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Listening Room: John Mayer, Jimmy Buffett and more...
On last year's "Born and Raised," John Mayer dipped himself into California circa early 70s, especially the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter scene. Following throat surgeries and recovery, it's follow-up, co-produced by Detroit native Don Was, finds Mayer in a Montana state of mind -- both on the album cover but also in the wide-open, anything-goes attitude of these 11 tracks. There's a twangy ambience throughout the set thanks to pedal steel master Paul Franklin's presence on a few of the songs, as well as an overall gentleness that makes the tunes sound like they're being sung around a campfire or on a front porch. The opening "Wildfire," with its hand-clapping good-time feel, is about as rowdy as "Paradise Valley" gets, although the 90-second mid-album reprise with Frank Ocean is considerably more subtle. He and Katy Perry essentially come clean about their relationship with a their shoulder-shrugging duet "Who You Love," while "Paper Doll," Mayer's supposed retort to Taylor Swift's "Dear John," jabs lightly at its subject. A cover of the late J.J. Cale's "Call Me the Breeze" sounds more wheat field than Lynyrd Skynyrd's roadhouse take, and the closing "On the Way Home" is a folky soundtrack for last call. Mayer seems to be measuring the cost of his chosen craft these days -- "I got that dream but you got yourself a family," he tells a former lover in "Dear Marie" -- but he's also turned in some of his most peaceful music yet.
Jimmy Buffett, "Songs From St. Somewhere" (Mailboat) **1/2
Jimmy Buffett specializes in states of mind as much as songs -- evidence the enduring "Margaritaville" or new material such as "Somethin' 'Bout a Boat," "I want to Go Back to Cartagena" and the Toby Keith-assisted "Too Drunk to Karaoke." 16 tracks here are mostly a soundtrack to time spent wastin' away, although Buffett, who wrote or co-wrote 11 of the songs, remains a sophisticated songsmith with a taste for exceptional other writers such as Will Kimbrough, Jesse Winchester and Mark Knopfler, who also plays on two tracks including his own "Oldest Surfer on the Beach." "St. Somewhere" isn't quite as consistent as 2009's "Buffett Hotel," but it's a perfectly fine fix between boat drinks for any Parrothead worth his or her feathers.
New & Noteworthy:
blessthefall, "Hollow Bodies" (Fearless): The hardcore group from Phoenix gets help from Lights and members of August Burns Red and Stick To your Guns on its fourth studio album.
Blue October, "Sway" (Up/Down): A markedly more upbeat effort after frontman Justin Furstenfeld's bitter bloodletting on 2011's "Any Man in America."
Lee DeWyze, "Frames" (Vanguard): The Season 9 "American Idol" champ breaks from the reality show's camp with his fourth overall album.
Tim Easton, "Not Cool" (Campfire Propoganda): The singer-songwriter returns to his folk and honky-tonk roots on his 10th studio album.
The Greencards, "Sweetheart of the Sun" (Darling Street): The Austin, Texas bluegrass group's sixth album draws inspiration from co-founder Kym Warner and Carol Young's Australian upbringings.
Will Lee, "Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions" (Sinning Saint Ltd.): The first solo release by the "Late Show with David Letterman" bassist features guests such as Pat Metheny, ZZ Top`s Billy Gibbons, Toto`s Steve Lukather and more.
Tracy Lawrence, "Headlights, Taillights and Radios" (LMG): The country singer moves to his own label for his 14th release.
No Age, "An Object" (Sub Pop): The fourth full-length outing by the experimental punk duo from Los Angeles.
Run the Jewels, "Run the Jewels" (Fool's Gold): Rappers El-P and Killer Mike team up for their first joint album, with Big Boi and Prince Paul guesting.
Ty Segall, "Sleeper" (Drag City): The seventh solo album by the California garage rock singer-songwriter and member of bands such as Fuzz, Epsilons, the Traditional Fools and others.
Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby, "Cluck Ol Hen" (Skaggs Family): Hornsby hooks up again with musical running buddy Skaggs and his Kentucky Thunder band, this time for a live set that leans heavily on improvisation.
SOiL, "Whole" (Pavement/AFM): Original singer Ryan McCombs return to the Chicago hard rock troupe for its sixth studio effort.
Superchunk, "I Hate Music" (Merge): The North Carolina indie rockers turn in another aggressive effort that will at least make you feel fondly about the music they make.
Earl Sweatshirt, "Doris" (Tan Cressida/Columbia): The Odd Future MC's first solo album boasts features by Frank Ocean, RZA, Mac Miller and and Tyler, The Creator among others.
Tedeschi Trucks Band, "Made Up Mind" (Sony Masterworks): The third full-length release from the virtuoso large-scale rock group led by the husband-wife team of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks.
TGT, "Three Kings" (Atlantic): The first full-scale album by the R&B "supergroup" of Tyrese, Ginuwine and Tank.
Tessa Torrence, "Feel No Evil" (F&A/MRI): The debut album from the 21-year-old Austin, Texas, singer, songwriter and stepdaughter of the BoDeans' Kurt Neumann.
Travis, "Where You Stand" (Red Telephone Box/Kobalt): The seventh studio album and first set of new material in five years from the Scottish indie pop group.
Various Artists, "The Big E: A Salute to Seel Guitarist Buddy Emmons" (MPI/Warner Music Nashville): This tribute album and Country Music Hall of Fame fundraiser finds top steel players and vocalists (Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, etc.) paying homage to their famous forbear.
Laura Viers, "Warp & Weft" (Raven Marching Band): The ninth full album by idiosyncratic Colorado singer-songwriter Viers.
Warren Wolf, "Wolfgang" (Mack Avenue): The jazz vibraphonist fronts two different three-man rhythm sections on his latest release.
White Lies, "Big TV" (Harvest): The British modern rock group offers a dozen songs on its third album after limiting itself to 10 on its two predecessors.
From The Vaults: Fleetwood Mac, "Then Play On (Deluxe Edition)" (Rhino); The Lumineers, "The Lumineers (Deluxe Edition)" (Dualtone); Sarah McLachlan, "Essential" (Arista/Legacy); Nas, "The Essential Nas" (Columbia/Legacy); Britney Spears, "The Essential Britney Spears" (RCA/Legacy)
Soundtracks: Atli Orvarsson, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" (Milan)
New Music DVDs: Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin, "Invitation to Illumination -- Live at Montreux 2011" (Eagle Rock); Carrie Underwood, "The Blown Away Tour: LIVE" (19/Arista Nashville)
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