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The Listening Room: Jerrod Niemann, Elton John and more...
(Sea Gayle/Arista Nashville)
Just past the halfway point of his third album, Jerrod Niemann notes that he's "no Shakespeare or Kris Kristofferson." Give the guy points for self-awareness, although to be fair he had a not-too-shabby writing career for Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton and others before striking out on his own. "High Noon" is aptly titled, too, as it finds Niemann trying to come back from the commercial disappointment of his second album, 2012's "Free the Music." He seems on the right track with the first single, "Drink All Night," vaulting him back into the country Top 10, and the 13-song set certainly establishes a firm sonic point of view, with plenty of contemporary pop touches in its laid-back acoustic guitar grooves, hints of vocal Auto-Tune, light loops, the shimmering arrangements of songs such as "Come On, Come On" and hip-hop touches in "Donkey" and the closing "She's Fine" with country rapper Colt Ford. There's plenty of drinking on the album -- in six songs, at least -- as well as the relentless pursuit of good times at beach parties and bonfires, in fast-moving cars and, of course, in the bedroom. "High Noon's" definitely on-target with what's working in country these days, making Niemann at least a distinctive voice in a pack that's rapidly towing the same line.
Elton John, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" deluxe editions (UMe): ****
Yes, we know that John's eight-times platinum 1973 set is a classic. What makes this more than a typical reissue, however, is not just the bonus demos and live recordings but covers of nine of the tracks by contemporary artists, a mini tribute album that hits more than it misses. Ed Sheeran layers lush vocals onto his stripped-down "Candle in the Wind," while the Zac Brown Band fills "Harmony" with, well, plenty of harmonies. Emeli Sande reinvents "All the Young Girls Love Alice" into a spare, atmospheric recitation, while the Band Perry treats "Grey Seal's" dynamics with plenty of twang, Imelda May rips through "Your Sister Can't Twist) But She Can Rock and Roll)" and Miguel and Wale join forces to treat "Bennie and the Jets" to a modern urban vibe. It's a solid bonus, and if you don't like the covers, there's always John's well-worn originals to keep you happy.
New & Noteworthy:
Asia, "Gravitas" (Frontiers): The prog rock all-star group's 14th album marks the debut of new guitarist Sam Coulson in place of Yes' Steve Howe.
The Bad Plus, "The Rite of Spring" (Sony Music Masterworks): The piano trio stays bold with this stripped-down rendition of the Igor Stravinsky classic.
The Baseball Project, "3rd" (Yep Roc): The all-star combination of R.E.M., Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5, Dream Syndicate and Zuzu's Petals members get ready for the season with a new collection of ballpark-themed tunes.
The Belle Brigade, "Just Because" (ATO): The second album from the rootsy sibling guitar-drums duo from California.
Boy George, "This is What I Do" (Very Me): The Culture Club frontman and gender-blending pioneer covers Yoko Ono's "Death of Samantha" on this latest comeback attempt.
Circa Zero, "Circus Hero" (429): Police guitarist Andy Summers returns to rock on this first outing from his new duo project with the Rescues' Rob Giles.
The Dandy Warhols, "Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia: Live at the Wonder" (The End): The first-ever live album from the Portland rock troupe was recorded during last year's tour to celebrate the 13th anniversary of its "...Urban Bohemia" breakthrough album.
Johnny Cash, "Out Among the Stars" (Columbia/Legacy): A "lost" album from the man in black that would have been pegged as hockey back in the mid-80s but now can be greeted as classic Americana.
Nathan East, "Nathan East" (Yamaha): The first solo album from the bassist whose jammed resume includes Stevie Wonder, Daft Punk, Beyonce, Eric Clapton and Fourplay among many others.
Grieves, "Winter & the Wolves" (Rhymesayers): The fourth full album from the rappers features plenty of organic instrumentation and focused songwriting.
Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, "Live in Amsterdam" (J&R Adventures): The duo, which has recorded two solid studio albums together, cuts loose on this CD/DVD/Blu-ray concert set of blues and R&B classics on.
The Hold Steady, "Teeth Dreams" (Washington Square): The Brooklyn rockers` sixth album features onetime touring guitarist Steve Selvidge as a full-fledged member.
Karmin, "Pulses" (Epic): The debut full-length from the Boston pop duo finally arrives after several delays.
Liars, "Mess" (Mute): The Brooklyn experimental rock trio's seventh album is a bit more straightforward than its predecessors, but rest assured it won't be mistaken for Easy Listening.
London Grammar, "If You Wait" (Columbia): The British electro-pop trio adds three bonus tracks to the U.S. edition of its 2013 debut album.
Barry Manilow, "Night Songs" (Stilleto): It's just a man and his piano on this 16-song set of familiar pop standards.
Kylie Minogue, "Kiss Me Once" (Warner Bros./Parlophone): Give the Australian songstress points for persistence as she tries again to break a U.S. market that's been largely disinterested over the years.
Chuck Ragan, "Til Midnight" (SideOneDummy): The Hot Water Music mainstay returns to his rootsy singer-songwriter mode, with help from Foo Fighters/Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffee.
Shakira, "Shakira" (Sony Latin/RCA): The Colombian singer's 10th studio album includes collaborations with Rihanna, Magic! and Blake Shelton, her fellow judge from "The Voice!"
Sleeper Agent, "About Last Night" (RCA): The third studio album from the hard-hitting Kentucky alt.rockers.
Tokyo Police Club, "Forcefield" (Mom+Pop): The first new album in four years from the Ontario indie rock quartet.
Various Artists, "Bob Dylan in the 80's: Volume One" (ATO): Slash, Built to Spill, Deer Tick and members of Ween, the Hold Steady, My Morning Jacket and more make a bid to bolster Dylan's under-valued 80s catalog, with proceeds going to Pencils of Promise.
From the Vaults: Eric Carmen, "The Essential Eric Carmen" (Arista/Legacy); Miles Davis, "Miles at the Fillmore 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3" (Columbia/Legacy); Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance, "Ooh La La: An Island Harvest" (Mercury Nashville); My Chemical Romance, "May Death Never Stop You (The Greatest Hits 2001-2013)" (Warner Bros.); Pantera, "Far Beyond Driven (20th Anniversary Edition)" (Rhino); Wayne Shorter, "Speak No Evil" (Blue Note); Rod Stewart, "Tonight's the Night: Live 1976-1988" (Warner Bros./Rhino)
Soundtracks: Clint Mansell, "Noah: Music From the Motion Picture" (Nonesuch); Various Artists, "The Walking Dead -- AMC Original Soundtrack, Vol. 2" (Universal Republic)
New Music DVDs: Various Artists, "MusiCares Person of the Year: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen" (Columbia); "The Punk Singer" (MPI)
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