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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Ida Maria, John Doe and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2009

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Ida Maria, “Fortress Around My Heart” (Mercury) **1/2

“I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” is the kind of song title — and song subject — that makes you pay attention, and it’s certainly worked for Ida Maria. The song blew up the Norwegian-born, Swedish-based singer in her homeland as well as in the U.K., and the excitement has crept across the pond, where “Gossip Girl” grabbed Maria’s next single, “Oh My God,” and her debut album became one of the spring’s most anticipated releases. “Fortress Around My Heart” lives up to the hype — for the most part. The 10-track set doesn’t exactly break new ground, but it does establish Maria (ne Siversten) as a forceful, fearless presence who also happens to have a knack for writing instantly ear-grabbing pop hooks. Though made in Sweden, “Fortress’...” real sonic reference point is New York City of the late ’60s (a pronounced Velvet Underground influence) and the early part of this decade (the Strokes). The arrangements are dry, taut and sinewy, as her voice pumps over the spare dynamics of her guitar-bass-drums backing band. She wails about trying to “find a cure for my life” in “Oh My God,” then muses about God hooking up with an aging prostitute in “Stella.” “Forgive Me” and “Louie” are paeans to romantic pain, while “...When You’re Naked” is some of pop’s best big dumb fun since Andrew W.K. exhorted us to “Party Hard.” Throughout the set Maria casts herself as a flawed “Queen of the World,” and in the slower tracks “Keep Me Warm” and “See Me Through” she yields to a vulnerability that we sense chinout demeanor of the rockers is meant to cover up. All of that makes “Fortress...” is an auspicious start — not quite enough to declare Maria the Next Big Thing, but certainly something that will keep us listening and bring us back the next time around.


John Doe & the Sadies, “Country Club” (Yep Roc) ***

There’s always been a little country in John Doe’s rock ‘n’ roll, even in the raging punk days of X. He has kindred spirits in the Toronto quartet the Sadies, resulting in a richly authentic salute to their favorite artists and songs over these 15 tracks, including sharp covers of Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives,” Waylon Jennings’ “Stop the World and Let Me Off” and Ray Price’s “The Night Life.” Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards duets on a couple of tracks — including “It Just Dawned on Me” by Doe and X songwriting partner Exene Cervenka — while X drummer D.J. Bonebrake plays vibraphone and the Sadies contribute three tracks of their own, including the kickin’ instrumentals “The Sudbury Nickel” and “Pink Mountain Rag.” We’re not sure Hank done it this way, but it still sounds pretty fine.

New & Noteworthy

Billy Ray Cyrus, “Back to Tennessee” (Walt Disney/ Lyric Street): The “Achy Breaky Heart” guy steps out to remind us he’s more than Miley Cyrus’ dad, on TV and in real life.

Death Cab For Cutie, “The Open Door” (Atlantic):

An EP that contains four unreleased songs form sessions for last year’s “Narrow Stairs” and frontman Ben Gibbard’s voice-and-ukukele demo of the album’s “Talking Bird.”

Dennis DeYoung, “One Hundred Years From Now” (Rounder): The former Styx frontman’s first new studio album in more than five years features a dozen news songs, backing vocals by his wife and some drumming from his son.

Easy Star All-Stars, “Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band” (Easy Star):

Luciano lends vocals to this reggae re-imagining of the Beatles’ landmark “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Fastball, “Little White Lies” (MRI): The Texas trio, which hit big with 1998’s “The Way,” returns with its first new album in five years.

Freddy Jones Band, “Time Well Wasted” (Out the Box): Three new songs and a set of recent live recordings comprise the jam band’s return to recording after 10 years.

Josh Freese, “Since 1972” (joshfreeze.com): The A-list drummer-for-hire (nine inch nails, Sting, A Perfect Circle, Devo) is offering 11 configurations of his latest album, including a $75,000 option that includes the opportunity to join him on tour for a few days.

The Last Vegas, “Whatever Gets You Off ” (Eleven Seven): The first effort from the hard rock quintet from Normal, Ill., discovered by Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx via a Guitar Center contest.

Medeski Martin & Wood, “Radiolatians II” (Red Ink):

The avant jazz fusion trio releases the second set of pieces culled from a prolific series of 2008 recording sessions.

Metric, “Fantasies” (Metric Music): The Canadian group has started its own label for its fourth album — and first new material in four years.

Scott Miller, “For Crying Out Loud” (F.A.Y.): Miller gets help on his latest outing from his band, the Commonwealth, and guests Patty Griffin and Tim O’Brien.

Moonalice, “Moonalice” (A Minor): The debut outing by an all-star collective — featuring former “Saturday Night Live” bandleader G.E. Smith and Jefferson Airplane/ Starship alumni Jack Casady and Pete Sears — was produced by Grammy-winner T-Bone Burnett.

Willie Nile, “House of a Thousand Guitars” (River House Records/GB Music):

The rock troubadour keeps his recent career resurrection going with the help of an all-star team of producers and Eagles guitarist Steuart Smith.

Radio Moscow, “Brain Cycles” (Alive): The troupe from Ames, Iowa, stays on the psychedelic rock tip for its sophomore album.

Jill Sobule, “California Years” (Pinko): The singersongwriter, who sang about kissing a girl well before Katy Perry, financed this Don Was-produced album with $85,000 in contributions by fans.

Soullive, “Up Here” (Royal Family): The soul-jazz trio celebrates its 10th anniversary with the launch of its own label and guest vocals by Nigel Hall.

Phil Stacey, “Phil Stacey” (Lyric Street): Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox helped the Season 6 “American Idol” finalist make his debut album.

TV on the Radio, “Read Silence” (Interscope): The It group’s new digital EP comes with remixes of three tracks from last year’s lauded “Dear Science” album.

Various Artists, “Score! Merge Records: The Covers” (Merge): Admirers such as Ryan Adams, the Shins, Bright Eye, Death Cab For Cutie and more mine the North Carolina label’s vaults to cover obscurities by Magnetic Fields, Superchunk, Lambchop and others.

Bernie Williams, “Moving Forward” (Rock Ridge): The second album by the New York Yankees all-star and classically trained guitarist.

From the Valuts

Buddy Guy, “Definitive Buddy” (Shout! Factory), Simon & Garfunkel, “Live 1969” (Columbia/Legacy)

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