II" (Young Money/Cash Money/Republic): The rapper's recent health issues has certainly put a spotlight on his latest release, which features guest appearances by Drake, 2 Chainz, Woulja Boy and Detroit's Big Sean.
OneRepublic, [cq] "Native" (Mosely Music Group/Interscope): The first new album in nearly from the pop-rock group led by ubiquitous frontman and hitmaker-for-others Ryan Tedder.
Senses Fail, "Renacer" (Staple): The New Jersey hardcore group releases its first album without co-founding guitarist Garrett Zablocki.
Sevendust, "Black Out the Sun" (Asylum): The Atlanta headbangers' new album is the group's first in three years.
Harper Simon, "Division Street" (Tulsi/[PIAS] America): For his second album, Paul Simon's son is backed by members of the STrokes, Bright Eyes, Wilco and Elvis Costello's Attractions.
The Story So Far, "What You Don' See" (Pure Noise): New Found Glory's Steven Klein produced the sophomore album for this California punk rock group.
Streetlight Manifesto, "Hands That Thieve" (Pentimento/Victory): The California ska-punk group's fifth album was supposed to be released last year but surfaces with some new songs created during the wait.
Suicidal Tendencies, "13" (Suicidal): The influential hardcore metal group thrashes out its first album of all-new material since 2000.
Thompson Square, "Just Feels Good" (Stoney Creek): After a Top 5 debut album, a No. 1 hit ("Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not") and Vocal Duo honors from the ACM and CMA, this husband-wife country team has every reason to feel pretty fine on its sophomore set.
The Waterboys, "Appointment With Mr. Yeats" (Proper American): Mike Scott and company tap into the works of poet W.B. Yeats on an album that first came out overseas in 2011.
Wavves, "Afraid of Heights" (Mom+Pop/Warner Bros.): The San Diego surf punks tap Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis for a little help on its fourth studio album.
Wire, "Change Becomes Us" (Pink Flag): The arty British rock troupe reaches back to song ideas from its earliest days (circa 1980), updating and finishing them for the group's 13th studio release.
From The Vaults: Gene Clark, "Here Tonight: The White Light Demos" (Omnivore); Steve Forbert, "Alive On Arrival/Jack Rabbit Slim (Special Anniversary Edition)" (Blue Corn Music); Iron Maiden, "Maiden England" (Xenon); Stephen Stills, "Carry On" (Atlantic/Rhino); Stryper, "Second Coming" (Frontiers); Tool, "Opiate" (self-released)
New Music Videos: Peter Frampton, "Live in Detroit" (Eagle Rock Blu-ray)
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