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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Jack Johnson, Elvis Costello and the Roots, and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

» See more SOUND CHECK

POP

Jack Johnson

"From Here to Now to You"

(Brushfire/Universal Republic)

***

On his sixth studio album, Jack Johnson comes home again -- not that he necessarily strayed that far in the first place. But where 2008's "Sleep Through the Static" and 2010's "To the Sea" found him mining, effectively, darker lyrical terrain and pushing a bit more electric guitar into the mix, "From Here to Now To You" returns to the breezy, acoustic-based front porch feel of his earlier albums. The 12-track set does reunite him with producer Mario Caldato, Jr., who also helmed 2005's "In Between Dreams" and brings the right touch to the spare and subtly ornamented arrangements that are Johnson's stock in trade, never letting things get too far away from the singer and his easygoing guitar work. Longtime Johnson compadre Ben Harper shows up to lend the distinctive twang of his Weissenborn slide guitar to the loping "Change," while Johnson mixes breezy love songs ("I Got You," "Never Fade," "Home") with a playful lullaby for his daughter ("You Remind Me of You"), a folky bit of social commentary ("Ones and Zeros") and a buoyant memory of his early attempts to be a rock 'n' roll star ("Tape Deck"). "Washing Dishes" has a chorus poppy enough to be worthy of, dare we say it, Miley Cyrus or Justin Timberlake, while "Shot Reverse Shot" is an tightly rendered exercise in buoyant rhythmic wordplay. Rest assured that Johnson is telling more than mere "Brushfire Fairytales" here, but "From Here..." capably fuses the growth of his 13-year recording career with the earnest innocence that won him fans in the first place.

FUSION

Elvis Costello & the Roots, "Wise Up Ghost" (Blue Note)***

The seemingly unlikely pairing of Elvis Costello and the Roots sounds exactly like you'd expect it to, which means "Wise Up Ghost" is a) indescribable, b) wholly original and c) familiar, thanks to the trademark husk of Costello's vocals and the densely detailed melodicism that's been his trademark for more than three decades. The Roots do their part by never interfering with that, instead complementing and counterpointing with sonic snatches, stabs and loops that provide a sympathetically minimalist soundscape. The results is a deeply soulful and funky set whose best moments -- the defiant "Refuse to Be Saved," "Tripwire," "Stick Our Your Tongue," "Cinco Minutos Con Vos" and the title track -- are as hypnotically engaging as anything else in the two acts' individual canons. Here's hoping for a sequel.

New & Noteworthy:

Pete Anderson, "Birds Above Guitarland" (Little Dog): The Detroit-born roots artist, formerly Dwight Yoakam's right hand man, shows he's still his own formidable man on his latest solo outing.

Avicci, "True" (PRMD/Universal Island): The Swedish DJ and producer's first studio album features collaborations with Chic's Nile Rogers, Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger, Imagine Dragons' Dan Ryenolds and others.

The Bloody Beetroots, "Hide" (Ultra): Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo's Italian electronic act worked with Paul McCartney on "Out of Sight," the first single from "Hide."

Billy Currington, "We Are Tonight" (Mercury Nashville): The fun-loving country star's fifth album find shim dueting with Willie Nelson and covering Jack Johnson's "Banana Pancakes."

The Devil Wears Prada, "8:15" (Roadrunner): The faith-based Ohio hard rockers make their first album without keyboardist and founding member James Baney on board.

Mike Doughty, "Circles, Super Bon Bon..." (Snack Bar/Megaforce): The former Soul Coughing frontman records new versions of the band's favorites for his latest solo album.

Eve To Adam, "Locked & Loaded" (3For5/MRI): The swaggering New York rock group worked with several top-shelf producers

Five For Fighting, "Bookmarks" (Wind-Up): Singer-songwriter John Ondrasik mixes his usual earnest lyricism with a lighter sonic palette on his first new album in four years.

Kenny Garrett, "Pushing the World Away" (Mack Avenue): The saxophone veteran pays tribute to heroes such as Chick Corea and Sonny Rollins on his latest outing.

Grouplove, "Spreading Rumours" (Canvasback/Atlantic): The sophomore album from the unique indie rock quintet from Los Angeles.

Jonny Lang, "Fight For My Soul" (Concord): The guitar prodigy's first studio album in seven years shows that he's only bettered his six string craft during the interim.

Justin Moore, "Off the Beaten Path" (Valory Music Group): The country singer's third album features duets with Miranda Lambert and Charlie Daniels.

MGMT, "MGMT" (Columbia): The Connecticut art-rock duo continues to push sonic and compositional conventions on its third album.

Placebo, "Loud Like Love" (Universal): The British alternative rock group collaborated with author Bret Easton Ellis on the music video for "Too Many Friends," the first single from the band's seventh album.

The Sadies, "Internal Sounds" (Yep Roc): The Toronto roots rock group returns to its core unit after recent collaborations with Andrew Williams and the Good Brothers.

Sponge, "Stop The Bleeding" (Three One Three/The End): The Detroit rock troupe is enjoying some new momentum thanks to the track "Fade From View" from its first full album in six years.

Wesley Stace, "Self-Titled" (Yep Roc): The British singer-songwriter and author formerly known as John Wesley Harding records under his first name for the first time ever.

Tantric, "37 Channels" (Pavement): The hard rock group fronted by former Michigander Hugo Ferreira surfaces with the follow-up to 2009's "Mind Control."

Various Artists, "Self Made 3" (Maybach Music Group/Atlantic): Rapper Rick Ross curated this collection of performances from his artist stable, including Meek Mill, Wale, French Montana and others.

Narada Michael Walden, "Thunder 2013" (Tarpan): The Grammy Award-winning musician and producer shoots stylistically wide on his first solo album in more than 25 years.

Tony Joe White, "Hoodoo" (Yep Roc): Turning 70 is not slowing down the Louisiana-born singer-songwriter a bit, as evidenced by this characteristically strong selection of songs.

Chris Young, "A.M." (RCA Nashville): The country singer rocks a little harder on his fourth album for which he wrote five of the 11 tracks.

From The Vaults: Alan Parsons Project, "I Robot (Legacy Edition)" (Arista/Legacy); The Band, "Live at the Academy of Music 1971" (Capitol/UMe); Grateful Dead, "Sunshine Daydream (Veneta, OR. 8/27/72) (DeadNet/Rhino); Tift Merritt, "Traveling Companion" (Yep Roc)

Soundtracks: Blake Neely, "Arrow -- Original Television Soundtrack: Season 1" (WaterTower)

New Music Videos: Anathema, "Universal" (Kscope); Peter Gabriel, "Live in Athens" (Eagle Rock); Various Artists, "12-12-12 The Concert For Sandy Relief" (Columbia)





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