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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Jewel, Disturbed and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, June 1, 2008

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Jewel, “Perfectly Clear” (The Valory Music Co.) **1/2

Early on her seventh album, Jewel sings that “the stakes are high/how will we find the courage to believe we will succeed?” She’s referring to a romantic relationship, but she could just as easily be talking about the musical move she’s busting on “Perfectly Clear.” Jewel, an Interlocheneducated singersongwriter, isn’t the first pop artist to embrace Nashville and cross over to the country side, but, with 30 million albums sold, she’s one of the most high profile. And while she’s long celebrated her ability to yodel, her facility with the weep and twang of pedal steel and fiddle is heretofore untested. What makes “Perfectly Clear” mostly work is that Jewel can write a perfectly fine song and proves she can tone down the flowery philosophy of her pop efforts in favor of plainspoken tunes about love lost, found and rekindled; she even gets an old country staple into the mix with “Till It Feels Like Cheating.” John Rich of Big & Rich produces the 11-song set with a gentle touch, using subtle dynamics and instrumental nuances to surround Jewel’s voice — a tactic that actually works to a fault. Well-crafted as it is, “Perfectly Clear” misses a couple of flat-out barnstormers to give the album a bit of steam. The songs where Jewel does pick it up — “Stronger Woman,” “I Do,” “Rosey and Mick,” “Two Become One” — are decidedly mid-tempo, while most of “Perfectly Clear” leans towards ballads and one old-timey track, the yodelfest “Loved By You (Cowboy Waltz).” Something like “Love is a Garden,” which slyly countrifies her 1996 hit “You Were Meant For Me,” is the microcosm of this album’s strength and weaknesses; a good song, but an indication that Jewel is carefully sliding into the country pool rather than diving in off the board.


Disturbed, “Indestructible” (Reprise) ***

After inserting some melodic niceties into its last couple of releases, the headbanging Chicago quartet gets down with the sickness again on an album that hearkens back to its molten 2000 debut. “Indestructible” is a fierce, angry diatribe of a record that dabbles, of course, in politics (“Enough” and the title track), rails against conformity (“Divide”) and on the downright frightening single “Inside the Fire” finds frontman David Draiman grappling with a suicide solution that’s encouraged by Satan himself. Draiman is also back to the animalistic vocalics that marked him on 2000’s “The Sickness,” while guitarist Dan Donegan gets a bit more of a spotlight this time, including the spiraling lick of “Inside the Fire” and the razor attack of “The Night.”


Ashanti, “The Declaration” (Universal Motown): The R&B singer ends a four-year wait for her fourth album, with help from Babyface, Robin Thicke, Mario Winans and Pussycat Doll Melody Thornton.

Dr. John, “City That Care Forgot” (429/Savoy): The Night Tripper welcomes Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Terence Blanchard and Ani DiFranco on this charged set of New Orleans-centric songs inspired by the post-Katrina state of his hometown.

Jakob Dylan, “Seeing Things” (Columbia): The former Wallflowers leader (and son of Bob) goes solo — on vinyl this week and CD on June 10.

The Funk Brothers, “Live in Orlando” (Eagle Rock): The remaining trio of Motown’s studio band strut their stuff on this 13-song set. A DVD follows on June 17.

Ed Harcourt, “The Beautiful Lie” (Dovecote): The British singer-songwriter recorded most of his fifth album on an old school eighttrack machine in his grandmother’s house in Sussex, England.

Lalah Hathaway, “Self Portrait” (Stax): The blues and soul singer, daughter of the late R&B great Donny Hathaway, moves to the legendary Stax imprint for her fifth album.

Josephine Collective, “We Are the Air” (Warner Bros.): The six-piece modern rock troupe from Kansas recorded its debut set with Goldfinger’s John Feldmann.

Journey, “Revelation” (Nomata LLC): The veteran rockers introduce new singer Amel Pineda on this two-CD/ one-DVD set that includes one disc of re-recorded greatest hits.

Karmina, “Backwards Into Beauty” (CBS): The debut outing by the San Francisco singer-songwriter duo, whose songs have appeared in TV series such as “NCIS,” “Cane” and “Live is Wild.”

Man Raze, “Surreal” (VH1 Classics): The first outing from the all-star group of Def Leppard’s Phil Collen, the Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook and Girl’s Simon Laffy.

Aimee Mann, “@#%&! Smilers” (SuperEgo): The former ‘Til Tuesday frontwoman gets friendly with echo effects on her seven solo album, and first of all-new material in three years.

Bret Michaels, “Rock My World” (VH1 Classics): The Poison frontman gathers together songs from his last two solo albums as well as three new tracks written for his VH1 reality show “Rock of Love.”

Opeth, “Watershed” (Roadrunner): The Swedish art-metal band’s ninth studio album includes a cover of Robin Trower’s “Bridge of Sighs.”

Pinetop Perkins, “Pinetop Perkins and Friends” (Telarc): Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Jimmie Vaughan are among the luminaries helping out the venerable 94-year-old blues great here.

Gavin Rossdale, “Wanderlust” (Interscope): The former Bush frontman makes is solo debut although 2005’s Institute was a band in name only.

Wayman Tisdale, “Rebound” (Rendezvous): The former NBA star shoots and scores on an album that shows off his bass skills and includes guest appearances by Toby Keith, Dave Koz and Marvin Sapp.

Various Artists, “Daptone 7 Inch Singles Collection, Vol. 2” (Daptone): Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings are a good lure to expose deserving labelmates such as Charles Bradley & the Bullets, Lee Fields & the Sugarman 3 and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra.

Various Artists, “The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People” (Shout! Factory): A celebration that runs from reverent to humorous — unless you expected Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to take on “Kole Nidre” or something.

The Virgins, “The Virgins” (Atlantic): The downtown New York group brought in S*A*M* and Sluggo to produce its debut set of jagged, cutting edge rock.

Weezer, “Weezer” (DGC/Interscope): The third self-titled album in the group’s six-album history is nicknamed “The Red Album” for its color tone.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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