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The Listening Room: Ariana Grande, Brad Paisley, Bruce Hornsby and more...
At the end of the deluxe edition of her sophomore album, Ariana Grande declares that "I don't need to live by your rules" and that "(you) think you know me but there's more to see, my love." And while she's addressing a lover in this particular case, she could just as easily be talking to the music industry -- or the world in general. While the rule of thumb for most pop sensations is to milk a debut (in this case the 21-year-old Grande's chart-topping 2013 debut "Yours Truly"), she's come back quickly, just a year later and with an album that shows the kind of growth most young artists talk about but never really achieve. With a big, soulful and natural sounding voice that most recalls Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey, Grande certainly embraces the pro forma mix of torchy heartbreak ballads and defiant, hip-hop and EDM-flavored dance tracks, but there's a lot of care taken with these 12 (or 15 on the deluxe edition) songs by an all-star cadre of hitmaking producers that includes Max Martin, David Guetta, Shellback, Ryan Tedder, Rodney Jerkins and others, resulting in a record that sounds fresh and just a little left of the usual diva center. Detroit rapper Big Sean, Grande's rumored boyfriend, offers some intriguing whispers around Iggy Azalea's raps on the single "Problems" and a more laid-back commentary on "Best Mistake," while The Weeknd crafts a genuine dialogue with Grande on "Break Your Heart Right Back." She's outdone a bit by guests Jessie J and Nicki Minaj on "Bang Bang," but Grande demonstrates plenty of authority on the uptempo "Why Try" and "Break Free" (with Zedd) and the jazzy "Break Your Heart Right Back" with Childish Gambino, as well on the three-hanky ballads such as "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart" (co-written by One Direction's Harry Styles) and the title track. "My Everything" is a solid step forward for Grande, which makes "there's more to see" an intriguing promise rather than a threat.
New & Noteworthy:
Robyn Hitchcock, "The Man Upstairs" (Yep Roc): Eccentric and well-crafted as always, the British singer-songwriter mixes his latest originals with covers of songs by Roxy Music, the Doors, the Psychedelic Furs and others.
Bruce Hornsby, "Solo Concerts" (Vanguard): The fact that Hornsby's a) such a good songwriter and b) such an outstanding pianist makes this compendium of one-man performances near-essential.
Tom Maxwell, "Tom Maxwell and the Minor Drag" (SKH Music): The former Squirrel Nut Zippers frontman debuts his new band in conjunction with the memoir "Hell: My Life in the Squirrel Nut Zippers." Wonder how he really feels?
The New Pornographers, "Brill Bruisers" (Matador): The Canadian collective`s first new album in four years adds a mid-90s Britpop feel to the troupe's usual blend of usual indie folk-pop blend.
Brad Paisley, "Moonshine in the Trunk" (Arista Nashville); Duets with Emmylou Harris and Carrie Underwood are highlights of the "Rising Star" judge's 10th studio album.
Shovels & Rope, "Swimmin' Time" (Dualtone): The South Carolina husband-wife duo's sophomore release hunkered down in a studio for its sophomore release after recording its 2012 debut literally all over the place.
The Wytches, "Annabel Dream Reader" (Partisan): The British trio brings its blend of surf and psychedelic rock styles across the bond after, well, bewitching its homeland during the past 14 months.
Also Out: Ian Anderson, "Thick as a Brick -- Live in Iceland" (Eagle Rock); Jill Barber, "Fool's Gold" (Outside Music); Chlopcy Kontra Basia, "Oj Tak!" (Riverboat); John Cowan, "Sixty" (Compass); Enuff Z'nuff, "Covered in Gold" (Cleopatra); Mike Farris, "Shine For All the People" (Compass); Floating Action, "Body Questions" (New West); Funeral Bonsai Wedding, "Funeral Bonsai Wedding" (self-released); Phoebe Hunt & the Gatherers featuring Connor Forsyth, "Walk With Me" (self-released); il sogno del marinaio, "canto secondo" (celebwrench); Shelley King, "Building a Fire" (Lemonade); Heather Kropf, "Chrysalis" (self-released); MKRV, "W.A.Y." (self-released); Opeth, "Pale Communion" (Roadrunner); Rubblebucket, "Survival Sounds" (Communion); Ty Segall, "Manipulator" (Drag City); Thousand Foot Krutch, "Oxygen: Inhale" (self-released); Tinnarose, "Tinnarose" (Nine Mile); David Ullman, "Corduroy" (Little Sky)
From The Vaults: Avenged Sevenfold, "Waking the Fallen" (Hopeless); Full Force, "With Love From Our Friends (Deluxe Edition)" (Legacy)
New Music DVDs: Ian Anderson, "Thick as a Brick -- Live in Iceland" (Eagle Rock);
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