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The Listening Room: Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, Earth Wind & Fire and more...

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

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Keith Urban


(Hit Red/Capitol)


Sheryl Crow

"Feels Like Home"

Warner Bros.


Country music is not exactly a stretch for Sheryl Crow; neither is pop for Keith Urban. So it's coincidental but still intriguing that the two are coming out with new albums on the same day that gravitate, successfully, towards each other's directions. The change certainly fits like a proverbial glove for Crow; her own singer-songwriter sensibilities have long embraced the image-rich, storytelling conventions of country music, and "Feels Like Home" -- with help from Brad Paisley, Justin Niebank, Chris DuBois and other country stalwarts -- actually hits more traditional points than most long-term country artists do today, particularly in tracks such as "Callin' Me When I'm Lonely," "Crazy Ain't Original" and "Homecoming Queen." But the rocker remains, too, and "Shotgun," "Nobody's Business" and the patriotic "Best of Times" are solid reminders of the world Crow came from. Urban, meanwhile, certainly increased his potential audience as an "American Idol" judge, and for "Fuse" he kept studio company with pop hitmakers such as Stargate, Benny Blanco, Butch Walker and Kevin Rudolf, who put a different kind of sheen on these 13 tracks (16 on the deluxe edition). Rhythmic loops work their way into "Red Camaro," "Little Bit of Everything" and other tracks, mixing with the guitars, banjos and other organic instrumentation that's Urban's stock in trade. "Fuse" does lean a bit heavy on same-sounding arrangements (gentle verses swelling into bombastic choruses) but the songs are consistently strong, and Urban's performances on both guitar and vocals -- including duets with Miranda Lambert ("We Were Us") and Eric Church ("Raise 'Em Up") -- certainly help the new sonic approaches go down easy.


Earth, Wind & Fire, "Now, Then & Forever" (Legacy) ***

Earth, Wind & Fire's first new album since 2005 sounds like it could have come out in 1975 -- and that's a good thing. Even though founder Maurice White, who's battling Parkinson's Diseases, wasn't part of the equation, the group's trademarks are all in place on these 10 tracks: Philip Bailey's soaring falsettos; smooth harmonies; tight brass arrangements; and Verdine White's phat bass holding down the bottom. It's as timeless as it is retro, however, meaning the four-on-the-floor disco grooves of "Dance Floor" and "Night of My Life," the airy harmonics of the instrumentals "Belo Horizonte" and "Splashes" (featuring Christian McBride on trumpet), and the pillowy "Guiding Light" and "Got To Be Love" don't sound at all dated. A welcome return from an old friend that's aging gracefully.

New & Noteworthy:

Geri Allen, "Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations" (Motema): The pianist digs into the musical heritage of her birthplace with help from fellow Detroit luminaries such as Marcus Belgrave, Gerald Wilson and Roy Brooks.

Arctic Monkeys, "AM" (Domino): The British rockers' fifth studio album features guest appearances by Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, Bill Ryder-Jones and Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas.

Ry Cooder & Corridos Famosos, "Live in San Francisco" (Nonesuch): The music auteur's first live album in 30 years showcases an all-star group that incorporates 10-piece Mexican brass band.

Gipsy Kings, "Savor Flamenco" (Knitting Factory): The French world music alchemists celebrate the group's 25th anniversary with its first set of new material in seven years.

Gloria Estefan, "The Standards" (Sony Masterworks): The Miami Sound Machine singer quiets it down on this lush trip into the Great American Songbook -- and beyond.

Goldfrapp, "Tales of Us" (Mute): The sixth studio album from the British electronic pop duo.

Ahmad Jamal, "Saturday Morning" (Jazz Village): The jazz master and his quartet loads up on original material for the follow-up to 2012's Grammy-nominated "Blue Moon."

Kaskade, "Atmosphere" (Ultra): The Chicago EDM DJ keeps the beats pounding to pounding on the successor to his Grammy-nominated 2011 set "Fire & Ice."

Katatonia, "Dethroned & Uncrowned" (Kscope): The Swedish headbangers funded their latest release via a PledgeMusic campaign.

Mark Knopfler, "Privateering" (Universal): The former Dire Straits leader's two-disc set gets a formal label release nearly a year after he put it out independently.

Madonna, "MDNA World Tour" (Interscope): The Material Girl re-lives her latest global trek in all its over-the-top opulence on CD, DVD and Blu-ray.

Man Man, "On Oni Pond" (Anti-): The experimental rock troupe from Philadelphia continues for find new ground to explore, this time with Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes producing.

Ministry, "From Beer to Eternity" (13th Planet): Industrial rock legend Al Jourgensen unleashes what he says will be Ministry's last album in the wake of guitarist Mike Scassia's death shortly after it was completed.

Janelle Monae, "The Electric Lady" (Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy): Monae continues her ambitious R&B-based eclecticism with Prince, Miguel, Erykah Badu, Solange and Esperanza Spalding along for the ride.

The Newsboys, "Restart" (Sparrow/Universal): The award-winning Christian rock group returns with the fourth album fronted by third frontman Michael Tait.

Redlight King, "Irons in the Fire" (Hollywood): The sophomore outing by Canadian rap-rock specialist Mark Kasprzyk and his cohorts.

Steep Canyon Rangers, "Tell the Ones I Love" (Rounder): The latest release from the bluegrass band best known for backing Steve Martin on his musical excursions.

Trombone Shorty, "Say That To Say This" (Verve): The New Orleans dynamo teamed with hitmaker Raphael Saadiq for his latest release and also put the Meters and Cyril Neville together for the first time since 1977.

2 Chainz, "B.O.A.T.S. 2# Metime" (Def Jam): The Atlanta rapper gets help from Drake, Lil Wayne, Fergie, T-Pain, Pharrell and more on his sophomore album.

Steve Wariner, "It Ain't All Bad" (SelecTone): The country guitar great cranks out his first new, non-instrumental album in eight years.

Jimmy Webb, "Still Within the Sound of My Voice" (eOne): The songwriting legend gives voice to his own songs with help from Keith Urban, Joe Cocker, Brian Wilson, Lyle Lovett, Carly Simon and more.

The Weeknd, [cq] "Kiss Land" (XO/Republic): Drake drops in for one song on the full-length debut by his fellow Toronto pop/R&B/hip-hop artist.

From The Vaults: Ane Brun, "Songs 2003-2013" (Balloon Ranger); The Clash, "Sound System," The Clash -- 5 Album Studio Set," "The Clash -- Hits Back" (all Epic/Legacy); Drive-By Truckers, "Alabama Ass Whuppin' " (ATO); Grateful Dead, "Dave's Picks: Volume 7 Horton field House, Illinois State...1978" (DeadNet/Rhino); Rise Against, "Long Forgotten Songs: B-Sides & Covers 2000-13" (Interscope)

Soundtracks: "Boardwalk Empire Volume 2: Music From the HBO Original Series" (ABKCO)

New Music DVDs: Willy DeVille, "Live in the Lowlands" (Eagle Rock); Rick James, "Superfreak & More" (Eagle Rock); Jon Lord, "Concerto For Group & Orchestra" (Eagle Rock); Madonna, "MDNA World Tour" (Interscope); Mike & the Mechanics, "Live at Shepherds Bush, London" (Eagle Rock); Portnoy Sheehan MacAlpine Sherinian, "Live in Tokyo" (Eagle Rock); Neil Sedaka, "Live at the Royal Albert Hall" (Eagle Rock); UB40, "Live at Montreux 2002" (Eagle Rock); Various Artists, "The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert" (Eagle Rock)

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