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The Listening Room: Eric Church, Frankie Ballard and more...
One thing you can't call Eric Church is safe. The North Carolina-bred singer and songwriter has steered his chance-taking brand of rockin' country to platinum peaks, particularly with 2011's "Chief" and its No. 1 country hits "Drink in My Hand" and "Springsteen." That success has only buoyed Church's confidence for its successor, and "The Outsiders" pushes the proverbial envelope even further than we had reason to expect. The 12-song set mines the arty side of outlaw, sporting arrangements filled with moody textures and nuanced details -- from the get-go with the title track and first single, whose airy ambience and semi-spoken vocal leads to an outro you'd expect to hear from your favorite prog rock band. The swampy grit of "Cold One" finishes with some barely-hinged picking, while "Roller Coaster Ride" finishes with more trippy instrumental atmospherics. "Like a Wrecking Ball" indulges in a bit of soul flavor and "That's Damn Rock & Roll" slides into a hip-hop section. Then there's "Devil, Devil," an eight-minute aural movie complete with a spoken "Prince of Darkness" prelude that cries for a film adaptation. Nostalgic tracks such as "Talladega" and "Give Me Back My Hometown" and the twangy "Broke Record" hew a little closer to the middle, while "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young" offers an affecting solo performance. It's 50 minutes of unapologetic daring that gets messy at times, but its' hard not to give Church big props for keeping his gaze forward.
Frankie Ballard, "Sunshine & Whiskey" (Warner Music Nashville): ***
At the start of his second national release, Battle Creek country singer Frankie Ballard declares that he's "on a mission to get these wild oats out of my system." But here's hoping he takes his time doing that. Ballard's exuberance, demonstrated so many times opening for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band in recent years, is evident throughout these 11 songs -- and highly contagious, whether it's the casual lope of the title track, the easygoing sway of "Helluva Life" and "Don't Wanna Fall" or high-octane explosions like "Young & Crazy." Ballard knows how to deliver a clever phrase like it's a profound statement, making "Sunshine & Whiskey" go down like a well-aged single malt.
New & Noteworthy:
Band of Horses, "Acoustic at the Ryman" (Brown): The rootsy Seattle group unplugs on this 10-song set recorded at the famed Nashville venue.
Blondfire, "Young Heart" (Tender Tender Rush): The sophomore album from the brother-sister electro-pop duo.
Cibo Matto, "Hotel Valentine" (Chimera): Members of Wilco and Atoms For Peace help the New York-based Japanese duo on its third full album, and first in 15 years.
Clan of Xymox, "Matters of Mind Body & Soul" (Metropolis): The Dutch electro-rock group is typically melancholic on its 15th album.
Robert Ellis, "The Light From the Chemical Plant" (New West): The eclectic Texas singer-songwriter enlists Jim Lauderdale and members of Dawes and Deer Tick for his third studio album.
Mary Fahl, "Love & Gravity" (Rimar) The former October Project singer covers Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and sings about Johnny and June Carter Cash and 9/11 victims on her latest solo album.
Fanfarlo, "Let's Go Extinct" (Blue Horizon): The folk-flavored British indie rock group embraces a decades-spanning batch of influences on its third album.
Neil Finn, "Dizzy Heights" (Lester/Kobalt): The Split Enz and Crowded House veteran co-produced his third solo album with Flaming Lips cohort Dave Fridmann, backed by a band that includes Finn's wife and two sons.
The Glitch Mob, "Love Death Immortality" (Glass Air): The Los Angeles electronic trio turns out a set it considers more "extroverted" than its 2010 debut.
Kutless, "Glory" (BEC): The Christian rockers from Portland get back to their usual hard-hitting business after last year's more reverent "The Worship Collection."
Greg Laswell, "I Was Going to Be An Astronaut" (Vanguard): The singer-songwriter re-made 10 of his fans' favorite songs from previous albums, as well as a cover of Sparklehorse`s "It's a Wonderful LIfe."
Nina Persson, "Animal Heart" (The End): The first full-fledged solo album from the frontwoman of Sweden's Cardigans.
Sam Roberts Band, "Lo-Fantasy" (Paper Bag): The powerhouse Canadian group works with all-star producer Youth (Paul McCartney, Killing Joke, the Verve) for its first ne album in three years.
Royal Southern Brotherhood, "Songs From the Road: Live in Germany" (Ruf): The all-star soul-rock group, featuring Devon Allman and Cyril Neville, is captured where it sounds best -- on stage.
Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, "Goin' to the Delta" (Ruf): You can't ask for a better description than the title of his latest album by the long-lived British blues-rock outfit.
Sun Kil Moon, "Benji" (Caldo Verde): Red House Painters' Mark Kozelek has some fun with Death Cab For Cutie/Postal Service buddy Benjamin Gibbard on "Ben's My Friend" from his fifth album under the Sun Kil Moon moniker.
Tinariwen, "Emmaar" (Anti-): Due to political unrest in its Algerian homeland, the Grammy Award-winning troupe trooped to Joshua Tree, Calif., to make its latest outing with guests from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chavez and more.
Various Artists, "From Another World: A Tribute to Bob Dylan" (Buda): As the title implies, Dylan`s songs get the international treatment via artists from Cuba, Romania, Africa and elsewhere.
Various Artists, "This is The Town: Tribute to Nilsson (Volume 1)" (Royal Potato Family): Langhorne Slim, Tracy Bonham, Willie Mason and daughter Annie Nilsson are among the artists paying homage to the late and wonderfully idiosyncratic Harry NIlsson.
Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, "Samson and Delilah" (Broadway): The married former "American Idol" finalists deliver music from the upcoming musical version of the biblical tale.
From The Vaults: Camper Van Beethoven, "Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart," "Key Lime Pie" (Omnivore); Quincy Jones, "The Complete Recordings: 1955-59," "The Complete Recordings: 1960-1962" (Enlightenment); "Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary Anthology" (Sepia)
Soundtracks: Original Broadway Cast, "Big Fish" (Broadway); Original Cast, "Murder For Two" (Ghostlight); Various Artists, "A Night With Janis Joplin (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (Broadway); Various Artists, "The Lego Movie: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (WaterTower); Hans Zimmer, "Winter's Tale" (WaterTower)
New Music DVDs: Various Artists, "Festival Express" (Shout! Factory)
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