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Listening Room: Gretchen Wilson, Wilco and more...
Gretchen Wilson, “One of the Boys” (Columbia) ***
There’s a second here where we fear our “Redneck Woman” has gone soft. In her third album’s title track, Gretchen Wilson informs us that “I still got this girl inside me/That likes to be treated like a queen ... I’m more than one of the boys.” We already knew that, of course; Wilson’s brand of butt-kicking country woman was more than just some masculine wanna-be pose. And the good news is that she doesn’t get all girly on us here, either, taking time out to slap around an unworthy mate on “If You Want a Mother,” poke fun at her trailer park roots in “There Goes the Neighborhood,” and give us an all-time barroom anthem in the last-call revelry of “You Don’t Have to Go Home.” But Wilson, who describes “One of the Boys” as “my diary set to music,” does a good job of weaving her softer side into the revelry, whether it’s the gently vulnerable “The Girl I Am,” the lightly Texican flavor of “Pain Killer” (with its hall of fame opening line, “I’ve been pouring whiskey on your memory”) or “To Tell You the Truth,” the airy, atmospheric confessional that closes the album. “One of the Boys” — produced by Wilson and her usual braintrust of Big & Rich’s John Rich and Mark Wright — also establishes that Wilson works best with her own material; the album’s lone outright clunker is “Come to Bed,” a duet with Rich that he wrote with Vicky McGehee and is far more suited for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Wilson can be soft, but she doesn’t have to be mushy.
Wilco, “Sky Blue Sky” (Nonesuch) *** 1/2
This is Wilco’s best album yet — and that’s saying something, given its five lauded predecessors. But in its current six-member lineup, Jeff Tweedy and company have returned to a direction that’s more song-based yet still retains the edgy, experimental flavor of their last two albums, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A ghost is born.” Gentle melodies and detailed arrangements allow for both subtle instrumental touches and dramatic explosions, mostly by lead guitarist Nels Cline, whose extended solos on “Impossible Germany” and “Side With the Seeds” are nothing short of magical. Tweedy’s in the best voice of his career, too, and his heartrending lyrics make this a landmark in an already exceptional catalog.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
John Anderson, “Easy Money”
(Warner Bros.) — The country veteran tapped Big & Rich hitmaker John Rich to produce his latest album.
Funeral For a Friend, “Tales Don’t Tell Themselves” (Atlantic) — A 12-minute lead-off track (“Reunion”) certainly indicates the level of ambition this Welsh quintet brings to its fourth album.
Ian Hunter, “Shrunken Heads” (Yep Roc) — The Mott the Hoople frontman keeps rocking with a corps of all-star sidemen from Bruce Springsteen, Joe Jackson and John Mellencamp’s bands.
Linkin Park, “Minutes to Midnight” (Warner Bros.) — The sextet and producer Rick Rubin throw some curve balls on its third album, which steps away from the rap-rock of its predecessors.
Megadeth, “United Abominations” (Roadrunner) — The headbangers’ new set gets an estrogen injection from guest vocalist Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil.
Maria Muldaur, “Naughty, Bawdy and Blue” (Stony Plain) — Muldaur’s latest blues outing features a duet with Bonnie Raitt on Sippie Wallace’s “Separation Blues.”
The Narrator, “All That to the Wall” (Flameshovel) — Album No. 2 from the fiercely lo-fi Chicago indie rockers.
Steve Nieve, “Welcome to the Voice” (Deutsche Grammophon) — Elvis Costello and Sting are among the voices on this opera by the longtime Attractions/Imposters keyboardist.
Dolores O’Riordan, “Are You Listening” (Sanctuary) — The former Cranberries singer’s first solo album comes seven years after the band disbanded.
Bruce Robison, “It Came From San Antonio” (Premium) — The seven songs on this Texas troubadour’s new EP show why he’s been covered by George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw and scores of others.
Ann Savoy & Her Sleepless Knights, “If Dreams Come True” (Memphis International) — The Cajun great and her Knights recorded this set completely live, with no overdubs, in Louisiana.
Soundtrack, “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten” (Legacy) — Interviews as well as songs by the Clash, the Mescaleros, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, the MC5 and others accompany the documentary about the late Clash frontman.
Soundtrack, “Shrek the Third” (Geffen) — The ogre and his pals rock out this time to songs by Fergie, Wolfmother, eels, Wings, Led Zeppelin, the Ramones and more.
Various Artists, “The Sandanista! Project” (00:02:59) — Thirty-six acts, including the Smithereens, Wreckless Eric and Camper Van Beethoven, pay tribute to the Clash’s sweeping 1980 triple-disc.
Rufus Wainwright, “Release the Stars” (Geffen) — The confessional singer-songwriter recorded most of his fifth album in Berlin.
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