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Listen to this: A fall-star lineup
By Sean Daly, Times Pop Music Critic
Published October 14, 2007
I can't find my desk. I know it's down here somewhere. I just can't see the dang thing. This happens every autumn, when music labels unload their biggest releases. Every time I reach into my work mailbox, there are 30 new CDs waiting to be opened. By the time I bring 'em back to my desk, another 30 have magically appeared. Hey, I'm not complaining. Just drowning.
So consider this supersized edition of Listen to This a little fall cleaning. Here you'll fine brand new product from superstars Jennifer Lopez, Annie Lennox, up-and-comers (She Wants Revenge, Shooter Jennings, the Pipettes) and two wily vets who have teamed up for what could be album of the year (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss). There's also a little something from guys named Bob, Hag and Herbie.
So get to reading, and I'll keep weeding through the CDs. I think I heard Carrie Underwood around here somewhere. Poor thing. I hope she's not trapped next to Barry Manilow.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
Album: Raising Sand (Rounder) In stores: Oct. 23 Why we care: Plant and Krauss cruise down a Southern Gothic tunnel of love, not so much duetting as casting vaguely creepy, decidedly romantic spells at each other. The album is produced by T Bone Burnett, who helmed the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. If you enjoy gumbo, William Faulkner, moonshine and unrequited love, you'll dig this. Why we like it: Covering such disparate acts as Mel Tillis and Tom Waits, Plant and Krauss take turns on lead vocal, leaving the other to fill in the cracks with his muezzin's call or her peerless kudzu coo. Burnett whips up a fog-shrouded mood, with plenty of dobro cries and pedal-steel swoon. If you wanna get chills, check out Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us; if you wanna get kissed, try Killing the Blues. Reminds us of: Searching for love potion in Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo. Download these: Killing the Blues and Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us Grade: A
Annie Lennox Album: Songs of Mass Destruction (Arista) In stores: Now Why we care: Lennox reminds me of thawing snow, and that's a compliment. The former Eurythmic is lyrically chilly but vocally warm, one of the great blue-eyed soul singers. On her fourth solo album, the 52-year-old Scot mixes the personal with the political, offering heart-smashing love songs (Smithereens) and lovely world prayers (AIDS outcry Sing, featuring Madonna, Faith Hill and Fergie). Why we like it: Produced by Glen Ballard,the electro-popping album is layered with robust hooks and lush harmonies. Whereas Lennox previously had a tendency to get lost in a gauzy, synthy cocoon, here she dusts off her old New Wave beats for some throwback dance tracks. Sweet dreams are made of this, too. Reminds us of: If Dusty Springfield were half robot. Download these:Love Is Blind and Smithereens Grade: B+
She Wants Revenge Album: This Is Forever (Geffen) In stores: Now Why we care: If you were in a horror movie, and you were being chased by a psychopath through an apocalyptic urban jungle, there's a good chance She Wants Revenge would be playing as you scampered for your life. This is dark, Gothy California New Wave - the perfect dance music if you happen to be in a club or a crypt. Why we like it: Lead singer Justin Warfield sings in a leaden, vampirical monotone over pulsating technotic dance beats. It's hypnotic enough that you'd be wise to wear a turtleneck. Hip-hop producer Timbaland loves these guys, so that should tell you there's a good groove under the gloom. Reminds us of: Depeche Mode without the laughs. Download these: Written in Blood and What I Want Grade: B-
Shooter Jennings Album: The Wolf (Universal South) In stores: Oct. 23 Why we care: Waylon's outlaw-in-training kid tries to recapture the catchy joy of his debut disc without losing any of the belt-buckle swagger. At a time when Nashville is as tough as a teddy bear, Shooter growls into town, a grizzly looking for a fight or a party - whichever comes first. Why we like it: Shooter's cover of Dire Straits' Walk of Life is fun and saloony, but the best song is the hallucinogenic mariachi of Old Friend, which is nothing short of inspired and insane. Kudos go out to the Oak Ridge Boys, who make a comeback appearance on grinding road song Slow Train. Reminds us of: Wild Turkey and wild women, neither of which we're man enough to handle. Download these: Old Friend and Slow Train Grade: A-
Herbie Hancock Album:River: The Joni Letters (Verve) In stores: Now Why we care: Norah Jones, Leonard Cohen and Tina Turner help the Chicago jazz pianist deconstruct the songs of Joni Mitchell, the Canadian singer-songwriter. This album is startling, trippy, confounding, gorgeous - like a peace-out at the Blue Note. You'll either love it or hurl it out the window of your Saab. Why we like it: As a nearly eight-minute instrumental, Both Sides Now is unrecognizable. ("There are places I decided would be resting places before I went to the next phrase," Hancock jazz-speaks in the press notes.) The cover version of River is decidedly more faithful, as guest singer Corinne Bailey Rae coos the lyrics, and Hancock makes like 88 snowflakes. Reminds us of: That time I played Big Yellow Taxi on a kazoo. Download these: Court and Spark and River Grade: B-
Bob Dylan Album:Dylan (Columbia/Legacy) In stores: Now Why we care: It seems like once a year there's a massive outbreak of Bob Love. This fall features Todd Haynes' quirky flick I'm Not There, in which Richard Gere, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett portray Dylan in various stages of his life. Columbia is also releasing a DVD of his Newport Folk Festival shows plus this three-disc comp of digitally remastered hits. Why we like it: Zimmy completists will yawn, but newcomers are in good hands. An alternate version of Dignity, an outtake from '89's Oh Mercy, wisely puts Bob's impassioned vocals higher in the mix. I'd also like to start a petition that middle-aged uh-oh Things Have Changed, from 2000 flick Wonderboys, is one of Bob's best songs ever. Reminds us of: "So now I'm goin' back again/I got to get to her somehow..." Download these:Jokerman, Dignity and Things Have Changed Grade: A
Jennifer Lopez Album: Brave (Epic) In stores: Now Why we care: So I have this neighbor, a real guy's-guy from Ohio, a total Bob Vila around the house. He LOVES Jennifer Lopez. This guy fixes my air conditioning - and then dances the night away to Jenny From the Block. To be honest, I never gave the 38-year-old J.Lo much of a chance. But my air conditioning rocks, so maybe he's onto something. Why we like it: It's virtually impossible to enjoy La Lopez's zero-cal dance cuts before midnight. But the South Beach disco-and-decadence sheen on her fifth English-language album is comfy enough when the lights are low and partygoers have lambada'd over to the bar. I still have no desire to see her and husband Marc Anthony on their current tour. But hey, the after-party should be killer. Reminds us of: How we made it this far without making a heiney joke. Download these: Forever and Do It Well (with Ludacris) Grade: C+
Merle Haggard Album: The Bluegrass Sessions (McCoury) In stores: Now Why we care: This is Hag's first bluegrass album, but the craggy, cranky 70-year-old turns out to be a natural at the high-lonesome sound. It also helps that bluegrassstars Alison Krauss, Marty Stuart and dobra dazzler Rob Ickes are on hand to goose the old man. Why we like it: Merle tinkers with his own hits (Big City is now a mournful, mandolin-plucked hobo song), covers a few classics (a wicked Jimmie Rodgers medley) and whips up some originals. The new What Happened? is classic surly Haggard ("It used to be Andy and Barney Fife/Now it's Howard Stern and a brothel life"), and album kickoff Runaway Momma cruises along at a boxcar pace. Reminds us of: Hell hath no fury like a Hag scorned. Download these:Runaway Momma and Mama's Hungry Eyes Grade: B
The Pipettes Album: We Are the Pipettes (Cherrytree/Interscope) In stores: Now Why we care: Meet the "polka-dot princesses" - Gwenno! RiotBecki! Rosay! - three Brighton-bred birds with a hankering for Phil Spector, one-night stands and pepper spray. The Brit trio is ready for both the pages of Maxim and the iPods of people who love snarky power-pop with a '50s and '60s shimmer. Why we like it: The 16-track disc cruises along at a T-bird pace, song after songwith big choruses, catchy melodies and lyrics about cute boys, bad boys and boys who are naked at four in the morning. There's legit musicianship here, as the harmonies dip and swoon with Ronette flair. Their four-piece backing band is called the Cassette, and those guys can play, too. Reminds us of: If Amy Winehouse dated Archie (but cheated with Jughead). Download these: Pull Shapes and Judy Grade: B