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The Listening Room: David Crosby, the Autumn Defense and more...
Because his output has been so minimal -- four solo albums in 43 years, and it's not like Crosby, Stills & Nash pump 'em out, either -- it can be easy to forget or to take for granted David Crosby's abundant virtues as a performer and songwriter. "Croz," his first outing in 21 years, provides a welcome reminder, 11 tracks laced with tasteful intricacies and nuanced sonics that sound just fine up front but reveal more layers with each successive listen. Crosby remains a voice of high conscience throughout, although this time out his 60s counterculture rage takes on the more measured and forward-looking tone of a father and grandfather. "People do so many things that make me mad/But angry isn't how I want to spend what time I have," he declares early on, while in other songs he sings about shedding angst ("Set That Baggage Down," "Holding on to Nothing") and the old but hardly trite standbys of peace, love and understanding ("Radio," "Find a Heart," "Slice of Time," "The Clearing"). "What's Broken" (featuring Mark Knofpler on guitar) and "Dangerous Night" address contemporary urban decay, while "If She Called," with its stark voice and acoustic guitar arrangement, is a heart-wrenching observation about the inner lives of prostitutes. That darkness and light is woven together by carefully crafted instrumentation, with plenty of interweaving guitars and keyboards and nods towards jazz ("Holding on to Nothing, with Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, and "Slice of Time"), Latin ("Find a Heart") and cinematic soundscape drama ("The Clearing"). Crosby laces CSN-style harmonies throughout the album, sometimes stacking his own and often in tandem with James Raymond, the son he gave up for adoption in 1962 who has, since the mid-90s, become a collaborator as essential as Stephen Stills or Graham Nash. At 72, and after many well-publicized health issues, Crosby is still exciting and visionary -- and well worth whatever wait ensues between albums.
The Autumn Defense, "Fifth" (Yep Roc) ***1/2
Pat Sansone and John Stirratt don't need the Autumn Defense to make them hip, famous and (some degree of) rich; their membership in Wilco takes care of that. But this is no mere side project for Wilco down time, and "Fifth" is the best Autumn Defense release yet, an understated gem that benefits from the inclusion of the full AD road band and from Sansone and Stirratt's characteristically deft songcraft and rich harmonies. Every song's a winner, too, from the cushy lushness of "None of This Will Matter" and "What's It Take" to samba-flavored tracks like "August Song" and "Why Don't We" to the chiming rock of "The Light in Your Eye," "Under the Wheel"and the Beatles-y "I Can See Your Face."
New & Noteworthy:
Laura Cantrell, "No Way There From Here" (Thrift Shop): The New York-based singer-songwriter's fifth album has already come out to well-deserved critical acclaim in the U.K.
Casting Crowns, "Thrive" (Beach Street/Reunion): The sixth studio album from the Georgia-based Christian hard rock troupe whose members continue to minister in church when they're not rocking.
Dum Dum Girls, "Too True" (Sub Pop): The all-female indie pop quartet's third album was co-produced by hitmaking legend Richard Gottehrer and Sune Rose of the Raveonettes.
Gangstagrass, "Broken Hearts & Stolen Money" (Rench Audio): The fourth full studio album from the bluegrass and hip-hop blending Brooklyn sextet.
Gaslight Anthem, "The B-Sides" (Sideonedummy): Exactly what the title says, including plenty of acoustic tracks and covers, but the New Jersey group's "extras" still make for stellar listening.
Jamie Grace, "Ready to Fly" (Gotee): The second album by the Christian singer-songwriter from Atlanta follows a blast of music (two EPs and an LP) she released in 2011.
Angelique Kidjo, "Eve" (Savoy/429): The Beninian singer's new album includes guest shots from Dr. John, the Kronos Quartet and Vampire Weekend's Rostamm Btmanglij and comes three weeks after her memoir, "Spirit Rising."
Ronnie Milsap, "Summer #17" (Legacy): The country veteran includes two duets with Mandy Barnett and covers Bobby Darin, the Stylistics, Ray Charles, Hank Williams and more on this 12-songs set.
Of Mice and Men, "Restoring Force" (Rise): The California metalcore group teamed with producer David Bendeth (Papa Roach, Paramore, Breaking Benjamin) for its third full-length album.
Primal Fear, "Delivering the Black" (Frontiers): The 10th studio album from the science-fiction minded German heavy metal troupe.
Amy Ray, "Goodnight Tender" (Daemon): The Indigo Girl goes solo again, this time trying her hand at country with guests such as Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Kelly Hogan and Susan Tedeschi.
Red Dragon Cartel, "Red Dragon Cartel" (Frontiers): A hard-hitting debut from the band formed by former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee, with guest vocals by Cheap Trick's Robin Zander, Sass Jordan, Iron Maiden alumnus Paul Di'Anno and others.
Smith & Myers, "(Acoustic Sessions)" (Atlantic): Shinedown's frontman and guitarist offer up a digital EP covering songs by the Clash, Metallica, the Black Crowes and more, with Kenny Wayne Shepherd guesting on his "Blue on Black."
Helen Sung, "Anthem For a New Day" (Concord Jazz): Detroit-born violinist Regina Carter is among the guests on jazz pianists Sung's sixth album.
Transatlantic, "Kaleidoscope" (Radiant): The fourth studio album from the prog rock all-star band whose members have played with Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, Marillion and more.
Various Artists, "From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert For Sandy Hook" (Broadway): The Monkees' Micky Dolenz, Linda Eder, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Michael Cerveris and others come together to raise money for victims of the tragic Connecticut school shooting.
Rhonda Vincent, "Only Me" (Upper Management Music): The reigning queen of bluegrass gets help from Willie Nelson and Daryle Singletary on a two-disc set that also acknowledges Vincent's country side.
You Me At Six, "Cavalier Youth" (Prospekt Park): The hard-rocking British group recorded its fourth album in Los Angeles with producer Neal Avron (Fall Out Boy, All Time Low).
From the Vaults: Frank Sinatra, "Sinatra, With Love" (10 Spot); Uncle Tupelo, "No Depression (Legacy Edition)" (Legacy);
Soundtracks: Ramin Djawadi, "Person of Interest: Season 2" (Varese)
New Music DVDs: Metallica, "Through the Never" (Blackened)
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