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The Listening Room: Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne and more...
"Loved Me Back to Life"
After selling more than 220 million albums worldwide, Celine Dion doesn't necessarily owe anybody a fresh sound; in fact, some might argue that should be the last thing the French-Canadian chanteuse should do. But her first English language album in six years, and since she closed down her trend-setting A New Day Show in Las Vegas, finds Dion creatively frisky and exploring new sonic environments for the muscular voice that helped sink Titanic, at least on film -- with help from producers such as Hasham Hussain, Emanuel Kiriakou and the Swedish team Play Production. The more contemporary approach is evident from the get-go on "Loved Me Back to Life" with the Sia Fuller co-written title track, with its stuttering vocal hook and dubstep-style beats, which wouldn't sound out of place on, say, a Rihanna album. "Somebody Loves Somebody" and the bouncy "Save Your Soul" are equally 2013, while Dion delivers the Daniel Merriweather/Adele single "Water and a Flame" and "Breakaway" from the lower reaches of her register, a husker tone that sounds just as good as the more pristine approach that's her stock in trade. "Loved Me Back to Life" doesn't leave fans of her bombastic balladry wanting, either, thanks to "Didn't Know Love" and the Diane Warren-written "Unfinished Songs," as well as a lush duet with Stevie Wonder on his "Overjoyed." An acoustic, samba-flavored venison of Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" and the soulful "Thankful" are also winners, as is Dion's other duet, with Ne-Yo on "Incredible." It's not a wholesale reinvention, but "Loved Me Back to Life" will make fans look at Dion a little differently and might even bring some new folks in from the sidelines.
Avril Lavigne, "Avril Lavigne" (Epic): **1/2
This is Avril Lavigne as her fans want her -- upbeat and playfully rebellious, sounding more teenage at 29 that she has on her last couple of albums. With help from new hubby Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and others, Lavigne keeps the pop anthems coming on "Rock n Roll," "Here's To Never Growing Up" and "Bad Girl" with Marilyn Manson. The dark "Give What You Like" is one of her most lyrically advanced songs, while unapologetically silly "Hello Kitty" embraces EDM and "17," "Falling Fast" and "Hush Hush" insure there's a pretty component amidst all the noise. She's been around for awhile know, but this time out Lavigne sounds like she can still roll alongside the Sk8er Bois and girls.
New & Noteworthy:
Eric Bibb, "Jericho Road" (Stony Plain): The singer-songwriter continues he's always intriguing journey into blues, folk and world music.
James Blunt, "Moon Landing" (Atlantic): The British singer-songwriter of "Your Beautiful" fame worked with a team of producers on his fourth studio album.
David Bowie, "The Next Day Extra" (Columbia): Bowie's acclaimed comeback album expands into a three-disc set with five unreleased songs, remixes and a DVD of song videos.
Cut Copy, "Free Your Mind" (Modular): The Australian duo keeps club feet moving with its fourth studio set.
Eminem, "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope): A guest-filled sequel of sorts to the Detroit rapper's Grammy Award-winning sophomore album. See review page XX.
Lita Ford, "The Bitch is Back...Live" (SPV/Steamhammer): The Runaways guitarist is captured in concert back on her home turf near Los Angeles.
Howe [cq] Gelb, "The Coincidentalist" (New West): The Giant Storm leader takes another of his periodic solo excursions with help from M. Ward, Andrew Bird, KT Tunstall and others.
Il Divo, "A Musical Affair" (Columbia): The classical vocal group's trip thr
ough the Broadway songbook includes duets with Barbra Streisand, Kirstin Chenoweth, Nicole Scherzinger and more.
Kronos Quartet with Bryce Dessner, "Aheym" (Anti-): The National guitarist stretches out on a new project that also includes the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
The Melvins, "Tres Cabrones" (Ipecac): Original drummer Mike Dillard makes his first official appearance on one of the Seattle trio's albums, with drummer Dale Crover Shifting to bass.
M.I.A., "Matangi" (N.E.E.T./Interscope): The boundary-pushing British singer-rapper's fourth album includes a duet with The Weeknd [cq] and plenty of cutting-edge production collaborations.
Midlake, "Antiphon" (ATO): The indie-minded rockers from Denton, Texas, debuts a new lineup and an expanded sound for its fourth album.
Jake Miller, "Us Against Them" (eOne): The Florida rapper's debut album comes after he built a following with more than 30 YouTube videos.
Scott Stapp, "Proof of Life" (Wind-Up): The Creed frontman's heavily autobiographical second solo album comes in the wake of his 2013 memoir "Sinner's Creed."
Stryper, "No More Hell to Pay" (Frontiers): The Christian headbangers rock even harder on their eighth album, produced by frontman Michael Sweet.
Various Artists, "Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War" (ATO): A fresh collection of 19th century songs interpreted by the likes of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynne, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Taj Mahal and more.
Various Artists, "Released! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998" (Shout! Factory): A who's-who of artists -- including Bruce Springsteen, Sting, U2, the late Lou Reed and more -- are featured on these archival CD and DVD sets of Amnesty International-themed shows.
The Wanted, "Word of Mouth" (Island): The British boy band beats rivals One Direction to the next album punch with its third release and the wishful single "Show Me Love (America)."
Steven Wilson, "Drive Home" (Kscope): This odds 'n' sods EP from the Porcupine Tree guitarist features live tracks and some unreleased material.
Mat [cq] Zo, "Damage Control" (Astralwerks): The first full-length album from the British DJ and producer features guest appearances by Public Enemy's Chuck D., Porter Robinson and others.
From The Vaults: Bob Dylan, "The Complete Album Collection, Volume 1" (Columbia/Legacy); The Grateful Dead, "Dave's Picks Volume 8: Fox Theatre, Atlanta Ga, November 30, 1989 (DeadNet/Rhino); Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Miami Pop Festival" (Experience Hendrix/Legacy); Little Feat, "American Cutie" (Chrome Dreams); The Pixies, "The Lowdown" (Chrome Dreams); Various Artists, "Released: The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998" (Shout! Factory)
New Holiday Albums: Libera, "Angels Sing: Christmas in Ireland" (Warner Classics); Various Artists, "Punk Goes Christmas" (Fearless)
Soundtracks: Mark Mothersbaugh, "Last Vegas" (Varese); Various Artists, "Doctor Who: Series 7" (Silva America); Various Artists, "Luther: Songs and Score from Series 1, 2 & 3" (Silva America)
New Music DVDs: Cee-Lo Green, "Loverace -- Live in Vegas" (Eagle Rock)
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