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Listening Room: nine inch nails, Cowboy Junkies and more...
nine inch nails, “Year Zero” (Interscope) ***
In the world of Trent Reznor — nine inch nails’ one-man rock auteur — two years between albums is something of a land speed record. But “Year Zero” is hardly a work of haste; instead, it’s Reznor’s most conceptually ambitious work, a 64-minute futuristic epic about the ultimate downfall of our society after decades of political and environmental apathy, a scenario that he’s embellishing with an intricate Internet campaign weaving together several Web sites and cyber trails. nine inch nails is no stranger to the bleak, of course. Reznor is a guy whose personal anthems of the past have included selfrecriminations such as “Hurt” and “Sin,” although 2005’s “With Teeth” had a slightly more positive bent. But “Year Zero” brings us Reznor’s darkest vision yet, a “Matrix” in which Neo doesn’t win and Zion is laid to ruin, a world “doomed from the start” where his assurance that “we will find a better place in t his twilight” brings little reassurance. But it’s an involving listen, a enveloping front-toback, headphone listener’s delight featuring all the scratches, squiggles, harsh dissonance and creepy ambience we’ve come to expect from anything under the nine inch nails moniker. “The Beginning of the End,” “Survivalism” and “Meet Your Master” offer muscular dance rock, while “The Good Soldier” mines a slower, more soulful groove. And Reznor continues to refine his sublime brand of dynamic tension on tracks such as “Me, I’m Not,” “My Violent Heart,” “God Given” and the trippy “The Greater Good.” It’s slinky and sinister — scary, but awfully difficult to pull your ears away from.
Cowboy Junkies, “At the End of Paths Taken” (Latent/Zoe) ***
Few bands do intimate as well as Canada’s Cowboy Junkies — all hushed and airy arrangements and sweet melodies that singer Margo Timmins sounds like she’s whispering in your ear. But the delivery has grown more sophisticated over the quartet’s 20-plus years of recording, and even — in the case of a track such as the biting “Cutting Board Blues” — considerably louder. “At the End of Paths Taken” continues broadens the Junkies’ reach, incorporating strings by Canadian composer Henry Kucharzyk, dark noir tones (“It Doesn’t Really Matter Anymore”) and the swelling dynamics of “Brave New World” and the epic “Mountain.” Unquestionably a path worth crossing.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts, “Let’s Just Be” (Lonely Astronaut) — New York singer-songwriter Arthur introduces his well-credentialed band on this 16-track album.
Scott Blasey, “Travelin’ ” (High Wire Music) — The Clarks frontman’s third solo outing chronicles his move from Pittsburgh to Dallas, backed by a full complement of Texas musicians.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Strength & Loyalty” (Interscope) — The veteran R&B/hiphop troupe taps a guest list that includes Akon, Mariah Carey, Bow Wow, the Game and Twista, along with incarcerated group member Flesh-N-Bone.
Bucky Covington, “Bucky Covington” (Lyric Street) — The debut album from “American Idol’s” fifth-season country contestant.
Greyboy Allstars, “What Happened to TV?” (Knowledge Room Recordings) — The heady West Coast all-star band delivers its first studio set in nine years.
Avril Lavigne, “Best Damn Thing” (Arista) — The newlywed Canadian rocker lists her husband, Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley, among the collaborators on her third album.
Daniel Lee Martin, “On My Way to You” (ChinMusic) — The Nashville singer-songwriter hopes fans will be “Stark Ravin’ Crazy in Love” with his traditional-leaning sophomore outing.
Page McConnell, “Page McConnell” (Sony Legacy) — The Phish keyboardist’s first full-fledged solo album after a previous venture with the band Vida Blue.
Priestbird, “In Your Time” (Kemado) — The former prog trio Tarantula AD reemerges with a new moniker but a similarly expansive and ambitious sound.
Paul Rodgers, “Live in Glasgow” (Eagle) — The veteran rocker runs through a set of Free and Bad Company hits as well as some solo tracks. A DVD of the concert comes out May 29.
Matthew Ryan, “From a Late Night High-Rise”
(00:02:59/RED) — The Pennsylvania-born rock troubadour offers a bricks-and-mortar version of his sixth album after a successful four-month digital run.
Ryan Shaw, “This is Ryan Shaw” (One Haven/Columbia) — The debut album from the new — not nuevo — soul man and former Motown Cafe cast member from Georgia.
Pam Tillis, “Rhinestoned”
(Stellar Cat) — After paying tribute to her father, Mel, on 2002’s “It’s All Relative,” the country veteran takes an independent route on her latest release.
Clay Walker, “Fall” (Curb/ Asylum) — The Texas singer, who has 11 No. 1 country hits to his name, makes a fresh start on a new label.
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