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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Chris Isaak, J.J. Cale and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2009

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Chris Isaak, “Mr. Lucky” (Reprise) ***

It sure doesn’t seem like seven years since Chris Isaak’s last batch of all-new material — understandable since, with his Showtime TV series, specialty albums (holiday, greatest hits) and consistent touring. He’s hardly gone away, but the California singer, song-writer and band leader makes up for hard time with “Mr. Lucky,” a 14-song showcase for Isaak’s sharp vocal stylings, his particular brand of country-field pop music and (given his ample sex appeal) an equally impossible to believe preponderance of romantic heartbreak. But the Isaak who sings about the woman who done him wrong in “Cheater’s Town” sounds as pained and remorseful as the guy who sings about the woman HE done wrong in “We Let Her Down.” Produced by Eric Rosse and John Shanks, “Mr. Lucky’s” tracks are rich in sonic detail and lyrical nuance, riding through the classic Country-Western lope of “We’ve Got Tomorrow,” the rockabilly stomp of “Mr. Lonely Man,” the soaring country rock of “Best I Ever Had,” the Western swing of “Take My Heart” and the bluesy swagger of “Big Wide Wonderful World.” Isaak duets with Michelle Branch on the Tex-Mex flavored “I Lose My Heart” and with Trisha Yearwood on the Diane Warren co-written “Breaking Apart,” and while at times he sounds resigned that “love is just a lot of pretty words that leave you feeling sad,” rest assured that “Mr. Lucky” will leave you feeling glad he’s back.


J.J. Cale, “Roll On” (Rounder) ***

Oklahoma songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Cale is better known for his songs (including rock standards such as “After Midnight,” “Cocaine” and “Call Me the Breeze”) than his own recordings. That may not change any time soon, but the fact is that he’s pretty effective at delivering his own material, and “Roll On” — his 16th solo album and the followup to “The Road to Escondido,” his Grammy Award-winning 2006 collaboration with pal Eric Clapton — is a convincing display of Cale’s trademarked Tulsa soul, where everything falling neatly into a pocket and low-pitched, understated vocals strolling along just behind the beat. Clapton pitches in on the title track, while Cale stretches out a bit with the jazzy cadence of “Who Knew” and “Former Me” and the Latin-flavored “Fonda-Lina.” He also threatens to “Bring Down the Curtain” at the end of the album, but we sincerely hope that’s not the case.

New & Noteworthy:

The Alternate Routes, “A Sucker’s Dream” (Vanguard): The East Coast rock troupe stays with Nashville-based producer Jay Joyce for its sophomore effort.

B-Real, “Smoke in Mirrors” (Audio Hustlaz/ Duck Down): The Cypress Hill MC’s solo debut features guests such as group mate Sen Dog, Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Too $hort, Damian Jr. Gong Marley, Xzibit and Young De.

Joe Budden, “Padded Room” (Amalgam Digital):

The New York rapper ends a six-year wait for his second album, with production by Blastah Beatz, Moss, Lasixs and others.

Clem Snide, “Hungry Bird” (429): The Boston indie rockers regroup for their sixth album following frontman Eef Barzelay’s excursion for a second solo effort, “Lose Big.”

Company of Thieves, “Ordinary Riches” (Wind-Up): The Chicago rock trio’s debut gets a physical release after seven weeks of cyber sales.

Shemekia Copeland, “Never Going Back” (Telarc): The burgeoning blues favorite mixes it up with John Medeski, Marc Ribot and Chris Wood on her fifth album.

Ernie & the Automatics, “Low Expectations” (Open E): The debut outing by the blues-rock band formed by Boston founders Barry Goudreau and Sib Hashian.

The Duke Spirit, “The Duke Spirit” (Shangri La):

The British modern rockers’ latest is a Target exclusive in conjunction with Alexandra McQueen’s new McQ fashion line and features a cover of Alex Chilton’s “Baby Doll.”

God Forbid, “Earthsblood” (Century Media): The title of the New Jersey headbangers’ fifth album was inspired by the Oscar-nominated film “There Will Be Blood.”

Green River Ordinance, “Out of My Hands” (EMI/ Virgin): The Texas indie rockers switch to a major label after racking up a rash of Fort Worth Music Awards.

Havoc, “Hidden Files” (E1 Music): The Queens rapper’s third solo album includes features by Mobb Deep mate Prodigy, Ricky Blaze and Cassidy.

The Jonas Brothers, “Music From the 3D Concert Experience” (Hollywood): This live album companion to the trio’s upcoming film includes a new song, “Love is On Its Way” and a cover of Shania Twain’s “I’m Gonna Getcha Good”— but tell your Jonas fan she has to stop screaming in order to hear the music.

Kinky, “Barracuda” (Nettwerk): The sixth album from the Mexican electronica/ rock quintet.

K’naan, “Troubadour” (A&M/Octone): Mos Def, Damian Marley, Chubb Rock, Kirk Hammett from Metallica and Maroon5’s ADam Levine all guest on the Somali-born Canadian rapper’s third album.

Lamb of God, “Wrath” (Roadrunner/Epic): The Virginia metal troupe adopted a new producer (Josh Wilbur) and went for a rawer, in-yourface sound than on 2006’s “Sacrament.”

Gurf Morlix, “Last Exit to Happyland” (Rootball):

The Nashville session veteran’s fifth solo album features guest vocals by Patty Griffin, Ruthie Foster and Barbara K.

Outrageous Cherry, “Universal Malcontents” (Alive Naturalsound): The Detroit quartet’s ninth album was recorded at studios in Ferndale and Hamtramck.

Jake Owen, “Easy Does It” (RCA Nashville): The Florida-born country singer’s sophomore album is riding the success of its Top 20 first single, “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You.”

Plushgun, “Pins and Panzers” (Tommy Boy):

“Just Impolite,” the opening track from the Brooklyn synthpop trio’s debut album, has been making the TV rounds prior to its release.

Tom Rush, “What I Know” (Appleseed): The East Coast folk scene veteran releases his first new album in more than 30 years, with help from Nanci Griffith and Bonnie Bramlett.

Various Artists, “War Child Presents Heroes” (Astralwerks): The latest collection benefiting the humanitarian organization finds Beck doing Bob Dylan, Duffy taking on Paul McCartney & Wings, Estelle singing Stevie Wonder, Peaches pounding out Iggy Pop and other young ‘uns remaking classic hits.

Steven Wilson, “Insurgentes” (KScope): The first solo album by the leader of the British prog rock band Porcupine Tree.

From the Vaults: Isaac Hayes, “Black Moses” (Stax); The Jeff Healey Band, “Legacy: Volume One” (Allegro); Bobby Womack, “The Poet I & II” (ABKCO); Yes, “Symphonic Live” (Rock); Joe Zawinul, “75” (Heads Up)

New Music DVDs: The Who, “Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970” (Eagle Rock Blu-Ray; Yes, “Symphonic Live” (Eagle Rock)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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