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The Listening Room: Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam and more...
After last year's "Kisses on the Bottom" and his electronic explorations with The Fireman, there's nothing particularly conceptual about Paul McCartney's first set of all-original material on six years; rather, it's a collection of pop tunes, which is, after all, what the "cute" Beatle does best. There's no silly love songs on "New," however; these are the musings of a mature man who's recently found love again (with third wife Nancy Shevell) and finds his current joy enriched by memories of past pain -- singing "how can I have so many dreams and one of them not come true" and, on the final (and hidden) "Scared," acknowledging that "I'm scared to say I love you" over spare piano accompaniment. Mostly, though, "New" attests to McCartney's continuing appetite to stay contemporary even as one of pop and rock's elder statesmen. He works with four young producers, including Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse), Paul Epworth (Adele), Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin) and Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon). The Beatles certainly resonate on the sonic magical mystery tour of "Queenie Eye," the "Penny Lane"-styled title track and the fuzzed-out opener "Save Us," as well as on the sentimental and clearly autobiographical "Early Days." "Appreciate," meanwhile, brings in a soulful, trip-hopppy ebb-and-flow, while "Hosanna" boasts a prayerful ambience and the pastiches such as "On My Way to Work," "Looking After Her" and "Road" sound like modern incarnations of the post-"Sgt. Pepper's" Abbey Road spirit. Anyone who's seen McCartney live or on TV in recent years knows he's as engaged in his craft at 71 as he was 50 or more years ago, and "New" is a worthy embodiment of that enthusiasm.
Pearl Jam, "Lightning Bolt" (Monkeywrench/Universal Republic) ***
Don't be hoodwinked by "Getaway" and "Mind Your Manners," the two hot rockers that open Pearl Jam's first new album in four years. There's dark sailing ahead, both sonically and lyrically, so this is no mere recast of 2009's spirited "Backspacer" -- not that Pearl Jam is prone to repeat itself, anyway. Frontman Eddie Vedder is back in angsty emotional terrain here, lashing out at organized religion ("Mind Your Manners") musing about faith and mortality, and alternately mourning and celebrating the states of various personal relationships. The group still makes plenty of righteous noise throughout (the rootsy "Let the Records Play," the angry "My Father's Son," the title track), but "Lightning Bolt's" real heart is in more pensive and poetic fare such as "Pendulum," "Sirens," "Yellow Moon" and the Celtic-flavored "Future Days." Some may feel Vedder protests too much, but after being struck by "Lightning Bolt" they'll be asking him to bring it on.
New & Noteworthy:
Anberlin, "Devotion" (Big3): The faith-based Florida rockers expanded 2012's "Vital" with six extra tracks, a bonus CD of remixes and a live DVD.
Arthur Channel, "Arthur Channel" (The End): The debut set from the "supergroup" of former members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens of the Stone Age, Pearl Jam and other bands.
The Avett Brothers, "Magpie and the Dandelion" (American): The North Carolina Americana troupe returns to material it was working on while making its previous album, 2012's "The Carpenter."
Beats Antique, "A Thousand Faces: Act 1" (Beats Antique): The San Francisco EDM trio welcomes Primus` Les Claypool along with other guests on its seventh album.
Black Milk, "No Poison No Paradise" (Fat Beats/Computer Ugly): The Detroit rapper/producer's latest features guest appearances by Robert Glasper, Dwele, the Roots' Black Thought and others.
Black Oak Arkansas, "Back Thar N' Over Younder" (Atlantic/Atco): The 70s Southern rockers resurface on their former label home with five new tracks and a trove of unreleased but finished material from its vaults.
Eric Clapton, "Unplugged: Expanded and Remastered" (Reprise/Rhino): Clapton's award-winning 1992 set grows with unreleased tracks and a disc of rehearsal material.
Cults, "Static" (Columbia): The sophomore album from the New York indie pop duo follows its debut by three years.
Gavin DeGraw, "Make a Move" (RCA): The New York singer and songwriter worked with a variety of producers on his fifth studio album, including Ryan Tedder, Benny Blanco and Butch Walker.
Flying Colours, "Live in Europe" (Music Theories/Mascots): The all-star quintet of Deep Purple, Spock's Beard, Dream Theater and other bands' members struts its stuff across the pond.
Halestorm, "ReAniMate 2.0: The CoVeRs eP" (Atlantic): The Grammy-winning rockers' second covers EP includes favorites by AC/DC, Pat Benatar, Daft Punk, Fleetwood Mac and more.
Will Hoge, "Never Give In" (Cumberland): The ninth album by the Nashville singer-songwriter who scored a No. 1 writing hit last year with the Eli Young Band`s "Even If It Breaks Your Heart."
Scotty McCreery, "See You Tonight" (19/Mercury Nashville): The "American Idol" champ and country hitmaker co-wrote five of the 13 tracks on his sophomore studio album.
Monster Magnet, "Last Patrol" (Napalm): The "stoner" rock outfit is in fine, psychedelic form on ninth studio effort.
Willie Nelson, "To All the Girls..." (Legacy): The iconic veteran teams with 18 female partners, including Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert, Norah Jones and more, on this duets set.
Gary Numan, "Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind)" (Mortal): The electronic rock pioneer continues on a gothic/industrial path on his 20th studio effort.
Red Fang, "Whales & Leeches" (Relapse): The third full-length outing from the heavy rocking quartet from Portland, Ore.
Lucy Wainwright Roche, "There's a Last Time For Everything" (maeby music): The singer with all-star lineage includes a cover of Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" on her second solo album.
The Head & The Heart, "Let's Be Still" (Sub Pop): The Seattle folk-rock troupe fills out and broadens its sound on its sophomore release.
Toad the Wet Sprocket, "New Constellation" (Abe's): The melodic rockers' first studio set in 16 years was financed partly with Kickstarter contributions from fans.
TLC, "20" (Epic): The top-selling female R&B group has one new song, the Ne-Yo co-written "Meant To Be," on this companion album for the upcoming TLC VH1 biopic.
Trivium, "Vengeance Falls" (Roadrunner): The Florida headbangers' sixth album was produced by Disturbed/Device frontman David Draiman.
From The Vaults: James Booker, "Classified: Remixed and Expanded" (Rounder); Deep Purple, "Perfect Strangers Live" (Eagle Rock CD/DVD); Legion of Mary, "GarciaLive Volume Three: December 14-15, 1974 Northwest Tour" (DeadNet); Alvin Lee, "The Last Show" (Rainman); Paul Simon, "Over the Bridge of Time: A Paul Simon Retrospective" (Legacy); Ten Years After, "Recorded Live" (Chrysalis/Rhino); Robin Trower, "State to State: Live Across America 1974-1980)" (Chrysalis/Rhino); UFO, "Hot 'N' Live...1974-1983" (Chrysalis/Rhino)
New Holiday Albums: Joshua Bell, "Musical Gifts from Joshua Bell and Friends" (Sony Masterworks); Mary J. Blige, "A Mary Christmas" (Verve); Brandon Heath, "Christmas Is Here" (Reunion); Mannheim Steamroller, "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, Symphony II" (American Gramaphone); Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "Home For the Holidays featuring Alfie Boe" (MTC)
Soundtracks: Various Artists, "First Date: Original Cast Recording" (Yellow Sound)
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