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The Listening Room: Lady Gaga, Inside Llewyn Davis and more...
"Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?" Lady Gaga asks us at the beginning of her third studio album, amidst cutting Eastern rhythms and swirling synthesizers from co-producers Zedd and Infectious Mushroom. The look throughout "Artpop" is not particularly revealing, however; the same Gaga we know (and many love) from "The Fame" and "Born This Way" is still in control here, celebrating empowerment, seeking sexual salvation, winking with occasional self-deprecation, parodying pop culture iconography (including fashion maven "Donatella" Versace) and always playing for the "Applause" of the 15th and final song of this hour-long romp. The familiarity breeds more comfort than contempt, though. Gaga, working primarily with DJ White Shadow, pushes herself into subtly edgier EDM directions on "Aura," "G.U.Y." and "Swine." On "Jewels n' Thugs" she lays calming melodic vocal hooks amidst the verbal spitfire of T.I., Too $hort and Twista, while "Sexxx Dreams' " chill ambiance builds into and "Fashion!" leans towards 80s dance-pop ala Madonna's "Holiday." "Manicure" fuses glam rock flavors with club beats, the lifestyle anthem "Gypsy" boasts the bombastic drama of Meat Loaf/Jim Steinway song and "Dope," the set's lone ballad, has the boozy wobble of a Brecht/Weill composition. Gaga tells us that "my Artpop could mean anything," and she certainly applies it in many different directions here -- though not with the same provocative results as its predecessors.
Various Artists, "Inside Llewelyn Davis: Original Soundtrack Recording" (Nonesuch): ***
T Bone Burnett is something of a trademark of quality -- especially when he's working on rootsy soundtracks for filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. This is no exception, creating a repertoire for the fictitious folk singer of the title with rich performances mostly by star Oscar Isaac, though co-stars Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan turn in a moving rendition of "Five Hundred Miles" -- with Mulligan`s husband Marcus Mumford on guitar. Other top-shelf musicians turn out to help, including Dave Van Ronk, Buddy Miller, David Mansfield, Norman and Nancy Blake and Gillian Welch, while the set also includes Bob Dylan's previously unreleased "Farewell." This Davis kid's got some potential.
New & Noteworthy:
Mandy Barnett, "I Can't Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson" (Cracker Barrell): The veteran country singer takes on a songbook made famous by Patsy Cline, Roy Oribson, Ray Charles and many others.
The Beatles, "On Air -- Live at the BBC Volume 2" (Apple/Universal/BBC): A second dig into the Beatles' radio adventures yields another 63 tracks, both songs and spirited studio banter, that captures the innocent exuberance of Beatlemania.
Blue Rodeo, "In Our Nature" (Telesoul): The Canadian roots rock group's latest release comes after its recent induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Bun B, "Trill Og: The Epilogue" (Rap-A-Lot): The fourth album by the Texas rapper features guest appearances by Big K.R.I.T., Rick Ross, 2 Chainz and Detroit's Royce da 5'9", among others.
Counting Crowes, "Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow" (Cooking Vinyl): The physical release of the live album made available to those buying tickets to the group's shows this past summer.
Anthony Green, "Young Legs" (Moshtradamus): The Circa Survive frontman hit a formal studio rather than his home facility to record his third solo album.
Tim Janis, "Perfect Serenity" (self-released): Another set of what can only be defined as serene music from the veteran American music maker.
Lady Antebellum, "Golden: The Deluxe Edition" (Capitol): The country trio adds six bonus songs to its latest chart-topper, including three live tracks.
Less Than Jake, "See the Light" (Fat Wreck Chords): The ska-punk group recorded its ninth album at home in Gainesville, Fla.
Los Campesinos!, "No Blues" (Wichita): The Welsh indie rockers' fifth album crosses the pond two weeks after its homeland release.
Luscious Jackson, "Magic Hour" (City Song): The reunited quartet gets back to recording business 14 years after its last release.
Passafire, "Vines" (Easy Star): The fourth album by the reggae-rock group from Georgia.
Kellie Pickler, "Woman I Am" (Black River): The country singer and former "American Idol" finalist co-wrote three of the 12 songs on her fourth album.
Katey Sagal, "Covered" (eOne): The actress and singer takes on songs by Laury Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Ryan Adams and more, and duets with Jackson Browne on Steve Earle's "Goodbye."
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, "Under the Covers, Vol. 3" (Shout! Factory): The Bangles member and Sweet tuck into a set of 90s favorites by Tom Petty, the Pretenders, the Go-Go`s, the Smiths and others.
Tindersticks, "Across Six Leap Years" (Lucky Dog/City Slang): The British group re-recorded 10 of its older tracks at Britain's famed Abbey Road Studios.
Various Artists, "Now 48: That's What I Call Music" (UMe): The latest entry in the successful series features tracks by Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus and more.
Various Artists, "Songs For Slim: Rockin' Here Tonight -- A Benefit Compilation for Slim Dunlap" (New West): A who's-who of alt.rock and Americana heroes, including Wilco`s Jeff Tweedy, Jakob Dylan, Joe Henry and others, show up to help the former Replacements guitarist after a debilitating stroke.
From The Vaults: Ane Brun, "Rarities" (Balloon Ranger); Emerson, Lake & Palmer, "Live in Montreal, 1977" (Shout! Factory); Donny Hathaway, "Never My Love" (Rhino); John Hiatt, "Here To Stay -- Best of 2000-2012" (New West); Dwight Yoakam, "21st Century Hits: Best of 2000-2012" (New West).
New Holiday Albums: Jonathan Butler, "Merry Christmas to You" (Artistry).
New Music DVDs: Dream Theater, "Live at Luna Park" (Eagle Rock); John Fahey, Pete Townshend et al, "In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey" (First Run Features); The Rolling Stones, "Sweet Summer Sun -- Hyde Park Live" (Eagle Rock)
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