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The Listening Room: John Fullbright, Neil Young and more...
(Blue Dirt/Thirty Tigers)
It doesn't get much more straightforward than a guy in a plaid shirt playing an acoustic guitar (or piano) and starting his second album by counting in the first song. That's John Fullbright, the Oklahoma singer-songwriter who may very well be the best troubadour to emerge this decade. Fullbright's 2012 debut "From the Ground Up" was nominated for a Grammy Award and an Americana Music Award; its successor is even more austere and stripped-down, a statement that Fullbright's songs are strong enough to carry their own weight -- especially fare such as the heartbreaking relationship narrative "High Road" and soulfully sung tracks such as "When You're Here" and "All That You Know." Fullbright spends a bit of time on "Songs" focusing on the craft of songwriting, and he has the temerity to ask at the outset, "What's so bad about being happy?" But his lyrics reflect how hard that is, too, which he addresses with tough questions and pointed observations such as "livin' comes natural to many/lovin' comes natural to few." His plainspoken lyricism cuts right to the heart of every matter he focuses on, and while the spare arrangements are certainly effective, Fullbright's songs still hold up when the band kicks in on "Happy," "When You're Here" and the lively change-of-pace "Never Cry Again." A gem of an artist who doesn't need much polish to shine.
Neil Young, "A Letter Home" (Third Man/Reprise) ***
Young's latest has been kicking around on vinyl since Record Store Day in April, but its wide release this week will give more fans a chance to tap into its unique charms. Young recorded the 12-song set of his favorite (mostly) folk songs in a 1947 Voice-O-Graph vinyl recording booth at co-producer Jack White's Third Man Studios in Nashville, and there's a heartfelt, yearning immediacy to all 12 tracks -- especially Bert Jansch's "Needle of Death" and Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown." White helps out on a pair of tracks, but "A Letter Home's" real charm comes from Young at his most stripped-down essence, which always merits attention.
New & Noteworthy:
Mindi Abair, "Wild Heart" (Heads Up/Concord): The "American Idol" saxophonist gets help from Gregg Allman, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Booker T., Trombone Shorty, Keb' Mo' and more on her latest release.
BettySoo, "When We`re Young" (Sweet Papaya): The Austin singer and songwriter channels divorce and depression into her first set of new songs since 2009.
Mariah Carey, "Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse" (Def Jam): Carey looks trim and bathing-suit fit on the cover of her 14th album, which features guest appearances by Nas, Miguel, Wale, Fabolous and her twins Moroccan and Monroe.
Carman, "No Plan B" (Capitol Christian): The singer keeps his ministry music going via a Kickstarter campaign that earned some of the most impressive numbers in the service's history.
Crowbar, "Symmetry in Black" (eOne): The heavy rocking New Orleans group celebrates its 25th anniversary and 10th studio albumin one fell swoop.
Crowder, "Neon Steeple" (sixsteprecords): Folk/electronica alchemist David Crowder steps out of the band that bears his name for his first-ever solo effort.
Eyehategod, "Eyehategod" (Housecore): The reunited New Orleans headbangers deliver their first new studio album in a whooping 14 years.
Mary Friedman, "Inferno" (Prosthetic): The former Megadeth guitarist's first solo effort in four years includes collaborations with Danko Jones, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Children of Bodom's Alexi Laiho and others.
Helix, "Bastard of the Blues" (Perris): The Canadian hard rockers come back with their first new album in five years.
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, "A Long Way to the Beginning" (Knitting Factory): The legendary Fela Kuti`s youngest son keeps the Afrobeat going with help from co-producer Robert Glasper.
Amy LaVere, "Runaway's Diary" (Archer/Thirty Tigers): The singer-songwriter's latest mixes original songs with covers of favorites by John Lennon, Townes Van Zandt, Ned Miller and others.
Little Barrie, "Shadow" (Tummy Touch): The British soul rock trio, whose drummer is the son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe, delivers its third album.
Cher Lloyd, "Sorry I'm Late" (Epic): The title of the "X Factor" finalist's sophomore album is a nod to the three-year gap since her debut.
moe., "No Guts, No Glory" (Sugar Hill): The veteran jam band teams with hip-hope producer Dave Aron on this 11-track set.
Jamie O'Neal, "Eternal" (Shanachie): O'Neal takes on country classics by Patsy Cline, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, and Juice Newton for her first album in five years.
Powerman 5000, "Builders of the Future" (T-Boy/UMe): The industrial-strength quintet is back with its first set of sci-fi rock anthems in five years.
The Ready Set, "The Bad & the Better" (Razor & Tie): Indiana rocker Jordan Witzigreuter, who performers under the Ready Set moniker, moves to a new label for the third album from his Ready Set project
Neville Staple, "Ska Crazy!" (Cleopatra): The former Specials frontman blends new material with ska and reggae classics from Prince Buster, the Slickers and Max Romeo.
Armin Van Buuren, "Boundaries of Imagination" (Black Hole): The Dutch DJ remains intense on his sixth artist album.
Various Artists, "Midnight Rider -- A Tribute to the Allman Brothers Band" (Cleopatra): Molly Hatchet, Pat Travers, Sonny Landreth, Leon Russell and others tip their musical hats to the long-lived Southern rock pioneers.
Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, "Our Year" (Thirty Tigers): The harmonious couple's second duets album includes a remake of Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley PTA."
From The Vaults: Nat King Cole, "The Extraordinary" (UMe); Cradle of Filth, "Total F***ing Darkness" (Cacophonous); San Gets and Joao Gilberto, "Getz/Gilberto: 50th Anniversary (UMe); Iron Butterfly, "Live at the Galaxy 1967" (Cleopatra); Kiss, "Kiss 40" (UMe); Adam Lambert, "Playlist: The Very Best of Adam Lambert" (Legacy); Nils Lofgren, "Face the Music" (Concord); Elvis Presley, "Playlist: The Very Best of Elvis Movie Songs" (RCA/Legacy); Thor, "Of Only the Strong" (Cleopatra).
Soundtracks: James Newton Howard, "Maleficent" (Disney); Joel McNeely, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" (Backlot); Original Broadway Cast, "Rocky" (UMe)
New Music DVDs: Black Dahlia Murder, "Fool Em All" (Metal Blade)
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