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The Listening Room: Miranda Lambert, the Orwells and more...
Miranda Lambert pegs herself "a fighter with a centerfold face" at the beginning of her fifth album, and even though they're other songwriters' words, they clearly know her well. The singer, songwriter (she wrote eight of the album's 16 tracks) and wife of Blake Shelton is effectively tough 'n' tender on "Platinum," covering a wide array of musical styles while still staying rooted in country and seldom giving over to the modern pop trappings many of her peers trade in. She has no trouble going really old school in fact, like on the Texas swing leavin' song "All That's Left" with the Time Jumpers or on the rootsy "Old S***" and the honky tonk "Gravity is a Bitch." Lambert and Carrie Underwood get into a hard rockin' showdown on "Something' Bad," while her teaming with Little Big Town on "Smokin' and Drinkin' " is surprisingly airy and ambient. "Holding on to You" is a soulful love song while "Two Rings Shy" is a clever kiss-off, and on "Priscilla," clearly written especially for Lambert, she sings of convincing common ground between herself and Elvis Presley`s first wife. The punky "Little Red Wagon" feels a bit out of place on this 16-song set, but Lambert and her corps of ace studio hands redeem her on other highlights, including the poignant "Bathroom Sink" and "Babies Makin' Babies" and the richly drawn "Another Sunday in the South."
The Orwells, "Disgraceland" (Canvasback/Atlantic) ***
If you think fuzzy guitars and songs about slasher flicks and making out on car hoods are part of the equation for great rock 'n' roll, a) you're right and b) the Orwells are your band. The youthful Chicago quintet sounds even more matured on "Disgraceland" than it did on its 2012 debut "Remember When," tearing through these 11 tracks with lo-fi, garagey exuberance and libidos that would make Prince blush. There's plenty of hooks and pop-caliber melodies here, too, and if the Orwells occasional wear influences like Nirvana and the Strokes on their sleeves, it never gets in the way of an exceptionally good time.
New & Noteworthy:
Johnny A., "Driven" (Agiaophone): The third blues-rock solo album by the Boston guitarist and former musical director for Peter Wolf's band.
Camper Van Beethoven, "El Camino Real" (429): The versatile California troupe delivers a gritter, earthier companion album to last year's "comeback" set "La Costa Perdida."
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, "Only Run" (self-released): The fourth album from the Philadelphia indie rock collective formed and fronted by Alec Ounsworth.
Die Antwoord, "Donker Mag" (Zef): The third album from the politically and sexually explicit South African rap troupe.
Echo & the Bunnymen, "Meteorites" (429): The British post-punk stalwarts are back with their first new album in five years.
50 Cent, "Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire to Win" (G-Unit/Caroline/Capitol): Yo Gotti, Trey Songz, Styles P and Jadakiss are among those helping the brawny New York rapper on his fifth studio album, the firfst of two new releases he's planning for this year.
Fu Manchu, "Gigantoid" (At the Dojo): The stoner rockers from California come out in typically dense, swinging fashion on their first new set in five years.
Lucy Hale, "Road Between" (Hollywood): The actress ("Pretty Little Liars") makes her country music debut, with Joe Nichols helping out on the track "Red Dress."
Joe Henry, "Invisible Hour" (Work Song): The Rochester Adams grad recorded his 12th album in his home studio in Pasadena, with help from the Milk Carton Kids, Lisa Hanigan and novelist Colum McCann.
King Buzzo, "This Machine Kills Artists" (Ipecac): An acoustic solo outing by the Melvins' Buzz Osbourne, although given where he comes from you can be assured it's not some hippy-dippy folk record.
Led Zeppelin, "Led Zeppelin," "Led Zeppelin II," "Led Zeppelin III" (Atlantic/Rhino): No mere re-releases, these deluxe sets are the first of a full-catalog rollout that dredges the group's vaults for killer -- and often unreleased -- audio and video bonuses. Nothing less than a whole lotta Led.
LP, "Forever Now" (Warner Bros.): This full-length debut has been a long time coming for the singer who staked her reputation co-writing hits for Rihanna, Christina Aguilera and others.
Marcus Roll Hook Band, "Tales of Old Grand-Daddy" (Parlophone): Angus and Malcom Young, pre-AC/DC, are showcased on this set of songs they recorded with their older brother and friend George Vanda in 1973.
Matisyahu, "Akeda" (Elm City Music): The title of the rapper and reggae artist's latest album means "binding" in Hebrew, but this actually Matisyahu's most un-bound and diverse album yet.
Mike Mattison, "You Can't Fight Love" (Landslide): The first solo outing by the vocalist known for his work with the Derek Trucks Band and the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Mingo Fishtrap, "On Time" (Blue Corn Music): The eight-piece Austin, Texas soul group is even more tightly honed on its fourth release.
Bob Mould, "Beauty & Ruin" (Merge): The Husker Du and Sugar frontman is back to leading a trio on his latest solo set.
Peter Murphy, "Lion" (Nettwerk): The former Bauhaus frontman's 10th solo album comes at the same time he's funding a documentary about the band through PledgeMusic.
Me'Shell NdegeOcello, "Comet, Come to Me" (Naive): The eclectic singer, songwriter and bassist welcomes Doyle Bramhall and My Brightest Diamond's Shar Worden as special helpers on her 11th album.
Kelly Price, "Sing/Play/Love Vol. 1: Sing" (Slang Girl/My Block/Malaco): The R&B singer begins a thematic trilogy, with help on the first volume by Ruben Studdard.
Rich Robinson, "The Ceaseless Sight" (Circle Sound/The End): The Black Crowes guitarist and co-founder recorded his third solo album in Woodstock. N.Y.
Voyager, "V" (Nightmare): The Australian prog-metal troupe funded its fifth album via a Kickstarter campaign.
From The Vaults: Captain Beefheart, "Harpo's Detroit Dec. 11, 1980" (Gonzo Multimedia); John Doe, "The Best of John Doe: This Far" (Yep Rock); Morrissey, "Vauxhall and I (20th Anniversary Remaster)" (Rhino); Steve Oliver, "The Best of So Far" (SOM Entertainment) ; Elvis Presley, "Bossa Nova Baby: The Ultimate Elvis Presley Party Album" (Legacy); Soundgarden, "Superunknown (20th Anniversary Edition)" (A&M/UMe); Various Artists, "Now! That`s What I Call Country 7" (Capitol); Paul Weller, "More Modern Classics" (Harvest)
Soundtracks: Original Broadway Cast, "If/Then: A New Musical" (Masterworks/Broadway; Original Broadway Cast, "Violet" (P.S. classics); James Ottman, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (Okeh)
New Music DVDs: "Super Duper Alice Cooper" (Eagle Rock)
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