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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Morrissey, Living Things and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009

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Morrissey, “Years of Refusal” (Attack/Lost Highway) ***

There’s a lot to pique interest in Morrissey’s new album. It’s the former Smith frontman’s first fresh studio effort in three years — even though it has a pair of songs (“All You Need is Me,” “That’s How People Grow Up”) that have been floating around as singles in recent years. It’s the final effort by the late producer Jerry Finn, who also worked on Morrissey’s 2004 release “You Are the Quarry.” There were some significant personnel changes in his camp (notably the departure of longtime guitarist Alain Whyte, who co-wrote five of these 12 tracks). And it starts with the famously melancholy man declaring that “I’m doing very well” — which is, of course, never the case and quickly veers off into musings about assorted anti-depressants. But whatever his state of mind (and do we really want a happy Morrissey after all these years of mope?), Morrissey’s music is indeed doing very well on his 10th solo album, a cracking record filled with hardrocking, guitar-driven energy that hearkens back to fan favorites such as “Vauxhall and I” and “You Are the Quarry.” The first eight tracks gallop past at brisk sub three- and four-minute paces, from the guitar grind of “Something is Squeezing My Skull” to the martial rhythm of “Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed,” the ringing melodicism of “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” the heavy bass chug of “All You Need is Me,” and the Spanish flavor of “When I Last Spoke to Carol.” Morrissey lets a little more air into the album’s longest tracks, the emotive “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore” and the gently crooned “You Were Good in Your Time” (which could do without its coda of white noise) before amping up the tempo again on “Sorry Doesn’t Help” and “I’m OK By Myself,” both co-written with former Red Hot Chili Pepper and Alanis Morissette guitarist Jesse Tobias. Morrissey has been prolific enough that his releases tend to blend together, but “Years of Refusal” merits attention.


Living Things, “Habeas Corpus” (Jive) ***

Even amid Obamamania optimism, the ills of the world still weigh heavy on this topically minded St. Louis quartet, whose sophomore album grapples with war, bigotry, corruption, chauvinism disenfranchised masses. Frontman and lyricist Lillian Berlin urges listeners to “take to the streets,” but “Habeas Corpus,” recorded in Berlin, is just as likely to send them to the dance floor or mosh pit with its blend of glam and punk rock, New Wave dance flavors and side trips into blues (“Snake Oil Man,” “Shake Your Shimmy”) and rootsy Americana (“Island in Your Heart”). Adept at both rhetoric and rock hooks, Living Things continue to make music that work for the head and the body.

New & Noteworthy:

... And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, “The Century of Self ” (Richter Scale/Justice): The songs on the Texas art rockers’ first new album in three years were influenced by frontman Conrad Keely’s move to New York City.

The Appleseed Cast, “Sagarmatha” (The Militia Group): The sixth release from the Kansas indie rock quartet is named after the Nepalese term for Mount Everest.

Audrye Sessions, “Audrye Sessions” (Black Seal/RCA Music Group):

The sophomore album from the Oakland quartet that won MTVu’s Freshman video contest.

The Bakerton Group, “El Rojo” (Weathermaker Music): The debut full-length from the all-instrumental alter ego of hard rockers Clutch.

The Cocktail Slippers, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” (Wicked Cool): The female rockers from Norway welcome label chief Little Steven Van Zandt as a guest on their latest outing.

Ana Egge, “Road to My Love” (Grace/Parkinsongs):

The North Dakota-born singersongwriter’s sixth album features a rendition of the spiritual, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”

Robyn Hitchcock, “Goodnight Oslo” (Yep Roc):

The quirky British singersongwriter delivers a second album with the all-star Venus 3 and also welcomes guests from the Decemberists and Long Winters.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit” (Lightning Rod): The second solo album by the former second fiddle from Drive-By Truckers.

Ted Russell Kamp, “Poor Man’s Paradise” (PoMo):

The fifth solo album from the Americana artist who has logged time in Ponticello, Union Pacific and Shooter Jennings’ .357’s.

Tommy Keene, “In the Late Bright” (Second Motion): The first solo album in three years from the criminally under-recognized power pop veteran.

Steve Kilbey, “Painkiller” (Second Motion): The first solo album in seven years from the singer, bassist and main lyricist of The Church.

N.A.S.A., “The Spirit of Apollo” (Anti-): The globally conscious duo cross-pollinates styles with help from M.A.A., Kanye West, Tom Waits, David Byrne, RZA, Santogold, George Clinton and more.

Sam Roberts, “Love at the End of the World” (Zoe/ Rounder): The Canadian rocker pays homage to Motor City musical heritage on “Detroit ’67,” the closing track of his third album.

The Soul of John Black, “Black John” (Electro Groove): Hip R&B auteur John Bigham took a five-star group of players into Dr. Dre’s studio for his latest creative manifesto.

Thursday, “Common Existence” (Epitaph): The New Jersey hardcore outfit will promote its fifth album by headlining this year’s Taste of Chaos tour.

Various Artists, “Take Action Volume 8” (Hopeless): Cute is What We Aim For, Motion City Soundtrack, Bayside, All Time Low and more are part of this annual benefit for Sub City nonprofit charity network.

M. Ward, “Hold Time” (Merge): The Portland troubadour is assisted by Lucinda Williams, Jason Lytle and actress and She & Him partner Zooey Deschanel on his fourth solo outing.

The Watson Twins, “Live at Fingerprints” (Vanguard): An EP featuring live acoustic performances of six songs from the sister duo’s “Fire Songs” album.

William Elliott Whitmore, “Animals in the Dark” (Anti-): The Iowa singer-songwriter takes a political turn on a couple of the songs from his fifth album.

Charlie Wilson, “Uncle Charlie” (Jive): The fourth solo album, and first in five years, from the Gap Band vocalist and uncle of Snoop Dogg, who guests along with Justin Timberlake and T-Pain.

From The Vaults:

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, “In Person at Carnegie Hall: The complete 1963 Concert” (Columbia/ Legacy); John Lee Hooker, “50 Years: Anthology” (Shout! Factory).

New Music DVDs:

B.B. King, “Live in Africa ’74” (Shout! Factory); Otis Redding, “Respect: Otis Live” (Shout! Factory); David Sanborn, “Live at Montreux 1984” (Eagle Rock); Wayne Shorter, “Live at Montreux 1996” (Eagle Rock), Various Artists, “Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia Live in Concert” (Legacy/Gamble-Huff Music/Philadelphia International) .

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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