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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Juno, Ringo Starr And More

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2008

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Various Artists, “Music From the Motion Picture ‘Juno’ ” (Rhino) *** 1/2

So many soundtracks for youth-targeted or -focused movies wind up merely collecting usually afterthought songs by popular bands that it’s revelatory when one comes along that’s intelligently crafted to perfectly capture the flavor of the film and is also a credible listen away from the theater. Think of “Juno” (which came out digitally in December and hits stores on Tuesday) as a mix-tape made by the hip, irreverent and curious kid that is Golden Globe-nominated actress Ellen Page’s Juno. She loves the Kinks and Mott the Hoople but also finds her generational expression via former Moldy Peaches singer Kimya Dawson and Belle & Sebastian — and isn’t averse to discovering a Carpenters cover done by Sonic Youth (“Superstar”) or a sweet love song (“All I Want is You”) by children’s singer-songwriter Barry Louis Polisar. Love, relationships and angsty neuroses provide a linch pin for all these songs, while the overtones of sweetness and underlying darkness — as well as the playful, stream-of-consciousness lyricism — in the Dawson and Belle & Sebastian tracks convey an emotional complexity that you can still hum along with. The album’s ending is particularly brilliant, with the Velvet Underground’s child-like “I’m Sticking With You” leading into the overlapping boy-girl dialogue

of the Moldy Peaches’ “Anyone Else But You” and — after the levity-inducing romp of Antsy Pants’ silly “Vampires” — a trembly reprise of the Peaches song, with gender parts switched, by Page and co-star Michael Cera. “Juno” makes its point, even if you haven’t seen the movie.


Ringo Starr, “Liverpool 8” (Capitol) **

The former Beatle’s first set of new material album in three years had a bumpy ride after an acrimonious split with longtime collaborator Mark Hudson. Eurythmics Dave Stewart came in to take up the slack and helped Starr produce another pleasant and workmanlike album that works best when the tempo is up. Rockers such as “Think About You,” “Now That She’s Gone” and “Gone Are the Days” mitigate Starr’s limited vocal range with sheer volume and solid guitar work. The jaunty countrywestern of “R U Ready?” also works, and there’s no shortage of musical reminders that love is all we need. The shadow of the Beatles is immense, but that doesn’t mean Starr doesn’t deserve a little light on his own work once in awhile.


American Mars, “Western Sides” (Gangplank) — The Detroit Americana garage rockers return with their

first set in four years, following

bassist Garth Girard’s successful

battle against colon cancer.

Raheem DeVaughn, “Love Behind the Melody” (Jive) — The Washington, D.C., soul singer features OutKast’s Big Boi and a number of major producers on his second album.

Eels, “Meet the Eels: Essential Eels 1996-2006, Vol 1” (Geffen); “Useless Trinkets: B Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2007” (Geffen) — These two releases give you just about everything you’d want to know about Mark Oliver Everett (aka E) and his

idiosyncratic pop music career.

Jon Foreman, “Fall and Winter” (Credential) — The first two of four planned “seasonal” EPs by the Switchfoot frontman.

Marvin Gaye, “Here, My Dear (Expanded Edition)”

(Hip-O Select) — A second disc of alternative versions and mixes embellishes one of the greatest break-up albums of all time.

Kottonmouth Kings, “Greatest Hits” (Capitol) — Two discs of irreverent raprock, including a pair of unreleased tracks and the Insane Clown Posse collaboration on “Think 4 Yourself.”

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu” (Heads Up) — The South African a capella troupe pays tribute to one of its homeland’s historical figures on these dozen tracks.

Eric Lindell, “Low on Cash, Rich in Love”

(Alligator) — The New Orleans bluesman adds harmonica to his musical repertoire on his sophomore album.

Magnetic Fields, “Distortion” (Nonesuch) — On its first release in nearly four years, Stephen Merritt and company change course yet again and deliver a set of short, decidedly upbeat pop songs.

Anne Murray, “Duets, Friends and Legends”

(Manhattan/EMI) — The veteran Canadian songstress makes her bid for a comeback by teaming with Martina McBride, Amy Grant, Nelly Furtado, Shania Twain and others.

Olivia Newton-John, “Olivia’s Live Hits” (EMI America) — Pretty much what the title says — 10 Top 5 tracks culled from a concert at the Sydney Opera House in her native Australia.

Rise Against, “This Is Noise” (Geffen) — A rarities EP from the punk rockers that’s available only online — at iTunes exclusively until Jan. 22, when it goes up on other sites.

Roomful of Blues, “Raisin’ a Ruckus”

(Alligator) — The perennially hot Rhode Island swingsters introduce singer Dave Howard and some other new members on its latest outing.

Soundtrack, “Jewish Americans” (Rounder) — Michael Bacon mined a variety of musical traditions to complement the forthcoming PBS series.

The Steeldrivers, “The Steeldrivers” (Rounder) — The Nashville quintet gives its “rhythm & bluegrass” a national airing on its debut album.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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