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The Listening Room: Hunter Hayes, Santana and more
At 22, Hunter Hayes is not a guy who should have a lot of angst -- and he seems to recognize that, at least at the start of his sophomore album. He did, after all, have a chart-topping country debut in 2011 that's gone platinum and spawned three Top 10 hits. So it's no surprise that "Storyline" comes out swingin' and grinnin' with spirited, rocking cuts such as "Wild Card" and the title track, and even when he slows down for "Still Fallin'," the dude's still feeling the love. But with the hit first single "Invisible," a genuinely poignant ode to outsiders, things get serious and stay that way for the balance of the 14-track set, all of which were co-written co-produced by Hayes -- who also plays a litany of instruments up to and including accordion. Fortunately he knows better than to try to solve the world's problems and instead confines himself to matters of the heart and plenty of romantic tribulations in ballads such as "You Think You Know Somebody," "When Did You Stop Loving Me" and "Love Too Much" and in the soul-pop of "Secret Love." Hayes still keeps just enough twang and weepy pedal steel (courtesy of Paul Franklin) to stay on the country side of the divide, but the guy loads even more pop smarts into "Storyline" than he did on "Hunter Hayes."
Santana, "Corazon" (RCA) ***
Strange as it seems, it's taken Carlos Santana and his band 45 years and 22 studio albums to make their "Spanish" record -- even though a healthy share of "Corazon" is in English and not all of it explores Latin styles. Nevertheless, you can't go too wrong when Santana's guitar playing is on form, as it is on all 12 tracks here, and when he gets high-level helpers such as Pitbull ("Oye 2014)," Miguel ("Indy"), Los Fabulosos Cadillacs ("Mal Bicho") and Juanes ("La Flaca)," though it the free-form feel of the closing "Yo Soy La Luz," with Wayne Shorter and Santana's wife Cindy Blackman that's the album's real standout.
New & Noteworthy:
Lily Allen, "Sheezus" (Parlophone): The outspoken British songstress channels a bit of Kanye into her third album -- and first new set in four years.
Atmosphere, "Southsiders" (Rhymesayers): The Minneapolis hip-hop duo returns with "Kanye West" and 14 other tracks that take a more introspective turn than before.
Black Stone Cherry, "Magic Mountain" (Roadrunner): The Kentucky Southern rock troupe maintains a hard edge on its fourth studio album.
Chromeo, "White Women" (Big Beat/Atlantic): The Montreal funktronica duo keeps your feet moving on its four album, with help from Toro y Moi, Solange and Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig.
Clear Plastic Masks, "Being There" (Serpents & Snakes): The first full-length album from the Nashville quartet on Kings of Leon's label.
Ben Harper and Ellen Harper, "Childhood Home" (Prestige Folkways): After collaborations with Charlie Musselwhite and Natalie Maines, Ben Harper teams up with his mother for a set celebrating the folk music she introduced him to as a child.
The Horrors, "Luminous" (XL): The British rock group adds new flavors to its neo-psychedelic sound on its fourth album.
Ray Lamontagne, "Supernova" (RCA): The New England troubadour got with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach for his fifth and hardest rocking release yet.
Nikki Lane, "All Or Nothin' " (New West): The prolific Dan Auerbach also produced this new set of rockin' Southern swagger from the South Carolina songstress.
Lykke Li, "I Never Learn" (LL): The Swedish singer and songwriter completes a thematic trilogy with her third album, recorded with both Swedish and American producers.
Sarah McLachlan, "Shine One" (Verve): The Canadian singer-songwriter offers a more high-spirited set than 2010's "Laws of Illusion," with rock-pedigreed Bob Rock joining regularly McLachlan collaborator Pierre Marchand on the production end.
Natalie Merchant, "Natalie Merchant" (Nonesuch): The former 10,000 Maniacs singer offers up her first set of all-original songs in 13 years.
Judith Owen, "Ebb & Flow" (Twanky): Top-shelf session players such as Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel and Russ Kunkel give the songstress and wife of Harry Shearer a hand on her latest album.
Jenny Scheinman, "The Littlest Prisoner" (Sony Masterworks): The singer, songwriter and violinist is back in a trio setting with Bill Frisell and Brian Blade on her eighth studio album.
Michael Sweet, "I'm Not Your Suicide" (Big3): The Stryper frontman gets help from a selection of his fellow Christian rockers on this solo set.
tUnE-yArDs, "nikki nack" (4AD): The third studio outing by Merrill Garbus' experimental music collective includes contributions by the a capella group Roomful of Teeth.
Various Artists, "All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman" (Rounder): His "Midnight Rider" biopic may be imploding, but this all-star tribute, recorded during January in Atlanta, shows that Gregg Allman's music is near-bulletproof.
Various Artists, "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" (Sony): The companion album to the new animated feature. Hello yellow brick road?
Various Artists, "Now 50: That's What I Call Music" (UMe): The popular sampler series hits a landmark with recent hits by Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, Bastille, Miley Cyrus and more.
Various Artists, "The Soundtrack of Summer" (Walmart): The companion to the summer tour includes 16 Styx and Foreigner tracks plus a new take on the Eagles' "Hotel California" with tourmate Don Felder.
Willie Watson, "Folk Signer Vol 1" (Acony): David Rawlings produced this solo set from the former Old Crow Medicine Show member.
From The Vaults: Sonny Rollins, "Road Shows 3" (Masterworks)
New Music DVDs: Imagine Dragons, "Iconic" (Iconic Pictures); Rush, "The Rise of Kings" (Sexy Intellectual); Various Artists, "A Celebration of Blues and Soul: The 1989 Presidential Inaugural Concert" (Shout! Factory)
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