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Listening Room: Bruce Springsteen, Annie Lennox and more...
Bruce Springsteen, “Magic” (Columbia) ***
In Bruce Springsteen’s career, all roads eventually lead back to the E Street, whether the trip takes the 18 years between “Born in the U.S.A.” and “The Rising” or the five years since the latter. But after the excursions of “Devil & Dust” and “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” “Magic” takes Springsteen and his E Street Band back to yet another place. Much of the 12-track album’s stylistic sleight of hand skews toward the kind of early ’60s, Wall of Sound spirit that Springsteen explored during the ’70s; some of these songs — “You’ll Be Comin’ Down,” “Livin’ in the Future,” “Your Own Worst Enemy,” “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” “I’ll Work For Your Love” — could fit comfortably on “Tracks,” the 1998 odds ’n’ sods set that showcased the mountain of seriously solid material that never made it onto his albums. It’s all lush arrangements, ringing guitars, la-la-la’s and more of Clarence Clemons’ saxophone than we’ve heard on album since “The River” in 1980. It’s hardly just a Phil Spector homage, however; Springsteen and company also weigh in with the fierce rock rage of “Radio Nowhere” and “Last to Die,” and the textured moods of “Gypsy Biker” and the title track. Amidst all this. Springsteen traverses a bleak lyrical landscape in which he continues his standing quest a higher connection — “Just searchin’ for a world with some soul” as he sings in “Radio Nowhere” — amidst the rubble of economic distress, troubled relationships and, in “Last to Die” and “Devil’s Arcade,” a deteriorating war. He warns us in “Magic’s” title track that “there’s a fire down below, but it’s coming up here, but he does let some light shine through — particularly in the album’s hidden bonus track “Terry’s Song,” a low-key salute to his recently deceased longtime assistant Terry Magovern that, though specific, subtly shows faith that redemptive goodness can still be found.
Annie Lennox, “Songs of Mass Destruction” (Arista)***½
You could put a lot of singers’ pictures next to “soul” in the dictionary, but Annie Lennox is certainly a leading candidates. Possessing one of the finest voices to perform popular music in the last 25 years, the former Eurythmics singer’s delivery drips her own particular blend of Memphis and Motown with some Baptist gospel thrown in, and it gets a full airing on her fourth solo album, and first since 2003’s “Bare.” From empowerment anthems such as “Womankind” and “Sing” (on which she’s joined by 23 other high-profile pop divas) to torchy fare like “Dark Road,” “Through the Glass Darkly,” “Lost” and “Big Sky,” and the inventive arrangements of “Smithereens” and “Love is Blind,” “Songs of Mass Destruction” doesn’t miss a step. These songs deserve nothing less than mass consumption.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
Another Animal, “Another Animal” (Republic) — The debut set by the Godsmack side project fronted by former Ugly Kid Joe singer Whit Crane.
Boyz N Da Hood, “Back Up N Da Chevy” (Bad Boy) — The sophomore set from the radically reconfigured Atlanta rap quartet.
Brooks & Dunn, “Cowboy Town” (Arista) — On its 11th studio album, the country duo can be rightfully “Proud of the House We Built.”
The Cult, “Born Into This” (Roadrunner) — Cult leaders Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy reunite for the group’s first set of all-new songs in six years.
Dashboard Confessional, “Shade of Poison Trees”
(Vagrant) — Chris Carrabba and company return to their acoustic emo roots on their fifth studio album.
Bob Dylan, “Dylan” (Columbia Legacy) — The latest Dylan compilation, available in a variety of configurations, features a remixed version of “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” by Amy Winehouse/Lily Allen collaborator Mark Ronson.
John Fogerty, “Revival” (Fantasy) — The former Creedence Clearwater leader’s slyly titled new solo set takes a strong political stance than its most recent predecessors.
Merle Haggard, “Bluegrass Sessions” (McCoury Music) — It took more than 40 years, but the Hag finally ventures into bluegrass territory, including a duet with Alison Krauss.
Mickey Hart & Zakir Hussain, “Global Drum Project” (Shout! Factory) — The Grateful Dead percussionist celebrates 15 years of friendship and musical fraternization with Indian tabla specialist Hussain.
Richard Hawley, “Lady’s Bridge” (Mute U.S.) — The former Pulp guitarist’s second solo album follows his 2005 Mercury Prize-nominated “Coles Corner.”
Faith Hill, “The Hits” (Warner Bros.) — The country-cum-pop star’s first best-of features three new songs and reworked versions of some older favorites.
J. Holiday, “Back of My ‘Lac’ ” (Capitol) — The hot R&B newcomer hopes to “Bed” fans with his highly anticipated debut set.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, “100 Days, 100 Nights”
(Daptone) — The Dap-Kings’ work with Amy Winehouse should bring some muchdeserved attention to their “day job” with the divine Ms. Jones.
matchbox twenty, “Exile on Mainstream” (Atlantic) — This best-of includes a halfdozen fresh tracks that mark the quartet’s first new songs since 2002 -- and first ever as a quartet.
The Pipettes, “We Are the Pipettes” (Cherrytree/ Interscope) — Phil Spector’s girl group sound is alive and well in the hands, and lungs, of this British trio.
Siouxsie Sioux, “Mantaray” (Decca) — No Banshees or Creatures here; it’s Siouxsie’s first-ever solo album.
Frankie Valli, “Romancing the 60s”
(Universal Motown) — Riding high on “The Jersey Boys’ “ success, the former Four Seasons frontman takes on some of his favorites of the ’60s, including some vintage Motown tracks.
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