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PAUL MCCARTNEY, BIG & RICH and more...
Paul McCartney, "Memory Almost Full" (Hear Music) **1/2
The former Beatle's 21st solo album has been getting more attention for where it's being sold -- Starbucks, ending 43 years with the Capitol/EMI consortium -- than what's on it. That may, of course, give "Memory Almost Full" a chance to sneak up on listeners, especially after a bit of buzz generated by 2005's Grammy nominated "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" and raised Beatles consciousness for the 40th anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." And "Memory Almost Full," which McCartney started recording before "Chaos...," stands up to his still-solid standards as a pop craftsman who blends timeless melodicism with occasional idiosyncratic touches, making his ambitions as intriguing as his results. McCartney starts things off strumming a mandolin and whistling (take that, Peter, Bjorn & John!) on the folksy, uptempo "Dance Tonight" and subsequently winds his way through the shiny pop of "See Your Sunshine," the dramatic cascade of "Mr. Bellamy," the everybody-wants-to-be-Ray-Charles shouter "Gratitude" and the churning rockers "Only Mama Knows" and the dumb-but-fun "Nod Your Head." The album's centerpiece is an unapologetically sentimental five-song-medley towards the end in which McCartney pronounces "We are what we are!" in "Vintage Clothes" before recalling his youth in "That Was Me" and laying out details for his funeral -- with more whistling (take that [i]again[/i], Peter, Bjorn & John) -- in "The End of the End," in which one of the world's richest and most accomplished artists shows the temerity to acknowledge that the afterlife "would have to be special" to be the "much better place" we're supposed to go. Those thoughts of mortality aside, however, "Memory Almost Full" shows that McCartney, who turns 65 this month, is still working at an admirable, and enviable, capacity.
Big & Rich, "Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace" (Warner Bros.) ***
Brooks & Dunn have the harmonies and Montgomery Gentry has the attitude, but Big & Rich remain country's most consistently interesting, and audacious, duo on their third album. They shake up the formula a bit this time, frontloading "Between..." with gentler, introspective material such as "Lost in This Moment," "Faster Than Angels Fly" and "Eternity" (with John Legend) before blowing the roof off nine songs in with "Radio," the reggae joint "Please Man" with Wyclef Jean and a twangy take on AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." Big & Rich still like it "Loud," as the closing song says, but their "Grace" is just as good.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY:
Black Light Burns, "Cruel Melody" (Adrenaline): Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland surfaces with another vehicle for the quirkier side of his musical personality.
Gia Ciambotti, "Right as Rain" (New Light): The first solo album from the singer-songwriter whose credits include Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Lucinda Williams, Celine Dion, Moby and more.
Chris Cornell, "Carry On" (Interscope): The former Soundgarden frontman resumes the solo career he put on hold for Audioslave -- and covers Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," too.
Cowboy Troy, "Back in the Saddle" (Warner Bros.): The 6-foot-5 rapping black cowboy brings his second album out alongside -- and in competition with? -- patrons Big & Rich.
Daddy Yankee, "Cartel: The Big Boss" (Interscope): The Puerto Rican MC rocks the reggaeton tip with help from Akon and Fergie.
Matthew Dear, "Asa Breed" (Ghostly International): The burgeoning Ann Arbor electronic artist continues to refine his songcraft and his grooves on his latest release.
Dream Theater, "Systematic Chaos" (Roadrunner): The veteran prog metal troupe delivers its ninth studio album.
Ella Fitzgerald, "We All Love Ella: Celebrating the First Lady of Song" (Verve): A lost version of Fitzgerald dueting with Stevie Wonder sits among tracks by Quincy Jones, Natalie Cole, Nancy Wilson, Wynonna and a couple of "American Idol" contestants.
Marilyn Manson, "Eat Me, Drink Me" (nothing): Seasoned properly, the Antichrist Superstar might go well with a nice bordeux.
Poison, "Poison'd!" (Capitol); Tesla "Real to Real" (Tesla/Rykodisc): A pair of '80s acts go the covers routes, eschewing new material in favor of their versions of favorites from David Bowie, the Cars, Sweet, the Rolling Stones, Kiss, Deep Purple, the Guess Who, the Temptations and others.
Rihanna, "Good Girl Gone Bad" (Island/Def Jam): Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake and Timbaland are just a few of the collaborators the chart-topping Barbadian singer taps for her sophomore album.
Bruce Springsteen, "Live in Dublin" (Columbia): A concert document of Springsteen's spectacular Seeger Sessions tour.
Marty Stuart, "Compadres: An Anthology of Duets" (Hip-O): Stuart has kept good company during his career as evidenced by these teamings with Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Steve Earle, B.B. King and others.
T-Pain, "Epiphany" (Jive): The Southern rapper's second album arrives in the wake of the chart-topping hotness of its first single, "Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin')."
Various Artists, "Anchored in Love" (Dualtone): John Carter Cash produced this tribute to his late mother, which includes performances of her songs by Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Brad Paisley, Ronnie Dunn and more.
Various Artists "Warped Tour: 2007 Compilation" (Side One Dummy): The new rock tour's annual overstuffed album includes tracks by Killswitch Engage, Bad Religion, Alkaline Trio and 47 others.
Porter Wagoner, "Wagonmaster" (Anti-): Marty Stuart plays Rick Rubin to Wagoner's Johnny Cash on the legend's first full-fledged country album in seven years.
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