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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Mariah Carey, Asia and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, April 14, 2008

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Mariah Carey, “E=MC2” (Island) **1/2

The first thing we hear on Mariah Carey’s 10th studio album is her trademark — that piercing falsetto made to torment every dog in the house, and, depending on how loud you turn it up, the neighborhood. It’s not a bad move; like so many of her pop diva counterparts, Carey has shown some tendency to fall victim to soundalikeitis; ignore the CD booklet and you won’t know if its her, Beyonce, Janet or name-your-starlet. But coming off the multi-platinum comeback success of 2005’s “The Emancipation of Mimi,” “E=MC2 ” (Emancipation of Mariah Carey to the second power — get it?) is more assured and focused, not necessarily charting an original course, but consistent enough to have an identifiable personality. Her libido is still in overdrive — or, as she notes on one track, “O.O.C.” (out of control — get it?) — when her heart is not being crushed, and an all-star production and co-writing cast (Nate “Danjahandz” Hills, Stargate, will.i.am, Bryan Michael Cox, Jermaine Dupri, DJ Troomp) frames Carey with mostly minimal musical beds and rich vocal weaves. The sultry “Touch My Body” has already made history as Carey’s 18th No. 1 hit (beating, shudder, Elvis Presley), but there’s greater joy to be had with tracks such as the club bounce “Migrate” with TPain, the reggae-flavored “Cruise Control” with Damian Marley and the soul disco grooves of “I’m That Chick” and “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time,” which sample Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” and DeBarge’s “Stay With Me,” respectively. The lovelorn ballads tend to blend together in anonymous fashion, but “Side Effects” and the jazz and gospel flavored album closer “I Wish You Well” — hands-down Carey’s best vocal performance on the album — are notable for their frank references to her marriage to former Columbia Records chief Tommy Mottola, whom she still has issues with a decade after their divorce. That gives “E=MC2 ” some heart, and there’s just enough soul elsewhere to show Carey’s “Emancipation” is no fleeting thing.


Asia, “Phoenix” (EMI America) **

It’s been a long time since Asia released an album worth being excited about, and while how exciting this prog-rock “supergroup” ever was is debatable, its well-credentialed original lineup’s first set in 25 years is at least of some note. Interestingly, the quartet — Yes guitarist Steve Howe, singer-bassist John Wetton (Roxy Music, U.K., Uriah Heep), keyboardist Geoff Downes (Yes, the Buggles) and Emerson, Lake & Palmer drummer Carl Palmer — does not sound too different on “Phoenix” than it did on 1983’s “Alpha.” With a few exceptions, such as the lengthy mid-album opus “Parallel Worlds/Vortex/ Deya,” this is still prog-pop, focused on melody and songcraft more than the instrumental flash on which these guys have staked their reputations. But ballads such as “Heroine” and “I Will Remember You” are garden variety, again leaving an impression of something less than the sum of its parts.


Apocalyptica, “Worlds Collide” (20-20/Jive): The cello collective’s sixth album features a guest appearance by Slipknot’s Corey Taylor on the single “I’m Not Jesus.”

Buckshot & 9th Wonder, “The Formula” (Duck Down): The rap duo releases its second collaborative set, following 2005’s “Chemistry.”

Gavin DeGraw, “Gavin DeGraw” (J): The singersongwriter’s sophomore album comes five years after his slow-building but hit-laden debut, “Chariot.”

Fred Eaglesmith, “Tinderbox” (A Major Label): The idiosyncratic singer-songwriter offers a generous 18 songs on his 17th album.

Everclear, “The Vegas Years” (Capitol/EMI): Art Alexakis and company collect covers they’ve recorded over the years, plus new takes on Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” and Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Kicks.”

From First To Last, “From First To Last” (Suretone): The Los Angeles hard rockers’ guitarist Matt Good steps up as vocalist on the group’s fourth release.

Carole King, “Tapestry: Legacy Edition” (Epic/Ode Legacy): King’s best-selling 1971 landmark is expanded to include live versions of its songs from shows in 1973 and 1976.

The Kooks, “Konk” (Astralwerks): The British rockers recorded their second album at Ray Davies’ Konk studios, getting a title as well as a new set of tunes.

James McMurtry, “Just Us Kids...” (Lightning Rod):

The singing, songwriting son of author Larry McMurtry is joined by C.C. Adcock, Jon Dee Graham, Ian McLagan and others on his highly political new album.

Hilary McRae, “Through These Walls” (Hear Music/Concord): Starbucks’ label taps the Florida singer for its latest stab at developing new talent.

Morgan Heritage, “Mission in Progress” (VP):

The reggae group self-produced and, of course, wrote the songs for its 10th album.

Phantom Planet, “Raise the Dead” (Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic): The fourth full-length album by the Los Angeles modern rock quartet.

Tristan Prettyman, “Hello” (Virgin): The San Diego singer-songwriter went to London to work with KT Tunstall’s production team for her second album.

Dianne Reeves, “When You Know” (Blue Note): Jazz vocalist Reeves delivers her first new material in five years and her first recording since the soundtrack to 2005’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

Rush, “Snakes & Arrows Live” (Anthem/ Atlantic): A two-disc souvenir of the Canadian trio’s 2007 tour.

Phil Stacey, “If You Didn’t Love Me” (Lyric Street): Carrie Underwood’s holding the door open as “American Idol” sends another finalist (and, like Josh Gracin, military vet) to Nashville for a country career.

Supergrass, “Diamond Hoo Ha” (Astralwerks): The early Britpop favorites crank out an energetic sixth studio album.

Thrice, “The Alchemy Index: Vols. III & IV— Earth & Air” (Vagrant): The second part of the modern rockers’ “elements” project was an in-house effort, recorded at the group’s own studio and engineered by guitarist Teppei Teranishi.

Various Artists, “The Motown Collection” (Time Life): This 10-CD, 150-track set provides an airy kick-off for the Detroit label’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Jordan Zevon, “Insides Out” (Ammal/New West):

The son of the late Warren Zevon makes his solo debut after producing dad’s Grammywinning swan song “The wind.”

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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