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Listening Room: Ryan Adams, Kelly Clarkson and more...
Ryan Adams, “Easy Tiger” (Lost Highway) ***1/2
After releasing three albums in 2005 — and complaining that he still had a backlog of tunes — Ryan Adams laid uncharacteristically low last year. It was time well spent, and not only because he apparently used some of it to kick one of rock’s most notorious drug habits. “Easy Tiger,” his ninth album since leaving Whiskeytown in 1999, is arguably the best thing Adams has done to date and a certain candidate for the year’s best album.
The reasons, strong songwriting and solid performances, are easy enough to discern but speak to the focus and clarity Adams has this time out after a period where he seemed to be focused more on quantity than quality (although the quality was pretty impressive given that quantity). With his estimable backing band the Cardinals bolstering their leader with nuanced and textured arrangements, Adams delivers one soulful vocal performance after another, keening alongside Sheryl Crow on “Two,” rocking on “Halloweenhead,” mourning on “Tears of Gold,” and finding a quiet but celebratory solace in the album-closing “I Taught Myself How to Grow Old.” There remains a certain Neil Young influence in Adams’ singing on tracks such as “Goodnight Rose” and “Off Broadway,” but it’s a natural and honest homage that never sounds forced. He laments at one point that “most of the time I’ve got nothing to say,” but, as we know, nothing could be further from the truth for Adams. This time, however, what he has to say will resonate well beyond its release date.
Kelly Clarkson, “My December” (RCA) ***
It’s easy to see how the inaugural American Idol and her label went to the mat over her third album — and not because it’s not good. In fact, “My December” is by far the best of Kelly Clarkson’s three releases so far, but it’s much more Alanis Morissette and Evanescence (and, on the sexy “Yeah!,” Gretchen Wilson) than “Miss Independent.” It’s a hard-rocking, vitriolic album by a woman scorned and unafraid to dive into the darkest emotions that came in the wake of that. Clarkson, who co-wrote all 14 tracks, wears the personal investiture well, and her performances on “Sober,” “Haunted” and “Maybe” continue the growth she demonstrated on “Breakaway,” her multiplatinum 2004 sophomore outing. With her world a quagmire of fired managers and canceled tours, let’s give Clarkson props for at least keeping her creative trajectory moving forward.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
Bad Brains, “Build a Nation” (Megaforce) — The Beastie Boys’ Adam “MCA” Yauch produced the hardcore legends’ first studio album in more than a decade.
Beastie Boys, “Mix Up” (Capitol) — The New York MC trio puts down the mics and picks up their instruments for this first all-instrumental album.
Marc Broussard, “S.O.S.: Save Our Soul” (Vanguard) — The Louisiana singer-songwriter’s fourth album focuses on R&B covers of songs by Al Green, the Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and more.
The Click Five, “Modern Times and Pastimes” (Lava) — The Boston power pop quintet’s sophomore album follows its debut by three years.
Bryan Ferry, “Dylanesque” (Capitol) — The Roxy Music frontman gets tangled up in blue on this collection of 11 Bob Dylan covers.
Gore Gore Girls, “Get the Gore” (Bloodshot) — The fourth album — go-go boots, big hair and all — from the steel-stringed Detroit rock goddesses.
Gabby Glaser, “Gimme Splash” (Latchkey Recordings) — Luscious Jackson’s guitarist makes her solo debut seven years after the band went on hiatus.
King Wilkie, “Low Country Suite” (Rounder) — The award-winning Virginia bluegrass sextet took a coupleyear hiatus to woodshed and reinvent itself a bit for its second album.
Nick Lowe, “At My Age” (Yep Roc) — Everyone who’s Lowe’s age (58) should be making music up to this standard.
Mocean Worker, “Cinco de Mowo!” (Mowo! Inc.) — Dance artist Adam Dorn wants everyone to “Shake Ya Boogie,” even the late jazz great Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who plays on two tracks from the great beyond.
Sinead O’Connor, “Theology” (Koch) — The idiosyncratic Irish icon’s latest is a two-disc set (one acoustic, one electric) of songs inspired by and culled from the Old Testament, along with a cover of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Pharoahe Monch, “Desire” (Universal) — The second album from the Queensbased rapper, with guests Erykah Badu and D12’s Denaun Porter, has been floating around the Internet since late last month.
Andre Previn, “Alone: Ballads for Solo Piano” (Decca) — The composer-conductor goes it alone, offering two originals and versions of favorites from the Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin and Rogers & Hammerstein canons.
Soundtrack, “Hannah Montana, Vol. 2: Best of Both Worlds” (Disney) — Before you laugh or roll your eyes, remember that Vol. 1 topped the charts in 2006.
Kelly Willis, “Translated From Love” (Rykodisc) — The revered Americana singer returns after a five-year recording break, with help from Jules Shear, producer Chuck Prophet and her husband, Bruce Robison.
Pegi Young, “Pegi Young” (Warner Bros.) — Neil Young is, not surprisingly, a presence on his wife and backup singer’s first solo album.
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