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Listening Room: Pharrell, Tom Petty and more
“In My Mind”
Those who can’t do teach, they say — or in the case of the music biz, produce. But Pharrell Williams has a long track recording showing he can do it on both sides of the fence. It’s easier to list who he hasn’t produced as part of the Neptunes, and he’s an artist both as a guest and with the Neptunes’ group N.E.R.D. But while he’s rightfully earned a reputation as an innovator, Pharrell’s solo debut — all 16 tracks and 65 minutes of it — comes off more like a revue, nodding to the R&B and hip-hop styles that either infl uenced him or that he pioneered already with the Neptunes. Singing and rapping, he also utters more “yessirs” than anyone this side of the Pistons’ Rip Hamilton. “In My Mind” is stuffed with old school electric pianos and synthesizers and melodic homages to Stevie Wonder (“I Really Like You”) and Prince (“Angel,” “Young Girl”), who, after all, are pretty good sources to cop from if you’re going that route. But if “In My Mind” doesn’t necessarily lift off, it cruises at a pretty good ground speed. “Can I Have it Like That” rides a bassy electrogroove and a spirited vocal trade with Gwen Stefani, paying Pharrell back for his work on her “Hollaback Girl.” He has fun striking gangsta poses on “How Does It Feel?” and “Raspy S***,” while “Best Friend” offers a lyrical autobiography that actually gives us some insight into the artist’s character. Pharrell also gets some good mileage from his other guests, including Kanye West (“Number One”), Snoop Dogg (“That Girl”), Nelly (“Baby”) and Slim Thug (“Keep It Play”). “In My Mind” does start to feel a little long toward its end, however, and we’re still left with a sense that, for someone with Pharrell’s formidable track record, this should be a bit fresher than it is.
So how does Tom Petty celebrate the 30th anniversary of his first album with the Heartbreakers? By releasing his third solo album. Odd, that, but Petty has always marched to his own beat — and does so literally on “Highway Companion,” since he’s playing the drums and most of the other instruments. Working with Heartbreakers guitarist Jeff Lynne and Traveling Wilburys bandmate (and ex-Electric Light Orchestra leader) Jeff Lynne, Petty has crafted a ruminative singer-songwriter's album that has a rootsy, acoustic-guitar centered core but also rocks on tracks such as "Ankle Deep," "Night Driver," "Big Weekend" and "Jack." "Square One" is one of the most moving and personal songs Petty has ever released, and the jangly choruses of "Flirting With Time" nod to his Merseybeats roots. Pretty good company, at home or on the road.
New and Noteworthy:
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, “Stranger Things” (Fantasy) — The fi rst studio release in 16 years from Brickell, who’s also known as Mrs. Paul Simon, and the “What I Am” band.
Caroline Doctorow, “Follow You Down” (Narrow Lane) — The fl edgling songwriter hopes to prove that her pop is as good as her pop E.L. Doctorow’s prose.
John Doe, “For The Rest of Us”
(Yep Roc) — The X man reissues his 1998 EP with five unreleased tracks.
Sammy Hagar, “Livin’ It Up!”
(Rhino) — The Red Rocker parties on with high-energy originals and covers of Bob Dylan and Toby Keith songs.
Bruce Hornsby, “Intersections 1985-2005” (RCA/Legacy) — A raritiesfilled box set from pop’s less celebrated piano man.
Jurassic 5, “Feedback” (Interscope) — The Dave Matthews Band guests on “Work It Out,” the first single from the turntable troupe’s third album.
The Long Winters, “Putting the Days to Bed” (Barsuk) — John Roderick is all rock with this latest incarnation of his tres hip Seattle band.
Raul Malo, “You’re Only Lonely”
(Sanctuary) — The former Mavericks frontman covers favorites by Randy Newman, Etta James and others on his latest solo set.
New York Dolls, “One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This”
(Roadrunner) — The celebrated group’s first release in 30 years, though only two original Dolls remain.
Jake Owen, “Startin’ With Me”
(RCA) — Alabama’s Randy Owen (no relation) joins the Nashville upstart on his debut album.
Linda Ronstadt/Ann Savoy, “Adieu False Heart” (Vanguard) — The self-dubbed Zozo Sisters return to the Cajun territory they first explored on 2002’s “Evangeline Made.”
Scritti Politti, “Bread Black Beer”
(Nonesuch/Rough Trade) — Britain’s Green Gartside, a.k.a. Scritti Politti, brings out his first release since 1999, which has already topped the charts in his homeland.
Skye, “Mind How You Go”
(Cordless) — The solo debut from Morcheeba’s lead singer.
Tapes ’N Tapes, “Loon” (XL/ Beggars) — Cool band alert: This noisy Minneapolis quartet has been on terminally hip radars since early this year.
Ali Farka Toure, “Savane”
(Nonesuch) — The final album by the Mali singer, songwriter and guitarist, fi nished shortly before his death in March.
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