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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Elton John, Fergie and more

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2006

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Elton John “The Captain and the Kid” Rocket/Island ***

On the title track of his latest album, Elton John sings that “You can’t look back/ And if you try, it fails.” But not this time. “The Captain and the Kid” is a sequel to 1975’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” the fi rst album to ever debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and is as vintage-sounding an album that John — working with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin — has made since. John’s piano and vocals are the center and heart of all 10 songs, and richly melodic tracks such as “Postcards From Richard Nixon,” “Tinderbox,” “And the House Fell Down” and “The Bridge” could easily have fi t on “Captain Fantastic” or any of its predecessors — which, by the way, is a good thing. Taupin is unabashedly sentimental throughout the set, recalling the duo’s first trip to the United States circa 1970 and musing over their experiences since — drug addictions, temper tantrums, fl uctuating sales and all. He also makes some nonetoo-veiled political points in “Tinderbox” and writes about being “targets on the rifl e range” as he recalls lost friends, including John Lennon, in the haunting and poignant “Blues Never Fade Away.” But the album’s overall feel is ebullient, from the buoyant tempos of “Just Like Noah’s Ark,” “And the House Fell Down” and “Old 67” to the satisfi ed, job-well-done celebration of the title track.

The album ends with John crowing that he’s “got a brand new pair of shoes” and that Taupin’s “on a horse in old cowboy boots” — different looks but the same winning chemistry they had 26 years ago.


Fergie “The Dutchess” A&M ***

The Black Eyed Peas became a multi-platinum concern when former child actress Stacey Ferguson — a.k.a. Fergie — joined the group for 2003’s “Elephunk,” and her solo debut proves that was no coincidence. Though the production, by Peas’ leader will.i.am and others, puts Fergie in the best possible light, it’s her versatile vocal work that carries — and steals — the show, from the sassy hip-hop fl avas of “Fergalicious” and “Here I Come” (built atop the Temptations’ “Get Ready”) to the old school soul style deliveries of “All That I Got” and “Voodoo Doll” to “Finally,” the torchy love song that closes the album. There are obvious traces of Beyoncé (“Pedestal”), Gwen Stefani (the single “London Bridge”) and any number of hip-hip infl uenced pop/rock divas (“Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal),” “Losing My Ground”), but Fergie weaves them nicely into her package, proving this Pea tastes just as good out of the pod.

New and Noteworthy:

Clay Aiken, “A Thousand Different Ways” (RCA) — “American Idol’s” second season runner-up covers favorite songs by Richard Marx, Bad English, Foreigner and others, while Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote one of the four new songs.

Joseph Arthur, “Nuclear Daydream”

(MegaForce) — The fi fth album from the singer, songwriter, visual artist and favorite of “The O.C.” crowd.

Kenny Chesney, “Live: Live Those Songs Again”

(BNA) — The country superstar’s first concert album features personal favorites rather than hits, though plenty of those fit the criteria.

Chingy, “Hoodstar”

(Capitol) — The St. Louis rapper parties down on his second album, with a guest list that includes Three 6 Mafi a, Tyrese, Spiffy, Timbaland and more.

DJ Shadow, “Outsider”

(Island) — The sound manipulator steers in more of a hiphop direction this time, incorporating live raps from MCs Lateef the Truth Speaker, Keak Da Sneak and Turf Talk.

Lupe Fiasco, “Food and Liquor” (Atlantic) — The debut album from Chicago’s Muslim rapper features collaborations with the Neptunes, Three 6 Mafia and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda.

Indigo Girls, “Despite Our Differences”

(Hollywood) — The duo works again with new friend Pink, who guests on the track “Rock and Roll Heaven’s Gate.”

Kasabian, “Empire” (RCA) — The British quartet rocks again on its sophomore album.

Diane Krall, “From This Moment On” (Verve) — The critically adored chanteuse remains old school but was inspired by new sentiments stemming from her marriage to fellow artist Elvis Costello.

Ben Kweller, “Ben Kweller” (ATO) — The modern rock singer-songwriter continues on the course of shimmering popcraft, aided by Pixies producer Gil Norton.

Jim Lauderdale, “Bluegrass” and “Country Super Hits, Vol. 1” (Yep Rock) — Two new, self-explanatory releases maintain Lauderdale’s rep as one of Nashville’s most ambitious artists.

Jesse McCartney, “Right Where You Want Me” (Hollywood) — The sophomore release from the 19-year-old star of TV’s “Summerland.”

Monica, “The Makings of Me” (J) — Comfortably into adulthood, the Atlanta singer worked with Missy Elliott, Jermaine Dupri, Dem Franchize Boys and others on this confessional new album.

Mos Def, “Tru3 Magic”

(Geffen) — The MC/actor, recently busted for disorderly conduct outside the MTV Video Music Awards, worked with Pharrell Williams, Kanye West and others on his latest album.

Aaron Neville, “Bring It On Home ... The Soul Classics” (Burgundy) — The New Orleans icon covers some of R&B’s greatest songs, with help from Chaka Khan, Mavis Staple, David Sanborn and others.

New Found Glory, “Coming Home” (Geffen) — The punk rock troupe recruited elder statesmen Jackson Browne to help produce its fi fth album.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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