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The Listening Room: Ed Sheeran, Mastodon and more...
Poor Ed Sheeran; apparently a worldwide smash debut ("+"), some big hits ("the A Team," "Lego House") and a stint opening in stadiums for Taylor Swift don't guarantee happiness. "x" (aka "Multiply"), the British singer-songwriter's sophomore album, has its trilly love songs ("One," "Tenerife Sea") but primarily deals with the personal woes and the havoc success can have on one's personal life; "The irony is if my career and music didn't exit/In six years you'd probably be my wife with a kid" he tells one former paramour in "The Man," while "I'm a Mess" offers apologies and "Don't" as well as "The Man" ruminate on betrayals from both sides. The brooding does, however, add some dimension to Sheeran's character giving a darker personal hew and heft to the more romantic idealism of "+." And "x" expands his sonic palette, too, making greater use of full-band instrumentation and bringing in new collaborators such as Pharrell Williams and Rick Rubin and adding more beat sensibility on tracks such as "Sing," "Don't," while "Runaway," "Nina" and "Thinking Out Loud" explore classic soul and the artful confession "Bloodstream" offers a pensive ebb and flow. The album-closing "Afire Love" grapples with death and longing, but Sheeran finds uplift, too, ending with hallelujah salutations that envisions hope rising from the ruins that dominate this 12-song set.
Mastodon, "Once More `Round the Sun" (Reprise) ***
Few bands in the realm of heavy rock have been as consistent as Mastodon. During the past 12 years the Atlanta quartet's progress has been steady but exciting, a taut balance of brute force and precision musicianship along with conceptual daring -- and some pretty trippy album art to go with it. Mastodon's sixth album continues that pattern, another heavyweight affair -- this time produced by Rush and Foo Fighters collaborator Nick Raskulinecz -- that features some of the group's most direct moments ("High Road," "Feast In Your Eyes") and some of its most expansive, including the swirling "Asleep in the Deep" and the album closing "Diamond in the Witch House," as well as the propulsive "Aunt Lisa" with guest chants from the Coathangers. It's a smart kind of metal, with enough prog and even intellectual touches to raise it above the genre's standard fare.
New & Noteworthy:
The Babys, "I'll Have Some of That" (Skyrocket): No John Waite, but the veteran rockers sound like they haven't missed a step during the 30 years since their last album.
Ginger Baker, "Why?" (Motema): The former Blind Faith drummer unveils his latest endeavor, a saxophone-led jazz quartet.
Bassnectar, "Noise vs. Beauty" (Ingrooves): Seth Drake, Rye Rye, Jantsen and more step up to take part on the California electronic artist's latest effort.
Ruben Blades, "Tangos" (Sunnyside): The Panamanian singer, poet and occasional actor blends his salsas with Argentinean tangos in partnership with Latin jazz veteran Carlos Franzetti.
Sarah Borges, "Radio Sweetheart (Lonesome Day): The Boston singer-songwriter steps away from her band, the Broken Singles, for a solo effort.
Corrosion of Conformity, "IX" (Candlelight): The North Carolina headbangers are in characteristically hard-hitting form on their second album since the band reactivated three years ago.
Deadmau5, "whilte (1<2)" (mau5trap/Aastralwerks): The Canadian electronica star's latest features two continuous mixes on each of its two discs, including remixes of nine inch nails and How to Destroy Angels tracks.
Peter Frampton, "Hummingbird in a Box" (RED): These seven pieces Frampton wrote for the Cincinnati Ballet stand up as solid musical pieces as well.
Ghostface Killah & Badbadnotgood, "Six Degrees" (Lex): The Wu-Tang Clan rapper surfaces with yet another of his many collaborations.
Godflesh, "Decline & Fall" (Avalanche): The industrial rock duo delivers its first new music in 13 years with this EP, to be followed by a full-length album later this year.
Robert Gordon, "I'm Coming Home" (Lanark): The rockabilly veteran continues to celebrate greased-back hair, gritty guitar licks and everything else that's right about his chosen genre.
Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Joey DeFranceso, Billy Hart, "Enjoy the View" (Blue Note): The all-star jazz quartet's summit meeting was produced by Detroit native and Blue Note label chief Don Was.
Eric Johnson, "Europe Live" (Provogue/Mascot): The Texas guitar hero shows his chops as player and composer (and even singer) on this concert set.
The Last Hombres, "Odd Fellows Rest" (Red Hot): The first new album in a decade from the American trio whose members have been busy with other projects during the interim.
Janiva Magness, "Original" (Fathead): The Detroit-born blues and roots artist pushed through divorce, deaths and injury while making her 10th album.
Phish, "Fuego" (Jemp): the arena-filling jam band teamed with Pink Floyd/Kiss producer Bob Ezrin on its first new studio album in five years.
PHOX, "PHOX" (Partisan): The Wisconsin indie pop group recorded its debut album at Bon Iver's home studio in Eau Claire.
Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, "Emergency Situation" (Blind Pig): The blues harmonica veteran keeps things fierce and forceful on his new release.
Riff Raff, "Neon Icon" (Mad Decent): Childish Gambino, Mac Miller and Detroit' Mike Posner are among those guesting on the Houston rapper`s second studio album.
Various Artists, "Red Hot + Bach" (Sony Masterworks): Contemporary artists such as Nickel Creek`s Chris Thile, King Britt and Kronos Quartet reimaging Johann Sebastian Bach`s work for the latest AIDs relief benefit project.
SomeKindaWonderful, "SomeKindaWonderful" (Downown/White Cliover): The debut from the Cleveland quintet that's making forward progress with its debut single, "Reverse."
Various Artists, "Light My Fire: A Classic Rock Salute to the Doors" (Purple Pyramid): Members of Deep Purple, Foreigner, Mountain, the Moody Blues, Todd Rundgren and more join forces for 16 of the Doors' classics.
From The Vaults: The Band, "Arter Barron Amphitheater Washington, D.C. July 17th" (Keyhole);" Jackson Browne, "Late For the Sky (40th Anniversary Edition)" (Inside); Roy Buchanan, "Live at My Father's Place" (Rockbeat); Dave Matthews Band, "Remember Two Things" (Bama Rags/RCA/Legacy)
Soundtracks: "Jersey Boys: Music From the Motion Picture and Broadway Show" (Rhino); "The Lion King: Legacy Collection" (Disney); Various Artists, "22 Jump Street" (Casablanca)
New Music DVDs: The Beatles, "A Hard Day's Night" (Criterion Collection); Peter Gabriel, "Back To Front: Live in London" (Eagle Rock)
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