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The Listening Room: Skylar Grey, the Mother Hips and more...
"Don't Look Down"
This is technically Skylar Grey's debut album -- but there's more to the story than that. As Holly Brook (nee Hafermann) during the last decade the singer and songwriter was part of Linkin Park's Machine Shop Recordings. She's also performed on songs by Dr. Dre, Lupe Fiasco, Diddy Dirty Money and Kaskade and co-wrote Eminem's Grammy Award-winning "Love the Way You Lie." So she's not exactly new, but Grey is getting a fresh start under the auspices of producer Alex da Kid, resulting in a somewhat messy 12-song set that seems to pit what Grey wants to -- or thinks she should -- be against her natural creative leanings. At her heart she's a pop singer-songwriter with a knack for waxing about lost or troubled relationships with genuine emotional heft -- evidence the mother-daughter dialogue in "Wear Me Out," the ambivalence of "Back From the Dead" (with Big Sean and Travis Barker) and a discussion about an out of wedlock child in "S***, Man!" that feels significantly more real-life than Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach." Grey certainly knows how to have a good time (the goofy "C'Mon Let Me Ride" with Eminem) and displays some convincingly unhinged, hellacious fury in "Final Warning," but the big beats laid against the melodies of tracks such as "Sunshine," "Glow in the Dark" and "Tower (Don't Look Down") simply don't jibe. The album-closing "White Suburban" leaves us with everything we need to know about the real Grey -- just a voice and a piano, lamenting about the one that got away but still standing in the wake of the loss.
The Mother Hips, "Behind Beyond" (Mother Hips): **
The San Francisco troupe's eighth studio album provides the remedy for those looking for a summer Grateful Dead-style jam band fix -- which you'd be hard-pressed to say is not a good thing. Like its Bay Area forebears, the group stirs together a subtle soup of rock. folk and country influences into songs that go down easy, even if they're anything but. "Toughie" shuffles with a head of steam while "Best Friend in Town" shows some grit in its biting guitar lines, and "Rose of Rainbows" shimmers with all the hippie euphoria the title implies. It's not quite going to get anyone to put away their copies of "American Beauty" or "Workingman's Dead," but it certainly lives up to the opening track's declaration that "the music is the one thing."
New & Noteworthy:
Earl Poole Ball, "Pianography" (Tin Tube Tunes): The Texas keyboard ace and session veteran (the Byrds, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and more) offers up a hodge podge of brand new material, live tracks and vault recordings.
Ciara, "Ciara" (Epic): The Texas-born singer's fifth album loads up the guest list with the likes of Nicki Minaj and B.o.B. along with a formidable corps of producers such as >.A. Reid, Rodney Jerkins, the Underdogs and Josh Abraham.
Front Line Assembly, "Echogenetic" (Metropolis): The Canadian industrial troupe's latest is perhaps its most danceable yet -- but doesn't lose the hard 'n' heavy edge that's its trademark.
The Deadly Gentlemen, "Roll Me, Tumble Me" (Rounder): The rootsy Boston acoustic string band stays irreverent and spirited as ever on its third release.
Dana Fuchs, "Bliss Avenue" (Ruf): Another set of feral blues-belting from the "Across The Universe" film star.
Gregory Alan Isakov, "The Weatherman" (Suitcase Town): The highly anticipated third album from the Colorado-based troubadour from South African.
Geoffrey Keezer, "Heart of the Piano" (Motema): The jazz pianist's first solo set in 13 years pays tribute to an eclectic set of favorites, including Rush, Peter Gabriel, Alanis Morissette, Christian McBride and Hank Jones.
King Kobra, "II" (Frontiers): The second album by the latest incarnation of the 80s Los Angeles hard rock group.
Maps, "Vicissitude" (mute): British electronic singer and songwriter James Chapman returns after a three-year gap between albums with a set recorded at his own home studio.
Michael Martin Murphey, "Red River Drifter" (Red River Entertainment): The veteran Texas troubadour and "Wildfire" hitmaker offers an array of American musical flavors on his latest set of songs.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, "That`s It" (Legacy): The legendary New Orleans ensemble makes history with its first set of original material in 50 years, co-produced by My Morning Jacket's Jim James.
Sirenia, "Perils of the Blue Deep" (Nuclear Blast): The Norwegian metal group's sixth album gleans some influence from frontman Aiylin's recent stint with a full-fledged choir in the band's homeland.
Status Quo, "Bula Quo!" (Eagle Rock): The two-disc soundtrack to the feature film of the same name includes the veteran British group's 100th single as well as live renditions of many of its favorites.
Thundercat, "Apocalypse" (Brainfeeder): Experimental artist Stephen Bruner knits together so many different ideas and influences that this feels more like a beginning than any kind of catastrophic end.
Trampled Under Foot, "Badlands" (Telarc): The debut outing by the hard-rocking sibling blues trio from Kansas City, winners of the 2008 International Blues Challenge.
Pat Travers Band, "Can Do" (Frontiers): The workhorse blues-rock guitarist shows he isn't running out of ideas as he nears his 40th anniversary of recording.
Various Artists, "Sweet Relief III: Pennies From Heaven" (Vanguard): New songs by Ron Sexsmith, k.d. lang, She & Him, Jackson Browne, Ben Harper and more populate the latest installment of this benefit for the musicians assistance fund.
Whitesnake, "Made In Britain/The World Record" (Frontiers): A two-disc live set hailing from the group's world touring during 2011 -- and including a medley of a couple songs frontman David Coverdale sing during his time with Deep Purple.
Soundtracks: Ramin Djawadi, "Game of Thrones, Season 3" (Water Tower); Cast Recording, "Pippin" (Ghostlight)
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