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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: U2, Alt-J, Tim McGraw, Chris Brown and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

» See more SOUND CHECK

U2

"Songs of Innocence"

(Island)

Grade: B+


U2 has never been shy about painting a bullseye on its back, and the Irish quartet certainly put up a few targets with its 13th studio album. A deep tie-in with Apple? A free giveaway stunt via iTunes? Working with mainstream pop hitmakers such as Ryan Tedder, Paul Epworth and Danger Mouse? It's all a long way from three chords and the truth, eh? Well...not entirely. "Songs of Innocence," U2's first set of new material since 2009's "No Line on the Horizon," does have a contemporary kind of spit-polish, but that doesn't subvert the group's anthemic integrity, nor does it preclude subversive sonics and arrangements on tracks such as the arty, effects-laden "Raised By Wolves" and dance-floor polyglot "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now." Bono's vocals are as earnest and passionately emotive as ever, while The Edge's guitar attack runs from ethereal ringing to the gritty grind of "Cedarwood Road" and bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. provide a firm but flexible spine that can support any twist or turn. This is also perhaps U2's most personal album yet, with tributes to crucial influences -- "This is Where...," dedicated to the Clash's Joe Strummer, and "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" -- remembrances of growing up ("Cedarwood Road"), a warm elegy to Bono's mother ("Iris (Hold Me Close)") and testaments to why U2 does what it does ("Volcano"). There are certainly plenty of U2 trademarks throughout, and in the latter Bono acknowledges that "You can hurt yourself tryin' to hold on to what you used to be." But on "Songs Of Innocence" he and the rest of U2 successfully let the present provide a new, and convincing, context for the group's past.

New & Noteworthy:

Alt-J, "This Is All Yours" (Infectious): The British indie rockers bring out their sophomore album with a head of steam still from winning the prestigious Mercury Prize for its 2012 debut, "An Awesome Wave."

Chris Brown, "X" (RCA): The tainted R&B singer's sixth album is loaded with guests, including Usher, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, R. Kelly, Kendrick Lamar, Ariana Grande and more.

Tim McGraw, "Sundown Heaven Town" (Big Machine): The country singer collaborates again with wife and fellow superstar Faith Hill, this time on the track "Meanwhile Back at Mama's."

Slash with the Conspirators featuring Myles Kennedy, "World on Fire" (Dik Hayd International): The former Guns N' Roses/Velvet Revolver doesn't shirk on his third solo album, loading it with 17 hard-rocking tracks that run nearly 78 minutes total.

Barbra Streisand, "Partners" (Columbia): There's no shortage of starpower on this duets set, with Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie, Blake Shelton, Andrea Bocelli and even a posthumous Elvis Presley joining Streisand on these 12 tracks.

Train, "Bulletproof Picasso" (Columbia): The group's latest album -- a rare Friday (Sept. 12) release -- is its first without drummer and co-founder Scott Underwood, who left prior to the recording sessions.

Also Out:

The Bacon Brothers, "36 cents" (MRI); The Bad Things, "After the Inferno" (Silent City); Betty Buckley, "Ghostlight" (MRI); Ann Hampton Callaway, "From Sassy To Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project..." (Shanachie); Cannibal Corpse, "Skeletal Domain" (Metal Blade); Contortionist, "Language" (Good Fight/eOne); Mike Doughty, "Stellar Motel" (MRI); Jerry Douglas, Mike Auldridge and Rob Ickes, "Three Bells" (Rounder); Earles of Leicester, "Earles of Leicester (Rounder); Stephen Emmer, "International Blue" (self-released); Mike Farris, "Shine For All the People" (Compass); The Fauntleroys, "Below the Punk Pony" (Plowboy); Flyleaf, "Between the Stars" (Loud & Proud); For King & Country, "Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong" (WMG); Ingrid Gerdes, "High Priestess" (self-released); Sid Griffin, "The Trick is To Breathe" (Prima); Guru Freakout, "Krautrock Mothership" (Cleopatra); Conrad Herwig featuring Joe Lovano, "The Latin Side of Joe Henderson" (Half Note); The Madden Brothers, "Greetings From California" (Capitol); Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, "Juice" (Indirecto); Blake Mills, "Heigh Ho" (Record Collection/Verve); My Brightest Diamond, "This Is My Hand" (Asthmatic Kitty); Paolo Nutini, "Caustic Love" (Atlantic); Joell Ortiz, "House Slippers" (Penalty Ent.); Otherwise, "Peace at All Costs" (Century Media); Pineapple Thief, "Magnolia" (Kscope); Tennis, "Ritual in Repeat" (Communion); Sir Sly, "You Haunt Me" (Interscope); Steelism, "615 to Fame" (Single Lock); George Strait, "Cowboy Rides Away: Live From At&T Stadium" (Universal Nashville); Various Artists, "Dead Man's Town: A Tribute to Born in the USA" (Lightning Rod); Kenny Werner, "Coalition" (Half Note); Jesse Winchester, "Reasonable Amount of Trouble" (Appleseed)

From The Vaults: Jimi Hendrix, "Rainbow Bridge" "The Cry of Love" (Experience Hendrix/Legacy); Travers & Appice, "Live in Europe" (Cleopatra)

Soundtracks: Cliff Martinez, "The Knick" (Milan); Various Artists, "Guardians of the Galaxy Deluxe" (Hollywood)

New Music DVDs: Anthrax, "Chile on Hell" (Megaforce)



Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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