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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Panic At The Disco, Counting Crows and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2008

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Panic at the Disco, “Pretty. Odd.” (Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic) ***

As Panic at the Disco’s sophomore album unfolds, the Las Vegas group assures us that “You don’t have to worry ’cause we’re still the same band.” Rest assured that’s not the first untruth to come out of Sin City — but in this case, let’s not hold it against them. Panic has made plenty of adjustments, sonic and otherwise, since coming off the road in support of its platinum 2005 debut “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.” The exclamation point is gone from the band name. Bassist Brent Wilson is gone. The suits and circus outfits have been exchanged for vests and floral shirts. And then there’s the music. ... “A Fever’s ...” kitchen-sink brand of modern rock pomp certainly created a panic for Panic, but “Pretty. Odd.” jettisons that approach in favor of a more spacious but equally ambitious and carefully orchestrated soundscape that dips into late ’60s Britpop (someone obviously bought the boys some copies of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”) and the burgeoning California country rock scene of the same period. “Nine in the Afternoon” charges out with a big, bouncy drumbeat and a killer melody, weaving in horns and strings on a track that manages to feel lush without filling up every bit of space. “Do You Know What I’m Seeing?” sounds like a trip through the Kinks’ Village Green, while the evocative “Northern Downpour” cops a bit of the lick from Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” “Folkin’ Around” is an out-and-out country tune with an unapologetically Dylanesque melody, and the trippy “When the Day Met the Night” has a chorus so sturdy you can sing it in its entirety after listening through just once. “Pretty. Odd.” does get a bit mannered toward the end, with tracks like the madrigal “She Had the World” and the vaudevillian “From the Mountain in the Middle of the Cabins” sounding just a bit too precious in light of what’s come before it. But for the most part here, Panic takes a big chance that overwhelmingly pays off, a brave move that’s yielded a substantial work.


Counting Crows, “Saturday Nights & Sunday Morning” (Geffen) ***

Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz is still “just trying to make some sense outta me” on the band’s fifth album — an angsty quest that continues to yield compelling, confessional and insightful songs that don’t forget to rock. A concept piece that’s half about sin (“Saturday Nights”) and half about salvation (“Sunday Morning”), the album finds the Crows stretching out in some new directions on the trancey “Washington Square” and incorporating psychedelic overtones into “Insignificant” and “Le Ballet d’Or,” while “You Can’t Count on Me,” “1492,” “Cowboys” and “Come Around” rock with sweeping dynamic energy. Add some ballads with melodies so plaintive and pretty they shimmer, and you have a “weekend” well-spent.

New & Noteworthy:

Day26, “Day26” (Bad Boy/Atlantic): The debut album from the “Making the Band 4” quintet, which features Detroit native Robert Curry.

Dem Franchize Boyz, “Da Point of No Return” (Virgin):

The sophomore album from the Atlanta rap quartet includes collaborations with T-Pain, Mannie Fresh, Jazze Pha and Pretty Ricky’s Pleasure.

Justin Townes Earle, “The Good Life” (Bloodshot):

The debut outing from the 24-year-old son of singer-songwriter Steve Earle.

Gnarls Barkley, “The Odd Couple” (Downtown/ Atlantic): The hitmaking duo of Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse slipped their second album out last week even though it was originally set for an April release. Those “Crazy” guys …

Lili Haydn, “Place Between Places” (Nettwerk):

The first solo album in four years by the California singer best known for her solo turn on the Page/Plant version of “Kashmir.”

The Lemonheads, “It’s a Shame About Ray: Collector’s Edition” (Rhino):

Evan Dando and company’s best-known album is fleshed out with demos and the DVD premiere of the “Two Weeks in Australia” video.

Lionel Loueke, “Karibu” (Blue Note): The Afro-jazz guitarist gets help from luminaries Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter on his latest solo outing.

Mason Proper, “Shorthand” (Dovecote): The prog-minded Ypsilanti rock group issues a four-song digital EP in the wake of last year’s debut album, “There Is a Moth in Your Chest.”

Tim O’Brien, “Chameleon” (Proper American): Another solo turn from the highly regarded and well-credentialed Nashville session hand.

Mike Oldfield, “Music of the Spheres” (Decca): The “Tubular Bells” vet works with vocalist Hayley Westenra and pianist Lang Lang on his classically oriented new album.

Pennywise, “Reason to Believe” (MySpace Records):

The California punkers’ latest is available as a free download at MySpace or in an enhanced CD/DVD version in stores.

The Raconteurs, “Consolers of the Lonely” (Third Man/Reprise): The Jack White/Brendan Bensonled “supergroup” has a second album, and it’s sneaking out with a mere one-week’s notice.

Guilty Simpson, “Ode to the Ghetto” (Stones Throw):

The Detroit rapper’s first solo album features production work by D12’s Denaun Porter, Madlib and the late J Dilla.

Simon & Garfunkel, “Live 1969” (Columbia Legacy): This vintage performance from New York City’s Lincoln Center is available first via Starbucks stores.

Ricky Skaggs, “Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and ’47” (Skaggs Family): Skaggs and company take on the repertoire of the great Bill Monroe and his Original Bluegrass Band, which included Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

Spring Heel Jack, “Songs and Themes” (Thirsty Ear):

The British electronic duo expands itself this time out, with more live instrumentation and accessible melodies recorded at London’s famed EMI Abbey Road studios

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