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The Listening Room: David Bowie, The Grascals, Bob Margolin, Rachel Platten and more...
David Bowie has made a career out of surprising, and even at times shocking, with his creative sea changes, so it would have been surprising if "Blackstar," was another ear-friendly collection ala 2013's "The Next Day." Instead, the second album of Bowie's "comeback," timed for release on his 69th birthday, is one of the most ambitious of his diverse career, as experimental as eyebrow-raisers such as "Low" and "Lodger." Its seven songs were recorded with a small ensemble of New York City jazz musicians and focus more on vibe and textures rather than hooky melodies. From the title track -- a nearly 10-minute tone poem that often sounds like a prayer session in Mecca -- to the urgent, halting rhythms of "Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" and "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)," "Blackstar" is an exercise in pure, instinctual music making, reveling in a minimalism that allows Donny McCaslin much of the heavy lifting as he slides his woodwinds artfully in and out of surging beat patterns and washes of ambient white noise. That's not to say "Blackstar" isn't accessible; it's actually an appealing and engaging listen from front to back, with the majestic "Lazarus," from Bowie's stage adaptation of "The Man Who Fell to Earth," and the closing "I Can't Give Everything Away," which is as close to a mission statement as you'll hear from him, standing out as soothing moments amidst the tempest. Even at the end of his seventh decade Bowie isn't one to stand still -- and we'd be disappointed if he did.
New & Noteworthy:
Ruth B, "The Intro" (Columbia): An apt title for the four-song EP that provides our first earful of the young Edmonton R&B singer.
The Grascals, "And Then There's This" (Mountain Home): The Nashville Bluegrass favorites return with their first new outing in nearly three years.
Bob Margolin, "My Road" (Steady Rollin'/VizzTone): The blues veteran and onetime Muddy Waters sideman penned six original songs to accompany four covers on his latest outing.
Rachel Platten, "Wildfire" (Columbia): The Massachusetts-born singer-songwriter makes her major label debut in the wake of last year's attention-piquing "Fight Song" single.
Ron Pope + the NIghthawks, "Ron Pop + the NIghthawks" (Brooklyn Basement): Five albums into his career, the Nashville singer-songwriter has fully merged with the Brooklyn-based Nighthawks, who provide even more musical oomph.
Various Artists, "Straight Outta Compton: Music From the Motion Picture" and "Straight Outta Compton: Original Motion Picture Score" (UMe): The acclaimed N.W.A. documentary keeps on giving with this pair of releases, out 11 days in front of the film's home video release.
Also Out: Lew Card, "Follow Me Down" (self-released); Cauldron, "In Ruin" (The End); Exmortus, "Ride Forth" (Prosthetic); Fallujah, "Nomadic" (Unique Leader); Hinds, "Leave Me Alone" (Mom & Pop); Ignite, "A War Against You" (Century Media); Kampfar, "Profan" (Indie Recordings); Lunasa, "The Kinnitty Sessions" (Lunasa)
From The Vaults: Maynard Ferguson, "Storm" and "Live From San Francicso" (Ominivore); The Grateful Dead, "Dave's Picks Volume 16: Springfield Civic Center, Springfield, MA, March 18, 1973; (Deadnet); The Guess Who, "Share The Land" (Iconoclastic); The Mamas and the Papas, "The Complete Singles: 50th Anniversary Collection" (Real Gone); JD Souther, "John David Souther" (Omnivore)
Soundtracks: Brian Reitzell, "Hannibal Season 3, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2" (Lakeshore); "Joy, "Music From the Motion Picture" (ABKCO); Douglas Pipes, "Krampus" (La La Land); "The Lion Guard (Music From the TV Series)" (Walt Disney); John Williams, "Star Wars: The Ultimate Soundtrack Collection" (Sony Classical)
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