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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Bruce Springsteen, Hoobastank and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2009

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Bruce Springsteen, “Working On a Dream” (Columbia) ***

In the title track of his 16th studio album, Bruce Springsteen tells us that “my hands are rough from working on a dream.” It’s the result of a career spent sifting through conflicts and contradictions, holding on to high ideals even — and perhaps especially — after they’ve collided with harsh realities. The themes are sometimes complex but the message is not; as he also sings here, “To win darling we must pay,” the implication being that the victory is always worth the cost. There’s a surprising buoyancy to much of “Working On a Dream,” however.” Where 2007’s “Magic” roiled with Bush-era frustration, this 13-song set is not necessarily about the Obama ascendance but is certainly touched by its spirit, as well as by being started during the “Magic” tour, when Springsteen and his E Street Band cohorts were in fit playing form. “Working...” is Springsteen’s most sonically ambitious album, too, offering his take on Phil Spector’s orchestral Wall of Sound via lushly layered tracks such as “My Lucky Day,” “Queen of the Supermarket” (which is more beguiling than its title or even a first listen might indicate), “This Life,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Kingdom of Days” and the chiming, Byrds-like “Surprise Surprise” but also getting down and dirty on the brief ‘n’ bluesy “Good Eye.” “The Last Carnival,” meanwhile, echoes 1973’s “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” in a moving elegy to E Street keyboardist Danny Federici, who died in 2008, with accordion played by his son Jason. “Working...” is book ended by a pair of foreboding songs — the epic Western narrative “Outlaw Pete” and “The Wrestler,” written for the film of the same name — that speak to the permanent imprint the past makes on all of us, a grim but honest perspective that quietly grounds an album that ultimately celebrates the passing of time and the value of enduring relationships.


Hoobastank, “For(N)ever” (Island) ** 1/2

Comeback may be too strong a word, but there’s more than half a little bit riding on this California quartet’s fourth album. It’s predecessor, 2006’s “Every Man For Himself,” “only” went gold after a pair of platinum-or-better releases, and the singles did not have the impact of “The Reason” or “Crawling in the Dark.” Factor in a pair of management changes and a bass player switch, and there’s a been a bit of turbulence in Hoobaville — which may be partly responsible for the dark and at times downright nasty tone displayed here, particularly on songs such as “I Don’t Think I Love You,” “All About You” and “Sick of Hanging On.” But Hoobastank and producer Howard Benson do succeed in pushing the group’s previous parameters a bit; there’s still plenty of heavy angst-rock crunch, but the airy ambience of “The Letter” and “You Need to Be Here” and the buoyant pop of “Tears of Yesterday” bring new dimensions to mitigate what could well be just another set of hand-wringing songs about the well-covered foibles of romance.

New & Noteworthy

Ashford & Simpson, “The Real Thing” (Burgundy/Sony): The legendary Motown songwriting/performing husband and wife team’s first-ever live release features their own hits as well as those they wrote for others at the label.

the bird and the bee, “Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future” (Blue Note): The second full-length album from the stylistically broad-reaching duo of Inara George (Lowell’s daughter) and Greg Kurstin.

dalek, “Gutter Tactics” (Ipecac): The Newark hip-hop duo recorded its fifth studio album at its new Union City studio in New Jersey.

Tina Dico, “A Beginning, A Detour, An Open Ending” (Defend Music/Ryko): The ethereal Danish vocalist spreads 20 new songs over three discs recorded with collaborator Dennis “Ghettoblast” Ahlgren.

Franz Ferdinand, “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” (Domino): The Scottish group’s third album bears the stamp of reggae, dub, electronic and dance influences.

Taylor Hicks, “The Distance” (Modern Whomp):

“American Idol’s” Season fivechamp returns to the independent route, rolling his new set out digitally this week and in hard copy on March 10.

Incognito, “More Tales Remixed” (Heads Up): The jazz group’s 2008 release “Tales From the Beach” gets the remix treatment at the hands of Dimitri From Paris, DJ Meme, Tortured Soul and others.

Omar Rodriguez Lopez, “Old Money” (Stones Throw): The debut solo outing by the Mars Volta (and former At the Drive-In) guitarist Lopez.

Steve Martin, “The Crow: New Songs For the Five-String Banjo” (selfreleased): The actor/comedian/author gets his banjo out for dramatic effect on his first all-music album, composing 15 songs and getting help from Earl Scruggs.

Tony Trischka, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Mary Black and others. Paul McCartney, “Amoeba’s Secret” (Hear Music/MPL): This four-track live EP includes the former Beatle’s Grammy Award-nominated performance of “I Saw Her Standing There.”

The Mickeys, “Walk Along” (Riverboat Music/ Select-O-Hits): The Michigan sister duo’s sophomore album features its first-ever recorded cover, of Tom Petty’s “Alright For Now.”

Kylie Minogue, “Boombox: The Remix Album 2000-2008” (Astralwerks): The Australian-born pop diva’s greatest hits get dance floor makeovers by the Chemical Brothers, Fischerspooner, Mylo and more.

Nickel Eye, “The Time of the Assassins” (Rykodisc): The rootsy solo project by Strokes bassist Nikolai Fraiture features guest appearances by Regina Spektor and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner.

The Odds, “Cheerleader” (Second Motion/Red Eye): The Canadian rockers’ fifth album includes “Write It in Lightning,” a song originally written for the Who.

The Revelations, “Deep Soul” (Decision/Traffic):

This Brooklyn hip-hop soul sextet’s seven-song EP provides an introduction for a fulllength album due this spring.

Saffire the Uppity Blues Women, “Havin’ the Last Word” (Alligator): The attitudinal female trio celebrates the group’s 25th anniversary with its first set of new material in eight years.

Various Artists, “Johnny Cash Remixed” (Compadre/Music World): Snoop Dogg, Mocean Worker, Alabama 3 and Pete Rock are among those shaking and baking the Man in Black’s music into new sonic directions for this set.

Various Artists, “2009 Grammy Nominees” (Rhino): Tracks by Coldplay, the Jonas Brothers, Adele, Leona Lewis and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant are among the 20 nominated tracks on this annual collection.

PT Walkley, “Mr. Macy Wakes Alone” (Frisbie): The solo debut album by the veteran film and ad composer, with Sean Lennon playing guitar on several tracks.

X-Clan, “Mainstream Outlawz” (Suburban Noize): UGK’s Bun B, Medusa and Supanatural bring their own distinct rhymes to this rap collective’s latest outing.

Hot new music DVDs: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “Ladysmith Black Mambazo Live”(Heads Up); Brian Wilson, “That Lucky Old Sun” (Capitol/EMI)

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