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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: The Von Bondies, The Fray and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, February 1, 2009

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The Von Bondies, “Love, Hate and Then There’s You” (Majordomo Records) ***

Fans of these Detroit “garage” rock denizens have been saying “C’mon C’mon” for a few years now — ever since the cycle of 2004’s major label debut “Pawn Shoppe Heart” and a prolonged period of quiet, at least on the recording front. The good news is that the Von Bondies did not exactly twiddle their thumbs while waiting for record company issues to sort themselves out. And the better news is that what they came up, even amid an uncertain future and a marital split that fuels frontman Jason Stollsteimer’s lyrics, surpassed the already high standards set by its predecessors. Though the group worked with five different producers and engineers — including luminaries such as Butch Walker, Peter Katis and Sean O’Keefe — as well as a shifting array of musicians not listed on the credits, “Love, Hate ...” feels cohesive throughout its 12 tracks, driven by buoyant energy, deceptively cheerful melodies, a series of anthemic choruses (most with a classic brand of boygirl vocal arrangements) and co-founder Don Blum’s propulsive drum attach. “This is Our Perfect Crime” sprints out of the gate at a guitar-driven gallop, while “She’s Dead to Me,” “Blame Game” and “Chancer” display a punkier kind of fury. “Pale Bride,” the lead track from an independent 2008 EP that helped rekindle interest in the Von Bondies, still sounds sharp in the album’s context, and “I Don’t Wanna,” the set’s best song, rides a groove that recalls the Breeders. Those looking for changes of pace should gravitate to the airier, pianoflecked verses of “Only to Haunt You,” the stinging guitar ring of “21st Birthday” and the sunny, singalong exuberance of the album-closing “Modern Saints.” Early on, in “Shut Your Mouth,” Stollsteimer asks, “can you say a good word about us?” Even after a long wait, “Love, Hate...” makes that pretty easy to do.


The Fray, “The Fray” (Epic) **1/2

Being earnest, mopey and melodic is a winning equation for the Fray. It propelled the Denver quartet’s 2005 debut, “How to Ave a Live,” to doubleplatinum sales, so it’s not surprising that its follow-up hews close to the same mark. But the group has expanded its dynamic range, subtly but discernibly, this time out, with more instrumental textures and tightly nuanced arrangements. The airily upbeat “Where the Story Ends,” “The Fray’s” best track, nods to Coldplay, and the closing trio of the gentle “Ungodly Hour,” the fuzzygrooved “We Build Then We Break” and the subtly building “Happiness” brings the album to a powerful and emotionally rich close. The frowns are not turned upside down, however; frontman Isaac Slade announces that “happiness damn near destroys you,” and you can rest assured these tunes keep the hands wringing and guts wrenching — and the Fray’s fans wouldn’t want it any other way.

New & noteworthy:

The Bad Plus, “For All I Care” (Heads Up): The instrumental trio enlists vocalist Wendy Lewis to help out on its latest album, which includes covers of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” Heart’s “Barracuda” and more.

Ann Hampton Callaway, “At Last” (Telarc): The jazz singer picked an opportune time to name her album after the Etta James classic, all the rage after being performed by Beyonce a the Obama inauguration.

Dierks Bentley, “Feel That Fire” (Capitol Nashville): The country star works with Patty Griffin (”Beautiful World”) and Rodney Crowell (”Pray”) on his sixth release.

Black Gold, “Rush” (Red Bull): The debut album from the Brooklyn dance music duo whose “Detroit” was an iTunes Single of the Week in October.

The BPA, “I Think We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat” (Southern Fried Records):

Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) gathers friends such as Iggy Pop, David Byrne, Martha Wainwright and others for an eclectic pop mix.

Company of Thieves, “Ordinary Riches” (Wind-Up): The debut set from the Chicago-based modern pop trio.

Iran, “Dissover” (Narnack): The third album from the experimental trio side project of TV On The Radio guitarist Kyp Malone.

Joker’s Daughter, “The Last Laugh” (Team Love):

Danger Mouse was a fully engaged collaborator on this first outing by multi-faceted British artist Helena Costas.

Ben Kweller, “Changing Horses” (ATO): The modern rock troubadour recorded his fourth album in Austin, Texas, after relocating there with his family.

Leona Lewis, “Spirit-The Deluxe Edition” (Syco Music/ J Records): The British singer cashes in on the multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated success of her debut with an expanded package that adds four tracks and a DVD.

Graham Nash, “Reflections” (Rhino): The veteran singer-songwriter’s retrospective box set features four unreleased songs and more than 30 alternate mixes.

Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, “Willie and the Wheel” (Bismeaux): The teaming of American music icon Nelson and the famed Texas swing band is also the last production by the late — and equally iconic — Jerry Wexler.

Keri Noble, “Keri Noble” (Telarc): The Detroit-raised singer-songwriter, now living in Minneapolis, moves to a new label for her first full-length album in three years.

Pine Leaf Boys, “Homage Au Passe” (Lionsgate Music):

The Louisiana Canjun group’s latest album is already up for a Grammy Award thanks to its digital release last year.

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, “Lonely Road” (Virgin): The Florida modern rockers follow their platinum debut with a set produced by well-credentialed Howard Benson.

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin, “Amparo Deluxe Edition” (Decca): The jazz duo cashes in on recent Grammy nominations by combining “Amparo” and “Two Worlds” in a single package.

Simply Red, “Simply Red 25-The Greatest Hits” (Razor & Tie): All the favorites as well as a newly recorded cover of the Moody Blues’ “Go Now.”

Soundtrack, “Spectacular!” (Nickelodeon/ Columbia): A dozen songs from the Nickelodeon original movie, penned by veterans of the “High School Musical” series and “Hannah Montana.”

Wynonna, “Sing: Chapter 1” (Curb): The younger Judd’s seventh solo album is a genreexploring covers set with just one original tune, “Sing,” penned by Rodney Crowell.

Young Dubliners, “Saints and Sinners” (429): Guitar prodigy Kenny Wayne Shephard guests on this Celtic-steeped group’s latest effort.

Hot New Music DVDs: Mel B, “Totally Fit” (Rhino):

k.d. lang, “Live in London with the BBC Concert Orchestra” (Image Entertainment)

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